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Tier 2: Positive Interventions

Identifying Lagging Skills

Another view is that challenging behavior occurs when the cognitive demands being placed upon student requires more than the student’s capacity to respond adaptively. Ross Greene, child psychologist, proposes that  “Kids do well if they can.” This approach is based on two basic tenets: (1) challenging behavior is a result of lagging skills in the areas of flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving; and (2) the best way to address challenging behavior is to work collaboratively with the student to solve the problems that result in the behavior.

Staff viewpoint will have an impact on how staff interacts with students. If challenging behavior is viewed as  delayed development, not poor motivation, then our approach to intervention needs to be to teach these critical skills. When the demands of the environment are greater than the abilities of the individual to deal with the demands an unsolved problem develops.

We need to begin to sort out these issues by thinking about which skills are necessary in order to perform an expected behavior and which specific skills a student has not yet mastered. Emphasis is now on solving problems rather than on extinguishing problem behaviors or replacing behaviors. It becomes necessary to understand the behavior and the problems before long-term effective behavior change can occur rather than focusing on managing the challenging behavior.

Greene describes challenging behavior as maladaptive behavior, meaning the behavior is not appropriate for the situation. Put another way, challenging behavior is behavior that occurs when the demands of the situation (or the task) exceed the student’s capacity to respond. The result is that the student resorts to a challenging or problem behavior that has been used before, because no other option is known to exist in the student’s repertoire.

When we understand which skills a student lacks, we will be better able to anticipate situations where the challenging behavior will likely occur; and teach the student the lagging skills, thereby equipping him or her to function in the situation.

Typical behaviors that can be a sign of lagging skills include:

  • Difficulty getting up in the morning and to school on time
  • Argues, procrastinates or “forgets” to start, complete or turn in homework
  • Plays with others but regularly complains that nobody likes him or her when play moves activities that s/he didn’t suggest or want to do
  • Has difficulty changing activities at school (moving from reading to math)
  • Has difficulty getting along with others, particularly during specific activities like group reading, circle time or on the bus
  • Loses track of time easily
  • Lacks attention/focus and struggles to get things done; often becomes bored or distracted
  • Is upset by unpredictability/change in plans and schedule changes
  • Can’t see/struggles to understand how his or her behavior affects others
  • Feels that others are always to blame (“Nobody likes me,” “I’m stupid,” “It’s not fair,” “You always blame me.”)

Two tools are available to assist staff in identifying  skill deficits and the resulting problem situations to better address changing student behavior. These are the ALSUP( Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems) and Thinking Skills Inventory. Either will provide staff with necessary information for being effective with student

Download Thinking Skills Inventory in .pdf format.

Download Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems in .pdf format.

Content provided on this page is taken from Think Kids, and Lives in the Balance and is used by permission.

Teaching new skills as replacement behaviors.

Understanding how and what skills to teach is key in changing behavior. If the student doesn’t know how to do a behavior, then the teacher must teach the desired behavior. This is a basic principle used for academic instruction and applies  to behavior skill acquisition, as well. For example, one of your students doesn’t know how to line up correctly, even though you have taught this to your class.  It could be that the student is not as used to this procedure as the rest of the class, or may have processing deficits, or may just need more practice. An appropriate teaching consequence would be keep the student in from recess, and spend time having them practice the procedure for lining up. It is usually a sound practice to first assume that when a procedure or routine is not being followed, that it is an issue of needing more practice, vs. a defiance issue.  This is considered a culturally responsive practice. Staff often fails to take advantage of the power of attention. Approval statements for academic responses far outweigh those for social behavior.Staff often respond more frequently to inappropriate social behavior than to appropriate social behavior. This attention inadvertently maintains or increases the problem behavior.

If the student does know how to do the desired behavior, but not when to it, then the teacher will teach the student a cue.  When the student sees that cue, it will remind them that now is the time to use the desired behavior. For instance, say a teacher has a student that has shown  that she knows how to raise her hand, but  raises her hand and gives the answer at the same time, or doesn’t seem to know when it is appropriate to raise her hand. An appropriate teaching consequence in this instance might be to teach the student a signal, such as Thumbs UP, and instruct her on  how you will use the signal to help her remember when it is time to raise her hand.  Then, when the student raises her hand and blurts out an answer, the teacher will use the signal to indicate “Wait until I call on you to answer.”

If the student knows how to do the behavior, and when, but often forgets or is unaware of the their behavior, the teacher will teach the student to monitor their behavior. In our final example, the student knows how and when to raise their hand, but unlike the student in our last example, this student has an impulsivity problem, and is not always aware that they have blurted out an answer.  In this case, the teacher would teach the student how to self-monitor their behavior.  They might put a blank Post It note on their desk, and teach the student to make a mark when they have waited to be called on.  The teacher might use a signal to indicate when the student can make a mark, or they may leave it up to the student to determine when he has earned a mark.  Again, this could be taught over the recess time. It takes about three weeks for students to improve behavior using this strategy.  However, in the long run, it is a much more effective consequence than calling home or moving a desk, neither of which will help the student increase their self-awareness.

Functional replacement behaviors are those communicative alternatives that provide an immediate mechanism for the student to meet their needs. The important part of this intervention is that the team must know the function of the behavior in order to teach an effective replacement skill. When using assessment tools like the lagging skills and unsolved problems (ALSUP) or the Thinking Kids Assessment Tool, staff can gain consensus on why the student is experiencing difficulty in the setting. The skills that the students lack are part of understanding the WHY.  By identifying the situations that result in unsolved problems are the WHO, WHAT, WHEN  and WHERE. This step is introduced early in the intervention process to make sure that all staff agree to what is underlying the problem behavior and behavior is more predictable. When problem behavior is predictable, staff can consistently be proactive. You may discover that this child has a long list of lagging skills and unsolved problems.  Prioritize the skills you’re going to start teaching and the problems you’re going to start helping him to solve.  You can’t do everything at once

Using the information gathered by one of the assessment tools here are examples of functional replacement behavior.

To address lagging skills in executive functioning:

  • Using specific organizational skills to reduce frustration
  • Accepting/adjusting to changes in the school setting
  • Following  instructions within specified time frame of directive given
  • Sustaining attention on task
  • Making a decision
  • Learning to prioritize problems
  • Understanding and adhering to timelines
  • Thinking of alternative solutions/problem solving
  • Self-initiating activities to prevent boredom
  • Setting a goal
  • Monitoring own behavior
  • Waiting longer for staff attention
  • Adhering to schedule

To address lagging skills in language processing:

  • Consistently responding to verbal & nonverbal (cues, signs, picture cards)
  • Asking for attention
  • Raising hand
  • Asking for help
  • Requesting an item or activity
  • Asking questions
  • Requesting an alternative activity
  • Appropriately communicating a protest response
  • Using appropriate tone and volume of voice
  • Honoring personal space
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Listening to others without interruption
  • Asking permission
  • Being assertive
  • Expressing feelings appropriately
  • Staying on topic
  • Starting and ending conversations
  • Recognizing words that spark anger in others
  • Using non-threatening word choices

To address lagging skills in emotional regulation:

  • Requesting a break
  • Requesting to leave a situation (e.g., ―I want to be by myself for awhile)
  • Increasing tolerance for triggering events/remaining calm under stress
  • Requesting movement (e.g., stretch break, squeeze stress ball, move to an
  • empty desk, stand while working, sit on an exercise ball,go for a walk, etc.
  • Breathing exercises
  • Learning relaxation/calming strategies
  • Learning to vent frustrations in appropriate manner (hassle log, check in with adult, journal)
  • Using positive self-talk/self-instruction
  • Using anger management strategies (identification of anger in self and others, choosing a calming strategy)
  • Expressing good things about self
  • Rewarding self

To address lagging skills in cognitive flexibility:

  • Increasing delay to get the reinforcer (e.g., waiting for an activity)
  • Accepting ―no or other negative feedback
  • Accepting consequences
  • Compromising with others
  • Identifying appropriate time and settings for the behavior
  • Accepting time/schedule constraints
  • Following schedule
  • Following sequence of steps within an activity
  • Accepting changes in routine, daily schedule

To address lagging social skills:

  • Dealing with  rejection/Ignoring
  • Initiating social interactions
  • Suggesting/joining an activity
  • Sharing attention, materials
  • Waiting for a turn
  • Stating an opinion
  • Avoiding trouble with others                                         
  • Dealing with embarrassment                    
  • Dealing with peer/group pressure
  • Learning conflict resolution strategies
  • Learning to Ignore instigating peers
  • Appropriately dealing with peer accusations
  • Walking away from fights
  • Learning to say no in acceptable way                                                                 
  • Learning how to make a complaint                                                    
  • Participating in class discussion                                   
  • Learning to respond to failure in acceptable way                             
  • Learning how to respond to teasing   
  • Using  manners
  • Learning to say no in acceptable way                                                                 
  • Learning how to make a complaint                                                            
  • Saying thank you                                              
  • Learning to give negative feedback  in acceptable way                              
  • Understand feelings of others

Similar to encouraging academic behavior, teaching new behaviors requires making the expectations clear. Reinforcement and performance feedback motivates students as they are initially learning the expected behavior, and is essential to changing student behavior and creating a positive school environment for all learning to take place.While general praise contributes to a pleasant classroom, it is insufficient to build and sustain desired behavior. Students need clear specific feedback on school wide expectations as well as other behaviors that are extensions of those expectations

Specific positive feedback involves contingent attention and recognizes effort or successes at tasks that are difficult for the student. It helps staff  and students focus on positive social behaviors and actions. It increases the likelihood that students will use the recognized behaviors and skills in the future. It also decreases inappropriate behavior, and reduces the need for correction. It enhances self esteem and helps build internal locus of control. It is the most powerful behavior change tool teachers have in their repertoire.

Sample strategies that could teach appropriate alternative behavior or other functional skills

  • Provide the student with frequent assistance during assigned tasks.
  • Make the student aware of the number of times a problem behavior occurs. This should be done in a nonthreatening way using a visual representation or to allow self-monitoring.
  • Have the student monitor his/her progress or frequency of behavior, (e.g., charts, checklists, or graphs).
  • Use data to keep the student motivated, (e.g., can show the student small steps in improvement).
  • Help the student identify goals, consequences and/or reinforcement.
  • Use if-then contingencies, (e.g., work not completed at the designated work time will be completed during an alternative time).
  • Encourage new skills to be practiced in a variety of settings and with a variety of people.
  • Practice appropriate skills at regularly scheduled times, as well as, "teachable moments."
  • Recognize all signals/requests for assistance.
  • Specify exactly what is to be done in all school routines.
  • Along with the directive, provide an incentive statement.
  • Involve the student in leadership roles in the classroom.
  • Offer choices.
  • Offer sufficient and meaningful ways for the student to offer input in the learning process.
  • Use pre-correction strategies in situations where inappropriate behavior is typical.
  • Strive to maintain a minimum of 4:1 ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback.
  • Allow a sufficient amount of "wait" time to encourage a student response.
  • Provide the student with a predetermined nonverbal signal to communicate a specific need.
  • Practice following directions in non-academic tasks first.
  • Teach specific rules to be followed in various parts of the building, (e.g., specific to assemblies, cafeteria).
  • Recognize the student's strengths and use them in the learning process.
  • Give the student regular ongoing feedback about his/her behavior.
  • Have the student engage with others for short periods of time and increase time as behavior is successful.
  • Assign a peer to help the student get started on an assignment.
  • Assign a peer to be a tutor for the student during an activity.
  • Identify other staff in the school setting who can act as a helper/mentor for the student.
  • Act as a model for appropriate skills during an activity.
  • Recognize the student's appropriate behaviors and provide positive feedback.
  • Prompt/model how positive self-talk can change how the student feels.
  • Offer the student the opportunity to write a letter, make a list or journal as a means of expressing thoughts and concerns.
  • Allow the student to request a meeting to discuss problems privately.
  • Designate a time when the student is allowed to engage in a behavior not permitted at other times, (e.g., can tap your pencil during transitions between assignments).
  • Have the student role play and practice handling difficult situations.
  • Use self-esteem activities, games, social skills lessons to address interpersonal skills.
  • Use social stories or scripts to explain behaviors.
  • Use behavioral momentum; behavioral momentum is a behavioral strategy that entails making requests that are easy for the student before making requests that are more challenging or difficult. By following a pattern of easy-easy-hard-easy-easy-hard, you increase the student’s motivation to engage because you are building in many opportunities for success.
  • Use visual supports to make expectations clear.
  • Provide the student with frequent assistance during assigned tasks.
  • Make the student aware of the number of times a problem behavior occurs. This should be done in a nonthreatening way using a visual representation or to allow self-monitoring.
  • Have the student monitor his/her progress or frequency of behavior, (e.g., charts, checklists, or graphs).
  • Use data to keep the student motivated, (e.g., can show the student small steps in improvement).
  • Help the student identify goals, consequences and/or reinforcement.
  • Implement a point system/token economy system in the classroom.
  • Negotiate a behavior contract with the student specifying what behavior is expected and what reinforcement will be made available when the terms of the contract have been met.
  • Use an intermittent schedule of reinforcement with the student.
  • Use a variety of reinforcers; use reinforcement surveys periodically to identify what is motivating for the student.
  • Reinforce the student for making small approximations of the appropriate behavior (shaping); and gradually increase the expectations.
  • Recognize that other students are demonstrating the desired response.

Using positive reinforcement

This involves delivering a reinforcer after behavior to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future. To be most effective, reinforcement should be delivered immediately and consistently (delivered each time it is planned). Reinforcement should be delivered continuously (every time it occurs) if building a new behavior. It should be delivered intermittently (every so often) if maintaining an existing behavior. Examples: Attention, preferred items and/ or activities provided contingent upon on-task behavior and work completion Access to items/activities provided only after desired behavior has occurred (or absence of undesired behavior) Delivery of items that provide similar sensory consequences contingent upon periods when the problem behavior is absent.

Reinforcers should be individualized to the greatest extent possible, with the student providing input to make them meaningful and effective. Staff should re-assess the effectiveness of reinforcers periodically. Download the Student Reinforcement Survey.

Examples of school appropriate reinforcers

  • Specific verbal praise
  • Social interactions (1:1 conversations with certain people; talking about their interests; social time with friends)
  • Appropriate touch (high five; pat on the back; fist bump)
  • Materials/Tangible items
  • Leadership roles/Responsibility
Increase quality of reinforcement in the  classroom

If a student is acting out to be ejected from a classroom, it may be that the student does not find the classroom setting and/or routine to be very rewarding. The teacher can make the classroom environment more attractive in a number of ways, including by posting interesting instructional materials (e.g., bulletin board displays), boosting the pace of (and degree of student interaction in) class lecture or discussion, and including additional instructional activities of high interest to students.

Specific verbal praise

When the student engages in a positive behavior that the teacher has selected to increase, the teacher praises the student for that behavior. Along with positive comments (e.g., ―Great job!"), the praise statement should give specifics about the behavior the child demonstrated that is being singled out for praise (e.g., "You really kept your attention focused on me during that last question, even when kids around you were talking!"). The praise should be a simple and concise statement given immediately after the behavior. Specific verbal praise should always be paired with other types of reinforcers in order to communicate to the student why they are receiving the other type of reinforcer. Example: A student who is usually loud and disruptive comes into the classroom quietly and sits in his/her desk, (which the teacher has been asking for and redirecting the students to do for two weeks). The teacher then walks over to the student and uses specific verbal praise such as, ―You did a fantastic job coming in quietly and going straight to your desk‖ or ―I appreciate the way you came into the room quietly and went directly to your desk. You are making this classroom a great place to learn.‖

Behavior contracts

This is a written contract agreed upon by the teacher and student or possibly the parent and student, specifying an appropriate behavior and a motivating reinforcer that the student may earn when he/she displays the behavior. The contract is signed by all parties who are participating in the contract (student, teacher, parents, etc.). For preschool, an informal verbal contract is appropriate. Remember, contracting involves a delay or interval before a primary reward is given, which can result in decreased responding if the interval is too long. Positive consequences should be included in a well-balanced contract.

Individualized Reward System

The use of an individualized reward system helps to promote appropriate behaviors and also helps students self-monitor their own behavior. Ideas for rewards systems are dependent on the individual student. Such examples can include a sticker chart, checklist, star chart, or any type of monitoring system that the student will ―buy into‖ and see as motivating. The target behavior must be specific and each time a student earns a sticker or check it must be paired with specific verbal praise.

Premack Principle (If this, then that…)

This principle states that people are more likely to complete an undesirable task if they know that upon completing the task they will have immediate access to something they highly desire. This intervention is used quite often in both educational and home settings. The teacher states a non-preferred behavior or activity must take place before a preferred behavior or activity can be accessed. Examples: Jeremy‘s teacher told him that when he completes his geometry worksheet, she will allow him to read his book for 10 minutes. Isabella wanted to go to circle time, but she had not cleaned up her work area. The teacher stated, ―If you clean up your work, then you can go to circle time.

Group reinforcement response contingency

This involves reinforcement of the entire group dependent upon the performance of individual members. Group-oriented contingencies may be of three types:

  • Dependent: the performance of one or more particular group members determines the consequence received by the entire group.
  • Independent: each group member receives a consequence if they individually meet the contingency.
  • Interdependent: each student must reach a prescribed level of behavior before the entire group receives a consequence.

Disadvantages of group contingencies are that a student may sabotage or ruin the reinforcement for the group to gain negative attention and/or extreme peer pressure may be placed on the individual who does not meet the group contingency criteria.

Token economy

A token economy is a system in which a token is administered to students when appropriate behaviors are displayed and the tokens can be exchanged later for reinforcers. Idea for tokens can include: Plastic or metal chips; marks on a blackboard; points marked on a paper point card;  stickers; beans in a jar; happy faces; play money.

Home-school reinforcement system

This involves establishing a relationship between the behaviors exhibited at school and the reinforcement received at home. Specifically, the parents at home would provide reinforcers contingent upon the appropriate behaviors demonstrated at school. These systems can be very successful if the parent and teacher are implementing the same strategies and tie rewards to appropriate behaviors exhibited in the target environment.

Differential reinforcement

This involves the reinforcement of one form of behavior, but not another; or the reinforcement of a response under one (stimulus) condition but not under another. All of the differential reinforcement procedures take a substantial amount of time to be effective. If an inappropriate behavior is very disruptive or dangerous, use of a more intrusive procedure may be warranted to protect the student or other students in the classroom or work environment. Because an inappropriate behavior is ignored or not reinforced, there may be a dramatic increase or burst of the behavior before it decreases.

Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA)

This involves the reinforcement of a replacement behavior while ignoring the inappropriate behavior. This procedure is commonly called differential attention and proximity praise. One way is to ignore the misbehavior, wait, and then praise any appropriate behavior. A second approach is to ignore the misbehavior of a student and praise a student nearby for the appropriate behavior. Replacement behaviors must serve the same function as the inappropriate behavior; be easy to perform; and result in reinforcement that is equally frequent and intense as that gotten from inappropriate behavior.

Examples:

Problem Behavior

Possible Function

Alternative Replacement

Screaming

Gain adult attention

Asking for help

Cursing

Escape activity

Take a break

Scratching self

Gain adult attention

Engage adult in conversation


Differential reinforcement of high rates (DRH)

This involves reinforcement given after performing some behavior at a predetermined higher rate.

Differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI)

This involves reinforcement of an appropriate behavior that is physically or functionally incompatible with the target behavior, while ignoring the inappropriate behavior.

Examples:

Inappropriate Behavior

Incompatible Alternatives

Shoving, hitting

Keeping hands and feet to self/Keeping hands in pockets

Blurting out

Responding on cue/Raising hand

Cursing

Saying “Darn!”, “I don’t like …”/ Keeping quiet

Putting head down on desk

Tracking the speaker

Running

Walking

Differential reinforcement of low rates (DRL)

DRL involves reinforcement given after performing the target/problem behavior at a predetermined low rate. This procedure is usually used for behaviors that occur at such a high rate, or are so ingrained into the student‘s behavior patterns, that a large immediate drop in occurrences is unrealistic.

Guidelines for using DRL include:

  • Define inappropriate behavior
  • Gather baseline for current levels
  • Determine the final target criterion level
  • Determine how long intervals should be?
  • Determine the  duration of initial criterion must be met before changing (interval or criterion)?
  • Continue to collect data
Changing Criterion DRL example:
  • Student makes many errors on independent work due to rushing (has ability)
  • Baseline over 3 days = 29 errors on average
  • First criterion set at 25 or fewer errors
  • Reinforcement provided for meeting criterion
  • Must meet criterion for 3 consecutive days before lowered
  • Each criterion lowered by 5
Differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO)

This involves providing reinforcement following any appropriate behavior while ignoring the inappropriate behavior in a defined period of time. DRO always contains a predetermined length of time or interval. After each interval, the student is reinforced for any appropriate behavior, but never reinforced after the target/inappropriate behavior.

Cautions of DRO:

  • Student earns reinforcement for the absence of target behavior DESPITE other behaviors that were demonstrated during the interval
  • Does not teach an appropriate replacement behavior to meet the function of the inappropriate behavior

Goal setting

Goal setting  forces the teacher to think critically about what the important concepts are and how a subject should be taught while the process of setting goals allows students to choose where they want to go in school and what they want to achieve. By knowing what they want to achieve, they know what they have to concentrate on and improve. Goal setting gives students long-term vision and short-term motivation. Having sharp, clearly defined goals, which students can measure, will allow them to take pride in accomplishing those goals. They can see progress in what might have seemed a long drawn out process.The student’s ability to identify a  purpose for his/her actions, based on an awareness of personal strengths and limitations and a clear vision of the desired final result, is clearly beneficial

Students even at a young age can learn to set specific and meaningful goals that influence their learning outcomes. There is a strong relationship between the student’s ability to set goals and sustain higher levels of motivation and the development of self-efficacy. By setting goals and measuring their achievements, students are able to see what they have done and what they are capable of. Seeing their results gives the confidence and assurance that they need to believe they can achieve higher goals.

Once the goals are set, they help to keep students and staff focused on the items that were identified as important. One of the main difficulties students have is being able to separate the information that they really need to know from all the other less important information that is thrown at them. Goals give the students a clear picture of what the expectations are and where to focus their time and attention. Goals also give students something to strive for. This is important because it helps to motivate the student and it also provides a sense of accomplishment when goals are reached. Finally, an important argument for using goal setting in the classroom that should not be overlooked is that it teaches students how to practice goal setting.

By setting goals students can:  

  • understand the “big” picture
  • improve their academic performance
  • increase their motivation to achieve
  • increase pride and satisfaction in performance
  • improve their self-confidence and self-understanding
Basics of Effective Goal Setting
  • Express goals positively: “To improve my spelling” is a much better goal than “Don’t spell with so many mistakes.”
  • Be accurate: If students set an accurate goal, putting in dates, times and amounts so that achievement can be measured and can be satisfied at achieving it.
  • Set Priorities: When students have several goals, give each a priority. This helps them avoid feeling overwhelmed and helps their attention to the more important ones. Write goals down to make them more meaningful.
  • Keep Goals Small: Urge students to keep their immediate goals small and achievable.Set goals that are proximal, specific and appropriately challenging.The goals selected should be focused on understanding not just on accomplishing specific task.
  • Set Goals Students Have Control Over: There is nothing worse than failing to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond the students’ control.When possible, the goals selected should be stated so that the students can see that what they are learning has an importance outside of the classroom. Once a student understands the reason for needing to know the information, they are more likely to become active learners.
  • Set specific measurable goals: If students consistently fail to meet a measurable goal, then they can adjust it or analyze the reason for failure and take appropriate action.  Each goal should be followed by objectives that tell how that goal will be accomplished (i.e. what behaviors will be demonstrated by the students).
  • Provide accommodations: (rubrics, samples of finished projects, visual representations, calendars, timelines) to support success.
  • Include direct and systematic instruction in strategy use: Do not assume that the student knows how to correctly use a strategy.

In summary, with the appropriate goals implemented in the classroom, students will be forced to take a more active role in their learning process. They will also likely develop a continuous interest in and concern about the world around them, which is important in developing lifelong learners. Students will also develop goal setting and flexible thinking skills that will be useful throughout their life.

Self-monitoring

Student self-monitoring is an effective tool for behavior change. Self-monitoring has two components, measurement and evaluation.That is, the student (1) measures and records his or her own behavior (measurement), and then (2) compares that recorded behavior to a pre-determined standard (evaluation). Self-monitoring can take many forms. One student may use a paper form to rate her study skills at the end of each class period, for example, while another student might verbally rate his social behaviors when approached by his teacher at random times across the school day.

Self-monitoring takes advantage of a behavioral principle: the simple acts of measuring one's target behavior and comparing it to an external standard or goal can result in lasting improvements to that behavior. Self-monitoring is sometimes described as having 'reactive' effects, because students who measure and pay close attention to selected behaviors often react to this monitoring information by changing those target behaviors in the desired direction.

In classroom settings, self-monitoring offers several advantages. Self-monitoring requires that the student be an active participant in the intervention, with responsibility for measuring and evaluating his or her behaviors. Also, in order to accurately self-evaluate behaviors, the student must first learn the staff’s behavioral expectations. That ability of a student to understand and internalize the behavioral expectations of others is a big step in the development of social skills. Finally, student self-monitoring data is typically economical to collect, even in a busy classroom, and can often be used to document the success of a behavioral intervention.

There are many possible variations to student self-monitoring programs.  In order to be most effective, however, self-monitoring programs will usually include the following 7 steps:

1. Define Behavior  to Self-Monitor

The staff and student select and carefully and objectively define one or more behaviors that the student will monitor. Consider these questions when deciding if self-monitoring intervention is appropriate: Can the student perform the expected behavior? Can the student control the problem behavior? Can the behavior be readily observed and recorded?

Targets for self-monitoring can include behaviors to increase such as:

  • Focusing on the task or assignment (on-task).
  • Making positive statements to peers.
  • Completing work.
  • Complying with teacher requests.
  • Reading pages of text read during study periods.
  • Completing math computation problems.

Self-monitoring can also focus on behaviors to decrease such as:

  • Calling out.
  • Leaving one's seat.
  • Requesting teacher assistance

Staff should meet privately with the student to discuss the behavior(s) to be monitored.  Each  behavior includes   a clear, specific behavioral definition that provides observable 'look-fors' to indicate when the behavior is displayed. For example, 'on-task' can be made observable by defining it as "eyes on the teacher or desk-work".

2. Choose a Method for Recording Self-Monitoring Data

To be used effectively in a classroom, the self-monitoring intervention should be determined by the student’s needs and setting in which the intervention will occur. Student self-monitoring does not necessarily require that monitoring data be written down. For example, a student who regularly consults a self-correction checklist before turning in math assignments or keeps a mental count of call-outs during large-group instruction may see behavioral improvements even if she does not commit his/her self-monitoring information to writing. However, creating a written record of self-monitoring data will allow the student to collect data over time to look for trends of improvement and to share self-monitoring information with teachers and/or parents.. Checklists and charts are common materials used to record behavior, while golfer’s wrist counters and other mechanical devices may also be used.

Three convenient ways to structure the collection of self-monitoring data and to record the resulting behavioral data are the use of a rating scale, checklist, or frequency count.

  • Rating scale. A rating scale consists of one or more items that a student can use to complete a global rating of a corresponding number of behaviors (e.g., "How well did I: (1) stay in my seat?; (2) participate?; (3) avoid distracting others?; (4) follow directions?"). The rating scale usually has a qualitative, sliding-scale rating format (e.g., "poor...fair...good"). Rating scales are typically completed at the conclusion of a fixed observation period (e.g., after a class period; at the end of the school day).
  • Checklist. A checklist is a listing of behaviors (to be increased or decreased) that the student periodically reviews, checking off those behaviors actually displayed during the monitoring period. For example, a student may have a checklist for independent assignments that contains these 3 work-readiness items: (1) I have all work materials needed, (2) My desk workspace is organized, (3) I understand the directions of this assignment. Before beginning independent work, that student reviews and verifies that these preparatory actions have been carried out. Checklists are helpful for monitoring multi-step behaviors (e.g., the plan-write-revise-edit stages of the writing process) or for monitoring clusters of several related behaviors).
  • Frequency count. In a frequency count, the student keeps a running tally of the number of times that a he or she displays a  behavior (e.g., number of call-outs or requests for teacher assistance) during an observation period.

3. Choose a Self-Monitoring Schedule

Because self-monitoring requires that the student periodically measure his or her behavior, the teacher and student must decide on what schedule this will occur . Consider these options:

  • Start of period or day. The student monitors at the start of the class period or school day. Sample behaviors suitable for 'start' intervals include arriving to class on time and having all required work materials.
  • End of period or day. The student monitors at the end of the class period or school day. Sample behaviors suitable for 'end' intervals include copying homework assignments from the board and global ratings of the student's behavior during that classroom period or school day.
  • Scheduled transition points through period or day. The student monitors periodically during the class period or school day, with each monitoring episode tied to a scheduled, easily identified 'transition point' that naturally occurs in that classroom setting. A common transition point would be the student's moving from one learning activity to another (e.g., from independent seatwork to whole-class lecture). Sample behaviors suitable for 'transition point' intervals include the speed of the student's transition between activities and the student's general behavior during transition periods.
  • Start or end of assignments. As student academic work is often the focus of self-monitoring, a logical time-point for doing that monitoring is when beginning or finishing assignments. Sample behaviors suitable for 'start of assignments' include checking for the presence of all work materials and clearing the desk to create an uncluttered work space. Sample behaviors suitable for 'end of assignments' include ensuring that a writing assignment is legible and correctly formatted and applying a self-correction checklist to a math assignment to catch and correct common mistakes.
  • Fixed intervals through period or day. The student monitors at fixed periods during the class period or school day (e.g., every 15 minutes; at the top of each hour). Sample behaviors suitable for 'fixed' intervals include overall classroom behaviors, attention and focus, social interactions with other students, and compliance with adult requests.

4. Decide on a Monitoring Cue

Once the  monitoring schedule has been determined, staff and student should decide on a cue to trigger student monitoring. Below are some options.  Most of these cuing methods can either be self-administered by the student or used by the teacher to cue one student, a small group, or even an entire class:

  • Timer. The student or staff sets a timer (e.g., kitchen timer, cell-phone timer, stopwatch) for a pre-set interval. When the timer rings, the student self-monitors behavior and then the timer is reset. For example, a student in a math class sets a cell-phone timer with vibration setting for 3-minute intervals during independent work. When the timer rings, the student counts up the number of math-computation problems completed during the interval.
  • Staff-delivered cue.  The staff delivers a cue to the student to remind him/ her to self-monitor. For example, at the end of an in-class writing assignment, the English teacher prompts the class to review their compositions using self-correction checklists before turning in their work.
  • Student-delivered cue. The student is given responsibility to initiate self-monitoring informally without use of a timer, beep tape, or other external cue. For example, a student monitoring her understanding of assigned texts during in-class independent reading is directed to use a rating scale at least 3 times during the activity to rate and record her comprehension of the text --with the student determining how to space those self-checks.

5. [Optional] Choose Rewards for Successful Behavior Change.

Some students are very motivated by self-monitoring alone. They enjoy pushing the button on their wrist counter, giving themselves checks, or crossing things off to-do lists. Many students, however, require extra staff attention or other reinforcers to be successful with a self-monitoring intervention. To ensure success when first beginning an intervention, frequent reinforcement is recommended. Offering a choice among preferred reinforcers increases the likelihood of a successful intervention. Staff can increase the power of a self-monitoring program by rewarding students when they consistently achieve positive ratings. Remember, though, that students differ in what experiences, privileges, or objects they find positively reinforcing. Here are 3 ideas for figuring out what rewards will motivate a particular student:

  • Watch the student in action. Staff can often get a very good idea of a student's preferred rewards, or reinforcers, simply by observing the student across the school day. The locations where a student chooses to spend time, the people he or she chooses to interact with, and the activities the student engages in all provide hints about what the student finds rewarding. For example, one student may have a friend that he enjoys spending time with, suggesting that the student would view 'free time with a friend of your choice' as a motivating reward. Another student might frequently beg the teacher to be allowed to care for the class mascot, a pet rabbit—presenting the possible reward idea of 'five minutes petting the rabbit'.
  • Ask people who know the student well. Adults such as parents or past teachers who have interacted with the student regularly for months or years may be able to supply a list of ideas about rewards that will really motivate him or her.
  • Administer a reinforcer survey. Reinforcer surveys contain a list of possible rewards acceptable for use in a classroom. The staff meets with the student to review each reinforcer item on the survey, and the student rates whether he or she finds the item to be a motivating reward. Staff can then create a menu of possible rewards for the student using those reinforcers that the student rated as most motivating.
  • Many self-monitoring interventions include self-recruited praise, or teaching the student to bring his data to staff  to earn positive attention or other reinforcement. For example, in the classroom a student may use a system in which she gives herself a check for every five minutes she spends on-task. When she has four checks, she brings the paper to her teacher and is complimented on work well done. Self-recruited praise is especially useful for students whose disruptive behavior is used to gain attention from teachers. However, it is important to determine that a student finds praise reinforcing. Many students, particularly adolescents, may prefer not to receive overt staff attention; using attention in such a situation as a reward could actually worsen behavior.


6. Conduct Periodic Accuracy Checks

Periodically, staff should check the student's self-monitoring data and procedures--particularly at the start of the monitoring--to ensure that the student is recording accurately. Random spot-checks tend to result in higher-quality student self-recording data.

7. Fade the Self-Monitoring Plan

As the student attains his/her behavioral goals, self-monitoring procedures should be faded--that is, gradually simplified or discontinued. The goals in fading are to streamline self-monitoring so that it becomes sustainable over the long term, while  maintaining the student's behavioral gains.  Fading strategies might include condensing the monitoring format (e.g.,reducing a 6-item checklist for monitoring classwork-readiness into a single question: "Am I ready to work?"), changing the monitoring cue (e.g., moving from use of an staff delivered cue to student-delivered cues); and monitoring less frequently (e.g., having the student change from a daily monitoring schedule to monitoring twice per week on randomly selected days).