Sunday, December 22, 2013

It Has to Be Said: (6 Tips and Tricks for Easy) Data Collection

One of the things that first drew me to Applied Behavior Analysis was data collection. Growing up, the rigor of science always appealed to me. When I found out about ABA during my undergrad career, I was eager to learn more about it. Fortunately for me, I haven't stopped learning since.

I've always believed that the best educational pedagogies involve a synthesis of the art of teaching and the science of applied behavior analysis. I am forever thankful that my current position allows me to apply my unique philosophy to better the lives of my students.

But let's be honest, in a world where teachers and parents are bombarded by a seemingly endless list of duties, no one is jumping to add another commitment. In the past, I've heard comments from fellow educators who believe that data collection is a waste of time. "There's too much emphasis [on data collection]. Teaching is suffering."

Say what now?

If this is the case where you are, read on.

Data collection doesn't have to be overbearing. Of course, it should be as accurate as possible but it should also be manageable. Check out these tips for minimizing some of "the crazy requirements" surrounding data collection.

1.  Use permanent product as much as possible. Regular education teachers do this all the time (think grades/homework) and special education teachers (no, wait, ALL teachers) can, too! A lot of kiddos have academic goals that can be tracked by using some sort of "artifact" from the learning process.

An example of this is measuring a child's single-digit addition goal via a full-in worksheet. "Bobby will be able to accurately complete single digit (1-9) addition problems. This goal will be considered mastered when Bobby achieves at least 90% accuracy on daily math probes for three consecutive school days." So, each day in school, give Bobby a work sheet or ten addition clip ons (check out some of my other clip ons here). He turns it in or places it in the finished work bin and TADA! You are able to collect data on an academic goal via permanent product.

2. Train and train well. And then provide additional prompts. Most likely, more than one person is going to be taking data on a behavior. It's important for all professionals to know the protocol for the data collection. It helps to run through any new procedures at least a few times. Even with veteran staff, it can help to provide additional prompting. In my classroom, each child has his or her own clipboard for data collection.We also type, print, and use contact paper to adhere specific definitions to each board. Each student's data collection sheets are printed and dated at the start of each week; lowering the response effort seems to increase the probability that all staff will consistently collect data ;).

3. Use tools to aide the process. Did you read my post about tally counters? They are a simple, effective way to frequency count and can be clipped onto a board, wrist, or belt loop. We also started attaching small digital timers to any clipboards we are using to measure duration.

4. Remember the terminal goal. Essentially, why is data collection taking place? Is the aimline (or where you want to "see the behavior go") set? Is progress being made or is a change necessary?  I the life of a teacher, it's easier than it should be to lose sight of the purpose for data collection. If there isn't a clear goal or progress is not being made, a change is in order.

5. Data collection is only as effective as the analysis that follows. We all need the occasional friendly reminder. The ultimate purpose of collecting any data is to use it to make informed decisions to better the lives of students. Best practice involves graphing at the end of every session, school day, or as soon as possible (whichever comes first). The staff responsible for collecting data can also be asked to graph it, as well.

6. Be consistent. Try to incorporate measures for interobserver agreement, or IOA. An easy way to do this is to ask two staff to collect data at the same time but independently of one another. Also, if data collection is supposed to happen at a set time (i.e. every day, during math, at recess) be sure that it is collected as much as possible. This will allow the data to reflect the behavior(s) as accurately as possible.

Phew! Are you tired, yet? I've recently taken on the task of re-graphing (electronic and hand) all behavioral data for all kiddos where collection is necessary. It's one of the tasks that has prevented me from posting as of late (in addition to completing the ABLLS-R for my students, finals week, holiday shopping, baking, decorating, wrapping, and shoveling feet of snow... oh and not to mention my basement flooded yesterday).

There's a lot more I would like to discuss... such as our December holiday crafts, my thoughts on the ABLLS-R, and the top secret parent gifts that we sent home on Friday but duty calls. I would like to strike at least a few things from my to-do list today.

Happy Teaching!
Kortnie C.

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