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Executive Function: Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking for Independent Learning

Executive Function - Students with LD Zach never proofreads. I have to remind him to check his homework every night and I feel like a broken record! No matter what I say, his work is still filled with careless mistakes. When he has a math test, he seems to understand the concepts perfectly, but he gets so many answers wrong because of calculation errors. He puts a lot of time and effort into his writing but his punctuation and spelling are awful. No matter how hard he works, his grades are still so low. (Parent of a 10th grader).

Self-monitoring is a critically important executive function process that depends on students’ ability to recognize when and how to use specific strategies, to check the effectiveness of these strategies, and to adjust these strategies in relation to the task demands. Effective self-monitoring is therefore linked with students’ understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their flexibility in shifting back and forth from their goals to the outcome of their effort. 

Why Are Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking Processes So Important?Students often have difficulty self-monitoring effectively and they do not check or correct their work efficiently. These weaknesses are often even more pronounced in students who have learning or attention difficulties. They often lose sight of their goals and objectives, they may not select the best strategies for specific tasks, and they cannot easily find their errors. Instead, they often spend many hours working and may become increasingly frustrated because they:

  • may be unaware of the approaches they are using to complete their work.
  • may not recognize when they are feeling “stuck” and need to shift to an alternate approach to complete their work.
  • may not independently monitor and adjust the strategies they use.
  • may not know how to check or correct their errors independently.

Self-monitoring and self-checking strategies therefore become increasingly important in the following academic areas as students advance through the grades:

  • Reading comprehension requires students to monitor their decoding and vocabulary, and to track the main ideas and details simultaneously.
  • Written language requires students to evaluate the demands of each assignment, to plan and organize their approach, connect the main ideas with the details, check sentence structure, spelling, and grammar, as well as evaluate whether the finished product meets the goals of the assignment.
  • Math requires self-monitoring of problem-solving processes, understanding of concepts, use of the correct operations, and checking that the final calculations match the questions.
  • Science and History require students to monitor their understanding and correct interpretation of concepts, vocabulary, and details.  
  • Homework requires that students understand the tasks they are assigned, monitor due dates, check their materials, and evaluate their accuracy. 
  • Studying and test-taking require students to monitor what they know, what they need to know and how they are learning, and to check their work systematically for errors. 


How Can Parents Help Children to Self-Monitor and Self-Check?Self-monitoring requires that students remain mindful of what the tasks are, how they are approaching tasks, as well as the outcome of their efforts. Parents can model self-monitoring and self-checking approaches by talking through checklists, reviewing and revising plans, or discussing ways of avoiding errors. A few strategies for helping your child to self-monitor and check schoolwork are listed below:

Reading Comprehension

  • Encourage your child to read single sentences or small chunks of text, and then check for understanding.
  • Help your child to think carefully about text by promoting discussions about the characters, language use, and connections between themes and details.  



  • Help your child to review assignments and grading rubrics on a regular basis and to track his or her own progress. 
  • With your child, review his or her most common errors to create a personalized “Top Hits” editing list.
  • Suggest that your child use colored pens to help shift from the role of writer to the role of self-checker and editor.
  • Encourage your child to check sentence structure and grammar by reading aloud or using the text-to-speech function on the computer.



  • Show your child how to check work for accuracy, e.g. check against an estimate, use the reverse operation, or use a calculator. 
  • Help your child to create a personalized checklist by reviewing their errors on past tests or quizzes: e.g., Have I checked the signs?  Have I solved all parts of the problem?
  • Self-talk promotes reflection and greater awareness of the process – encourage your child to think out loud!


  • Help your child to create silly phrases or songs to check that necessary books and folders are in his or her backpack when leaving school or when leaving home in the mornings.
  • Encourage your child to give completed homework a “once over” to promote the development of self-checking routines.
  • Place a clock near your child so that she or he can monitor the time spent on each assignment. 
  • Use visual checking reminders: items to go to school should be immediately placed in the backpack or in a special folder for completed work. 


Studying and Test Taking

  • Review study guides with your child and help to set up a “study plan” with breaks built in for exercise and enjoyment.
  • Encourage your child to create a note card of “don’t forget” items, acronyms, or checking reminders to review before tests.
  • Help your child to create acronyms to remember to check for specific errors during and after the test.
  • Show your child how to use two- or three-column notes to study and to check for understanding of major themes (i.e., one column for main ideas/terms, one for details, one for a memory aide).  

Children and teens who use executive function strategies to self-monitor and self-check can become independent and efficient learners who are successful in and outside the classroom. 

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Lynn Meltzer PhD, is the President and Director of Research at the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD) and Director of Assessment at the Institute for Learning and Development. She holds appointments at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Tufts University. She is also a fellow and past-president of the prestigious International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. Her work includes numerous articles and books for professionals and parents with an emphasis on assessing and teaching executive function strategies.



Nancy Trautman, MAT, has an undergraduate degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Simmons College. She has completed training in the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing program and is a certified Orton-Gillingham reading therapist. As a Reading and Educational Specialist, Nancy provides specialized instruction in reading fluency and educational support to elementary, middle, and high school students in the areas of reading comprehension, written expression, math, and study skills, and also offers strategy-based instruction in executive function. Nancy recently co-authored a chapter on remembering in Executive Function in the Classroom (Guilford Press, 2010).


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