Okay, this post is going to make me seem like I am an obsessive freak. There’s no way for me to avoid that perception.
So, I am just going to go ahead anyways.
Have you ever tracked your students’ bathroom habits? Look, let me get this out of the way – I am NOT a freak. I am honestly interested in how students are using their classroom time. Just read along and hold on to your judgement until you read more.
I teach middle school social studies. I teach 5 blocks of approximately 17 students each, totaling about 85 students. In my classes, I have a system where students can go to the bathroom at any time, but they have to write down their name, the time they left class, and the time they returned, on a tracking sheet located on a table, next to the door.
I generally allow students to go anytime they need to go. But, from time to time, I have to make students hold it (so to speak) because they are going to leave just when something important is going to happen – instructions are being delivered, work is being taken up, etc. I also make students wait if it is too close to the end of class. For instance, if class is ending in 4 minutes and class is followed by a lunch break, then students should wait until their own time to ‘go’.
But, I began to notice some student behaviors that caused me to look into my bathroom routine in more detail. I began noticing that particular students seemed to be going to the bathroom more frequently than others. I get it, maybe some students have an internal schedule requiring them to go at a certain time of day. But, my school has a rotating daily schedule, with classes rotating from block to block everyday. Students might have my class at 8:00AM one day and then have my class at 1:00PM the next. So, it wasn’t a matter of bodily schedules.
I decided to dive into the data – I went through my bathroom sign-out tracking sheets. That’s when I saw some patterns. In the first four weeks of the school year, there had been 156 student trips to the bathroom. But, I noticed that not all of my 85 students had taken advantage of this privilege. As per the chart below, 20% of students had not gone to the bathroom during my class in this first month of school.
I decided to explore this discrepancy a little further.
When I counted the number of bathroom trips taken by those students in the 80%, I noticed that most students had taken a relatively low number of bathroom trips during this four-week period (1 to 4 trips). But, almost 11% of students were tracked going more than five times.
So, I was not imagining things. This 10% – the ones I initially noticed and who sparked this review – were indeed going to the bathroom more than everyone else. They were responsible for a full one-third of the total bathroom visits.
Once I got the names of these frequent flyers, I wanted to see what they had in common. First, these students were not unknown to me – they stood out as regular behavior issues in my classes. They were also behavior issues in the classes of my colleagues. My grade level team had a meeting recently where we discussed students who were misbehaving in class on a regular basis. All of the students taking advantage of my bathroom policy were mentioned by name in this team discussion.
What else? I looked at last year’s standardized test results for this group. Two students were ranked the lowest in their grade level standardized reading test scores – they were literally last and second-last. The remaining students in this bathroom bunch were below the 45th percentile for reading.
And what about the other kids – the ones who didn’t go to the bathroom at all (or went very few times) during this period? What is their deal? Predictably (or not) they are not noteworthy for misbehavior – with me or other members of my team. In terms of reading scores, the top 3 students in the grade (in the 98th percentile) had 2 bathroom visits among them during that 4 week period.
So, what does this all mean?
- Maybe, I need to cancel bathroom visits during class time.
- Maybe, high performing students are better able to focus or to delay gratification.
- Maybe, I need to stop looking for patterns where there are none.
- Maybe, the kids who leave simply need their breaks. They seem to be struggling in some areas and may feel that they need to get out of the classroom and clear their heads. That’s a real thing.
Despite my uncertainty how to proceed, I still think that tracking student behaviors is valuable. Sometimes, we think we are seeing patterns and we might even leap into action based on those feelings, only to have the patterns be spurious. If we track information, we can act decisively and with certainty. And, if students (or parents) object, we have the numbers to support the consequences delivered.
The information we gain from the data might simply provide insight into student behavior and trigger empathy instead of punitive reaction.