Let’s say you’re a parent of a child named Jimmy. Jimmy recently started high school, and one of your friends asks you “How is Jimmy doing in school?” You might respond “he gets good grades” or “he does all of his homework”, but in reality, do you really know how Jimmy is doing in school? Grades and assignments only tell part of the story; as a parent you miss out on a key part of Jimmy’s education which is how he performs during class time.
This is where behavior tracking comes into play. This method of tracking simply requires that the teacher(s) make a record on some consistent time interval (once a day, week, two weeks, etc.) on different aspects of the student’s behavior.
Three behaviors strongly indicative of how a student performs in class are conduct, attentiveness, and participation. The benefits of consistently tracking these behaviors are as follows:
Definition: In the context of high school students, conduct refers to how responsible they are during class. In other words, if a student is treating their teacher, class time, and other students with respect, they should have no problem getting a perfect score on conduct.
Benefit: Tracking conduct consistently can tell a story of why a student is doing well in one class and not another. For example, if Jimmy regularly receives poor conduct scores in Math, and better scores in English, we can understand that Jimmy is capable of good conduct, but for whatever reason he’s struggling to maintain it in Math. If we look at one of his Math classes, we can find out that he sits next to his best friend Fred, and the two of them crack jokes for the duration of class as opposed to taking notes. The likely scenario is that sitting next to Fred will lead to Jimmy receiving a lower grade in Math than he normally would. Thankfully, the data can tell us that with a simple change in seating assignments, Jimmy’s conduct will improve, as will his grade in the class.
It is important to remember that Jimmy’s grade tells you “what” but not “why”. In this case, his grade in the class was “what” was happening, but the conduct scores tell you “why” it was happening, and brings you quickly to the source of what was going wrong. This holds true for the other behaviors as well.
Definition: Quite simply, a student is being attentive if they are paying attention during class. Attentiveness is seen through many actions: note-taking, being awake, eye contact with the teacher, and looking at the board are generally signs that a student is paying attention.
Benefit: Consistently tracking attentiveness can speak to various reasons for why a student is not doing well in school. Let’s say we fixed Jimmy’s conduct problem in Math, and since then his grade has improved, but his grade is still low in Chemistry. His Chemistry teacher has noted that his conduct has been excellent, but he doesn’t appear to take notes very often and tends to doze off during class time. Assuming his attentiveness is sufficient in his other classes, the problem for Jimmy could be either a lack of interest in the subject, or a disconnect between his learning style and his Chemistry teacher’s teaching style (which would explain his inconsistent note-taking). In this case, a conversation with his teacher after class could help remedy the issue, as Jimmy could ask them for advice on how to take notes for that class specifically, and at the same time gain an appreciation for the subject by conversing with someone who has studied it in depth.
If Jimmy is struggling in all subjects with his attentiveness, it is important to note what activities he’s partaking in outside of the classroom. Is he staying up late watching Netflix or is he just having trouble balancing extracurriculars with academics?
Definition: I know what you’re thinking: “aren’t participation and attentiveness the same thing?” and you wouldn’t be totally incorrect. A student who participates in class is typically also attentive. However there are also students who are attentive but do not participate. Participation involves asking and answering questions as well as being involved in class discussion. As teaching styles vary so does this behavior; participation in a discussion based class looks very different than that of a lecture based class.
Benefit: There are many reasons that a student might be struggling with participation, but it’s often better understood in the context of other behaviors, such as attentiveness. An example of this would be if Jimmy has been losing sleep because he recently discovered Netflix and has been binging episodes of The Office, so he’s been catching up on sleep during class. If he’s sleeping/tired during class, he is not being attentive and additionally not participating. However participation data can tell a different story when a student who is attentive does not participate. This issue could be attributed to the student or the teacher; here are examples of each scenario. Let’s say Jimmy is generally a quiet kid, and he’s in a discussion based English class. Because the discussion is free flowing, the more talkative students tend to dominate the dialogue and Jimmy rarely contributes. He follows the discussion just as well as any of the other students, but because he doesn’t talk very often his teacher gives him poor participation scores. The data leads us to a conclusion that a minor alteration in the structure of the class could help Jimmy immensely by making the classroom a more inclusive environment and ultimately increasing his participation. In this case, the issue is that Jimmy is quiet and the solution is to make the classroom more inclusive, but what if the problem is not always with the student. If a certain teacher is seeing multiple students who normally have good participation scores not participate, it could be because participation has been discouraged in the classroom. The teacher can learn from this data that they might be discouraging wrong answers from students or that they are lecturing for too long and disengaging the students. Whatever the issue may be, the data allows for improvement for both students and teachers, which can improve a school as a whole.
Behavior tracking, when done consistently, comprehensively illustrates true student performance and, along the way, can unearth realities that stand to help or hurt academic achievement.