One of the most challenging aspects of my job as a related service provider is the fact that I am all over the place!  I am currently assigned to students in 3 buildings – and I have roughly 1 day at each place.  There is so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it!  My schedule is super full. I do not have a dedicated office space.  My organizational skills are not the best.  None of these factors particularly support my ability to take stellar data.   

Full disclosure here: data collection is NOT my strength, but I have definitely gotten better over the years. I have used a variety of systems over the years and these systems have changed depending on the setting I work in.  When I was mostly in preschool, I could not have my iPad out for documentation – I had a one page sheet I created so I could easily jot down info.  My current caseload is more high school, transition and elementary students, so I am now using Google Forms for my daily OT documentation – because while I am very likely to lose a piece of paper in one of my many bags, it is very unlikely that I will ever be without my iPad!

While I have worked hard to make my daily OT notes as easy as possible, I can’t get all the information I need on my own, only being present one day per week.  In order for me to truly understand my students, I need to get information on how they are doing the other 4 days of the week when I am not around!  So, how in the world can we as related service providers get the information we need when we just aren’t present enough?  Here are some things that I have done that may help you!

Build relationships

  • Taking the time to build relationships with all of the fabulous teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff we work with is so important.  This can take time.  Show the team that you are ‘in it to win it’ and are ready to support however you can.  I have put my therapy agenda aside or skipped my plan time on many occasions just to help when a classroom is understaffed or a student is having a hard time.  Don’t be afraid to do things like escort students to art class, lead the circle time songs, pass out lunches, attend music concerts, load students on/off buses – you get the idea.  I have found that when I’ve shown the team I am committed, it has done wonders for my relationships.   Staff members feel like they can trust me because they know I’ve got their back.  So then when I ask staff to take time out of their busy day to help me collect some data, they are much more willing to help.  

Be collaborative

  • Ask the staff who will be helping you what they think about data collection.  Involve them in the conversation.  Does paper and pencil work, or do they prefer using an iPad if available? Given the skill you are tracking, how do they see data collection working?  What is reasonable?  I am currently tracking a student’s independence with prepping her lunch and she shares a paraprofessional with another student.  Once I established a good working relationship, I began to talk with the paraprofessional about possible data collection and what it might look like.  Given that she has the responsibility to get 2 students ready for lunch (who both need quite a bit of support), she felt like she would be able to try to take some extra data for me 1 time per week to start.  It was such a great collaborative discussion and I easily went from having 1 data point a week (my own data) to 2 data points weekly (and sometimes even more).  If I would have come in dictating exactly what I wanted the data collection to look like, I’m not sure we would be where we are now.  

Make it easy

  • Making data collection easy for other people is actually a lot more work for us to set up the right system – but so worth it.  It takes a lot of time and thought to design data sheets that are easy to understand and use.  If a sheet is too cumbersome or overwhelming, the chances of any data being taken is slim to none. 
  • Data sheets can just simply indicate the level of prompting or they can be more detailed to include specific numbers of prompts (obviously this depends on your goal).  I have made data sheets that aides just have to circle.  Or, when tracking the use of a sensory support during circle time, I simply used a +/- chart (did the support work or not?).  
  • Put a data sheet where data collection happens!  In order to track the use of a sensory room, we put data sheets on the door.  In order to track a student’s productivity at work, we put data sheets in the job coach’s folder that always travels with them.  In some classrooms, student’s have dedicated binders, folders, or data bins  and it could make sense to put your sheet there.  Whatever you decide, make sure it is easy and makes sense to those who will be helping you!

Involve the student

  • This is one of my favorite things to do!  There are so many ways we can involve our students in the data collection process.  In the past, one of my students had a goal to complete an email that summarized his day.  I had him send the email to me and his mom.  I was able to track how many days per week he was completing the email in this simple way.  I currently have a student working on increasing his stamina at work.  I am having him sign into his job, indicating the time he began and time he ended as well as how many breaks he took.  When I worked in ECE, the students filled out a daily sheet where they circled what activities they did that day.  This could be used as a piece of data collection to track what centers the child was choosing.  

Take pictures

  • I love taking pictures of work samples, worksheets, etc. as data!  If a student has a writing goal, I can quickly take a picture of a worksheet and analyze letter sizing and spacing that way at a later time.  Same thing applies to a cutting goal. I can take a picture of the child’s grasp on the scissors and the finished product so I can see how accurate he was.  This way I don’t have to worry about keeping track of the paper or asking the classroom teacher to keep track of it either.   Let’s say we are working on a child’s pencil grip, the teacher or para could snap a quick picture as data for that skill.  Or, if your schedule gets messed up like mine did earlier this week and you wind up unexpectedly seeing a student without your typical data sheets handy, you can just use the whiteboard to whip up a simple data sheet and then take a picture of it.  Bonus – these pictures can be shared with families at IEP meetings or conferences, which is always a plus.  

As related service providers who are not always present in a classroom, collecting data throughout the week on skills and goals can be challenging – but with some collaboration, commitment and creativity, it doesn’t have to be!  

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