Teaching Independence in the Sped. Classroom

While I was writing IEPs for next year I noticed a theme....the students didn't practice academic independence enough. 

We always practice and encourage being independent with ADLs, cutting, leisure skills, etc. What we didn't routinely practice was being independent during academic tasks. Enter...work bin time.

During "work bins" students are spread out throughout the classroom and given 2 to 4 activities that they are to complete on their own without any assistance. The tasks they are given are activities and skills they have mastered and generalized in the classroom. 

Developmentally, there is a large range of skills in my classroom. To meet the needs of all students, tasks are gathered for individual students. Some students are working on more typical academic tasks while other students are working on generalizing therapy skills into the classroom.

During this work task time staff remain behind and a few feet away from students. It is easy for students to get distracted and become off task. 
If a student has lost focus and has stopped working, staff give a nonverbal prompt from behind. Verbal prompts are the hardest to fade, so it is important to only use them after nonverbal prompts have failed. 

Here is an up close look at some of the activities my students work on during this time.

Stamping in boxes to practice fine motor, visual perception and one to one correspondence:

An adding worksheet and puzzle are two of the tasks this student completes on her own.

Lacing practices hand eye coordination.

Writing tasks to work on reading, visual perception, and writing.

As soon as students are done with all of the tasks they were given, they are given a reinforcing item or toy. 

This is an item we call a "tube toy" student can make all sorts of sounds pulling & pushing it.

Some important things to think about before reinforcement:
*Will the student stay where they are to play with their reinforcer?
*Are there items the student can't work for during this time?
*How long will reinforcement last?
*How many tasks does a student have to complete prior to reinforcement?
*How will the student let staff know s/he is done and ready for reinforcement?
*If you need to prompt the student during the tasks, does the student still earn reinforcer?

Lots to think about before you start! For my classroom, I spread the students out all over the classroom before passing out the work tasks. This allows students to remain where they are during reinforcement. I also limit reinforcement choices to one area of the room where none of the musical toys are kept. 

My students have been taught to raise their hand and look at a staff member when they are done. We check the tasks to make sure they have been done correctly and then direct the student to reinforcement. 

Since there are many different levels of students in my program, there are students who do 15 minutes of independent work before reinforcement. However, my lower functioning students may only need to do 5 minutes of independent work before reinforcement. No matter what length of work they start at, the goal is to slowly increase their ability to work alone for longer periods of time. 

The next step is to work on expanding the length of time students can work on their own. Click HERE to read about two ways to work on it.

I would love to hear how you work on academic independence in your classroom!

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