Deepen Teacher Inquiry Part 7

The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.
— Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher

Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring the components of teacher inquiry. - with the lens of deepening teacher inquiry. Last week we had a focus on the WHO component of teacher inquiry design and began to take a look at the relationship between who the inquiry is about - the sample and how it impacts on how teachers collect their evidence of the inquiry action impacts on student learning.
Over the next two weeks, we take a look at HOW. We will begin to explore the kinds of evidence teachers can collect to illustrate the impacts of the inquiry teaching actions on students learning outcomes.
Before we delve into the world of types of evidence - I think it is important at this stage to have a look at the difference between data and evidence.
So let's have a look - to coin the phrase - evidence-based practice, and to take it into the education realm - reflective evidence-based practice - i.e. inquiry.
One of the cornerstones of evidence-based practice is understanding the difference between data and evidence. When teachers and leaders understand this distinction between data and evidence, we tend to find evidence-based practice not only starts to become real but also it enables people to make better decisions and judgements. You may be surprised to find that people also become much more adaptable and flexible as well.

The difference between data and evidence.

Data is numbers - is either right or wrong - data is fact - the fact is either right or wrong. Truth is a collection of facts - get enough facts, and you get the truth right?
Now consider the following -
How often are you exposed to the beginning of year talk about last years results. There is a graph that shows the number of endorsements from the last 5 years, and conclusions are made about the performance of last years groups in comparison to previous years.  Where the data shows a downward trend there are questions asked as to why, and what went wrong….. Himmmm - data without a context - doesn’t mean much.
Now consider another scenario. I know this happens in schools.  I have purposely chosen a rather blatant example. Once you read it - I can already hear your indignation - “this is completely unreasonable” I hear you say.  However, this kind of conclusion drawing does happen - if not openly - behind closed doors. - I use it here to challenge and provoke thought.

Teacher A - Class Test Average - 50% A, 60% M, 30% E
Teacher B - Class Test Average - 20% N, 60% A, 20% M


On the face of it, there isn’t much to question here. The facts are the facts, the data are the data. Teacher A is doing a better job than Teacher B.
Now we all know there is much, much more than what THIS set of data illustrates.

So data is just data but on its own, it doesn’t have any validity or reliability (the two tests for good data. Validity = it measures or describes what it claims to, and reliability = it measures or describes it consistently). There is no such thing as 100% validity or reliability.
In other words, a figure or number or a set of figures tells us very little about the context or whether the data is actually moving/changing or not. In other words, data is just a number or an observation. Data only becomes right or wrong in context.

So whilst data can exist on its own, even though it is essentially meaningless without context, evidence, on the other hand, has to be evidence of or for something.
Evidence contextualises data.
Evidence only exists when there is an opinion, a viewpoint or an argument. Academics and scientists call this the hypothesis. Data is only evidence in the presence of an opinion or argument, otherwise.
Why this matters, is that the moment you form an opinion you start to select which data you are going to use to support your argument.
In the case of teacher inquiry - data can be turned into evidence through contexts such as student voice or interview. When this occurs, data is empowered to evidence and gains relevance.
In our case of Teacher A and Teacher B.

Teacher A - Class Test Average - 50% A, 60% M, 30% E
Teacher B - Class Test Average - 20% N, 60% A, 20% M

So does this support your opinion that Teacher A is a better teacher than Teacher B? On the face of it, someone might come to this conclusion. Teacher A must be a better teacher than Teacher B. (ouch that almost hurts to write. However, I have been on the receiving end of such statements in my 20 years of teaching, so I know it happens)
BUT………..evidence, on the other hand, has to be evidence of or for something.  

So let's give some context...
What if I told you that the highest grade achieved by students in Teacher B class in previous years was an Achieved?

Evidence has perspective – data doesn’t.

What happens if you look at the progress - the value added for the students over the period of the unit of work.
Teacher A had a class made up of students who came into the class with nothing less than an M for their previous years' work and so were starting with a stronger level of understanding. With further investigation and evidence, the teacher-researcher was able to ascertain that the effect size - from pre-test to post-test was 0.4 - making these marks pleasing at best.
Teacher B had a class of students who came to the class with nothing more than an A for their for their previous years work and so were starting with a rather weak foundation of understanding. With further investigation and evidence, the teacher-researcher was able to ascertain that the effect size - from pre-test to post-test was 0.7 - making these marks exceptional in terms of value added for the learning of these students.
Knowing all this now significantly changes your opinion and any actions you might take or propose.
So is Teacher A or Teacher B having the biggest impact on student learning?

Notice my shift in languaging - I would argue that you cannot make sweeping statements such as Teacher B is a better teacher than Teacher A. - I will let you decide.

So in summary -

  • Data is just data and has no intrinsic meaning on its own.
  • Evidence has to be evidence for or of something; an argument, an opinion, a viewpoint or a hypothesis.
  • The evidence you use depends on your argument. As we get more evidence or different types of evidence our argument might change.

How is it that your inquiry data can be elevated to the realm of evidence?
What kind of data are you going to collect to form your inquiry impact evidence?
References -  David Wilkinson



Educators - if you want to experience this level of depth of thinking into your students learning, then join me in Auckland - 27th April and 9 July 2018. 

Registration closes - 18th April. - Spaces are limited so get in quick.

Tabitha Leonard