Data Collection … More Than Just ABCs


Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs), Suspension Rates, Attendance, Academic Grades, and Progress Monitoring are just a few different types of data we collect daily.  Although these are all different; they are important and useful.  The list continues during our daily routines surrounded by data of how many times a student raises their hand, to fluency rate in reading, to even how many times one goes to the bathroom.  Oh, and don’t get me started on that awful ‘F’ word….fidelity!  Even though these are all important pieces, where do we start with data collection for behavior?  What’s important? How do we piece it all together? 

This is the second post of six in this Behavioral Teacher series.  Check back to continue gaining knowledge and resources to add to your behavioral management skills.  Future posts will contain specific strategies and resources to complete prior to behavior occurring, during the behavior, and what to do after a behavior occurs.

I get it… Challenging behavior is frustrating!  It is time-consuming, requires a lot of your energy and focus as well as requiring you to often think outside of a box to solve it.  I am hoping that this behavioral series will help with that problem-solving technique and save you time and energy that you can put into self-care and focusing on student needs.  So where can we begin?

Step One: Identify the Problem Behavior 

As I stated in our first blog post in this series, What’s the Function of Behavior? we know behavior occurs for a reason.  It usually will serve a specific purpose for the child.  Behavior is typically used to communicate something.  Problem behavior is influenced by what is going on in the surrounding environment and the needs of the child.  It works for them!   

First, we need to identify a behavior that we want to address.  I offered a Prioritizing Behavior graphic organizer freebie to help with prioritizing a student’s behavior. We want to pick one of those 1st or 2nd priority behaviors that occur most frequently and are the most serious. 

The primary behavior that you pick should occur at least 10-20 times in a week to see a pattern.  Often we think of destructive or aggressive behaviors as the first priority. You should also consider behaviors that may disrupt or prevent you from being able to do your daily routine and behaviors that negatively impact your lives.

Next, we need to make sure we know what the behavior you are addressing looks like by creating a clear and observable definition. 

Step Two: Operationally Define the Problem Behavior 

By creating a clear definition, you will be able to identify the behavior, you will be able to express to your child or student what you want them to do and what you do not want them to do.  This definition should be precise and observable.  

Pass the “stranger’s test”.   Meaning that if a stranger who has never met the student walked into the classroom, he or she would be able to accurately identify if the problem behavior was occurring.  

For example, let’s talk about “impulsive behavior”.  Not only could each person’s impulses look different, but an observer’s expectation of impulsivity may look different.  To one person impulsive means interrupting and for another person, it could mean hitting others.  This can cause problems.  We can’t assume that everyone understands the behavior in the same way so we need to be clear, specific, and observable.  

Step Three: Collect Data 

Once you have the operational definition of the targeted behavior, it is time to begin collecting data and more information.  

3 purposes of Data

  1. Find the student’s strengths and interests (in order to build on them when designing a plan).
  2. Accurately identify setting events, triggering antecedents, and maintaining consequences. 
  3. Accurately collect the baseline of the behavior.  Including the frequency, duration, and intensity of the problem behavior. 

There is no specific recipe or magical form for collecting data that works in every situation.  Every situation is different, and could possibly require a different form of collecting data.  Since this is an important step before designing a behavior plan and/or strategies to deal with challenging behavior, I’ve included TWO freebies just for you!

Trigger Behavior Response Checklist 

Often, we as teachers have enough on our plates.  We don’t’ need nor do we want an extra task to do because we are already bursting at the seams. This is why I created and included a quick and easy checklist for you to help you collect data more efficiently and effectively.  Make sure you indicate the location, date, and time of the event to help when you look for a pattern.  

Trigger Behavior Response Chart

If you are more of a note-taker and like writing details or specifics… then this chart is for you!  This option allows you to be more creative and individual when it comes to collecting information or data.  I wanted to make sure I provide you an option with something to use that will fit your needs. 

Just the Facts… 

It is important to be thoughtful about the data you collect.  Data that is obtained needs to be factual and accurately depict the situation.  Opinions often will skew the data and will end up requiring more time and energy.  We also need to make sure that this collection of data doesn’t control and manipulate our valuable time. 

Look for the Pattern

Once you get the data, it’s time to look for patterns or what is being repeated. Try to look at the big picture and ask yourself some of the following: 

  • Does the behavior occur during a specific time of the day or subject area? 
  • Are there specific circumstances where the behavior happens over and over? 
  • Are there specific people that the behavior consistently occurs?
  • What is the student repeatedly gaining or avoiding? 

Why do we want to collect information on a child’s behavior?  To understand why the behavior is occurring.  To develop an intervention to help your child.  If we understand and know the triggers and behaviors…then we can change the environment and what we do so that it is more likely that the behavior will go away.  

Do you already utilize different forms to collect behavioral data?  Do you find them easy to use or require a minimal amount of time?  We would love to hear about them or feel free to share them in the comments below.  We will continue this conversation of behavior management and discuss in detail what you could do prior to the behavior occurring, during the behavior as well as what to do after a behavior occurs.  

Written by: Christopher Olson

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