Using Data in Teacher Inquiry Groups

A few years ago I introduced teacher inquiry groups in my school. Teacher inquiry groups (TIGs) are collaborative inquiries conducted by teachers based on an area of practice or problem that they’d like to solve.

When I initially introduced TIGs to the staff, I used Learning Forward’s Collaborative Inquiry format. We worked through the first half of stage 1 – framing the problem – altogether. Teachers identified different areas of student learning that they were concerned about and why they had these concerns. Next we posted all the major areas of concern and had each staff member choose a topic that they were most interested in. There were 8 different groups altogether, from EAL strategies for the classroom, to play in the early years, to critical thinking skills, to listening strategies.

For the remainder of the inquiry, I created a website to walk the groups through each stage, as I was unable to attend each meeting. The second half of stage 1 required groups to write a theory of action and then to collect and analyse evidence. All groups struggled with this section and in the end abandoned it. Instead they did research on their topics, tried some activities out in their classrooms, wrote up recommendations for the school leadership, and prepared a product to share their learning with the rest of the staff. We enjoyed two wonderful afternoons seeing the different presentations and learning about what each group had discovered. Clearly this is evidence of the importance of being assessment capable.

While the inquiries did not use student data, we did feel it was a successful venture as teachers had the opportunity to experience inquiry first hand, work with members of staff they don’t usually work with, and add knowledge and skill to their practice.

In our second year our TIGs were centered around literacy and each group had a facilitator – a recommendation staff made from the first year. This time teams did begin to consider student data but we lost much of our professional learning time making up cyclone days.

This will be our third year doing TIGs and this year teachers are working in groups based on the learning goal they set for themselves as part of their professional self-assessment. I am considering whether we need to provide teams with an inquiry model that will help them use data more effectively and whether any models address the issue of assessment literacy.

During my literature review I came across a number of models that I thought might give teachers a more accessible view of the data use inquiry process.

Assessment Data Use Cycle, S. Gonsalves, 2016.

This is the Assessment Data Use Cycle by Sonia V. Gonsalves (2016). What I like about this model is you can start anywhere in the cycle, and it emphasises using the data to tell a story. I think this is especially appealing as it helps teachers interpret the data in a way that is meaningful to them. For example, we can look at a collection of student work and tell the story of what is happening, such as, “Most of our writers are able to organise the events in a journal entry chronologically. They use basic punctuation accurately and their spelling is generally accurate. This term we will focus on the use of voice, and word choice to make their writing more powerful and interesting to read.” This model very closely matches the student work analysis protocol we are using in team meetings this year.

Data Wise Project model, K Boudett and E. City, 2005.

This model from Kathryn Boudett & Elizabeth City (2005) and the Data Wise Project from Harvard Graduate School of Education, was the first data use inquiry model I’d ever seen. I was introduced to it at the IB Regional Conference in Singapore in 2011 by a group of school leaders from the Australian International School in Singapore who had implemented the model with their staff and led a conference session on how it worked at their school. This model does include the development of assessment literacy, which is not addressed in Gonsalves’ model (her university has a dedicated department which collects, analyses and shares the data back with the departments). I think this model would be useful for staff to see as it clarifies that the development of assessment literacy is a necessary precursor to making sense of the data and it is something that theoretically we only need to do once, as in subsequent years we start at step 3.

Here is the inquiry model I originally developed to use with staff for our TIGs. It is also the model I used for this inquiry.

What I think this model does well is outline all the components of an effective inquiry, particularly for self-directed teams. It emphasises that we often need to do research in an inquiry to help us understand the problem more thoroughly and find different instructional strategies that might help us address the problem, which was missing in the data use models I found.

I think the disadvantage of this cycle is that it does not place enough focus on analysing the data to come to conclusions about student learning and then designing instructional approaches to address those conclusions. It also does not make any mention of developing assessment literacy. I then wondered that if it was used in conjunction with a data use theory of action, such as this one by Marsh (2012), teachers might understand the role of data in an inquiry better. This model really shows how data is collected, then interpreted and results in making decisions.

Data Use Theory of Action, J. Marsh, 2012.

As a result, here is the new inquiry model I’ve developed to use with teachers. I’ve added a data use cycle that expands on how data is used to inform the inquiry. I’m hopeful that this inquiry model will be useful in helping us “see” the elements of a professional collaborative inquiry and guide us through the process.

Here is the data use cycle up close.

My next post: What data do I have and where is it?


Boudett, K., City, E., & Murnane, R. (2005) Data Wise, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Gonsalves, S. (2016). Answering Questions with Assessment Data: The Use Challenge. Assessment Update, 28(3), 3-15. doi:10.1002/au

Learning Forward Ontario (2011). Collaborative Inquiry: A Facilitator’s Guide. Retrieved from

Marsh, J. (2012). Interventions Promoting Educators’ Use of Data: Research Insights and Gaps. Teachers College Record, 114, 1-48.

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