Formal data tracking in a structured situation such as a planned academic observation has easily prepared charts, applications, or other devices readily available to track student performance data. But what happens in the classroom, in small groups, on field trips or during coaching when a behavioral situation unfolds spontaneously? Often these spontaneous settings yield the best behavioral data and yet they can also be the hardest to prepare for as far as collecting accurate data is concerned. A little bit of preparation can help you perform good quality spontaneous behavioral situation data tracking. Obviously, if it's appropriate to record typed data on a portable electronic device such as a smartphone or tablet, that can be the quickest and easiest way to collect data (audio recording is a legally questionable thing to do without written parental permissions to do so). However, either you may not have these devices and applications close to hand, or else using these devices will draw too much attention to the note taking/data tracking being done. But even if you are taking handwritten notes, recording spontaneous behavioral data in real time while not being noticed is an art which takes preparation and practice. Here are several preparation tricks which can aid the process of tracking these spontaneous events. Prepare the ground for data tracking. *Habituate students to the possibility that you're taking notes while teaching, working one-on-one, coaching, or on field trips. Have your note-taking materials handy and use them frequently in many situations, until it becomes unremarkable that you're writing something down. *Scribble notes on your teaching outline/clipboard/materials (unless you are using a document camera. In that case, keep your notes off to the side and out of view!). *It may be easier to unobtrusively move to your computer and record notes while teaching than to use a portable electronic device. However, to do this, you need to have your computer monitor set up out of sight of students on a regular basis. This can allow for fast, real-time transcription of comments if you are a quick typist. *Carry a writing instrument at all times. *Carry a larger sticky note pad, small notepad, or 3 x 5 notecard in your pocket. *When all else fails, grab a paper scrap from a recycling bin. *Wear a watch rather than depending upon your cell or electronic devices to time behavior durations. It's often quicker and less noticeable to use your watch. Whatever your recording instrument of choice is, you need to make it an everyday and unremarkable tool that students are accustomed to seeing you use. For example, I will grab scrap paper to help students work through math problems; the same students will see me grab scraps to make notes to myself, so they don't immediately alert when I am writing a note to myself about a behavioral situation that they are involved in. I'm always writing notes and stuffing them into my pockets so it's nothing new as far as they are concerned. Knowing what to record and how much is also an important strategy. Unlike a formal situation, you may not always be thinking about observing or keeping track of a particular behavior until you see it in progress. When the situation begins to unfold, try to get the following data: *Record antecedent, behavior, consequences if it is appropriate *If observing a specific and repeated behavior, use tally marks to keep track of the number of times a behavior is repeated. *Record the triggering incident if you know what it is *Sketch outlines/diagrams to help you remember configuration of students if peers are involved *Note initiation and duration of behavior timing *Note all participants Afterwards, as quickly as possible, formally write up the situation. This can be on an incident report, a memo to file, or some other recording format. Keep your original notes handy as an attachment. It's often better to have too much information than too little. Tracking spontaneous behavioral situations can give you some of your best behavioral data. But in order to make the most of this potential wellspring of information, you need to be prepared. A little bit of preparation before you begin working with students can yield excellent high quality spontaneous behavioral situation data tracking, should the situation arise. It's all just a matter of thinking and planning ahead!
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