Taking data might be one of those ‘shoulds.’ I should take vitamins. I should eat more vegetables. I should set my alarm earlier. Those ‘shoulds‘ pop up every now and then but we usually don’t have enough motivation to actually make it a regular thing. Let’s think about this behaviorally for a moment. A lot of these ‘shoulds‘ don’t have an immediate reinforcer. Right after you take vitamins, you aren’t instantly feeling healthier. The second you put down your pencil after taking data, your principal doesn’t pop out of your laptop like I Dream of Genie and hand you $100 (although that would be awesome…). For taking data it seems like a take it or leave it thing. There is no aversive consequence if we don’t take data and no immediate reinforcer if we do.
So it’s time to reframe the whole data collection should. One major obstacle many of us face with regards to taking data is the effort. And I don’t mean that in a ‘we are being lazy way’ but instead in a ‘way have so much damn else to do.’ You just finished helping 9 kids transition among their centers remembering which students need prompting and which students have already begun to do this independently. You hand out tokens, praise, and high fives. You answer staff questions. You get your student sitting. You are following the behavior plan. You are scanning the room to make sure everyone is one task. You make teacher eye contact with a student across the room telling him to get back to work. Your student is ready to work. For the moment, he is attentive and engaged. With all of that going on, the thought of turning around, finding a pencil, finding the write page in a binder, and writing the data, program, and goal is just not happened. When you turn your back to do that – where has your previously attentive student gone? He’s long gone. He’s probably playing with an iPad you didn’t know you even had. The data collection system has got to be easy. We are going to talk a lot about that this month. But today we are going talk about something different. Besides it being easy, you’ve got to see the value in it. If you see the value and purpose of collecting data, it will be reinforcing and you will keep doing it.
You will see progress.
Special ed teachers have this risky little skill. It’s called habituation. We get used to the norm real quick. What is a horrible no good very bad day in September is just a typical Tuesday in February. When it comes to behavior changes for my students, I don’t want to think things have gotten better – I want to know they have gotten better. That’s the same with academic, functional, and communicative skills. I don’t want to assume progress – I want to see that progress. I want to see the hard work of my students paying off. I want to stand by my instructional methods with certainty. Data will give you that. Data will give you that certainty. Data will let you know for sure that you are making progress.
You can divide and conquer.
When our students have a lot to learn, it’s tempting to jump around a lot. Between academic skills, functional concepts, communication/social skills, and behavioral needs – it can feel like we need triple minutes in each school day. Our students have a lot to learn. But jumping from concept to concept might make you feel like you are covering a lot of ground but instead you may be inadvertently teaching a little bit of a lot but never really mastering the concepts fully. When we take data, we focus on a specific skill. Instead of targeting the board concept of colors or prepositions – we can focus in on a few targets at a time. To me, this helped immensely with feeling like we were actually getting something done. It felt like my student and I were slowly building a tower and each piece was a concept that we mastered.
You have a plan.
This one is huge for me. Remember that busy scenario that explained in unnecessary detail above. That situation happens to us all day. Half the time by the time you sit down with a student or group, you have completely forgotten what your plan was, what concepts they are working on, and what you ate for breakfast. If your data sheet is ready to roll right in front of you, you can jump right in. On a day to day basis, this makes like much easier. But it also helps in the long term too. Instead of jumping from concept to concept – we can create a more long term plan. Those IEP goals we write have so many concepts embedded into each one. Unpack those IEP goals a bit. Pull exactly what concepts you will be working on and the order you will be working on them. You can get fancy and call it a curriculum map or keep it simple and just have that plan. When teachers tell me, “I don’t know what to work on next with this student” my super annoying answer is – “let’s check the data and it will tell us.” Based on your student’s progress, you will know what to do next.