Voices on Data Literacy and Initial Teacher Education: Pre-service teachers’ reflections and recommendations

July 2020

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(7)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents the reflections and recommendations of three pre-service teachers and is based on their experiences of participating in a data driven decision making intervention whilst on an immersive professional learning experience.
This research study is part of a larger research interest on data literacy in initial teacher education.
The larger research study is aimed at finding pedagogical strategies to develop pre-service teachers’ data literacy and data-driven decision-making processes.
In this paper, the authors focus on pre-service teachers’ perspectives of collecting and using data.
The pre-service teachers had to analyse how their own teaching practices, whilst on a 10-week professional learning experience, were impacted upon as a result of their action research project.
The study asks the research questions: a) what are pre-service teacher reflections on collecting and using data in the classroom; and b) what are pre-service teacher recommendations for improving preservice teacher education on using data for learning and teaching purposes?

Research Design
The need to undertake inquiry that positions the teacher as an action researcher so that they are able to reflect on practice and make independent curriculum data-driven decisions, has been outlined in the research as an important focus in a teacher’s role (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Fecho & Allen, 2003).
Action research provides an appropriate platform to support pre-service teachers in developing their research skills, data literacy, and data-driven decision making.
Purposeful sampling was used to select the participants.
Purposeful sampling is frequently used in qualitative research for the identification and selection of information-rich cases that are related to the phenomenon of interest (Palinkas, Horwitz, Green, Wisdom, Duan, & Hoagwood, 2015).
There were 27 pre-service teachers in the 2018 cohort, and all were invited to participate in the collaborative writing of this paper.
Three pre-service teachers volunteered to participate in the study and contributed written reflections.
The pre-service teachers were asked to write their reflections after their grades had been confirmed for the course so that there were no perceived benefits or coercion from participating in the study.

Data Collection and Analysis
The data comprised a written reflection from the three pre-service teachers.
The preservice teachers were asked to write a critical reflection on the development of their data literacy during the action research.
Guiding questions were given in order to help the pre-service teachers to articulate their reflections.
The reflections were coded against themes that arose in Phase 1 and 2 of the research study.
The first two questions were designed to elicit the pre-service teachers basic understanding of what data literacy means and why the pre-service teachers were expected to develop their own personal data literacy (rather than their students’).
The process was steered by Braun and Clarke’s (2006) procedure for conducting the thematic analysis.

Findings and discussion
The findings of this phase of the research, from the perspectives of the educators, support the literature that argues that hands-on activities, even at a university level, enhance students’ learning and deepens their understanding of the course content and enables skills development (e.g. Brown et al, 2011; Bywater, 2014; Dunlap & Prio, 2016, Winn, 1995). As with all skills, practice is needed not only to develop mastery of skills, but also to identify gaps in knowledge and competencies.
What the authors argue here is that they need to backfill their degree programs in order to build in mastery experiences in a similar way in which they develop data literacy across several years.
They posit that through giving space to hear the voices of the pre-service teachers, they can gain a better understanding of what they believe they need to develop the requisite skills and competencies in their degree programs.
From the analysis of the reflections, several recommendations were put forward by the pre-service teachers.
They advocated for dedicated time to develop data collection, analysis, and visualisation skills and that these skills should be embedded in their degrees from the first year of their degree.
They argued that this will enable them to gain mastery of the data collection before they are immersed in their professional experience.
In this sense, they will develop the capacity to self-regulate their own professional learning.
It was also stated that by gaining mastery over the data collection side of the action research that they could couple data collection with their existing teaching strategies (e.g. exit cards, pre-midpost-tests, and classroom observations).
The pre-service teachers also advocated for mentor style relationships with supervising teachers during their placements, so that they had access to an expert to share their ideas with and to refine their approaches.
They confirm that action research, whilst time-consuming, gave them space to reflect upon their own professional learning and the learning of their students.
They confirmed that they were able to use evidence from their teaching to prove that their students were learning.
This in turn built confidence in their effectiveness as teachers.
One stream of thought arising from the reflections was in relation to professional preparedness in that through undertaking the project, they felt better prepared for the workplace and more confident in their abilities as classroom teachers.
What stands out from the reflections is the conceptualisation of self-assessment, taking risks, and professional learning.
The pre-service teachers, as part of the process, needed to take learning and teaching “risks” in that they needed to implement strategies and then measure and reflect upon the impact of their choices.
Opportunities to take such risks in the classroom and to then learn from these critical events is seen to be an essential experience in learning about teaching (Nilsson, 2009; Smith & Sela, 2005).
In this study, the pre-service teachers had to try out something that they had not done before and then to reflect on the effectiveness of their intervention.
This meant moving them beyond what they may have felt comfortable with in order to develop a new set of skills and perspectives to cope with the complexities and multifaceted challenges of teaching.
The three pre-service teachers experienced positive outcomes from their action research, and their reflections indicate that they have developed a deeper understanding of the practice of teaching and the value of data to inform classroom decisions.

Through enabling the pre-service teachers to undertake their own action research projects over the duration of an extended immersive period, the pre-service teachers feel better equipped and more confident in their skills.
The authors also advocate that this is the best means to prepare them for the classroom and their professional careers.
Perhaps the greatest potential gains from this type of action research project derive from the way in which it allows pre-service teachers to develop an understanding of the process of doing research by following a research project from its early stages to its conclusion.
From this process, preservice teachers develop data literacy, confidence in their ability to ask effective learning and teaching questions, and positive reinforcement from seeing the results of their teaching improve student learning.
Having these skills enhances the understanding of pre-service teachers on how evidence-based practice through using data can transform their understanding of teaching and learning.

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Winn, S. (1995). Learning by Doing: teaching research methods through student participation in a commissioned research project, Studies in Higher Education 20(2), 203-214. 

Updated: Apr. 06, 2021


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