Frequently Asked Questions About Independent Work Systems

Frequently Asked Questions about Independent Work Systems!

I often get asked a lot of questions about independent work systems, so I wanted to sit down and share with you 10 questions that I get asked a lot!

If you are looking for more information on where to get started with independent work systems, you can read this blog post all about the 6 different systems that you can use to get started. 

Question #1

Question: What do I do if the student doesn't finish the tasks in the time that is given?

Answer: For me, part of independent work is learning to complete the tasks in the time that is given.

When using a work system, there is a reinforcer for completed work at the end of the schedule which motivates the students to complete their work.

I try to set it up so the amount of work in the systems is enough to keep them engaged but still finish within the time allotted.

However, there are still students who struggle with this.

If I think it’s a motivation problem, then they learn that if they don’t get it done in the time given, they don’t get the reinforcer.

If it happens too often, I adjust the amount of work so they can be successful.

The short answer is, that I have the students move on when the center is over and if they don’t finish, they don’t get the reinforcer.

Question #2

Question: How can I start these systems when my students are so low functioning?

Answer: I would say to start with simple put-in tasks and work toward independence completing them.

Or start with tasks that they love doing.

Maybe they love doing a certain puzzle. Think of tasks that they like to do that they are successful doing.

If you are struggling with coming up with something, then start with 1:1 teaching a put-in task or an Errorless learning activity. I have some free Errorless learning activities that you can find here!

Once they have mastered that, move it to the independent work system.

Then, add one task to the schedule. use prompts and fade them to teach the system.

Question #3

Question: Can I do independent work systems once a week?

Answer: If your schedule only allows for you to fit in independent systems once a week, then doing it once a week is better than nothing.
However, I would consider doing daily practice so the students get more practice working independently every day.

This is such a critical skill for students to learn. So the more practice that they can get in one week the better.

Question #4

Question: Do I need a staff member to support the center in the beginning?

Answer:  When you are first implementing independent work systems, you have to staff the center with someone to teach the system starting with simple tasks and a limited amount of work followed by a reinforcer for completing small parts of the system.
Then, start fading out the prompts.

You would definitely have to assign a staff member to teach the system but eventually, you would fade that staff member out as soon as possible.

Sometimes you have to get a bit creative with how you use the staff member by staggering the student's start times or adjusting how many students are implementing this at once.

For example, I would start with one or two students using this system.
Once they are completely independent in using a system, then add two more students into the mix.
Doing it this way will free up those adults that we need so desperately during the day.

Question #5

Question: Can I record the data later?

Answer: You can absolutely record the data at a later time!

It's one of the huge benefits of using independent work systems in your classroom

As long as you're not taking apart the tasks that they have done in front of the student, you're good!

In addition, the students should never take it apart either, so that way you or a paraprofessional can go and check the tasks to see if they're finishing the tasks or if they've had any errors and especially if an adult is not supervising the center!
While the tasks are being checked, you would be taking the data.

Question #6

Question: Can I use these systems for my students who are not on the autism spectrum?

Answer: You absolutely can use this for any special education student, particularly in self-contained settings because they are typically surrounded by people who are assisting them throughout the entire school day!

I have used work systems with all types of kids in a variety of settings.

I also love them as a classroom management tool as well because once kids are independent they can practice skills without needing adult assistance.

My own child has Down syndrome (pictured below) and so I have seen with my own eyes how much independent work systems have worked for him in both school and at home.

boy with down syndrome with adapted book special needs

Question #7

Question: How do you handle student errors?

Answer: When you see students making errors in the tasks that they were provided, I would take those tasks out as soon as the student has completed them and put them into a one-on-one reteaching center. Do not intervene while they are doing the center. 

You can note this on the data collection sheet, as well, to show that they are making errors and those skills need reteaching.

Once they've mastered those tasks again, then they can go back into the structured work systems.

Question #8

Question: Can I reset the tasks right away? 

Answer: No, unfortunately, it's pretty degrading. If you stand near the student and try to reset the tasks that the student has in their “all done” area, it makes the work that they are doing pointless.

You want them to feel proud of the work that they are completing. Even if the tasks that you are giving the students are repetitive, do not reset them right away. Once the student is completely done with the schedule of tasks, then you can grab the completed tasks and reset them out of the child's view.

Again, don't let the child reset them either. If a student gets a job stocking the shelves at a grocery store, you wouldn't want him to put all the cans of corn back into the box when he is done, would you? No, he would be fired! We want to make sure that we are practicing good habits for the future. 

Question #9

Question: What if my student can't even handle doing 3 tasks?

Answer: If you have a student who doesn't understand the schedule and cannot do 3 tasks, just start with one task. Find ONE task that they can do independently and start there. They do one task and they get their incentive. Do this for a few weeks until they learn how to use the schedule. Then add another task to the schedule. Work the students up slowly to 3 tasks. 

Question #10

Question: Can I use the same tasks the next day? 

Answer: I know a lot of teachers may argue this but students on the spectrum particularly like repetition. They like to do the same things over and over again. Using the same 3 tasks for a week straight is perfectly ok. Then, on Friday afternoons you can switch them out for the next week!

How can I get started with Independent Work Systems?

I have a free on-demand training on how to get started with Independent Work Systems and ALL of the benefits you and your students will feel from using them! 

Sign up here!

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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