Can Self-Monitoring Improve Student Behavior?

For teachers who are charged with meeting the individual needs of every student, increasing reading proficiency and promoting literacy can be especially daunting tasks when they have students struggling with both academics and behavior. While it may be effective to focus on academic interventions, including additional behavioral supports can increase the likelihood of student success, particularly for students who have difficulty staying on task. Students’ success in the classroom is directly related to their ability to self-regulate their behavior and stay engaged in instruction. Those who lack critical self-regulation skills, on the other hand, are less likely to experience positive academic, behavioral, and social outcomes.

Self-monitoring is a tried and true strategy for supporting student self-regulation. This method involves teaching students to think about, be aware of, and record their behavior. For instance, if students are having difficulty staying on-task during whole-group instruction, they could self-monitor their on-task behavior. To do this, the student and teacher would first talk about what it looks like to be on-task, citing examples like my eyes are on the teacher, I am listening, and I am following directions. Non-examples are equally important — my eyes are wandering, I’m talking to my peers, and I’m doing something unrelated to the task. Students always love talking about the non-examples!

Next, to implement the self-monitoring strategy, the teacher or student sets a timer to go off at a pre-determined interval (e.g., every 5 min). When the timer sounds, the student asks him/herself, “Am I on task right now?”, then marks “yes” or “no” on a sheet of paper. If the reading instruction takes 25 minutes, the student would do this five times. Then, at the end of the reading instruction, the number of intervals the student was on task can be calculated, leading to further discussion on how the student did, whether or not the on-task goal for the day was met, and what the goal is for the next day. When teachers provide feedback about their students’ behavioral progress, it can really help them achieve their goals and remain committed to improving their behavior.

Before deciding to implement self-monitoring, there are a few important questions teachers should consider: Can the student perform the expected positive behavior? Is the behavior that the teacher and student are looking to change low-intensity and frequent? Is it overt?

If the answers to these questions are “no,” then self-monitoring may not be an appropriate strategy. For example, if students are incapable of performing the positive behavior, then before they can monitor it, they need to be taught how they can perform it and have opportunities to practice it in order to be successful. Also, students engaging in high-intensity, low frequency behaviors like physical aggression likely need a different kind of intervention. Low-intensity, high frequency behaviors like disruption and off-task behavior, however, are more likely to improve with self-monitoring.

Determining how to improve students’ self-regulation should be a key consideration as teachers think about incorporating different strategies for supporting positive behavior in the classroom. Self-monitoring has a long, research-based history for improving student behavior and teachers consistently report that self-monitoring interventions are easy to use and don’t interrupt the natural flow of instruction. It is a tried and tested strategy that offers a good potential solution for teachers looking for a practical and feasible method for building positive student behavior in the classroom.