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Now I Know My ABCs: (A)necdotals can (B)e (C)ritical!

Although we try our hardest to set up behavior management systems that anticipate, pre-empt, or prevent conflicts, outbursts, or undesirable actions; unfortunately, every teacher knows that 100% prevention is a complete impossibility.  How we choose to handle behavior problems will vary depending on the specific child and classroom context, but regardless of how a situation gets handled, it is important to keep clear, concise, and objective records, or ‘anecdotal records,’ of behavior incidents.  There are several good reasons for this and several different ways to keep these records… don’t feel locked in, but it is important to try to find a method that works for you and be consistent with it.  Click here to download the tool I use, and feel free to alter or reproduce it to meet your needs! Download Anecdotal record sheet

These anecdotal records serve several important purposes.  First of all, they can help to illuminate a pattern of student behaviors.  Does your student seem to develop a sudden headache and need to visit the nurse every day s/he is asked to participate in guided reading?  Do fights always seem to start during math games time?  Looking at anecdotal records in context can help to illustrate ‘trouble spots’ during the day for particular students, which can be the first step to intervention plans designed to help the students overcome these behaviors. 

Anecdotal records also provide valuable evidence to the School Based Support Team or other related service providers when considering whether a student’s behavior merits a Functional Behavioral Analysis, a more formal and structured behavior observation plan.  Finally, in extreme cases where you are recommending that a student be moved to a more restrictive setting, teacher behavior anecdotals are critical to the snapshot of the child which will determine if that move is necessary and beneficial to that student. 

Behavior anecdotals are just that:  they are anecdotes meant to represent a small snapshot of an individual behavior incident.  They should ground the behavior incident in the context of day, time, and instructional setting.  Good anecdotals use clear and objective language and do not seem to ‘take a side.’  Student actions AND teacher actions should be represented in the records.  They should always be dated and signed.  Events that seriously threaten student health or safety, such as bites, severe fights, or property damage, may require an additional ‘incident report’ to fill out for your administration, guidance, or nurse’s office according to school policy.  I always copy these and attach a copy to my anecdotal records, but I do not use one to replace the other. 

Depending on your purpose for keeping the anecdotals, classroom events from ‘failing to raise hand before speaking’ or ‘constantly interrupts peers’ to ‘exits classroom without permission’ or ‘engages in physical conflict with another student’ may be represented in your notes.  When you need to include another student’s name in the anecdotal record, be sure to protect that student’s privacy, either by limiting access to the records, using initials, or referring to the other students by a letter or number, e.g. “I observed Rachel Rulebreaker pulling on a female tablemate’s hair repeatedly while the girls creamed in pain.”

A good mnemonic that many districts use to help teachers remember the parts of a record is to “Know your ABCs,” which stands for the antecedent (what was going on prior to the behavior or what seemed to ‘set it off’), the behavior (the incident itself, described in objective language), and the consequence (how you responded, how the student responded to the consequence).  I use the downloadable form from the top of my post to help manage my anecdotal records and then file them by student in a private location… I consider them to be privileged information and provide access on a need-to-know basis similar to the standards my school has set for IEP access. 

The most important aspect of a behavior anecdotal record is that it be objective; unfortunately, this is also the most difficult thing to master!  However, it is really important to make sure we use non-judgmental language when describing student behavior.  “During shared reading at 9:30 AM, Billy Badison took his book off his desk, threw it on the floor, roughly pushed in and knocked over his chair, and loudly exclaimed “I hate this stupid @#$%”” is more descriptive and objective than “This morning, Billy Badison cussed out the class and threw his book and chair.” 

When referring to notes later, it will be important to focus more on context and less on how you were feeling or reacting at the time, so it is good to be in the practice of writing objectively.  To help with this objectivity, I like to have my co-teacher read over and initial my anecdotal records for any behavior incidents he witnessed, which also serves as an external check for me that I described the event accurately as it happened.  Along that line, I try to write anecdotal records as soon after the event as possible, and certainly at some point that day. 

How do you keep anecdotal records?  Do you have a resource, a template that works for you, or a really hilarious anecdotal record to share?  Post them here!

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