The Effect of a Positively Reinforced Behavioral Self-Monitoring Strategy on OverStimulated/Stressed Students with Severe Language Deficits Tabitha Ford George Washington University



The aim of this action research project was to develop and evaluate an intervention to address the behavioral needs (self-removal) of one student who has been previously diagnosed with severe language deficits. The strategy chosen was self-monitoring with positive reinforcements. The scope of the action research project was narrowed to determining the effect(s) on overstimulated/stressed students with severe language disabilities when they are provided with a self-monitoring behavioral strategy (laminated strategy sheet using smileys) with positive reinforcements (four interest based rewards). Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected over a six week period as part of the data collection process. All teachers of the student were involved in the study and were crucial in the data collection and evaluation phases. Teachers wrote descriptive notes regarding activities and numerical data regarding number of removals. The process was closely monitored and partially carried out by the teacher leading the study. The results were definitive with regards to this particular student; the self-monitoring behavioral strategy with positive reinforcements led to a decrease in removals from activities for the over-stimulated/stressed student with severe language deficits. Keywords: self-monitoring, positive reinforcements, behavioral strategy, removals, severe language deficits



The purpose of this study was to determine an intervention that would enable a student to participate more fully in the curriculum than they currently were. For reasons of anonymity the student in the study will be referred to as Tom. In many ways Tom is much like his peers, he enjoys learning about topics that are of personal interest to him and has positive interactions with his fellow classmates and teachers. Tom is also unique in that he has been previously diagnosed at his former school with severe language deficits. Currently Tom is undergoing reevaluation by the Special Education Team at his new school. A behavioral pattern became apparent after some weeks; when Tom becomes over-stimulated or stressed he removes himself from the activity taking place. The removal may be in the form of wandering around the classroom or hallway outside of the classroom, or simply by displaying off-task behaviors at his seat (for example staring out a window or doing something completely unrelated to the activity). While Tom may benefit from having more individualized attention or support from an assistant, this is not possible at his new school. The new school is an international school in Norway which falls under a special section of the law that removes the school from following chapter five of the Norwegian Education Act which is Special Education. Students at the school may be referred for evaluation and consultations with agencies may occur; however, regardless of the outcome the school is unable to receive funding for Special Education. This limits the amount of support the school is able to provide for students who have special needs, because the school has to fund it. All of these factors created the need for this action research study, and thus led to the necessity for finding the answer to the following research question; what is the effect on overstimulated/stressed students with severe language deficits when they are provided with a selfmonitoring behavioral strategy with positive reinforcements?



The goal of the literature review was to synthesize available research on self-monitoring strategies that are used with students with disabilities, especially those with severe language deficits. While the survey of the literature available focuses on self- monitoring as a behavioral intervention, cases involving positive reinforcement are of particular interest. In surveying the literature much was discovered about the use of self-monitoring strategies with students with and without disabilities. Jennifer Ganz (2008) explains self-monitoring as a positive behavioral intervention, also known as a PBI. She states that self-monitoring has been used both with students who have disabilities and students without disabilities (Ganz, 2008). Self-monitoring encourages students to be aware of their own specific behaviors, observe if they occur, keep track of when the behavior(s) occur, and reward themselves for improvement in reducing or changing the behavior(s) (Ganz, 2008). The positive reinforcement through use of a self-reward for improved behavior is optional in self-monitoring (Ganz, Cook, and Earles-Vollrath, 2007). Self-monitoring procedures have been found to be effective in increasing attention, academic productivity and accuracy, reading comprehension, and on task behaviors in students with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, and varied mild disabilities (Holifield, Goodman, Hazelkorn, and Heflin, 2010). When compared to other PBIs, self-monitoring is considered a relatively easy and rewarding strategy for teachers and students (Ganz, 2008). Some researchers, however, have found that teachers are unwilling or reluctant to teach self-monitoring procedures because they believe them to be too cumbersome to implement (Holifield et al., 2010). Holifield, Goodman, Hazelkorn, and Helfin (2010) state that there are two types of selfmonitoring procedures that are commonly used; self- monitoring of attention and self-monitoring of performance. Self-monitoring of attention is the procedure that is being used in the action research study for which this literature review is being conducted. Self-monitoring of attention



involves having students record whether or not they are paying attention (Holifield et al., 2010). This self-monitoring procedure may increase on task behavior(s) (Holifield et al., 2010). According to Ganz, Cook, and Earles-Vollrath (2007) the steps for implementing selfmonitoring are as follows; choose the target behavior that needs improvement, take baseline data on how often the behavior occurs, discuss the advantages of the system with the student and possible reward options, teach the student to self-monitor, and gradually fade out support while the student continues to self-monitor independently. Self-monitoring has been carried out successfully with individuals with varying disabilities, including autism, cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Ganz, 2008). The strategy is effective in addressing academic and social behaviors and has been demonstrated to be easily implemented in classrooms (Ganz, 2008). Many of the studies conducted have shown self-monitoring to be effective when used with students with mild disabilities and students without disabilities; however, studies have also shown the strategy’s effectiveness when used to improve behavior in individuals with more significant disabilities (Ganz, 2008). Ganz (2008) also states that participants often improved targeted behaviors even when they did not accurately self-monitor or record the frequency of those behaviors. There was significantly more information regarding the use of the strategy with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This was of particular interest because there is discussion among the Special Education Team as to whether the participant in the action research study should be evaluated for ASD. Behaviors have indicated there is something more than the previously diagnosed severe language deficits. Ganz’s (2008) research showed that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders have benefited from being taught to selfmonitor. In a study conducted by Holifield, Goodman, Hazelkorn, and Helfin (2010), two young boys believed to have ASD were taught a self-monitoring strategy to increase their on-task behavior. The self-monitoring strategy was used during language arts and mathematics, and in



both cases the individuals’ on-task behavior increased (Holifield et al., 2010). In addition to an increase in on-task behavior there was also an improvement in accuracy of task completion (Holifield et al., 2010). Another study which was of particular interest examined the self-regulated strategy development model when used with individuals with ASD to improve writer’s strategic behavior, knowledge, and motivation (Asaro-Saddler and Saddler, 2010). The self-regulatory procedures students in the study focused on developing included self-monitoring (Asaro-Saddler and Saddler, 2010). This was of particular interest because the study focused around writing and addressing a need for intervention for individuals with ASD with regards to developing written pieces. Due to the severe language deficits of the participant in the action research project the use of self-monitoring could be one piece of providing a means of working towards addressing the need for an intervention for developing written pieces. The goal of the current action research study is to evaluate the effectiveness of self-monitoring with positive reinforcements in increasing on-task behavior; however, if the strategy is deemed a success then the Special Education Team will begin to evaluate and develop methods for addressing non-behavioral academic needs. The research demonstrates that self-monitoring is an effective strategy with a wide range of individuals. The implementation of self-monitoring with an individual with severe language deficits will hopefully demonstrate this as well. The action research study is closely aligned with the methods and steps described in the literature review. Research Design and Methodology Research Site The study was conducted at the international school Tom attends. The international school is an IB World school and as such follows the IB standards and practices for implementing the Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme, both of which the international school has. Tom attends a combined PYP 3-4 class. Each class at the



international school has a fifteen student limit. Tom’s current class has fourteen students. The school practices inquiry based teaching that frequently involves variations of group work and student driven learning. All teachers that teach Tom participated in the study. The intervention is intended for use in all subject areas, and though in the beginning Tom needed support with implementing the strategy, the strategy was meant to be used by Tom independently by the end of the study. Contextual Background Tom is ten years old. He was diagnosed as having severe language deficits three years ago at his former school. The SEN team at the international school is re-evaluating Tom’s case. All classes at the international school are inclusive. While students may be pulled for small group activities, it is dependent upon availability of support teacher time. Tom speaks three languages (Ukrainian, French, and English) and is learning a fourth (Norwegian). Tom reads one to two years below grade level (his accuracy with retaining content varies on topic). His writing is very basic and he struggles to formulate independent writing. As one of Tom’s language teachers, I sit with him during writing tasks as he is unable to progress without one to one support. Tom stutters and often finds it difficult to find the words he needs to complete his thoughts aloud. He is a very positive student, but he does become stressed and overwhelmed if tasks are not very straightforward and broken into smaller components. Often during group work Tom becomes over-stimulated and is unable to transition into more structured tasks. Tom loves music and computers. He enjoys looking at books, especially science related ones. Tom is obsessive about time, as recently discovered, and does not cope well if a lesson goes over time. Ethical Considerations Any correspondence about the study needs to be done so confidentially. Initials, not names, are always to be used when discussing student matters in emails and other forms of written communication. There are strict confidentiality laws in Norway that safeguard personal



information and identity. Tom’s well-being during the implementation of the strategy needed to be considered. He needed to be talked to prior to starting to determine how he felt about participating. He may have had concerns about his peers and whether they would react to him having a strategy sheet. Data Collection and Analysis Data Collection and Evaluation Plan Steps for gathering information and timeline: Step Create schedule and letter to teachers involved. Baseline information collected by homeroom teacher. Create and laminate self- monitoring sheet w- rewards (rewards based on student interest/likes). Clarify with all teachers involved that they understand and are prepared to carry out the strategy. (See letter below table) Follow-up with teachers regularly to ensure strategy is being implemented and gain feedback during process. Collect pre-made weekly schedule On-going, 10th of February through 21st of March. Six week intervention begins 10th February. On-going, 14th of February through 21st of 7th of February 7th of February one week, submit 7th of February Dates for Completion 5th of February



containing teachers’ anecdotal notes on number of times “removed” and activity. Group Interview of teachers involved in data collection (individual written feedback submitted to me prior to interview). Interview Tom about the strategy. How does he feel about it? Does it help him? What is positive/negative? Evaluate and analyze data. Identify effectiveness of self-monitoring strategy wpositive reinforcements. Check for patterns using schedule and interview notes. Was group work a contributor to the effectiveness of the strategy for example, or a specific subject area? What rewards were chosen and with what frequency? Write final Action Research draft, including evaluation of data. Share findings with Special Education Team, including Tom’s mother.


21st of March

21st of March

28th of March through 3rd of April

3rd of April through 17th of April

The following letter (with altered student name) was distributed to all teachers involved:



I am conducting action research as part of my university internship. As I am sure you are aware, action research is a type of research that allows an educator to take a real problem that affects their school and using research based methodologies attempt to find a solution. I have chosen to complete my action research on one of our students in the PYP. Tom in PYP 4 becomes easily over-stimulated and stressed during learning activities. As a result, he removes himself from the activity by wandering around or going into the hallway several times during the lesson. Ms.H has been kind enough to work with me on coming up with a plan of action for addressing this behavior. She has taken a baseline the past few days and this will be the starting point for my research. My research question is as follows: What is the effect on over-stimulated/stressed students with severe language deficits when they are provided with a self-monitoring behavioral strategy with positive reinforcements? How this affects you: As one of Tom’s teachers I need you to ensure you are recording the number of times he “removes” himself from the lesson per hour. You will be given an empty schedule template to do this on. At the beginning of a new hour Tom starts over. He will carry with him a selfmonitoring schedule that has smiley faces on it. He will choose a reward from the four choices in the green box (circle it) prior to the lesson beginning. He is to cross off a smiley for every time he “removes” himself from a lesson. During week 7 he will begin with four smileys and each week thereafter he will have one less smiley. The goal is that by week 13 he will be down to one smiley per one hour session. As there is a break during this research period, Tom will be allowed to stay at two smileys for a two week period, weeks 9 and 11. 1. Please ensure Tom has his smiley schedule and dry erase marker with him for your lesson.



Boy w- headphones = listen to one song, Books= five minutes with UOI books, Computer= one game (academically related), Hallway = 2 to 3 minute break 2. He must choose his reward prior to the lesson start. 3. If he reaches his goal, he needs to be allowed to collect his reward at the end of the lesson. The teacher who has Tom immediately after your lesson will need to be informed of this if he has not received his reward. 4. Please be sure to note how many times he “removed” himself and what the activity was in the schedule box for your allotted time period/class session. **The schedule needs to be handed off to each teacher and should follow Tom during the day**

Thank you for your help with this! Best wishes, Tabitha

EFFECT OF A POSITIVELY REINFORCED BEHAVIORAL The following schedule (scaled down) is used to record data:


School Year 2013/2014 PYP 3-4

TIME 08.0009.00

Record Sheet for Self-Regulating Strategy w- Positive Week # ______


09.00-10.00 Music: Fruit to be eaten from 09.50 B 1030-1200 Lunch to be eaten from 1145 L UOI 1230-1330 UOI





R Norwegian

E Language


K Norwegian



C Library








Please remember to write how many times the student “removes” himself from lessons (wandering or exiting classroom), and write a brief description of the activity. Details like group work or individual are useful. Again thank you for taking the time to do this and hopefully we will be working towards finding an appropriate and useful solution to address his needs. SEE LETTER ABOUT SPECIFICS

The data collection process involves both quantitative and qualitative measures. Teachers write anecdotal notes and participate in discussions with the PYP Coordinator (Tabitha). Tom is also interviewed and asked to share his thoughts at the end of the process (if



effective the strategy will continue to be used indefinitely). Numerical data, the number of times recorded for “removal” each lesson of each day, is taken from the weekly schedules and analyzed. The numerical and anecdotal data will be compared to look for patterns, e.g. Tom possibly removes himself more from group situations than individual work or Tom removes himself with less frequency during Math activities. The data is to be shared with Ms. H and evaluated for any inconsistencies or mistakes in the data during the initial analysis process. After an initial analysis of the data I will present my findings to the teachers involved in the data collection process and discuss and reflect upon the findings with them. They will be presented with the findings and allowed to make input. This could provide more ways of locating patterns, as well as additional perspectives. The results of this project will be shared with the family and potentially added (dependent upon effectiveness) to a future IEP. Analysis of Data Collection Process and Results Data for this action research project was collected between weeks 7 through 12 (10th of February to 21st of March). The research project was overseen by me, and data was partially collected by me; however, all teachers who teach Tom were involved as the process was comprehensive and data was collected across all subject areas. I worked closely with the homeroom teachers during these weeks, as they were the primary teacher for Tom. Eight teachers spanning eight subject areas were involved in the data collection process. All teachers agreed ahead of time on the procedure for using the strategy. “Removals” counted as not participating in the lesson through wandering, leaving the classroom, or being completely offtask (unfocused/doing something else). Teachers also needed to be aware of the rewards and to allow time for Tom to collect his reward at the end of the lesson. One crucial step teacher’s had to complete was the data collection sheet. They were required to mark each lesson they taught by indicating the number of removals and the activity, especially whether group or individual. Teachers were reminded of these procedures on an on-going basis by me.



Tom kept his strategy sheet with him during the day and placed it on the homeroom teacher’s desk at the end of the day, then collected it the following morning. For each lesson (one hour session) Tom began by choosing a reward to work towards (4 choices were available on his strategy sheet). If he “removed” himself from the lesson he was prompted by the teacher to mark through one smiley on his sheet. For each removal he was asked to mark through a smiley. If there were no smileys remaining at the end of the lesson he did not receive his reward. The process began in week 7 with four smileys with one smiley being removed each week thereafter. The only exceptions were week 9 and 11 both had two smileys, and the reasoning behind this was that week 10 was a holiday week so two smileys were kept during a shortened week 11 as transition. From week 12 Tom went to one smiley and continues to use the strategy with one smiley. During week 7 Tom removed himself from lessons twenty-seven times, with the majority of those removals occurring in Unit of Inquiry or Language lessons. Unit of inquiry lessons often involve abstract concepts and discussions of human impact on the world. Language is an area where it would be possible to predict Tom may become easily stressed due to his disability. During week 8 Tom removed himself from lessons twelve times, a significant decrease from the previous week. The majority of removals during week 8 occurred in Unit of Inquiry lessons. Week 9 showed nine removals with most occurring in Unit of Inquiry lessons, and week 10 no data was collected due to school holiday. Week 11 was a three day week that showed nine removals with the majority being in other (all special subjects). Three of those removals occurred in PE. Week 12 showed six removals with four of the six removals occurring in Unit of Inquiry and Math. During week 7 Tom was able to reach his goal, with teacher support, of no more than four removals for all lessons. The first week of the strategy involved teacher support through helping Tom become more aware of his behavior and refocusing. During week 8 Tom did not meet his goal of no more than three removals twice. During weeks 9 and 11 Tom did not meet



his goal of no more than two removals three times each week. During week 12 Tom did not meet his goal of no more than one removal twice. The graphs below demonstrate the data results in three different ways; removals per subject area each week, group versus individual work, and total removals per week. A possible limitation of the data is that a holiday occurred during the data collection process which may have direct impact on week 11 and even possibly week 12 as students were adjusting back into school after ten days break. Another limitation would be teacher perspective. Teachers had to decide when to have Tom mark through a smiley by determining what they felt were removals based on our pre-established definition. I feel this would have had a small impact due to the discussions and understanding prior to beginning this process; however, even a small impact can skew data one way or another. Another of the limitations to this data set is that it does not indicate information about the rewards Tom chose during the study. It was intended that this be marked and evaluated too; however, more focus was placed on noting activity and removals which led to no information being written about the rewards Tom chose. This does not directly impact the outcome of the study, but it would have been interesting to see the patterns in Tom’s reward preferences. This information could be useful in developing future strategies for Tom and possibly others. It is known that Tom frequently chose a computer game (academic) or song as his reward. He did not choose to walk in the hallway as a reward ever. This is interesting considering the hallway was where most of Tom’s removals led him to prior to the study. It is possible to track Tom’s reward choices from this point forward and evaluate those, especially the content of the academic computer games.

The following graphs display the data collected during the study: Week 7 =4 smileys, Week 8= 3 smileys, Week 9= 2 smileys, Week 11= 2 smileys, Week 12 = 1 smiley



Removals Per Week Per Subject Area
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 11 Week 12 # of Removals

Unit of Inquiry 8 5 5 2 2

Math 5 3 0 2 2

Language 9 1 3 0 1

Other 5 3 1 5 1

Number of times student removed self from specific subject area lessons per week. Other= Norwegian, Library, PE, IT, Music
18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 11 Week 12 Group Individual

The number of removals during group work versus individual work each week across the subject areas.



30 25 20 15 10 5 0 week 7 Week 8 12 9 9 6 Week 9 Week 11 Week 12 27

Removals from all subject areas

The total removals per week across all subject areas.

Evaluation and Conclusions The data does clearly answer the research question “What is the effect on overstimulated/stressed students with severe language deficits when they are provided with a self-monitoring behavioral strategy with positive reinforcements?”; however, the results are limited to the specific student and would need to be retested on a larger scale to provide a clear picture of the impact of this strategy when used with multiple students representing this category. For Tom the data is clear, it worked, and continues to work. The research from the literature review which indicated that self-monitoring was effective with students with varying disabilities was accurate based on my findings. The removals from week 7 to week 12 significantly dropped and his ability to maintain focus during both group and individual work became significantly better, especially with individual tasks. It would be ideal based on the chart comparing group and individual work that Tom would benefit from more individualized tasks; however, in an inquiry based program this is not always possible. The teacher feedback regarding this strategy and its impact on Tom has been positive. The process took on a life of



its own with Tom taking charge after a couple of weeks and this became especially exciting to see. He is very on top of this strategy, he takes his sheet with him to all classes and he reminds teachers five minutes to end of lesson that it’s time for his reward. This little piece of laminated paper with smileys and rewards on it has made all the difference in the world for this child in being able to engage with lessons better. The strategy will continue to be used with Tom for the remainder of the school year. We will reintroduce and re-evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy after summer holiday for next school year. The strategy is especially effective because Tom has taken charge and has ownership over this part of his learning. Now that we have an effective strategy in place for assisting Tom in focusing and being engaged with lessons we can begin to look at other areas of need related to his disability with severe language deficits. Before this was difficult to do because he removed himself so much from lessons it was difficult to gain a clear picture of his actual ability. Teachers now have a starting point and can better plan for Tom’s needs. This data will also aide the SEN team in moving forward and creating an IEP for Tom. The study has also revealed another behavior that needs to be addressed which we did not notice before; Tom displays compulsive behaviors with regards to time. The SEN team is currently devising a method for addressing this behavior which will likely reshape the current strategy in order to address both behaviors of removal and obsession with time. Reflection Overall, this action research study has been an exhausting and yet rewarding experience. There was a lot of worry in the beginning because the teachers had to be trusted to complete the data collection as requested. When the research is being overseen by the researcher and carried out by delegated individuals a lot is at stake, especially with regards to reliability of data. I feel that the clear agreement prior to beginning the study and the continuous follow-up make this less of an issue.



It is rewarding to know that a positive difference has been made in a student’s school day and that I played a key role in achieving that. Every time Tom sees me he smiles and waves his strategy sheet at me to show me he’s still on track. The study allowed me greater insight into how a student learns and how they react to changes in their school environment. For example one consideration I never made prior to starting the study was how Tom would react as he lost a smiley each week. I thought that perhaps he would be somewhat stressed; however, I did not anticipate that when it was time to remove (cut away) a smiley at the end of a week he felt very stressed about the whole experience. It was as though I was cutting away a piece of a friend. We quickly overcame this and reduced the stress by allowing Tom to take home his smileys that were cut away. This study has also given me and my colleagues a new perspective on how to deal with the issue of not adhering to Special Education law. It is possible for us to think outside the box and ask research questions within the context of our school in order to discover alternative means of addressing student need.



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