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Gathering Data

Gathering data about a behaviour may sound time-consuming, but simple tick charts and fill-the-blank charts provided below will make the process as quick and simple as possible.


Step one: gather data

An A-B-C chart is an extremely helpful tool. This kind of chart describes what happened right before and right after the behaviour (A-B-C stands for antecedent, behaviour, consequence). To see an example of a completed A-B-C chart click here. For a blank printable A-B-C chart, click here. 

The best way to use an A-B-C chart is to choose one behaviour of concern, and fill in the chart every time this behaviour occurs. The information gathered with the charts helps to narrow down whether the behaviour is a response to something that is happening, or whether the behaviour is caused by the student seeking a particular response/situation.

It is important to fill in a reasonable quantity of A-B-C charts. You need to gather enough information to show any patterns in the behaviour. It is suggested that the charts be completed every time the behaviour occurs for about a two-week period.


Step two: find patterns

Look at all of the charts and find patterns or identify possible starting points.

Ask the following questions:

  • Is there a common time of the day when the behaviour occurs? Strategies to support the student can be put in place for this time of day. The student may be hungry or tired, or medication may be wearing off at this time.
  • Is there a common day of the week when the behaviour occurs? What happens on this day which is different? Is the student anxious about a particular activity? Does the student have an especially late night the night before, or a changeover of custody occurring on this day? You may be able to put in place strategies that support the student more on particular days.
  • Does the student seem calmer after the behaviour? The behaviour may be helping the student to “blow off steam” or may reduce anxiety by creating a change the environment.
  • Does the behaviour have a predictable consequence? The student may be seeking “time out” or time in the office because they need a break or want to avoid a situation/activity – it is possible that a consequence which the teacher views as negative is actually a positive reinforcement for the student to continue with the behaviour.
  • Does the behaviour often involve one particular staff member or other student? It may be that this person is somehow contributing to the behaviour or unintentionally rewarding it.
  • Does the behaviour happen when a particular kind of activity is beginning? The student may be trying to express that the activity is too complex for them, that the activity involves sensory input that they find overwhelming or that they don’t know how to break the activity down and get started.
  • Is something present in the physical environment which may contribute to the behaviour? There may be a flickering fluorescent light, an uncomfortable chair, a buzzing P.A. system, strong odours or a ceiling fan creating unpleasant sensations.
  • Does the behaviour also happen when other people are not present (or the student is unaware that they are being watched)? If this is the case, the  behaviour is probably not about seeking a reaction from others or seeking a consequence.
  • Does the behaviour happen during unstructured activities or unstructured times of the day? It may be that providing more routine and structure at this particular time will help.
  • Is there any other pattern to the behaviour?

Is it appropriate to seek more information by discussing common triggers with the student? Rather than asking why they behave this way, try asking questions that reveal something about triggers/responses, such as “what is difficult about library class?” or “what do you like about history class?".

Step three: take action

Once you have found patterns in the behaviour you can make an educated guess about reasons behind the behaviour. You can take steps to address these reasons. You may:

  • Change the environment (such as changing the seating plan, turning off ceiling fans, etc)
  • Identify situations the student finds stressful and take steps reduce the student’s exposure to these triggers or provide extra support to help them manage triggers.
  • Provide extra support and structure during times of the day/week when the student is likely to experience difficulty.
  • Make an informed guess about the reasons for a behaviour and teach the student more helpful ways to meet their needs. Click here to see a list of possible reasons for a behaviour.
  • Identify staff or students who may require support to build sensitivity and develop inclusive practices.


Other Forms of Data

Another kind of chart for gathering information about behaviour is a frequency chart. If a behaviour is occurring “all the time” it can be too difficult to fill in an A-B-C chart for each incident. A frequency chart is a simple tick-sheet which can help a teacher to gain a more objective picture of the behaviour.

A frequency chart helps to narrow down which times of the day are the most problematic for the student, and which times of the day are the best for them. This can be a good start. The teacher can then examine these times of the day more carefully and compare what is happening for the student. Look at the period of time that the behaviour is happening least. What is happening in the environment? What activities are occurring? Is there a structure, teacher or physical space present that supports the student well? Compare these conditions with what is occurring during the time of day when the behaviour is most likely. It may be possible to begin forming a theory about reasons for the behaviour.

After establishing a new behaviour support strategy, it is suggested that another frequency chart is completed, to show whether the incidence of the behaviour has reduced. A word of caution – taking this measurement too soon after implementing a new strategy can be unhelpful. It often happens that the student has a period of adjustment where behaviours of concern increase before they decrease.

There are many formats which can be effective for frequency charts. Click here for one example, in blank, printable form.