6 Types of Independent Work Systems for Students with Special Needs

Using Independent work systems in the classroom has slowly become a passion of mine. There are so many different variations of how you can set up these work systems for both the self-contained setting and an integrated setting. I wanted to show you a few different ways that you can set these up quickly and efficiently.

1. Tiered shelf system:

this is the traditional setup. You have a tiered shelf on the left side of the desk. You have a schedule in front of the child with the reinforcer at the end of the schedule. This system needs an “all done” area. You can use a cardboard box, a laundry basket, a milk carton, or even a small table for this “all done” area. This “all done” area is set to the right of the student table/desk. You can also use another tiered shelf but that would take up the most amount of space. If you use two shelves, make sure that you have enough space in the classroom for this. You will have a paraprofessional standing behind them at times (all the time in the beginning) The student completes all of the tasks on the left shelf and then earns the reinforcer.

2.  3-Drawer Bin system:

This system is probably the easiest and the least amount of space needed to implement for beginners. This system allows the child to follow a 3 picture schedule that matches up with the icons on the 3-Drawer bin. The student completes all the tasks in the bins and then earns their reinforcer.  This is not my favorite system as it limits the number of tasks you can assign to a student, it limits the size of the tasks you are giving to the students, and teaches students to not really follow the schedule, just to empty the drawers.  If you start with this, think about expanding to a different option in the future.

3. Folder system:

This system is geared toward higher cognitive students who are moving away from bulkier work tasks typically presented in a bin or task boxes.  This type lends itself best for academic tasks. Students still follow a written or visual schedule of tasks to complete but the tasks are located inside the folders. Students complete all of the work in the folders and then earn their reinforcer. Using a folder system is perfect to use in a general education setting because it's easier to be discret about than the other types of work systems.

4. Binder System:

This is one of my favorite types for an integrated setting because of the mobility and diversity that it allows. This system is stored in a large binder with the schedule on the inside or outside cover. Students move the icons to match the pocket folders or zip pouches located on the inside of the binder. You can fit a lot in a zippered pouch (task cards, flashcards, manipulatives, and even small games).  Students receive an immediate reinforcer when the binder of tasks is complete.

5. Table Bins System:

This system takes the least amount of furniture. You only need bins for the top of the desk and an “all done” area either on the table or near it. You will still label the bins with the icons that match the schedule, but students will need to remove the task from the bins and place the task in front of them to complete. You would need this at a larger table to have enough room for the bins plus workspace for the students.  This is not a favorite of mine because I like the tasks to go from left to right. (It’s a literacy thing ????) but could be visually appealing to some students. This style is also very limiting to what you can fit in the bins, or how many bins you can fit on the table.  Remember the goal is to stretch the child to do more and more tasks.

6. A Hybrid System:

This system can be a variation of any of the above systems or you can create your own. The important part is that you set it up so the tasks are all previously mastered skills and the students have the ability to complete them with 100% accuracy, with no help from a paraprofessional (except in the beginning when you are teaching students and staff how to use these systems) The tasks have to have a clear start and finish to them. The student needs to follow a schedule and earn a reinforcer when tasks are completed.

Well, there you have it!

If you are wondering what types of tasks you can use for these independent work systems, read this blog post here!

If you're ready to figure out how to start implementing independent work systems in YOUR classroom, join the list to know when my free training opens next!


    Catch you next week!

    I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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