Not too long ago, on a trip to Colorado, I had the opportunity to go hiking with my children up a mountain in Chautauqua Park in Boulder. At the foot of one of the many trails, I looked up at the mountain, and became very overwhelmed. How was this Florida girl going to make it up and back down that mountain in this thin air? My adult children, one with a baby in a pack, bounded up the trail. I told them to go on ahead. This looked too hard and I didn’t think I could make it. I would stay down. Off they went without me. After I while, I thought that maybe I could go a little way up. So, I picked out a tree a short way up the trail and made that my goal. I reached the tree, gasping for air, with all of my muscles screaming at me. I stopped. I took some deep breaths, and then I looked back at where I had come from. It was much farther than I thought and the view was beautiful. Maybe I could go a little farther. So, I picked a big rock up ahead and huffed and puffed my way up the trail, stopping at each appointed goal, catching my breath and taking in the view, relishing how far I had come. I kept going this way until I had climbed up to the top of the mountain and back down again. My children were waiting for me at the bottom, cheering my success.
Our jobs as therapists in the schools can be a lot like this. All the things that we need to do can look like insurmountable mountains to climb. I’ve been talking to quite a few people about documentation and data collection. That seems to be a really big mountain for many of us. So, how do we climb Mount Data?
Here are a few strategies that come to mind:
Climb the mountain one small step at a time.
Right now, if you are having trouble taking any data at all, set a small goal and work to reach it. Maybe the goal is to take data on just your articulation students. Maybe the goal is to take data on a certain number of your groups, or maybe the first small goal is to figure out, and organize how you will actually document the skills being taught. If you are so paralyzed by the size of the task, find ways to break it down into small steps and move forward.
There are different trails up the mountain.
Data collection is not a one-fits-all type of activity. How and when you document progress will depend on the skill being taught, and the ability of the student to participate in monitoring his or her own progress. We are all familiar with taking frequency counts where you can compute the percentage of correct responses. With some skills, you may need to take speech or language samples, analysis of a story retells, pre-tests/post-tests, observations, work samples, or descriptions of student responses. One really effective way to document progress is by using learning scales (rubrics) to break down the smalls steps needed to achieve the overall goal, and to chart the progress towards the goal. It is basically a continuum of teaching behavior leading to student expertise. Learning scales can be used to track student progress, and used by the student to track his/her own progress. This data can be descriptive in nature or could be set up to be graphable data. Learning scales are very effective informal assessment tools used during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student achievement. In fact, research has shown that tracking student progress using learning scales results in a 34% higher gain than when not using this strategy. I will be writing more about how to use learning scales to document student data at another time, so stay tuned for that. As you move up the mountain, pick the trail that will get you to the top.
Stop and evaluate your progress up the mountain.
It is important to remember the purpose of taking data. So often, we become so overwhelmed by all the tasks we need to do that we simply complete the activity, and then file it a way. The key to data is using it to drive your therapeutic instruction. It is critical to elicit evidence of the student’s understanding, and then give accurate and specific feedback to the student. What does your data tell you? Is the student making progress or not making progress? Do you need to add in more supports? Do you need to change the strategies you are using to teach the skill? If the student isn’t “getting it,” we need to dig deeper and analyze why they may not be making progress on the skill. Data gives you information to provide guidance to the students, and to help you understand when and if you need to alter or differentiate your therapeutic instruction to ensure all your students make progress. Stop, take a breath, and take of picture of what the data looks like by analyzing it and using it to guide you as you continue up the mountain.
Celebrate a Successful Journey.
You have conquered that mountain. You have developed ways to efficiently and effectively document student progress. You have provided feedback and the students are now documenting and taking pride in their own progress. You have differentiated and altered your therapy on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of your students, and, as a result, students are meeting goals and being successful in the classroom. Before you try to conquer that next mountain in front of you, be sure to celebrate! Take a look at your journey over the mountain. Stop and enjoy the view! Make sure you have a support team waiting at the foot of the mountain to cheer you on, or to make the climb with you!
The Heart of a Therapist!
We can have all the knowledge, know all the therapy techniques, and be highly skilled,
but we must have the heart needed to genuinely care for our students to be the best we can be!
We will never make it up those mountains without the heart to do the work!
At CRA Therapy, our therapists have heart!!
Jane Hastings, MMSc, CCC-SLP