Self-Monitoring Strategies for Students with 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.

In this lesson, we'll be learning steps and strategies for teaching self-monitoring to your students, with a focus on those that help students with ADHD.

What Is ADHD?

Picture teaching your first period physics class. One of your students, Omar, is constantly leaving his seat and chatting with neighbors. Even if you confiscate his phone, he manages to distract himself with simply a pencil and paper. What are you to do?

Omar's behavior is characteristic of a student with ADHD. Students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a chemical imbalance in their brains, which makes executive functioning, such as decision-making, time management, impulse control and organization, very difficult. This manifests as distracting, off-task behavior in the classroom. Luckily, there are self-monitoring techniques you can use in the classroom to help your students become more self aware.

Distracted students sometimes suffer from ADHD.
distracted students

What Is Self-Monitoring?

As adults, we use self-monitoring strategies all the time. Subconsciously, or actively, we ask ourselves questions all day to hone our performance. How do I feel? Am I on task? How much time do I have left for this task? However, many students, especially those with ADHD, haven't developed these skills.

Self-monitoring is crucial for correcting unwanted behavior. There are a few different ways to teach self-monitoring, but they all start with setting expectations, followed by devising a monitoring strategy and then analyzing the results.

1. Setting Expectations

Before you can start teaching students how to monitor their own behavior, you first need to work together to identify the behavior they need to improve. By teaching self-monitoring, you're also trying to get students to be more independent, so it is counterproductive for a teacher to sit down and talk at rather than with a student about negative behaviors. First, encourage your students to be curious about their behaviors. What behavior do they think is inappropriate for class? Why do they think they engage in that behavior? Work together to establish target behaviors you both want to improve.

2. Choosing a Strategy

There are several ways to implement self-monitoring in the classroom. Let's look at an example of a student you would like to work with, Darnee.

Visual Cues

Darnee has had a tough time with self-monitoring. You decide it might be easier to start with a more teacher-directed monitoring strategy to help build her skills. During class you hold three cards: a green card, a yellow card and a red card. When Darnee is on task, you place the green card on her desk. If she engages in a negative behavior, like talking out of turn, you give her a yellow card. If the behavior continues, she receives a red card, indicating there will be a consequence.

This strategy uses visual cues, or signs a student can see and hear to bring his or her attention to negative behavior. Other visual cues might include a hand gesture, tap on the desk or quiet verbal check in.

Visual cue cards for self monitoring
visual cues

Although this method is largely teacher monitored, it still provides students with cues to assess their behaviors and make changes. Ultimately, we want students to assess their own behaviors, but visual cues can be a more structured way to start the process.


Now that Darnee has some experience identifying what her target behaviors look like, you can provide a checklist outlining them. When she becomes aware that she's engaging in a negative behavior during the monitoring period, she places a check next to it. You can also include positive behaviors on her checklist, like bringing all needed materials to class.

Frequency Counts

Darnee is getting a lot better at noticing her negative behaviors, but during a 'debriefing' session, you realize she still thinks her progress is a little better than what you're seeing. You decide to move to frequency counts, where a student tallies the number of times he or she engages in a target behavior, both positive and negative. This is a more advanced strategy, as students have to constantly monitor their behavior during class. However, it will also allow Darnee to see that the number of times she engages in negative behaviors outweighs occasions of positive behaviors, thus giving her a more accurate picture of her performance in class. As she grows, however, she'll see the tallies shifting to the positive side, increasing her self-confidence.

Sample table for frequency counts
frequency counts

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