Independent Work Systems: 8 common mistakes

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8 common mistakes that people make using independent work systems

Independent Work Systems

Using independent work systems is, by far, one of my favorite tools that I use in my classroom.  It is truly amazing to watch students become so independent. The students are proud of themselves. There are so many self-contained classrooms that just don't have enough support and these systems practically run on their own and need very little maintenance.   After teaching your students and your paraprofessionals how to use this center, your classroom should run like a dream.  But once you start implementation, I have seen a lot of teachers make some mistakes.  Today I am going to be talking about 8 common mistakes that I have seen when implementing independent work systems. 

all done bin for independent work systems

1. The All Done Bin

When you are setting up the independent work system, do not forget about a place to put the task when the students are finished.  Students need a place to put the work when it is all done.  This is a vital component to IWS.  

frustrated with independent work

2.  The Work Is too difficult

Another mistake that I see made all the time, is putting tasks and activities in the independent work center that is above the child's skill level.  Remember, any task that is in the work system needs to be at an independent level. 

paraprofessionals taking data for independent work systems

3.  Forgetting to Teach the System

One of the main things that you need to do, is to teach how to use the system to the students.  You cannot just send the child to use this system without ever teaching them how to use it.  This will fail miserably!!  take the time out in the begging to teach the students how to use the system. 

4.  Not Training Staff

One of the biggest mistakes that I see, is not training your paraprofessionals on how to support students and how to take accurate and efficient data! Do not skip this important step.  Before the implementation phase, make sure that you are taking the time out in the beginning and train your staff properly.  

box of reinforcers

5. Not using a Reinforcer

When you are implementing an independent work system, the schedule needs to include some sort of incentive.  If you want to be sure that the student is doing the work, there needs to be a reinforcer at the end of the schedule.  

If you are unsure of what type of reinforcers to use, you can give a preference assessment or read this blog post all about how I give preference assessments in my special education classroom. 

picture of the prompt hierarchy

6. Forgetting to Fade the Prompts

When you are implementing the independent work system with the student, you need to understand and use the prompt hierarchy.  You don't want your students to become prompt dependent and so fading the prompts as fast as possible is vital to the success of the students. 

schedule for independent work systems

7. Not using a visual schedule

This is non-negotiable.  You absolutely must be using a visual schedule when using independent work systems.  This is the piece teaching the students what tasks to do, and in what order, and also tells them when they are finished!

8.  Using Independent Work Systems for instruction

Finally, the last common mistake that I see with implementing independent work systems is replacing direct instruction with IWS.  These systems are not meant to be instructional centers.  And you should not be doing independent work systems all day long.  They should be used to help your students to become independent learners and allow you to free up some time with your staff. 

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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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