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February 2017 Newsletter

Self-Monitoring: Checking in with Yourself

Joyce Blankenship Joyce Blankenship

By Joyce Blankenship
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Eight-year-old Ben turns in his math assignment for you to look over. When you ask him why he left three problems blank, he looks at you and says, “I don’t know, Mom, I just forgot to do them.”

You are driving your junior high–age son Josh, and two of his friends, home from the weekly science co-op. You listen quietly from the front seat as Josh hogs the conversation, talking too loudly about his latest basketball game victory and unaware that his friends are becoming annoyed.

Ten-year-old Sadie joins the family after her nightly bath. You walk into the bathroom and let out an exasperated sigh as you see damp towels on the floor and dirty clothes lying in a heap next to the hamper.

Focus on Self-Evaluation

Can you relate to any of these common scenarios? If so, you may have a child who struggles with self-monitoring—the ability to keep track of and evaluate our performance on regular tasks.

Self-monitoring falls under the umbrella of executive functions (the cognitive skills that control and regulate most of what we do in day-to-day life). This includes the ability to initiate, prioritize, plan and organize, set goals, think flexibly and solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior.

In their book Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning, Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel refer to self-monitoring as “the brain’s quality control system.” They believe that the ability to step back and observe our own behavior is vital to both academic success and learning to get along with other people.

We use self-monitoring all the time in our daily tasks to keep track of what we are doing. We make assessments and ask ourselves questions along the way, such as “How is this activity going? Do I need to make some changes? What is working and what is not?”

For example, in my home we bake a lot of chocolate chip cookies (I have five daughters!). The baker has to keep track of many things, such as turning the oven on to the correct temperature, using the right ingredients in the right amounts, following the directions in order, and baking the cookies for just the right amount of time.

The baker must constantly be asking herself questions like “Did I add the right amount of flour? Was the butter soft enough? Is the oven too hot? Did I set the timer?” To bake a batch of cookies that passes muster, she has to be strong in her self-monitoring skills—or she will hear about it from her sisters!

Warning Signs

This executive function skill applies to learning and social skills too. A child’s weakness in self-monitoring can show up in many different ways. The child may:

  • Have difficulty recognizing mistakes
  • Have difficulty keeping track of due dates
  • Not see the need to ask for help
  • Seem to lack concern for quality of her work
  • Have difficulty reflecting on her own work
  • Have a hard time determining if she is following directions correctly
  • Not realize her answer doesn’t make sense
  • Perform inconsistently in schoolwork and behavior
  • Lack self-awareness
  • Be genuinely surprised when she gets in trouble for misbehavior
  • Not notice when peers are no longer interested in the topic of conversation

Many kids who have a difficult time monitoring their behavior also have problems with staying focused and controlling impulses. The entire array of executive skills are related, working together to help the brain organize and act on information. You will find that as you work with your child on improving one particular set of executive skills, you will very likely see progress in other abilities.

For example, as you work on your child’s self-monitoring abilities, your child may become more attentive and less impulsive. So, the good news is that although you are focusing on improving your child’s ability to step back and observe his own behavior, this will spill over and positively affect other executive functions.

Homeschool Helps

Homeschooling provides a wonderful avenue for you to help your child employ strategies to improve self-monitoring abilities. As a parent, you know your child best, and educating your child at home allows you to spend time observing your child while giving feedback, encouragement, and support.  Here are some ways that you can help your child to help learn how to self-monitor:

1. Provide external structure and feedback. Providing cues, prompts and feedback helps kids learn what to watch out for and how often to check how they are doing.

  • Be sure to make the criteria that you use to evaluate your child’s work very clear:
    • “You will lose points if you skip any questions.”
    • “When you take a bath, make sure that you pick up all your towels and hang them up, and all your clothes should be in the hamper.”
  • Prompt your child to check her work against a standard.
    • “Sarah, let’s look at the checklist to see if you have completed all the steps in your geography project before you turn it in.”
    • “Before I go outside to look at the garage, Ben, I want you to go out there and check it yourself. Pretend you are the parent and see if you think the work is all done.”
  • Provide a rubric and prompt your child to refer back to it. Rubrics are checklists that define in writing what is expected of the student to get a particular grade on an assignment. Check out Evaluating for Excellence: A Handbook for Evaluating Student Progress by Teresa Moon for a variety of types of rubrics and evaluation forms.
  • Arrange your child’s learning environment with structure and organization which allows them to become more independent. This year I began using Sue Patrick’s Workbox System with my 11-year-old daughter. Each day, I place her schoolwork in workboxes (I use plastic shoe containers). Each workbox holds the schoolwork for one subject, and the materials she will need to complete the task. I then give her a visual schedule for the day as to what things to do in what order, and give her the responsibility for completing her work. This system encourages self-monitoring, and my daughter has become a more independent and motivated worker.

2. Teach your child or teen how to review and analyze their past behavior. Many children with these weaknesses have poor hindsight, which means they have trouble learning from previous mistakes:

  • “Josh, when we were driving home from co-op this afternoon, I noticed that you did most of the talking and your friends were very quiet. Let’s talk about what you could have done differently so that everyone could take part in the conversation.”

3. Teach your child or teen the tools and techniques to improve self-monitoring

  • Encourage the use of checklists for schoolwork and daily chores.
    • My elementary-age daughter has a difficult time getting going in the morning. She now uses a mental checklist by counting the fingers of her hand to remember the five things she needs to do, such as make bed, get dressed, brush teeth, etc. She then checks off her completed tasks on a visual checklist attached to her door. She is finding success with this method, which makes for a happier child and a less stressed-out mother!
  • Teach your student to re-read directions to make sure she understands them.
  • For math, teach your student to highlight math operations signs with different colors.
  • Teach your student to verbalize the steps in a math process out loud, so that he is less likely to skip a step.
  • Prompt your students to read aloud their paragraphs or essays in order to hear what they have written.
  • If a rubric is included with the assignment, prompt your student to refer back to it at each step of the project and then to grade himself before turning the project in.
  • Teach and practice reading body language in social situations.
    • “How can you tell that someone is annoyed at what you are saying?” Make a list with your child of different ways someone might show they are annoyed, and periodically review it.
  • Allow an older student to check his own work by using an answer sheet. He can then put stars on a chart indicating that the work is complete.
  • Place a mirror at your student’s work station. Dr. Sydney Zentall reports that children who look up and see themselves in a mirror are more likely to refocus on their work.

4. Use technology to help your child or teen monitor his performance.

  • Teach your child to use the spell and grammar check features on computer work.
  • Provide word prediction software for weaker spellers.
  • If your child agrees to be filmed while doing schoolwork, he can later review the film and rate himself.
  • Teach your child to use apps like these:
    • Score It prompts students and teachers to assess students’ behavior at regular intervals throughout the school day. It provides a timer that goes off every few minutes, alerting students to rate behaviors such as attentiveness or respectfulness on a scale from zero to four.
    • 30/30 by Binary Hammer sets up a list of tasks to accomplish and a length of time to complete them. The timer will tell you when to move on to the next task. The visual component helps kids “see” when they need to work faster or when it’s almost break time.
    • Plan It, Do It, Check It Off by I Get It, LLC, uses real photos to show what needs to be done. You can create step by step “books” for activities like cleaning your room, getting ready for bed, or completing a project.

5. Incorporate brain-building therapies that strengthen executive functions

  • Equipping Minds creates individualized brain fitness programs to help improve memory, attention, critical thinking, and other learning processes.
  • Brain Development Seminar teaches how to reorganize the brain, showing specific exercises and movements that stimulate neurological pathways in the brain.
  • Cog-med is a computer program that specifically targets working memory and attention.
  • Brain Builder is brain-training software designed to improve memory, attention and learning.

Self-monitoring is closely tied to self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. So take the time to sit down and talk to your child about the areas of strength that you see in them. Ask your child what he or she sees as areas of strength. Provide an opportunity where your child can talk about and express their feelings about their experiences with their weaknesses. Many children see their problems and differences as more severe than they actually are. As homeschooling parents, we can actively engage our children in the process of building skills to improve executive functions, while offering support when needed and a listening ear.

Resources

Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Dr. Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Dr. Laurie Dietzel

Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits by Chris A Zeigler Dendy

“Four Ways Kids Use Self- Monitoring to Learn” by Amanda Morin, Understood.org

Evaluating for Excellence: A Handbook for Evaluating Student Progress by Teresa Moon

Sue Patrick’s Workbox System: A User’s Guide by Sue Patrick

HSLDA’s struggling learners page Resources page Neurodevelopmental Therapy

Cogmed

Equipping Minds

Brain Development Seminar


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