Kid Confidential: Data Collection Using Thematic Therapy

data collection

In December’s Kid Confidential column, I discussed the advantage to using thematic lessons in speech therapy.  Last month, I explained how I write goals when using thematic lessons in therapy and the need for additional sources of data throughout the academic environment.  Today, I’m going to discuss how I record data during thematic therapy sessions as well as how I have gotten other school staff members on board to collect data.  Please note that the below information is based solely on my clinical experience.

Data Collection of SLP in Thematic Therapy Sessions

There are three main ways I can think of to collect data using thematic therapy.  The first of which is to do so throughout the entire therapy session.  The second way is to collect data for certain activities during each session.  The third option is to use periodic data collection among several therapy sessions.

Target goals throughout the entire session

Once you know exactly what skills you are targeting with each student you can determine how you will do this in thematic lessons.  One way to do this is to simply target at least one skill for each student in every thematic therapy activity.  I tend to use this technique most often when working with small groups of students who demonstrate emerging skills.  I will choose language rich thematic activities and incorporate ways to target at least one goal/objective for each student during each activity.  For example, if I have a student who is struggling with pronouns, I will be sure to ask questions during every activity that would require that student to label or expressively use pronouns in order to answer my questions.  This way I am targeting that one specific goal for the entire session for that student. This technique allows me to continue to take data throughout the session for each student and performance in this way tends to demonstrate generalization of skills to other activities as well.

Multiple Short Activities Targeting Different Goals

Now there are times when it is necessary to “drill and kill” a skill for students who have yet to demonstrate emergence of skills and who seem to require multiple trials in one session to facilitate learning.  When this is needed, I will choose to have my students participate in several different short thematic activities where each student is given time to repeatedly target an individual skill within an activity I created just for them centered on the theme and interest of their choosing.  In that manner, all students participate in each activity however data may not necessarily be collected for each student during every activity.  Time for each activity should be flexible depending on your goals, the time it takes to complete the activity and students’ interest.

For example, let’s use the recent holiday season as a possible theme for therapy.  In a small group of 5 students, I may have one that is working on understanding and using prepositions, another student working on increasing overall vocabulary skills, two students working on auditory comprehension skills and recalling details of a story and one student working on articulation skills.  What can I do?  Well I can have a quick craft in which my student working on articulation skills can read directions with different prepositional phrases.  This activity will allow me to collect data on the student who requires assistance in learning prepositions, the students who are working on improving auditory comprehension skills, as well as allowing me to tackle articulation skills of my fourth student.  The next activity could be a thematic book in which my students take turns reading the pages (or if I want to save some time, I may read the book).  Of course this allows me to ask WH questions about the book, possibly ask for synonyms, antonyms or even definitions of words within the book and finally have the students attempt to use a graphic organizer to “map the story” thus requiring them to recall details in sequential order.  Now I have targeted at least one goal for each of my students.  As the book activity would most likely take longer than the craft, this is an instance where my second thematic activity may have a longer duration as compared to my first activity.  By the end of the session, I should have data on at least one goal/objective for each student from at least one activity.

Periodic Data Collection Across Therapy Sessions

The third main option, I believe we have as SLPs is to periodically record data.  This may mean, as an SLP, data is not collected every session but periodically among a number of sessions.  Some colleagues prefer this method of data collection for a number of reasons explained to me previously such as periodic data collection allows for a therapist to focus on the therapy itself without the additional distraction of data collection.  Periodic data can aid in time-management skills particularly for those with extremely high caseloads.  Some therapists feel this is a better indicator of a student’s skills over time without needing to filter out the variability of performance on a daily basis.  Additionally, some therapists believe using the “pre- and post-teach/testing” method of collecting data reflects the academic environment more accurately than daily data.  With all that said, I do want to share a word of caution to those thinking about using periodic data.  The most important thing to remember is to be consistent in taking that data.  Know ahead of time when you are planning on data collection and ensure that you have enough data collection days within each marking period to target goals effectively.  Meaning, if you write your goals for a skill to be performed with a certain amount of accuracy across three data collections days, then you must at least have three data collection days to determine if the skills has been achieved.  Also be diligent.  If a student is absent during those days, be sure to take data regarding that student’s skills the next therapy session.  Periodic data can be helpful in looking at a child’s performance over time if collected consistently.

Data From Other Sources

There will be times when we write goals and target skills in therapy but would like to determine generalization to the academic environment as previously mentioned in last month’s column.  In an instance such as this, data may be collected in a different way and from a different source. Periodic data can be just as effective as daily data collection, as mentioned above, if done with consistency.

With the implementation of RTI, I have found teachers are much more willing and confident in their own ability to take data within the classroom setting, if I take time to train them on how to collect data and express realistic expectations that data will only be recorded at specific times during the day/week or during specific assignments.  This way, I have gotten reliable data collection from teachers regarding a child’s articulation skills for specific sounds during small reading groups, qualitative data on social skills in cooperative learning situations among classroom peers, data on a student’s ability to expressively answer WH’s in the classroom, information on a child’s ability to recall details of a story, and data on the accuracy of a student’s ability to follow classroom directions.

How can all of this work when the goal is to use thematic lessons in therapy?  Well, here is an example for you.  Remember my student working on vocabulary skills?  Well it would behoove me to target academic vocabulary in the school setting as a means to hopefully translate to improved classroom function.  Therefore, I may be given a list of vocabulary words from my students’ teachers and incorporate those words into stories I create using the theme on which we are currently focusing.  I may pre-teach the vocabulary, use context clues to have my students’ define the same vocabulary in my created story, then I may have my students participate in a vocabulary definitions match-up page post story.  This may occur over the span of several sessions.  Once this is completed and I have my data as to how my students performed with this particular list of vocabulary words, I can then compare their performance in my speech room to that of their classroom performance to determine if carryover has occurred.  This way, I am actually using teacher data (e.g. score on the students’ vocabulary sections of their language arts assignments each week) to determine generalization all while still using themes in therapy.

How do I get teachers on board and how can I ensure data collection is occurring?  Here are few tips:

  1. Keep things a simple as possible by providing all materials needed for tracking data.
  2. Let the staff member choose when to take data:  I ask the teacher/staff member what time of day or which classroom activity would be easiest for them to track a student’s performance.  Teachers are more likely to take data during activities or times of day which are easiest for them.
  3. Training goes a long way: Once a specific classroom activity or time of day is identified by the teacher, I will be sure to go to the classroom during that time and train the teacher on how to take data for the specific skill being targeted.  I keep it as simple as possible and very rarely do I have to do this more than once.
  4. Accountability:  I randomly check the data sheets during class time and ask the teacher every few days how my students are doing in the classroom.
  5. Show gratitude:  When teachers and staff members understand how genuinely grateful I am to them for taking time out of their day to help one of our students by recording data, they are much more willing and likely to continue to take data.

What does the data collection form look like for the school staff?  Here’s an example of what I have used in the school setting.

data collection

I usually provide a folder for the data collection sheets for students so the staff member can pull out the data collection sheet, re-read the goal being targeted, and simply take data on the student during the agreed upon time/activity.

For more functional goals that require data collection in real-time during the classroom, such as using appropriate pragmatic skills or using age-appropriate receptive and expressive skills for functional conversational, I will provide teachers with the data collection sheets as well as a page of blank labels.  The teacher can simply take data on the labels in real-time and stick them onto the data collection sheet later.  This way, he/she does not have to stop the lesson to take data.

The possible ways to record data by ourselves as SLPs or collect data from other school professionals is numerous if we are creative and work collaboratively with others.  I’m sure there are a number of school speech-language pathologists using the above techniques as well as a number of others not mentioned today.  As long as we remain flexible, open-minded and always focus on improving functional skills of our students, I believe the ways in which we can do this are infinite.

Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook