Friday, August 5, 2016

Differentiating independent work time in a severe-needs classroom

A lot of teachers run independent work time (AKA task boxes, workbox stations, work systems, etc.) in a very structured/ specific way (the TEACCH way is pretty common). I got my undergrad degree and taught in North Carolina, so I'm very familiar with the TEACCH approach for running independent work sessions. However, I have found that making a few tweaks and modifications to the traditional system has been beneficial to my kiddos in my severe-needs classroom.

Here's the basics for how the TEACCH approach is set up:
Photo source
If this approach is new to you, you can read more here and here. Don't get me wrong, the TEACCH approach is amazing, but throughout the years, I've found that many of my students with severe-needs need some modifications to the system. I quickly realized that many of my students were getting really distracted by the "extra stuff" in traditional system or weren't able to complete steps in the system. So, I started removing/ modifying pieces of the approach as needed.

First, I removed the toy/ activity visual that is the reinforcer for finishing the task (my students still get free choice after they finish their work, but I removed the visual). I had a few kiddos who were just obsessing over the visual of the toy, and they couldn't get through the work because they were so distracted by the visual of the super preferred item. Instead, I show students a simple "first/ then" before they start independent work. For example, I could show them, "first table work, then chips," but then I would not leave the chip symbol on the student's desk.

Many of the TEACCH programs also include a visual schedule for kiddos that shows them what tasks they need to complete. This often involves having kiddos match picture cards to identify/find what tasks they need to complete. I have numerous kiddos who can't match independently yet, so I removed this step from my system. Instead, we simply set the work out for the kiddos to complete. I like the thought of the kiddos matching cards to identify what work they should do next, but my kiddos just aren't there yet. Below is how I used to do it. The little schedule card showed kiddos what box they needed to get off the shelf and complete (they matched the colored shape on the schedule to the colored shape on the box).

This is how I do it now... The work to be completed is simply stacked to the left of the kiddo. No more complex matching system!

As a severe needs teacher, I have to take into account a variety of things when it comes to independent work time, but the thing that impacts my kiddos the most when it comes down to it is motor skills. For example, some of my kiddos can't open and close the plastic tubs, so we use large Ziplocs instead. Tip: leave Ziplocs open or use the slider Ziplocs for kiddos who don't have good fine motor skills yet.

I realize that the structure in an independent work system is SO important, so I have a few main components that are included in all of my independent work systems. Here are the basics components of independent work systems in my severe-needs classroom:
  • All work in the system is at student's independent level
  • Students work from left to right (the work to be completed is on the left of the kiddo and the work that has already been completed is to the right of the kiddo)
  • Student's DO NOT take their work apart
  • Completed work goes in a designated spot

Here are a few examples of independent work stations in my classroom. They're all slightly different to meet the kiddo's individual needs, but they all include the main components above. 

I also have generic task analyses data sheets to track students' levels, but I'll save that for another post ;)

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