Cognitive Behavior Modification in the Classroom

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBM) in the classroom can help students self-regulate their behaviors. This lesson describes CBM strategies such as self-management, problem solving, and anger management.

What is Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBM)?

We have all had those students in our classrooms who have difficulty with their behavior. As a teacher, you rack your brain trying to figure out the perfect strategy or behavior modification plan to help control your student. You try positive reinforcement, token-economy, and even research some new strategies online but the child is still having difficulties. The problem sometimes lies deep inside the child and instead of the teacher finding a way to deal with the behavior, the teacher needs to help the child find a way to deal with the problem.

Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBM) focuses on teaching students how to be in control of their own behavior by changing their thought processes and self-talk. This process is derived from the well-known techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy and used in a therapeutic setting for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. CBM can be very effective when used in classroom, because it helps students become more aware of their behavior and what they need to do to change it.


An effective strategy when implementing CBM in the classroom is self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is the process of involving students with measuring and comparing their own behavior. For example, your student Ethan is struggling with being disruptive and interrupting classroom instruction. You first need to identify the specific behavior that needs to change. In this case, Ethan needs to be quiet during lessons so that his peers can focus on the lesson.

Once the target behavior has been identified, then you need to discuss it with Ethan and together start monitoring the behavior. This can be in the form of a checklist, a behavior log, or rating scale. You and Ethan will continue to monitor the behavior to determine the frequency and duration. You can then provide Ethan with a self-monitoring prompt or cue to help him self-monitor. For example, you can set a timer to go off every 10 minutes to signal Ethan to do a 'self-check' to make sure he is staying quiet and not interrupting the lesson. He can record the data and then continue with the lesson.

You will review the data with Ethan at a specified time and choose rewards that are appropriate for him. These rewards need to be motivating, so Ethan should choose them with your approval. For example, if he is not disruptive for three intervals in a row and successfully self-monitors his behavior, he can earn ten extra minutes at recess. You will continue to look at the self-monitoring data and check in with Ethan at scheduled times.

The goal of self-monitoring is to fade out the process of recording data and rewarding success, because the student is self-regulating his behavior without the teacher's help. In our example, Ethan would not be interrupting the lessons or his peers and will have attained his target behavior goal.

Problem Solving

Sometimes when a student has a problem in the classroom, the student doesn't understand how to solve the problem or cope with it. For example, your student Ben has trouble getting along with others. This results in him being physical with other students when they make him mad. Ben gets in trouble frequently on the playground or in other social environments.

Problem solving therapy is a great way to help break down this issue with Ben. You should begin the process by discussing the issue to help Ben identify the problem. You can then help him brainstorm a plan for what to do if the problem occurs or find a solution to the problem. Breaking a problem down into smaller parts can make it much easier for a student to deal with.

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