SS: Data Practices

8.1 Collecting Data in Social Science Courses

Data is a powerful tool that leads to improvements and understanding in education. Every student is unique, and data can inform us of each person's successes and struggles. 

Data helps students know their strengths and allows them to shape their pathways of learning. Using data, students can set and evaluate goals for themselves. 

Data allows parents to better champion their child's needs, interests, and abilities. Parents can be informed more quickly of how their child is faring with data. 

Data enables teachers to help students succeed in their own individualized ways. Teachers can speedily know what is going well and what needs improvement. 

Because of technology, the ways that data can be recorded, collected, organized, and used is increasingly timely and efficient. Teachers can readily use data to change and enhance their pedagogy, group students, plan remedial and extended activities for students who need it, and target specific needs of individuals, groups, and the whole class. 

In this video Mark Stevens discusses the many ways he collects and uses data in his social science classroom.

Teachers Talk: Using Data (3:44)

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Reflection Question: What is one way Mark uses data that you could use in your classroom?

One powerful way to use data is in deciding how to groups students. The next two videos show two different teachers making these decisions to support student learning.

Teachers Talk: Using Data for Grouping (2:44)

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Reflection Questions: What kinds of data do you have access to in your classroom? How can you use it to improve student engagement and learning?

Teachers Talk: Using Data Practices to Regroup and Reteach (3:20)

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Reflection Questions: What kinds of data did LeNina use to gather this small group of students? How did it help her target instruction?

Data is most helpful when it is organized in a meaningful way. You may want to use subjective and objective data, observations, performance criteria, and areas of a rubric aligned with a certain learning objective. Here are a few examples:

Table 1

Collecting Data—Some Ideas 

Desired Data Ways to Gather the Data Using Technology

How well are students able to collaborate? Data may come from your own observations; student self-reflections on their contributions and the process of collaboration; evaluating collaborative student work in a shared document; and reports from the team members.

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: A system for compiling observations.

Curating information

How well can student curate information and express understanding? Multimedia options are particularly useful in a social studies setting, and students can utilize blogging, podcasting, video creation, graphic organizers, photo essays, Wikipedia entries, and more to share learning. Different tools allow different competencies and understandings to be expressed.

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: A system for compiling observations including a differentiated rubric for the various skills different media should exhibit. 


Do students seek help? Observe their behaviors and record what you see, considering these questions: Do individual students seek help online, from other students, from you? Are they afraid to ask for help? Do they seek help when they might figure it out on their own?

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: A system for compiling observations.

Mastering concepts

Have students mastered core concepts? Your LMS or an outside mastery tracker may include data from activities and assessments. This data can include student’s comprehension, critical thinking and reasoning skills, inference-making abilities, written argumentation abilities, and more.

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: Training in using the grade book or other grade tracker.

Setting and progressing towards goals

Are students setting and progressing towards goals? Goals and the progress students are making can be tracked in spreadsheet or goal sheets you create.

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: Training in Excel or Google Sheets.

Students' personal characteristics

What are your students like? You may create resources such as a Google Form survey that can help you get to know your students. Questions might ask about their learning preferences (alone, in groups, reading, watching, writing), their best times of day for studying, their hobbies and pastimes, their perceptions of their strengths and weakness in the subject area, what they want from the class, what they are nervous about in the class, the types of assessments and activities they prefer, and so forth. Combine their answers with your own observations, noticing and taking notes on students’ participation, interest in reading materials, friends, attention, outside interests, interaction with others, clues about home life, etc.

Training/resources needed to obtain/access data: How to create a Google Form and find the results. A system for compiling observations.

In your blended teaching workbook, you have a blank table like the one above. Decide what sources of data you would like to use in your classroom. Fill out the chart based on what data you want to collect. You may have to ask others for ideas on types of technology and what you need to learn to use the technology.

If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.

8.2 Utilizing Data in Social Science Courses

8.2.1 Mastery Levels in a Social Science Class

According to the National Council for the Social Studies, "The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world." Some of the content necessary for mastery in the social studies is easily assessed through exams with "one right answer." But measuring civic competence—the knowledge, intellectual processes, and democratic dispositions required of students to be active and engaged participants in public life—can sometimes be difficult. 

Data practices combine nicely with personalization to overcome this challenge. Having a system for categorizing the types of learning that various assignments, activities, and questions assess can allow you to see what skills a student does well at and which they struggle with. For example, a student may excel at mastering basic facts but still struggle with perspective taking and historical empathy. They may feel comfortable treating a secondary source as the "objective" truth but be challenged to assess primary sources with all the messiness of understanding context, point of view, and bias. The data that assessments provide you can help you to structure lessons that teach the various skills of social studies learning and civic compentencies. Using this type of information also enables students to set measurable goals and create mastery paths. 

When students have similar problems, you may want to group them together to learn and offer support. At other times, students who excel can become mentors for those who need help and in turn can have students strong in areas in which they are weak become mentors for them. 

Here Ashley shows how she uses data to help her work with her students on mastering content in a self-paced classroom.

Teachers Talk: Data, Data, and More Data (6:01)

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Reflection Question: How does Ashley use data to help her students master content and to foster interactions in the classroom?

8.2.2 Using data to help improve pedagogy

Data come from student performance and student activity. Consequently, that data can give insights into how to best teach your students and what pedagogy to use. Consider reflecting on these questions to evaluate yourself as a teacher and your students as learners:

  • What activities lead to the best results for what kinds of learning outcomes?
  • What confuses your students?
  • What competencies and skills—critical thinking, perspective-taking, inference-making, evidence-based argumentation, healthy skepticism—do students seem most comfortable with, and which do they need additional modelling in?
  • When are they most engaged?
  • Does their engagement also lead to understanding and mastering learning outcomes?

As you think about these questions, what insights do you have about strengthening your pedagogy? What changes might help students achieve mastery as well as their goals? 

Ideas: Using Quiz Data

Data from quizzes can be helpful. If your LMS lets you align questions to specific learning outcomes, you can determine outcomes in which students need more help. 

1. If many students miss the question, check to see if there is a problem with the question (miskeyed, difficult wording, unclear answers or expectations). If there are no problems with the question, check the standard to which the question is aligned. Pinpoint specific areas of confusion, analyze your instruction, and modify where needed. 

2. If most students answer correctly, check to see if the question is too easy. If it isn't, review your teaching strategies for strengths that you might be able to use for similar learning objectives.

3. If just a few students miss the question, you may want to pull those students out in a small group and reteach, remediate, give extra practice, etc. 

Teachers use data in all sorts of ways. Here LeNina Wimmer and her cohort use student work to fine-tune and test a rubric, as well as to evaluate the way they teach concepts to make sure they are all consistent.

Teachers Talk: Using Student Work to Fine tune a Rubric (3:32)

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Reflection Question: What do you learn from the process LeNina and her cohort use to create and use a rubric as well as to evaluate their teaching?

Here are some other examples of ways teachers have used data in a social studies classroom. What ideas do their experiences give you? 

Example 1: Using Data to Immediately Adjust Lessons 

  • When my students fill out a google form or when they are doing an online quiz, I can get data from those sources immediately. I can scan them quickly, then immediately, even before the next period, make any changes I need to improve the lesson or make assignments better (Brooke Davies).

Example 2: Using Data to Create Groups

  • Data has really helped me when I want to group students strategically. In blended teaching I have access to a lot more data, and it is always present. When I grade student papers or they take a quiz, I don’t hand them back and lose access. They are still available to me. So, for example, if I want to group students who think more conservatively with students who think more liberally so I can generate diverse discussions, I can review their writings and get a good idea of who to put in a group (Brooke Davies).
  • In my Canvas grade book I can sort students by their scores on assessments. If I’m doing a review, I sometimes group the top student with the bottom one and make pairs moving towards the middle. Other times, I scoop off the bottom four or five (based on their scores) and do some remedial work with them, while the other students collaborate, read, or do an activity online (Brianne Anderson).

Example 3: Using Data to Learn about and Build Relationships with Students

  • Sometimes, if a student is not very verbal or is shy about having face to face conversations, the only way I get data is to look at what is going on in their online documents. There I can see their work and their ideas. I can leave comments of encouragement or support on the document, but I can also walk over to their desk to talk to them or to call them out in the hallway so I can have a more private conversation. Monitoring what I see online facilitates my in-person support with those students (Mark Stevens).

Think of one source of data that you are not using but that you could use in your classroom. In your workbook, outline a way to collect that data and ways you can use it. If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.

Collecting and using data may be new and thus feel uncomfortable or even overwhelming. But if you think about it, you are already pros at data collection. You are no stranger to data collection. You observe your students, interact with them, listen to them, read their papers, and keep track of their progress and abilities. You are more than ready to explore additional ways to include data in your understanding of your students. Data collection can open new ways of seeing their learning patterns and needs as well as your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. 

Previous Citation(s)
(in progress). SS: Data Practices. In , , , , & (Eds.), K-12 Blended Teaching (Vol 2): A Guide to Practice Within the Disciplines , 2. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/-VVwH

This content is provided to you freely by BYU Open Learning Network.

Access it online or download it at https://open.byu.edu/k12blended_socialscience/ss_data.