4 ways kids use self-monitoring to learn

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Self-monitoring is a skill used to keep track of your own actions and performance.

  • People use self-monitoring to help with all kinds of activities, from frying an egg to solving a math problem.

  • Kids with weak self-monitoring skills can benefit from using checklists and other supports for learning.

is a fancy name for a skill you use all the time to keep track of what you’re doing. It’s a series of assessments you make along the way: How is the activity going? What’s working and what’s not? Should I make adjustments?

For example, when you make breakfast, you check to see if the butter has melted in the pan before adding the eggs. If the eggs were runny last time, you might think, What do I need to do differently this time?

That same skill applies to learning, too. Here are four ways kids use self-monitoring to help with learning.

1. Self-monitoring and basic learning

Kids use self-monitoring to help them learn skills like math and reading. They also use it for more basic things, like understanding directions, keeping track of due dates, and checking work.

If your child has weak self-monitoring skills, your child may not recognize mistakes when proofreading a writing assignment or checking math for errors. Kids may also have a hard time determining whether they’re following directions correctly. This can make it difficult to know when they need to ask for help.

2. Self-monitoring and math

When it comes to math, kids use self-monitoring to figure out the best way to tackle a problem and determine whether their answer seems reasonable. Younger kids use it to decide which operation (or operations) to use for a word problem. If your child struggles with this skill, you might notice they have a hard time understanding clue words (such as in addition to or how much less than) or knowing whether to use the + or – sign when they write the problem.

Self-monitoring helps older kids check answers by using the reverse operation, such as using multiplication to check a division problem. Self-monitoring is also the skill kids use to make sure they’ve gone through all the steps of a problem and that each piece was done correctly.

If your child struggles with self-monitoring, your child might get one or all of the steps wrong and not be able to see it. Your child may not realize the answer doesn’t make sense.

3. Self-monitoring and learning to read

Beginning readers use self-monitoring to determine whether the sounds they’re using for the letters make sense together to create a word they recognize — a skill known as decoding. Self-checking is what helps kids go back and rethink the word when it doesn’t sound right.

If your child struggles with self-monitoring and decodes the word boat as bow-AT, your child may not realize it doesn’t make sense. As your child moves on and begins to read sentences, your child may have a similar problem recognizing that a word in that context doesn’t make sense and figuring out which one would.

4. Self-monitoring and reading comprehension

Kids use self-monitoring to become better, more effective readers. When kids first start to read for meaning, parents and teachers help them get information from what they’re reading and understand what it means. As they become better readers, kids replace those outside monitors with self-monitoring. They can ask themselves questions like:

  • Why am I reading this and what will I learn from it?
  • Do I understand the way information is presented? (Such as a list, an alphabet book, or a chapter book.)
  • Can I connect this to anything I already know?
  • Do I understand the ideas and words, or do I need to stop to look them up or ask for help?

The good news: There are ways to help

If your child has trouble with self-monitoring, it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to learn. But they might need some extra support. There are accommodations your child’s teacher can make to help in the classroom, as well as strategies you can use at home to make things easier.

Key takeaways

  • Kids use self-monitoring as a way to check in with themselves as they learn.

  • Self-monitoring helps kids know if their answers make sense.

  • There are strategies that can be used at school and at home to help kids learn to self-monitor more effectively.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.