Data Collection: A Guide For Parents
This excerpt from Homeschooling With ABA by Dana Reinecke, PhD, LBA, BCBA is a perfect introduction for anyone new to data collection. For more resources for parents, check out our exclusive Homeschooling With ABA kit!
An important step in planning your child’s education is assessing their needs, both initially and during learning activities. Time is precious, so you don’t want to waste it by attempting to teach something that your child doesn’t need to learn or using strategies that are not effective. Equally important, ongoing assessment provides motivation to keep going, especially when you see your child making progress. Some children are also excited by evidence of their own success and can become more engaged with learning if they are involved in measuring and assessing their own progress.
The first purpose of data collection is to set goals for your child’s learning time. Choosing goals is a whole topic by itself, but as a parent, you are undoubtedly well aware of the skills your child needs to improve to participate successfully in their everyday lives. Very often, however, these skills are thought of as bigger categories that need to be broken down for teaching purposes. You might be concerned about your child’s language skills, but that is a big area to tackle. Language skills can be broken down into goals depending on your child’s needs, to whatever level makes the most sense. For some children, you might start by teaching them the labels for the items they might want to ask for, and for other children it might be more appropriate to address skills like asking questions or staying on-topic in a conversation. Start by meeting your child where they are at, and building from there, for a goal that is achievable and less frustrating than one that might be too big at the moment.
Establish a baseline for each skill area by observing your child and making note of their current level of the skill. If you are thinking about teaching prepositions, try asking your child to put an object on or under the chair, or show them a flashcard from the prepositions deck and ask them to label where the object is in relation to another object. Take data on which prepositions they get correct, and which ones they don’t seem to know, so you know where to focus your teaching. This baseline is what you will compare to later on, to see if your child is learning the skill that you are trying to teach.
Next, use data collection to conduct ongoing assessment of your child’s progress, and the effectiveness of your teaching. For each learning session, collect data similar to the baseline to evaluate your child’s new level of the skill. There are many different ways to collect data, including:
Frequency: counting the number of times something happens (you can use the hand-tally counter to make this easier)
Duration: timing the how long it happens for (using the count-up feature of the timer)
Percent Correct: marking each opportunity as correct or incorrect, to determine the ratio of correct responses (simple paper-and-pencil works well)
The type of data that you collect will depend upon the skill and what you need to know about it. If you want your child to increase writing letters and numbers, frequency might be sufficient. You can see if they are writing more letters and numbers in a 5-minute period each day. If you want your child to play independently, duration would be an appropriate way to measure this skill, using a timer. If you are interested in teaching your child to accurately solve math problems, percent correct would make sense. There are many other ways to measure behavior, and many tools to help make measurement efficient and accurate. After all, you want to spend most of your time interacting with your child and actually teaching, so data collection should be as easy and practical as possible. ABA Tools of the Trade provides clear instructions on how to collect various types of data, and how to graph and analyze it.
Once you choose your data collection strategies and tools, set a reasonable schedule for data collection. You may not need to collect data on every single activity, every single day. Instead, you can collect samples on a regular basis. For example, you might decide to collect data during the first 5 minutes that you work on a particular area each day, or you could collect data on that skill every Tuesday and Thursday. The important thing is to collect enough data to give you the information you need. Collecting data is only the first step; you then use it to determine if your teaching is working, or if you need to change your strategies to better support your child’s learning.
Some parents find that their children are really engaged by data collection, and it can be fun and motivating to let their children self-monitor. This is a form of data collection that most of us are used to using in our everyday lives – if you have ever used a food journal for your own health, or even recorded your transactions in a checkbook register, you are used to self-monitoring. Your child may be able to self-monitor their learning if you teach them how and set up a data collection system that is not distracting. Some children enjoy clicking their own hand-tally counter, and some are great at setting and reading timers. One caveat is that if your child is not progressing as quickly as they would like, self-monitoring might not be as motivating as we would hope. Like everything else in teaching your child, keep it individualized and monitor to determine if it is something that you should continue, change, or discontinue altogether.
About The Author
Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA). Dana is a Core Faculty member and Associate Chair in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University. She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum and documentation. Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences. She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism. Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities and online teaching strategies for effective college and graduate education. Dana is actively involved in the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA), and is currently serving as Past President (2019-2020).