Psychological Strategies for Improving Motivation and Learning – Strategy 4: Self-Monitoring

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Learning Self-Management
Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

Various researchers (Cruz & Cullinan, 2001; Maslow, 1987; Pintrich & Schrunk, 2002) have demonstrated a strong positive correlation between motivation and achievement. Motivated learners approach tasks eagerly, exert high levels of effort, and persist in the face of difficulty. When students lack adequate motivation, they often become restless and disruptive in the classroom as well. Borrowing from the behaviorist and social learning theory perspectives, teachers can employ various strategies to encourage positive classroom behavior, increase motivation and facilitate student achievement.


Self-monitoring refers to the behavior management process by which students identify and record occurrences of identified target behaviors as part of a broader process of self-management. As such, it represents both an assessment and an intervention strategy. As an aspect of a behavior modification program, the self-monitoring activities are considered reactive effects, whereby the process of monitoring and assessing the behavior leads to its reduction (Fetsco & McClure, 2005; Schunk, 2004).

The process of self-monitoring involves a series of steps, including: the selection and definition of a target behavior; observation of the behavior to determine a baseline; development of a self-monitoring system appropriate for the behavior to be observed; determination of a recording system; and instruction of students on the details of the process. The program should be monitored regularly to assess compliance and effectiveness. The eventual goal is the development of an independent, self-monitoring student as teacher involvement is gradually phased out of the process (Fetsco & McClure, 2005; Schunk, 2004).

This strategy would be particularly appropriate in addressing disruptive behaviors. Initially, the teacher should work with a student to specifically identify the undesirable behaviors and determine the level at which they are currently occurring — e.g., the student disrupts other students during independent work time an average of seven times each day. The teacher should also specifically and precisely identify the alternative desired behavior, which represents the ultimate target goal.

In formulating a plan success, the teacher and the student would then develop a system for recording every occurrence of a disruptive behavior. This recording process should be specifically defined — e.g., “Mark down on your scorecard every time you are talking during independent seatwork time.” Given the nature and extent of the disruptive behavior, it would most likely be necessary for this system to initially operate as a prompted recording scheme, whereby the student is provided with a visual or auditory prompt to remind them to self-monitor. At a later time, if sufficient progress is made, the monitoring can be changed to an unprompted system where the student self-monitors by their own volition, but most students will probably not be ready for that level of independence initially. A similar system for monitoring a student’s focus on assignments could be set up either independently or integrated into the abovementioned program. Figure 1 represents an example of an on-task self-monitoring system.
Figure 1 - From Whitten, E., Behavior strategy management index

The self-monitoring strategy can be utilized both to decrease undesirable behaviors and to increase desirable behavior. As with many of the behaviorist-oriented techniques, this strategy is often most effective when used in conjunction with other techniques as part of a comprehensive behavior management program. In addition to the obvious progression toward the target behaviors, self-monitoring has also been shown to increase the intrinsic interest in coursework and classroom activity by making students aware of and responsible for their own behavior, learning process and metacognition (Benware & Deci, 1984).


Benware, C. A. & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 24(4), 755-765.

Cruz, L. & Cullinan, D. (2001). Awarding points using levels to help children improve behavior. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(3), 16–23.

Fetsco, T. & McClure, J. (2005). Educational psychology: An integrated approach to classroom decisions. New York: Pearson.

Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Pintrich, P. R. & Schrunk, D. H. (2002). Motivation in education, (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schunk, D. H. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective, (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Whitten, E. (n.d.). Behavior strategy management index. Western Michigan University Department of Educational Studies website:

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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