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Steve Haberlin holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His scholarship focuses on instructional supervision of teacher candidates, teacher...
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Teacher Inquiry: Collecting Data

Note: The following blog is the second of a three-part series on teacher inquiry.

In last week’s blog, I discussed the value of engaging in inquiry and how to develop questions or wonderings to guide your research. In this blog, I will cover some ways to collect data to inform your inquiry. Data essentially exists everywhere in your classroom and school—you just need to know where to look and possess strategies for accurately collecting it. What follows is a list of data collection methods suited for teacher inquiry:

Field Notes

Field notes allow you to capture your observations in writing. This could include writing narratives, diagramming, quoting conversations, or recording questions you have. Dana and Yendol-Hoppey (2009) recommend that data collection methods be based on your wonderings. For instance, a teacher studying questioning techniques would take field notes on all the questions asked during her lessons. If you were inquiring about classroom seating, you might diagram different table or desk arrangements in your notes. In other words, your methods of data collection should match and support your questioning.

Interviews

Depending on your inquiry, you might want to talk with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. I also advise pre-service teachers engaging in inquiry to consider interviewing students—since they are the ones usually at the center of the inquiry. What are their thoughts on the topic? For instance, if you were inquiring about classroom management practices, doesn’t it make sense to ask students why they might misbehave or what they think of a particular reward system; you can gain valuable data from this approach. It’s best to prepare a list of questions in advance and record (with permission) your interviews so you can go back later and transcribe them. There are many books and resources on how to conduct interviews—a simply Internet search will also do the trick. In my experience, I have found it’s ideal to schedule two interviews, an initial fact-finding, in-depth interview then a follow-up interview, perhaps a week later, to ask clarifying questions that may emerge as you glance through your notes.

Visual Aids (Digital Pictures/Videos)

Another excellent method to capture data is through the use of photographs and/or videos. Of course, make sure to have the necessary permissions with parents of students (school districts differ on their policies for taking photographs, online posting of student pictures, etc., so make sure you know them in advance). For example, a teacher studying transition times in his classroom might video record each transition. This would allow him to later study how the students moved, possible obstacles, the time it took to transition, etc.

Documents/Artifacts/Student Work

Dana and Yendol-Hoppey (2009) note that a tremendous amount of paperwork is produced in schools, which can serve as important sources of data. A teacher could collect student work samples and look across that data for patterns, trends, and other indicators (this will be discussed more in-depth when I write about how to analyze data in the final blog of this series). One might consider the context of particular student work—the amount of time given, where the students were sitting, the time of day—to study productivity and/or performance.

Blogging/Journaling

Finally, another source of teacher inquiry data is writing about your inquiry experiences. This is a great way to think through your inquiry and collect data at the same time. You can blog, for instance, on what you’re noticing in the classroom and the struggles you might face as you study a particular wondering. Like field notes, you have captured your data in the process. By capturing your thinking, you are also practicing reflection, a significant aspect of inquiry.

How Do I Find Time to Collect Data?

This question continuously arises among pre-service teachers I work with, who are required to conduct inquiries as part of their practicum. The best advice I can give is you have to learn to "weave" your data collection efforts into the course of your teaching day. Perhaps before starting the school day, sit at your computer and type a journal reflection. During your lunch, record some field notes. While teaching a lesson, setup a video camera or your cell phone. After school, interview a student. If you make inquiry a regular part of your practice, in time, it will become second-nature, and you will find yourself routinely collecting data. Yes, it’s more work, but you will reap the benefits of informing your practice and taking full responsibility for your own professional development as an educator.