As teachers, we know the importance of data-it drives instruction and behavior interventions. We have had classes about data collection and attend PDs about this topic, but it can be difficult to collect all the data you want with 13 students in your classroom. While the thought of co-teaching and cloning oneself is tempting, the truth is that teachers cannot collect data on their own. Teachers need to be able to rely on paraprofessionals to help in this vital role. Here are five tips for teaching your paraprofessionals about data collection…
1. Explain Why
Explaining why data collection is essential for students and staff is helpful to get staff buy-in. Paraprofessionals need to recognize that data collection is part of their job and helps them to keep their job, especially for a paraprofessional who is assigned as a one-on-one. Explaining the paperwork and process for getting a student a dedicated paraprofessional can help staff to understand that data collection is an important part of the job. Also, if you can get related service providers, your case manager and your administration to support in emphasizing to paraprofessionals that part of their job is to collect data, the more paraprofessionals will understand data collection as part of their job.
It is also worth explaining that data helps to teachers and related service providers to see what supports our students really need. Explaining to paraprofessionals that data collection can also help drive student placement can also be helpful to paraprofessionals in understanding why data collection is important. One other aspect of data collection worth mentioning might be that data gives us numbers to show growth. For example, if data showed a student was screaming 75 times per day and over time the student reduced their instances of screaming to 12 times per day, that shows that paraprofessional support is helping that student.
It is important to model effective data collection to your paraprofessionals. Allowing them to watch you collect the data in real time is helpful in showing them what type of behaviors or responses you are looking for. While it can be difficult to find time to do this, it is so important. I just remind myself that a couple of days of puzzles at teacher time is not the end of the world if I am teaching another adult how to collect data the right way and it will save on reteaching later on.
It is always best practice to run academic programs with a student before you model for a paraprofessional to ensure accurate data collection across staff members. I would also say this is best practice for behavior data also, but understand that sometimes behavior data needs to be collected ASAP in order to start a record for that student. In those cases, that is why it is important to…
3. Take Turns
Taking turns with your paraprofessionals collecting data on certain students and programs is highly beneficial. This shows that data collection is everyone’s responsibility and also helps maintain accuracy in the data collection. I know as a teacher I sometimes don’t check paraprofessional’s data as often as I would like. Running a student’s program or offering to collect a student’s behavior data for the day or part of the day helps you to find the time to review the data and observe if is anything that requires questions, reteaching or feedback. Taking turns also helps the the student with generalization. It’s a win-win-win!
4. Talk About the Data
Talking about the data a few times a week with your paraprofessionals is also a helpful practice. I find that multiple discussions keeps it casual, which allows paraprofessionals to be comfortable asking more questions, being open to feedback and feeling like they are contributing to the success of the student. It also helps you build report with your paraprofessionals. A simple, “how’s it going?” and looking at the data sheet in passing can be effective and spark a positive conversation (“Wow! He needs way less prompting than before!” or “That’s a helpful observation”).
5. Give Feedback…
…and be open to receiving feedback. While being open to feedback can be difficult for teachers (sometimes me!) it can be helpful in achieving paraprofessional trust and buy-in. It can also help you to improve your data sheets or data collection strategies you can teach other staff. This school year, I created a frequency count data sheet for a student with a dedicated paraprofessional and she reported to me that his behavior was more like a chain of behaviors versus individual behaviors. This gave me the opportunity to build a positive professional relationship and it helped me to tailor the data sheet to what that student needed.
Giving feedback is key for improving data collection. Any positive reinforcement you can give will help staff keep up on data collection. Even just acknowledging that they are continuing to collect data and how that is so helpful to you as a busy teacher goes a long way. If there is something that needs to be changed in a paraprofessional’s data collection, I try to make it a discussion or ask questions, rather that just pointing out what they did incorrectly (because no one really likes their mistakes pointed out). Making staff part of the process, makes them feel valued…which only means better data collection for you so you can make decisions to benefit your students.
I hope you found these tips useful and you are inspired to share more of your own. If you are interested in more about training paraprofessionals about data collection, check out past Autism Helper posts, including Why Your Paraprofessionals Need to Take Data and Training Paraprofessionals to Take Academic Data. Another Autism Helper Resource to check out is The Paraprofessional Training Manual available on Teachers Pay Teachers. Happy Data Collecting!