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Teaching Students to Self-Monitor their Behavior

March 21, 2016 by Emily

If you are a special education teacher working with students with autism (like me), you have probably seen and used Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methodology quite often. Here’s the quick and dirty on ABA: the foundation of this methodology is reinforcement. Behavior will increase when it is reinforced. You tell a joke to a group of people because their laughter is reinforcing. You get the dishes done because you promised yourself you could watch The Bachelor after you’re finished. These behaviors wouldn’t likely happen again if your friends rolled their eyes at your joke, or instead of getting to watch The Bachelor, you had shaving your husband’s back to look forward to.

Teaching Students to Self-Monitor Their Behavior by Liz from The Autism Vault

Guest Article by Liz from The Autism Vault

Behavior analysts are board certified and knowledgeable on the different methods of changing behavior. However, you do not have to be a behavior analyst to implement ABA strategies in to your classroom. You have probably used principals of behavior analysis in your classroom and not even known it! If you have used a program like Classroom Dojo, you have already used some of the principles of ABA.

One of my favorite ABA tools is self-monitoring. Self-monitoring allows students to take charge of their behavior in order to earn reinforcers. This is a great tool for a student (or students) that have trouble staying on task, remembering to raise their hand, or even just following the general rules of the classroom. Students are in charge of recording their behavior. This helps keep them accountable and helps them understand what they need to do in order to earn a reinforcer. It’s also great for the teacher, since it can be difficult to teach and take data on student’s behavior at the same time.

Here’s how to get started with using self-monitoring in your classroom:

Define the behavior

Sorry, but “being a general pain in the butt” is not a behavior. You need to think of the behavior in specific and definable terms. Start with one behavior you want to change and work from there. Every behavior you are trying to diminish, you should be teaching a replacement behavior. For example, if a student is calling out, you want to teach them how to raise their hand properly.

Choose your reinforcers

It is super important to understand what is reinforcing to your students. One reinforcer does not fit all, and it’s important to find out what is reinforcing to students on a regular basis. When I talk about reinforcement, I don’t necessarily mean just tangibles. Reinforcement can be attention, free time, or a special job.

Make a plan and set a goal

Before putting your plan in place, you will need to take baseline data (read ahead to get some tips on taking data). This data can help you understand if factors in the environment are causing the behavior, any triggers, and the reason for the behavior. Knowing these things will help you put an effective plan in place.

Once you have identified behaviors you want to see and have chosen a specific goal, you should make your student (or students), aware of what they’re working towards. Choose what checklist or chart will work best for your student.

Put your plan in place and reinforce

Now it’s time to put the plan in to action. Using visuals is great for helping students remember what they are working towards. A gestural visual (such as touching your ear) while teaching a lesson can remind a student to check off something on their self-monitoring sheet (and probably feel really cool that they have their own secret language with the teacher that nobody knows about).

If you need some self-monitoring sheets to get you started, here’s a great freebie with three different self-monitoring charts for you to use.

Self-Monitoring Behavior Tools for Students


The best part of this system: your student is taking data for you! Hold on to your student self-monitoring sheets. Instant data! However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do any work. Take your own data on your student’s behavior once every week or so. This will help you see if your student is grading themselves appropriately. You can present your data and theirs in a way that is going to allow you to see behavior change and make adjustments as behavior improves. A simple graph in Excel works great!

Liz lives and works in New York City. She is teacher to middle school students with autism. She has just finished her coursework in Applied Behavior Analysis and will be sitting exam to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in the summer of 2016. Liz currently blogs at The Autism Vault, a blog dedicated to her experiences in her autism classroom. She also has a TeachersPayTeachers store dedicated to products made with students with disabilities in mind. You can find Liz on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.

Teaching Students to Self-Monitor Their Behavior by Liz from The Autism Vault