No matter where you work as an SLP, data collection is a critically important part of our jobs. First of all, for all of us, from the very first moment we meet a patient, student, or client, we begin taking data. The data from our initial assessments drives our treatment plans and the data we take during sessions helps us adjust, modify, or change our treatment approaches to provide individualized, patient-or-student-centered services. If you bill insurance, data is not only critical for driving your treatment plan, but it’s also the key to getting paid. In fact, this is now true in the schools too, to some extent, as more and more schools adapt value-added teacher evaluation tools which determine pay raises based, at least in part, on student growth measures (I have much more to say on THAT for a future post, but for now, you canread what Nicole Allison over at SLP Peeps has to say here.)
The point is, no matter where you work or who you work with, a good SLP takes good, quality data. When I was first starting out, the idea of data completely overwhelmed me. In my school placement, I had 43 students on my caseload, each with 4-5 goals. How in the world could I keep track of that many goals?! My SLP supervisor at the time had some great tips and tricks to help me get started, and I’ve honed those data collection skills over the past 3 years. I plan to share those tips with you today!
In general, these tips will be more appropriate for pediatric SLP’s. In my experience, I’ve found data collection will adults tends to be much easier for a variety of reasons… (they don’t move as fast, when you politely ask them to wait a moment while you jot that down, they do – could you imagine asking a 3 year old to do that?!)
Data Collection Tips and Tricks for SLP’s
- When you are getting started with a new caseload or a new client, focus on building rapport first. Your data will be much more meaningful in the future if the person taking the data actually knows the client.
- You don’t have to have 10 data points on every single goal every single session. Chose a manageable starting point. For me, that was 1 goal per session for individual clients, and 1 goal per student for group sessions. Don’t stress about all the other goals – I promise you, you will remember them all eventually! That doesn’t mean you won’t work on the other goals, it just means you aren’t requiring yourself to record data on each goal. This will free you up to focus on observing the student more closely, building rapport, and being spontaneous within activities to see what that reveals about the student and their skills.
- Cycle through your goals. If you chose to take data on a students “wh” question goal last session, take data on a different goal the next session, like using vocabulary words in novel sentences. You might do the same activity for both goals, again, targeting multiple skills each session, but only focus on data for 1 goal at a time. This will give the student multiple opportunities for practice and your data will show their growth!
- Write goals that are easily measurable. Take a look at 2 versions of the same goal for articulation:
- Susie will produce /k, g/ in the initial and final position of single words during semi-structured play activities with 80% accuracy given up to 2 verbal models and 1 visual cue.
- Susie will produce /k, g/ in the initial and final position of single words during semi-structured play activities with 100% accuracy given cues and models as needed.
Which one is going to be easier to document? There are absolutely different opinions when it comes to writing goals, but for me personally, it is much too difficult to keep track of specific amounts and types of cueing when I’m working with a student. If I say the word twice, and the student watches me say it both times, now wait – is that a verbal or visual cue? Do they no longer meet the criteria because they’ve had 2 visual cues? But they said the word correctly – how do I document that?! Goal version #2 is going to be much easier to track. Once a student is stimulable for a sound, you’re going to provide as much support as needed for them to produce the sound successfully, so 100% accuracy is a reasonable goal at the level they are stimulable for (sound in isolation, single word, phrase, sentence, conversation, etc). The days they are able to correct 100% of their errors given cues and models at that level, you will remember it. And then they have met their goal! Move up to the next level of complexity. Every other day, you can simply record “progress made” and 1 data point example (/k/ initial produced given 2 verbal prompts).
- It is important to write measurable goals for language targets as well, and goals that only measure 1 skill. Otherwise, a student might master a skill but not meet their goal because they haven’t mastered the second skill yet. The same is true for articulation targets. It might make sense to group cognates together, like /k, g/, because most children will make progress on both sounds around the same time. However, it would not make sense to group earlier developing sounds and later developing sounds, again because a student might master /p, b,m/ long before they are able to produce “ch” and r-blends. Insurance companies, and possibly school administrators, want to see goals met as an indicator of progress before they will reimburse or reward you for your services, so as soon as a skill is mastered, you want to show that by the student meeting their goal. Again, let’s look at some examples:
- Jack will answer “who” questions with 80% accuracy after listening to a grade-level paragraph length text using appropriate pronouns given up to 2 verbal cues.
- Jack will answer “who” questions with 80% accuracy after listening to a grade-level paragraph length text given up to 2 verbal cues.
- Jack will use appropriate pronouns during structured activities with 80% accuracy given an initial teacher model.
Now, what if Jack answers all of his “who” questions correctly, but uses a character name instead of a pronoun? He hasn’t met goal #1, but he has met goal #2, and in this case, you might need to choose a different activity to target goal #3.
- Target goals with a variety of activities, but keep data collection simple by collecting data during only 1 activity at a time. For example, if you are working on “where” questions, you might target this skill in many, many different ways (during book reading, using picture prompts, walking around outside and asking questions, video modeling, play, etc) You should target the skill in a variety of contexts to facilitate generalization, but to make data collection easier, you might only take data during 1 activity until the student meets the goal in that context. For example, you might ask 5 “where” questions during book reading, and once the student answers 4/5 correctly consistently, then switch collecting data on 5 “where” questions while taking a walk outside. You will still do a variety of activities to target the skill, but only collect data on 1 activity.
- Group students together who are working on similar skills. With high caseload sizes and classroom schedule conflicts, creating appropriate groups can be quite the challenge. While it is also important to group students who are similar in age and developmental level, I think it is more important to create groups who are working on the same skills but might be in different grades. That being said, I wouldn’t group a 3rd grader with a 6th grader, even if that 6th grader is reading at a 2nd grade level, because socially and emotionally, that is not what is best for the student. However, I would much rather group 3rd and 4th graders who are all working on reading comprehension than create a group of all 3rd graders with articulation, social, and language goals. In these situations, there is always 1 or 2 students who are truly getting student-centered intervention, while the others might still benefit from the activity, but it isn’t the best use of their time. If you are doing a pull-out group and the student would be benefiting more from instruction in the classroom than what you are doing in your group, then the group they’re in isn’t appropriate. Students working on language and reading comprehension shouldn’t miss class time to watch you model and practice an /r/ sound. I know ideal grouping is not always possible in the schools, but usually when you take the time to discuss your concerns and issues with teachers, they are willing to be flexible and work with you. Maybe that 20 minute “brain break” could move to after reading or perhaps read aloud doesn’t have to be right after lunch. When your students are grouped appropriately, not only will they benefit focused and specific intervention, but planning activities and taking data will be much easier for you as well.
- Get students involved in tracking their own data! This is probably the biggest shift I have made in moving from the clinic to the school setting, and it has made a huge difference both in the motivation of my students to make progress and in making my life easier! I use rubrics with my students track their progress. The students fill them out as we practice their skills and then the students chart their growth on graph paper. They know what their goals are and know exactly how much growth they need to make to meet their goals. The best part is, I can have a group of 4 or 5 students taking their own data so I can focus on providing high quality cues and prompts, informal observations, and having FUN with my students! The rubrics I use most right now are for articulation and story retelling, but I’m working on more language skills rubrics to use this school year. The rubrics and chart paper I have created for articulation goals are available on my TpT store. Download the sample for a freebie here!
I hope these tips make good sense to you and help those of you just starting our or making a career transition feel more comfortable taking high quality data. I promise, it gets easier with practice. If you have more data collection tips and tricks or if you’ve tried any of the ideas I’ve listed here, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Thanks for reading!