Assessment Education Perspectives

How to Use Data in Student Conversations

How to Use Data in Student Conversations

Collecting data about students is not new for teachers. Teachers want to use data to support and inform instruction, and technology can help serve a practical purpose in improving the efficiency of this process. Data gathering can and should be in real time, present a holistic view of the student, and be viewable by all stakeholders, including parents and particularly the students themselves.

The path to collecting and integrating student data has not always been a smooth one. Teachers have always observed students closely and captured anecdotal information about them, but these close observations were not easily shared or integrated with other data to create the full picture of a student. My frustration with this lack of data integration is one of the reasons I wanted to create a new product that could help solve this problem for teachers*. As a teacher myself, I wanted to find a way to integrate analytical data with anecdotal information to inform smarter decision making. Once I established such a tool**, the learning analytics reports that resulted helped me to understand each student’s engagement, growth, and proficiency.

The data also gives me a jumping-off point for communicating with students about their progress. I conduct “mini-conferences” with my 7th grade students at least once per quarter. Data points are helpful for articulating where the students currently are and identifying the goals they are striving toward. We examine their performance on our identified learning standards on the various projects and assessments, including where they started the year and how they have progressed. We also look at their performance on engagement and behavior tasks, as well as district-level assessments. These conferences provide an opportunity to hear the students’ input and questions and discuss how the year is going.

To prepare for these mini-conferences, I ask students to reflect on the past few weeks of class and their experiences at school. On the day of these mini-conferences, my daily problem to start class will be to write a reflection on how the year has been progressing thus far, as well as to evaluate my job as a teacher. In addition, students are encouraged to bring any questions that they have for me. During the conferences, I display the students’ learning, engagement, and behavior performance on one screen to have as a resource during our conference.

My daily problem prompt helps jump start this dialogue by providing the time to think, as well as providing them a few questions to guide their thoughts. Here are a few examples of questions I might pose:

1. How has social studies gone thus far this year?

2. What has been your favorite unit/project? Please explain why.

3. How is school going, in general?

4. What is your favorite activity outside of school? I follow this question up with: How do you get better at ___ (their favorite activity)?

5. How would you evaluate me as a teacher? How as a teacher can I help you more in the classroom? I have found that self-reflection is difficult, but they are able to articulate what they wish I could improve upon.

6. If you could do this past unit over, what would you have done differently?

7. What did you learn during our last unit?

Together we review their grades, behavior, engagement and proficiency data. We then spend most of our conversation reflecting on the process and insights to best prepare moving forward. We discuss how they enjoy to learn most or what activities outside of school spark the most passion. A students’ dedication and discipline to improve as a swimmer, a dancer, a gamer, or a musician can help them realize their potential in many more areas when they see how the process of learning is similar throughout all these activities.

In an upcoming post, I will talk more about what we do after the mini-conference – my responsibilities, as well as theirs, to make sure we are using the data productively.

Many platforms are now available for teachers interested in using data to form a complete picture of students and to share this information with the students themselves. Rich data enables teachers to effectively and efficiently help their students, communicate with parents, and collaborate with colleagues and administrators. When this holistic student profile is viewable by all stakeholders in education, we are able to work together to make the necessary modifications and alterations to help maximize learning for every student.

*While I teach full-time as a 7th grade social studies teacher, I am also the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Otus. I believe teachers should use the education technology tools that fit the needs of their students, and any resource that can help maximize learning is a win for the classroom.

**The tool I use to integrate data is Otus’ Student Performance Platform. The information contained in the Otus Learning Analytics Reports is particularly helpful to me.  


Chris Hull is a regular Teacher Voices contributor to our blog and teaches middle school social studies in Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @OtusHull and see more of his guest posts here. And share your views on sharing data with students on our Facebook page or find us on Twitter (@Assess2Learn).


Christopher Hull