3 Ways To Use Data In The Classroom

The phrase “using data to drive instruction” is showing up everywhere in education circles lately. Particularly with the incorporation of the Common Core State Standards, and new standardized tests and teacher evaluation systems, the way that teachers use data is becoming more and more important. But what exactly does it look like in the classroom? And how can technology help make the process more manageable?

Using data in the classroom doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds. My favorite way to use data in my eighth grade English Language Arts classroom is to use formative assessment data to drive instruction and for intervention. Here are three easy ways to start using data in the classroom:

Take a Poll

Online polling systems are an excellent resource for teachers. Recently, I used Poll Everywhere to ask my students what topic they would like to review. I certainly could have just listed the topics out loud and asked students to raise their hands. However, in my experience, the information a teacher gets using that method is not reliable. In general, students are much more open and honest when using technology than they would be in almost any other situation. When I take polls the old fashioned way with students raising their hands to indicate their preference, I can see them furtively looking around to see what their friends are doing. Particularly in middle school, students don’t want to stand out or be different. They may be less likely to be honest when they are raising their hands in front of everyone. But taking an anonymous poll on an iPad or another device takes that worry away, providing the teacher with reliable data. This was the result that came from the poll when I asked students what they needed more help with:

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Clearly, my students wanted to review using topic and concluding sentences to connect ideas. I don’t think there would have been 11 hands up if I asked students to raise their hands. Most likely, they would have said they don’t need help with anything to avoid looking “stupid.” I was able to use this data to inform my lesson for the day. One of the great features about polling systems like Poll Everywhere is that they are so quick to use that teachers can create polls on the fly to address student needs. Based on this data, I quickly designed two poll questions and used them to review the concept during that very same class period. Here is an example of what that looked like:

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I was able to project student responses and use them to help students see what effective topic and concluding sentences look like. Then, students spent the rest of the class using that knowledge to write their own body paragraphs. The data allowed me, as a teacher, to effectively respond to student needs.


Use a Quick Quiz to Drive Instruction

There are many digital tools that make quick formative assessments much easier and more effective. One of my favorite tools to use is Socrative. I frequently use Socrative for quick reading check-in quizzes at the beginning of class. There are several reasons why using digital tools for quick formative assessments is better than having the students take quizzes using paper and pencil. First of all, the teacher can set up the quiz to tell the students if they got an answer correct or incorrect, so the students are getting instant feedback rather than waiting for the teacher to correct the quiz and hand it back, possibly waiting until the next day or even longer. We all know that quick feedback is effective feedback, and technology can facilitate that process. Secondly, as soon as the students complete the quiz, the program sends a report to the teacher. This is the report from the last formative assessment I gave in my classroom:

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Not only does the report save time because the teacher doesn’t have to correct and gather the data, it also allows the teacher to instantly respond to student needs. From this assessment data, I was able to tell that many students were struggling to understand how a key plot event impacted the development of a character in the novel they are reading. This led to an improvised lesson on indirect characterization. I was able to use the data instantly to inform my lesson to address comprehension issues, whereas before, I wouldn’t have even known it was an issue until much later. At that point, the lesson would not have been as effective.


Use Formative Assessment Data for Immediate Intervention


After using Socrative for quick formative assessments, I quickly discovered that I could use the data in more than one way. Not only could I use it to inform whole class instruction, but I could also use it to target individual students for intervention. There were instances where a student got incorrect answers on four or five questions out of five. Because I had the report in my hands right away and the students were sitting in my classroom, I was able to sit down with struggling students to create intervention plans. Using the data, I could see particularly what areas were causing a problem for the student. If a student was struggling with vocabulary in context, I was able to provide additional resources they could use as they read independently. If a student was struggling to remember important details from the text, I was able to recommend an alternate strategy for annotating as they read. Finally, if I saw that a student was simply falling behind with their work, I could sit with them and create a plan to help them get caught up. These interventions didn’t take long, just a few minutes with each student during class, but I could see immediate results. Using data for intervention prevented problems from snowballing out of control, and made a big difference with the students who were struggling.

Overall, there is not one “right” way to use data in the classroom. Using technology makes the process quicker and more effective, and allows teachers to adjust their instruction to meet student needs or provide interventions. Since I starting focusing on using data in the classroom, I have seen the positive impact it can have student learning. Clearly, there are many other ways to use data, but formative assessment is a good place to start.


  1. Rahul

    January 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Socrative, very impressive app. Best for the proper time utilization.

  2. Samantha

    February 3, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I really like the idea of using online polls in the classroom because the information will be much more accurate like you stated. When I was in school I would never have raised my hand if the teacher had asked a question about who was struggling because I wanted to appear like I had everything together and I really was afraid of looking dumb to the other students. The Socrative program seems like a very valuable resource, thank you for sharing! Have you had any difficulties with this program? When you have the students do these quizzes do you have to take them to a computer lab or does your classroom have a set of computers? For some teachers, computers are not readily available in their classroom which could make using a program like this difficult. One thing with technology that can be a problem is that occasionally there are technological malfunctions (ie the computer stops working, the program messes up the data, data is accidentally erased, etc) and these malfunctions can sometimes ruin a whole lesson if the lesson was based on the technology. Have you found ways to deal with these types of problems (like having a back-up lesson prepared)? I think that one reason that many teachers do not use technology in their classrooms is because they are uncomfortable using it themselves. This is why implementing technology into the classroom should be a school-wide effort instead of putting all the pressure to find technological resources directly onto the teacher. Workshops about technology for the teachers are one great way to help teachers learn how to start incorporating technology into their lessons.

    • Kate Lewis

      February 4, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Samantha, overall I’ve found that Socrative is very reliable. There were some issues last year when I tried to use the “Space Race” feature, which is awesome by the way! But ever since I have not had a problem. At my school, we have laptop carts and are transitioning to a 1:1 iPad model, but right now my team has an iPad cart with 30 iPads. But the great thing about Socrative and Poll Everywhere is that they are web based tools, so students can even use their smartphones! If I know I’m going to be using one of those tools, I’ll tell the kids to make sure that they have at least one smartphone per group. I agree that workshops are very useful! I love to hear about how other teachers use tech in their classrooms!

  3. Caleb

    February 4, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    This is a very interesting way to combine technology and education. I love the idea of taking a poll in order to see what your students feel they still need to improve on. This is a fun, easy, and accurate way to not only let the kids feel as though they have some say in things, but also tell you (the teacher) what the students still need to review. Genius.

    • Kate Lewis

      February 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks Caleb!

  4. Dawn Chadwick

    February 4, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Technology can be a great tool for acurate and immediate responses to the students work, it can also make grading their work much easier. But it can be difficult to find things that will be productive in a classroom of twenty four kindergartners with only one working computer in the classroom. I have been using the Mimio tool and have found that the students react very positively to the new technology, but it is nothing like the Promethian board I was used to.

    • Kate Lewis

      February 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Dawn, that is definitely a challenge! I admire that you are able to make the best of a less than ideal situation! I don’t have any type of interactive whiteboard in my classroom. I’m going to have a lot of learning to do when I get one!

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