Collect and use data

Behaviour Management

Collect and use data

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Teacher using a small tablet.

Many teachers prefer to take a ‘personable’ approach to their work and don’t like to think of students in terms of statistics and pure numbers. However, numbers can help you deliver better services to your students which improves their behaviour, learning and the general class dynamic. While many teachers are resistant to using data outside of tracking academic progress, data is useful for improving behaviour.

Collecting and using data is not as hard as it may first seem. For example, ‘performance feedback’ is where target students are provided with visual representations of their behaviour (usually a line graph or table) to demonstrate the extent of their disruption and the effect it has on their own and other students’ learning (Simonsen et al., 2008). This in itself can be highly effective in reducing the frequency of repetitive issues such as talking out of turn.

It is well-known that providing students with an abundance of opportunities to contribute (answer questions for example) goes a long way towards preventing issues and developing a positive classroom environment (Mitchell et al., 2017).

Despite what you may believe, using data and statistical analysis is actually easy – no advanced statistical calculations are ever needed and the more you do, the more you will start thinking about new and exciting ways of cutting and slicing your data. Try this simple exercise to get started. Record how long it takes for 100% of your students to come into class, sit down and read silently (say, 4 minutes). Set a goal that is 20-30% quicker than that (say, 3 minutes) and think of a zero-cost reward such as a game or quiz. Tell students about the reward and how to get it. Record the time each day and also write it on the board for all to see. Work out the average at the end of the week and display the times on a graph. If students meet the target at the end of the week (an average time), a reward is provided. You can also set goals for individual students (daily, averages etc.) and show the times on a graph in a similar fashion. You can even ask your students to graph their own times.

Here are some other ways in which data can be used in regards of behaviour management:

  1. A student is a chronic off-tasker and gets out of their seat all the time. No strategies seem to be effective and the student is removed from class most lessons. To grasp the size of the problem, you start recording the date and time of every incident. You then analyse 2 weeks of data by making a small table that summarises the number of removals from class. Surprisingly you find the student’s behaviour is significantly worse every second week. Further investigation reveals a correlation between the student’s behaviour and his or her parent’s work schedule. This allows for more targeted strategies to be put in place.
  2. The teacher records every major behavioural issue for 20 lessons (all bar those which require low-key responses). Behaviours are tallied and sorted (known as coding) into several distinct categories such as ‘talking to a friend’ and ‘out of seat’. These categories might be sorted in other ways as well such as by activity: individual work, pair and small group, whole-of-class, transitions and others. The teacher works out the daily total average and ranks each issue from most to least common. Interestingly, 2 issues seem to stand out and represent more than 70% of all incidents: ‘talking when the teacher is talking’ and ‘noise’. The teacher now has something specific to focus on, which if successful, should eradicate 70% of behavioural issues.
  3. A special needs teacher records and categorises all serious issues over a 3-month period. The data is sorted by class, age, subject, disability, day of the week and time of the day. Interestingly, 60% of incidents occur after lunch and about 70% of those are in one particular subject. Also, the teacher notices a significant increase on Mondays and Fridays. This gives staff something to think about when planning future programs and lessons. It also gives them some baseline data to set targets and to use as the basis for future comparisons.
  4. 2 students are identified as being disruptive. The teacher aide is asked to record a full day of behaviour for analysis. Sitting at the back of the room, the teacher aide takes notes on the target students’ behaviour including the time, issue, response, location of teacher, topic and other notable details. The findings are collated and sorted into various categories. A common pattern is easily noticed – both students seem to be off-task whenever there is a reading or writing activity. All other activities show few problems. Both students sit a diagnostic reading and writing test to determine if they need to be moved to a temporary intervention or remedial program to address gaps in their core skills.
  5. A variation on example 4 is to record whether the student is on or off-task at 5 or 10-minute intervals. This is then graphically represented on a timeline or tallied to show the percentage split between on and off-task behaviour. If a person without any teaching duties whatsoever is available to record data, a data point could be recorded every 30-60 seconds for a full 60 minutes (and possibly a full day). The student would not be made aware of the observation as that would affect his or her behaviour.
Graph of number of behavioural issues by each week day.

Figure. What could be causing the increase in issues on Days 1 and 5? What happens on Day 4 that is so effective in lowering the average? The teacher can ‘code’ each incident into 1 of 4 categories/themes and express the results in a table similar to the above (e.g. each blue column is divided into multiple colours representing the number of issues for each period of the day or activity).

It is well-known that providing students with an abundance of opportunities to contribute (answer questions for example) goes a long way towards preventing issues and developing a positive classroom environment (Mitchell et al., 2017). That being so, record how often you provide each student with the opportunity to respond, including who you choose and whether you ask simple or more complex questions (see Bloom’s taxonomy). You may find that a percentage of students (say 20%) represent a large percentage of the responses (say 80%), meaning many of your students are not actively participating. Another idea is to place a mark next to the name of every student who responds to a question. You can then track who is (and who is not) given ‘airtime’. This will give you an idea of how equitable your teaching practices actually are.

Hint: Short on time? Get students to record data for their own behaviour. This has been shown to be effective (Daly & Ranalli, 2003; Gumpel & Golan, 2000; Hutchinson et al., 2000).


Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education & Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351–380.

Mitchell, B. S., Hirn, R. G., & Lewis, T. J. (2017). Enhancing effective classroom management in schools: Structures for changing teacher behavior. Teacher Education and Special Education, 40(2), 140-153. https://doi:10.1177/0888406417700961

Daly, P. M., & Ranalli, P. (2003). Using countoons to teach self-monitoring skills. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 35(5), 30-35. https://doi:10.1177/004005990303500504

Gumpel, T. P., & Golan, H. (2000). Teaching game‐playing social skills using a self-monitoring treatment package. Psychology in the Schools, 37(3), 253-261. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6807(200005)37:3<253::AIDPITS5> 3.0.CO;2-I

Hutchinson, S. W., Murdock, J. Y., Williamson, R. D., & Cronin, M. E. (2000). Self-recording PLUS encouragement equals improved behavior. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 32(5), 54-58. https://doi:10.1177/004005990003200507

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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