Are We There Yet? Self-Monitoring: A Map of Student Progress

by Butler Knight, Ed.S.

Teachers want their students to follow requests, be prepared for class, and do their best (Walker, 1995).   Self-management is a skill area in which the students learn to assess what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and if it was done correctly (Sprague & Golly, 2005).  Directly teaching and modeling self-management makes these skills overt, increases student independence, and promotes positive social skills.  Self-management also helps increase positive behaviors and skills and decrease problem behaviors.  Self-management strategies are derived from behavior intervention theory and focus on teaching students to self-instruct (the antecedent), self-monitor (the behavior), and self-reinforce (the consequence). 

Self-monitoring is a component of self-management and serves as the initial step in learning the what, when, and how of performing a particular skill.  The student practices self-monitoring by asking, "What am I doing?" The student may then record the behavior occurrences on a data collection form (see Figure 1 for an example) and, later, evaluate progress by graphing data (Gunter, Miller, Venn, Thomas, & House, 2002).  Self-evaluation involves the student asking, "How did I do?"  Teacher feedback occurs after the student evaluates his or her performance.  Charting and evaluating progress helps students visualize their behavior and how it is viewed by others, and set goals (Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2004).   In addition to the reward of seeing progress, the student may earn tokens, praise, or recognition for improved performance and accurate self-monitoring. 

The following example illustrates a process for teaching self-management based upon the steps offered by Sprague and Golly (2005, p. 208).

  • Select a behavior you want to change.  For example, engaging in off-task behavior.

  • Select a desired behavior that either replaces or competes with the former behavior.  For example, completing an assigned task.

  • Teach the student to self-monitor by giving the rationale for the behavior, showing examples and non-examples, and practicing.  For example, discuss how engaging in the specific off-task behaviors is a barrier to achieving the learning goals the student has set for the week.  Demonstrate how to get materials ready, review the instructions for the assigned task, determine what may be needed to start the assigned task, and work without interruption.  Give the student a chance to practice and reinforce the correct demonstration completing the steps necessary for completing an assigned task.

  • Choose a method for recording the behavior and teach the student how to use it.  Show the student the recording form and explain when to check the box.

  • Coach the student in self-monitoring and recording.  Prompt the student to record when the student demonstrates the desired behavior.  Recognize the student when he or she records independently and correctly.

  • Set a criterion for reward and teach how to track progress.  Plan a time during the day when you will meet with the student to evaluate progress and provide recognition and/or reward.

  • Determine how rewards will be delivered.  Schedule a time when the student will receive the reward.

Self-monitoring teaches students how to identify and manage behaviors that foster the academic outcomes both teachers and students desire.    A self-monitoring tool maps progress toward the mutual destination and illustrates, "how we got there together."

Figure 1. Example of a self-monitoring tool that can be used in a classroom.

Name:  __________________________________
Date:   __________________________________

Completing assigned task


I followed the steps and finished my workBoy




Total: ____ times



Total: ____ times

Total number of times I completed my work = ____ times
Goal = ____ times
Reward for meeting my goal = 10 minutes of computer time


Crone, D. A., Horner, R. H., & Hawken, L. S. (2004). Responding to problem behavior in Schools. New York: The Guilford Press.

Gunter, P. L., Miller, K. A., Venn, M. L., Thomas, K., & House, S. (2002). Self-graphing to success: Computerized data management. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(2), 30-34.

Sprague, J.,  & Golly, A. (2005). Best behavior: Building positive behavior support in schools. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Educational Services.

Walker, H. M. (1995). The acting-out child: Coping with classroom disruption (2nd ed.) Longmont, CO: Sopris West Educational Services.

Date: November/December 2008