Every child with a behaviour problem can be a useful source of information – clear and structured observations can provide feedback on the efficacy of IEPs or classroom management strategies

Information about where or when the behaviour occurred can be collated with information on a number of individuals (start with no more than 10), allowing teachers to observe patterns and similarities. This in turn will contribute to individual reviews and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of current arrangements. If no patterns emerge it is an indication that whole-school approaches are working well. However, if your observations show that all students are experiencing problems at common times (eg, lunchtime or the start of the day), you need to consider changing whole-school arrangements and policy. Collecting information on the behaviour of individual children allows the teacher to formulate a working hypothesis about the nature of their problems. It is rarely possible to “get it right” from the beginning and you should be prepared to modify your arrangements as more information is collected. Data collected before a programme begins can be used as a yardstick to measure its success. In the absence of such a measure, both you and the student may feel like giving up because you feel like no progress has been made. With clear data, small steps are there for everyone to see – you, the student, the parent and the rest of the staff. Observing and collecting information is clearly useful, but can be incredibly time consuming. As with any intervention, the principle of using the “lightweight” response first applies. There is a temptation to make endless and copious notes on a student’s behaviour, only to find that you cannot see the wood for the trees. Too much information can be as harmful as too little. To be effective and useful the information collecting should be a simple and straightforward operation. By the end of the observation/collection process you should be able to answer the following:

  • What exactly is the behaviour problem and what exactly would you prefer the student to be doing instead?
  • When and under what circumstances is the behaviour most likely to occur?
  • What seems to be happening after the behaviour has occurred that may be causing it to continue?  

Practical tips

You will no doubt begin by collecting simple information on a number of problems. The first step is to decide which problem is the one to start with. A simple approach would be to record: However, you should be mainly focusing on ‘what?’ Once you have decided which problem you will be working on, there are a number of different methods you can use to collect information. These will, of course, depend on the behaviour to be recorded and the time and resources available.

  1. Event or incident recording. Probably the simplest method of collecting information about a behaviour problem is event or incident recording. Use a diary to record incidents that do not occur too frequently. Focus on specific incidents rather than lengthy descriptions of general behaviour. Include information about the setting, where and when it took place and the outcome. Include what you did and how the student responded. This is also known as ABC (antecedent, behaviour and consequence) recording.
  2. Frequency or tally recording. This type of recording can be adapted to record behaviour problems that occur more frequently. As well as noting general information you should keep a tally of the frequency. You need to make decisions about whether you intend to reduce the frequency or eliminate the behaviour. There are some health and safety issues to consider! You may want to reduce shouting out in the class, but kicking other students should be eliminated if possible.
  3. Ratio recording. The tally technique can be further refined to provide a ratio measure that takes account of the opportunities that arose for a behaviour to occur as well as the number of times it actually did occur, thus giving a more accurate picture of the problem.
  4. Duration recording. This form of recording should be used when simply counting an incident would give a false picture of the problem.
  5. Time sampling. When a behaviour is occurring frequently or continues for a long time, then event/duration recording may prove too time consuming. Time sampling involves observing a child either at random or at fixed intervals and noting whether the behaviour was occurring at the time of observation.

Changes in the behaviour of students with persistent behaviour problems can often be small. Your records will help you plan appropriate interventions and help you demonstrate progress.

Find out more:

Refer to Matching Teaching to Learning – a publication to help secondary schools combine lesson observations with student surveys. Matching Teaching to Learning provides you with a way to map and extend the range of teaching and learning strategies used in your school.

Using this excellent resource will allow you to improve the school experience for your students by personalising your preferred teaching techniques to fit their styles of learning. Click here for more information.

Find out more:

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2007

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years at headteacher level. Dave has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.