My guess is every special ed teacher remembers that magical moment (or long stretch, because lets be honest this stuff takes a long time to put together) when they finally had a workable, abundant work tasks system in place. Whether you were really zealous and put one in place your first year, or it took you a few years to get it together (like me), it was as awesome feeling to know you had an arsenal of tasks ready to go at a moment’s notice. You knew that it would be a great area for your kids to work in independently, and if there weren’t quite at that point, the help of a trusted para would be there to gently prompt them through the routine.
If you have been taking advantage of all that a good work tasks system has to offer, you have probably realized that eventually the system gets to be a little too easy. This totally happened to me last year: my students were killer at working independently right off the bat, to the point I literally had to show them once how the routine went and they got it. Of course, we want out students to be working independently, but we still want to do so at a level that is not going to leave them bored and underwhelmed. Since adding the right amount of rigor for our students should always be at the forefront of our minds, I began to think about the ways I could make our work tasks more challenging.
If your kids are too advanced for the whole schedule with pieces thing, you can always write out a schedule for them to follow. In my classroom, I have my students keep their independent work schedule in their binders, which they now know to retrieve when it is their time to work in the independent work station. Using a list form is a little more complicated for them because that direct connection between the piece they’re using and the work tasks box is no long there. They either have to adapt by taking the list with them, or have the working memory to remember the task they need and retrieve it.
If your students are readers, you can always identify the work tasks by a word or phrase. I have several boxes that are labeled with the activity that is contained in them. Even if you have students in your class that are not quite ready for that, you can still mix in word-labeled tasks with number/letter-labeled tasks. I also like to leave my work tasks out of order. It drives my one para crazy, but I actually like they fact it requires my students to visually scan for the box they are looking for instead of relying on the letter/numbers/words being bunched together.
You can build up students’ stamina by making the work tasks take longer or more challenging. Do this by adding more pieces or adding extra steps. We have several tasks that are more advanced academic tasks, such as measuring or answering questions about a menu. Here is a task made from hardware. I actually got the kit from a Donor’s Choose project. The kit comes with all sorts of hardware pieces, along with instructions for different work tasks students can complete. The work tasks range from simpler to more complicated.
I have had some nay sayers say that work task system seems to be more geared for higher support and/or younger students. However, I think having the right type of work task system can work well in any autism classroom. For my students this year, it was not so much about the work tasks involved and much more about the routine of working independently. The routine works on so many executive functioning skills from planning, problem solving, and initiation.