2 quick tips for effective data use

2 quick tips for effective data use

Considering report writing season is upon us, I thought I’d share 2 quick data use tips that are relevant for this time of the year.

Even if you’re not enjoying the procrastination inducing benefits of report writing at the moment (is it just me or does that oven need cleaning?), I think these two tips are a good reminder at any time of the year.

Tip #1: DON’T think data is only numbers.

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, data is information collected for analysis or reference. (2017, p 390).

It’s so much more than just numbers.

Any evidence or information you collect about your students can and should be considered a relevant source of data. Yes, this may include data from assessments or tests that can come in numerical format, but it also includes work samples, observations and conversations that don’t.

In a reading classroom, arguably the most effective data you can gather is the information you learn about your students through observing them as they read, talking to them while conferring, listening to their discussions with peers and reading their writing about reading.

Australian Literacy expert Narissa Leung
Every piece of student writing is data (not just the pieces they do for assessments)

In a writing classroom, data is produced every day. Every time your students sit down to write (or talk about writing) it should form part of the ‘information you collect for analysis or reference.’

Data in a writing classroom can include information about your students as instigators of writing, their motivation and engagement towards writing, their ability to consider and engage their reader when writing, their knowledge of tools and strategies available to them as writers and much more!

Both the amount and type of information gathered through these sources cannot be expressed by a single number.

The fact that this data can’t be reduced to a cell on a spreadsheet should not reduce its validity, reliability or use.

Data is so much more than numbers!

Tip #2: DO trust your professional judgement.

While I’m on my ‘data isn’t only numbers’ soapbox, let’s talk about one of THE most valuable and reliable, yet underused sources of data going around: professional judgement.

Remember that old chestnut?

The judgment that you- as a trained professional- make as a result of the observations, conversations, assessments etc. that you’ve collected.

In the hectic data-driven world of schools today, this incredibly rich source of data seems to have slipped down the ladder of importance. In its place, we’ve sought validation through externally created tests and assessments.

The problem with this is that professional judgement is like a muscle; it needs to be used to be strengthened. Without regular use it will waste away and become less effective and less reliable.

As a profession, we need to make a conscious effort to reinstate the importance of professional judgement in our work.

We need to ensure that rather than replacing our professional judgement, data enhances it.

Professional judgment, after all, is what we rely on to respond to student needs and differentiate our teaching. It’s how we make decisions about how best to support our students using the teaching tools and resources available to us.

At this time of the year, one easy way we can reinstate the importance of professional judgment in our profession is to ensure it forms one of the main data sets we bring to any ‘data triangulation’ table.

We are trained professionals, therefore the judgements we make can and should be seen as a rich, real and relevant source of data.

Let’s start flexing those professional muscles!

I’d love to hear any other data use tips you’ve found useful. Share in the comments below or join in the conversation on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.

Related blog Posts:


  • Macquarie. (2017). Data. In S. Butler (Ed.), Macquarie Dictionary (7th Ed., p. 390)

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2 thoughts on “2 quick tips for effective data use”

  1. Once again – some excellent tips. It frightens me when I listen to some teachers talk solely about statistics or numerical evidence for their report writing.


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