Build Habits of Data Use Through the Year

Jun 25, 2024
Build Habits of Data Use

Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit introduced a concept called The Habit Loop.

Habit Loop

Duhigg explained 1) the cue is the trigger for an automatic behavior to start, 2) the routine is the behavior, and 3) the reward is what our brain gets out of it. When it comes to using data to help teachers get better at what they do and support students learning more, we might change the language in the loop. The cue might become the questions we want to answer. The routine is the checklist of actions we take to answer those questions. The reward is the growth in students’ academic success and teachers’ practice. For many, developing habits of data use is not something consciously thought about. The ideas shared here are about developing a habit loop that looks something like this. And guess what? It even occurs during the summer.

Teachers can better improve their practice and student outcomes when they also have an understanding of data’s purposes, value, and uses for improving instruction. – The Data Quality Campaign

Think about the different times of the year and what questions teachers (and learners) are trying to answer at those times. Consider the variety of data that is (or may be) available at different times of year to help answer those questions. Now envision what growth for learners and teachers looks like at different times of the year.

In the Fall

Questions may include the basics:

  • Who’s in my class? What are their strengths/challenges?
  • Where are students starting in their learning?
  • What do students need to know about the assessments we’ll use? What do parents need to know? – Getting together either as a school or team to generate talking points to use with both stakeholder groups is useful. (ex. So in late November, we have conferences, how can we use interim or benchmark data to support those? We want to talk about that in early Nov., right?)
  • How are my learners feeling? What are they most worried about?

What other questions do you have about learners when the school year starts? What student assessment(s) and reports will help answer the questions?

Based on what we’ve talked about, let’s consider actions that might be on your fall checklist.

  • Identify the student assessment(s) to use
  • Identify when the data will be available to dialogue about
  • Schedule time to analyze results (throughout the year)
  • Identify key points for talking with students and parents about each assessment you’ll use
  • Set goals with students and for the class
  • Transparently use the data with students

What other actions need to be part of your habit of data use in the fall?

In the Winter

One interesting aspect of actionable data is that while helping answer questions, it also raises questions. Questions in the winter may include:

  • Where are we at this point? – Winter provides an opportunity to check in on learning progress, particularly with an interim or benchmark assessment.
  • What progress was made toward the goals?
  • What adjustments need to happen—for the teacher or the students?
  • How are learners’ feelings changing over time? Are there patterns in the data?

Midyear assessment data helps educators see what programs and practices are working (growth) with their learners. If it’s working, how do you continue? If it’s not working, what needs to change?

These questions may remind you of others – like those that are part of the formative assessment process – Where is the learner now? And how does the learner get to where they need or want to be? What other questions are you trying to answer during the winter?

Based on the questions you want to answer, think about activities that might be on your winter checklist.

  • Analyze results.
  • Identify student needs.
  • Identify the current areas of strengths and challenge.
  • Monitor progress: adjust goals based on the progress at this time.
  • Make instructional modifications.

Remember we set dates in the fall to analyze results. As we monitor progress, we want to identify student needs to support their success in meeting learning goals and on summative assessments during the spring. What else might you add to the winter action checklist?

In the Spring

Questions in the spring may include our thinking and preparation for summative assessments. When spring comes, we want to be reflective. What worked? What might we do differently next year? What have I learned about my students this year?

  • What did I learn about my practice?
  • Was my practice focused on content, groups or individuals?
  • Have learners’ feelings improved or gotten worse? Is there a correlation to their academic success?
  • Review the questions we said we wanted to answer and see which might be most appropriate for spring.
  • What might be important to consider as activities or fun learning over the summer that would be beneficial to the student based on the data?
  • If you take the time to set goals with students, now is the time to talk with them about where they are and how far they’ve come in relationship to their goals – for this year and next.
  • Use your data, the insights, patterns, and trends to reflect and plan for next year.
  • Talk with parents about students’ goals – this year and next.

During the Summer

  • How do I plan to start the school year?
  • What will I do the same? What will be different?
  • What are my professional goals related to using evidence of student learning?
  • How can I increase student voice in my classroom?

What might be other questions for summer?


Remembering that summer is vacation, we just wanted to offer a couple of ideas to ponder.

  • Review data from the past school year to identify grade and individual student historical trends. Historical trends can help you set challenging and yet attainable goals for yourself and your students.
  • Plan talking points for a back-to-school event (What do parents need/want to know? How do you use the data? How do students use the data? How will you share the data with parents? How can parents support the use of the results?)
  • Now let’s think about potential implications for your practice.
    • What data do you use to make instructional decisions?
    • What data do you use to triangulate? Using multiple measures to guide decision-making is important.
    • How can we be most responsive and flexible when grouping students with similar needs?
    • What habits do I want to develop in my learners so they feel ownership of their learning?
    • What habits do I want to develop when it comes to using data? What habits do I want to instill in my students?

Throughout the year it’s important to be:

  • Clear – for you, students and parents about the purpose of each assessment or data source.
  • Transparent – explain and demonstrate how you use the data and how you want students to use the data, use assessment as a support for learning.
  • Deliberate – plan which reports and when you’ll use them.
  • Disciplined – make the data actionable – develop habits of using the data (both you and your learners).

Charles Duhigg in the Power of Habit tells us that to make a habit our brain takes a series of actions and converts it into an automatic sequence. These ideas are an important part of your automatic sequence when it comes to making data actionable, for you and your learners.

Interested in transforming your school into a data-driven environment? Discover essential steps to implement data-driven instruction effectively.

Get the latest education insights sent directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our Knowledge Articles