Self-Monitoring & ADHD

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson discusses how teachers can help students self-monitor unproductive behaviors in the classroom. We'll identify the benefits of self-monitoring for students with ADHD and how to help them develop this skill.

What Is Self-Monitoring?

Picture yourself in a mandatory staff meeting at the end of the year. It's hot and the room lacks air conditioning. The meeting is about information you think could have been more easily conveyed in an email, but here you are on a Thursday afternoon sweating in the auditorium. There are lots of things you might prefer to do in this situation, like talk to your neighbor, or maybe just leave altogether. But, as an adult, you recognize these impulses and actively choose the appropriate behavior, sitting quietly in your seat, even though you would rather do something else.

Although this might seem like the obvious option, this type of self-monitoring, or recognizing our behaviors, is a learned skill. Self-monitoring can be especially hard for students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Students with this condition have trouble staying focused, are often distracted, impulsive and overly energetic.

Students with ADHD can create some of the most challenging moments in classroom management. Students with ADHD have more difficulty self-monitoring than neurotypical children, who still don't even come close to the self-monitoring ability of adults. The result is a lot of impulsive behavior that can hold back learning, even if it is not intentional.

This can feel frustrating in the classroom, but remember self-monitoring is a learned skill. So, how can we teach our students, particularly those with ADHD, to become self-aware of their behavior and make appropriate choices?

How to Start

Carlos is a ninth grade student in your math class. During class, Carlos frequently gets up and walks around the room, having conversations and playing with various items he finds. If he does stay seated, he's usually having conversations while you are talking, or distracting himself and others. When you address Carlos's behavior, he is shocked to find he's doing something wrong. When you ask why he got up, he isn't even sure why; it just felt like the right thing to do in that moment.

Carlos exhibits lots of behavioral challenges common in students with ADHD. To start teaching Carlos self-monitoring, it's important to pick just one behavior to target. In this case, Carlos leaving his seat is probably the most disruptive, since it affects other students, too.

Although it's clear to you that getting up without permission is distracting, Carlos needs to buy into that idea, since you want him to begin practicing self-monitoring. Start with recording how often the behavior occurs in class, and then request a private conference with Carlos.

Share your data with Carlos and ask him if he agrees that this behavior is a problem. Remind Carlos that his energy is wonderful, but point out that it would be better to stay seated so everyone can focus better. Give Carlos another way to get his emotional needs met other than leaving his seat without permission. He could raise his hand, or you two could have a signal so that he doesn't have to ask in front of the entire class. Maybe he can use a fidget toy instead of walking around. The key is to make the self-monitoring program a collaboration, not a punishment.

Help your students come up with positive behaviors to replace leaving their seat so they can be successful
children seated


Now, you should decide how to collect data. Will you and Carlos both collect data each day about the behavior, or will Carlos do it alone and then debrief with you? For a student just starting on a self-monitoring plan, it's best to have both the teacher and student collect data; then they can sit down and compare. Sometimes students don't even notice they are engaging in a negative behavior and can be surprised when a teacher records the occurrence more than they do.

Collecting Data

A common way to collect data is simply to record the frequency, or how often the behavior occurs. The most basic way to do this is simply to make a tally mark when the behavior occurs. But, as you become more comfortable with this strategy, you can include more information like what time did the behavior occur, if there was anything else going on in the class, or even have Carlos record his emotions at the time of the behavior.

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