How to Involve Early Elementary Students in Data Collection

Tracking information related to their learning teaches students useful data skills and guides them to work on goal-setting.

October 20, 2023
Jedi Noordegraaf / Ikon Images

At the beginning of the school year, it can feel like we’re endlessly assessing students. Especially with our youngest learners, we want to monitor their progress in phonological awareness, letter names, letter sounds, sight words, blending, etc. Trying to manage all of this data collection can feel overwhelming. 

But imagine how process monitoring can change when students are engaged in data reviews and goal setting. Changing my mindset around data transformed data collection from a monotonous task to the best part of my day. The impact of these metacognitive strategies extended far beyond simply monitoring academic progress. 

Initiate Discussion of Metacognition and Growth Mindset

When I first identified the change I wanted to make in my classroom, I wondered where to begin. I found read-alouds to be the perfect place to start to discuss the “power of yet.” There are so many amazing growth mindset texts. I chose to read and discuss two texts with my class: Giraffes Can’t Dance and Jabari Jumps. After discussing what these characters couldn’t do “yet,” I read The Magical Yet to my students. We shared how we all have things we can’t do “yet.” To grow, we have to identify those things and work on them to get better. 

The read-aloud discussions sparked a natural conversation about how to identify skills you’re not good at yet. This created a natural bridge into discussing the why of assessments with my students. 

Engage Students in the Data Collection Process

I started talking to my students about exactly what skill we were assessing during tests, how it would be measured, and what the results meant. We discussed the reason behind progress monitoring so that it wasn’t a scary experience but instead an informative one for them and me. I found that this mitigated some of the stress or anxiety around testing because my students understood what the data meant. They also understood assessments as a formative way to see what they could and couldn’t do yet. 

To bring my students into the data-review process in an engaging way, I used graphs as a student-facing assessment tracker. When I was assessing sight-word fluency, I created a graph with 25 sections and had students color in how many phrases they read correctly. This allowed students to visualize the results of their assessment and better understand the skill they were working toward. This same technique could also be done with phonological awareness, reading comprehension, or fluency by simply adjusting the graph or visual to reflect the data collected. 

Set Personalized Child-Centered Goals

After creating the visual representation of the data, I worked with my students in small groups to set SMART goals. I allowed them to analyze their own results and choose one goal they were interested in tracking. Although you may have multiple goals for your students, I found it was helpful to start by tracking one goal in a student-facing way so as to not overwhelm these young learners. If your students need a scaffold, you can provide them with a bank of options for goals or establish group goals based upon the data. 

Make Data Visible in Child-Centered Ways

After students set their goals, you’ll want to keep them motivated. Just like teachers have data meetings, you can have data meetings with your students. Think about the schedule for when you will reassess and how you will have students track their progress. In my classroom, I created data folders for each student where they could track their individual goals without the pressure of sharing them with others. Every Friday, we had goal-setting sessions where I would conference with students individually or in small groups. These meetings would last just a few minutes if one-on-one or about 15 minutes if in small groups. During these data meetings, we would either have a discussion about their progress or complete a reassessment to add new data to their tracker. 

I found that these data sessions were most effective when we created a digital data-collection calendar so that my students could count down to their next progress-monitoring session. This helped prepare them for what to expect and also promoted authentic calendar skills as they identified how many days or weeks they had to practice before the next check-in.

Celebrate Success

The most important part of data monitoring and goal setting is celebrating successes. Students need to see their hard work paying off and recognize the feeling of pride within themselves. As students make progress toward their goals, provide them with opportunities to celebrate. One way we celebrated was by sending postcards home to students’ families whenever they met a goal. This was a motivating way to bridge home-school communication, and it extended the celebration as students waited for the mailed postcards to arrive at their homes. 

In addition to sending postcards home, students shared their progress during the fall and spring conferences. During student-led conferences, students shared the goals they worked on and explained their graphs or work samples that showed progress toward their goals. To prepare for this kind of data sharing, we practiced creating an agenda for the conference, using sentence starters about goals, and practicing with peers before presenting to families. This meaningful presentation of their data allowed students to develop the language to discuss their progress and future goals.


Turn boring data into advocacy opportunities: Instead of viewing assessments as simply a checklist of tests you have to complete, try framing assessments as an opportunity to promote natural discussions about feedback with students. I believe that goal setting is a metacognitive skill that needs to be taught, practiced, and discussed just as much as the academic skills that students are required to master. These techniques encourage perseverance, self-monitoring, and self-reflection. Transforming your current data-collection process will allow you to experience the joys of progress monitoring to make your students advocates in their own educational journey.

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Filed Under

  • Assessment
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Student Engagement
  • K-2 Primary

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