Whether we are at school, college or work, we are required to complete various tasks. Fortunately, sometimes we will have the discretion to decide which tasks to complete first and which ones to put off for a while (and in some cases put things off forever!).Sometimes we will make this decision based on preference, sometimes on what simply needs to be done first and sometimes based on the mood we may be in on a given day or time of day.
When it comes to your teaching sessions there is no harm in giving your students the same discretion for their daily school work. Remember that they are no different than you; they too will sometimes be in the mood for certain tasks but also not in the mood for others.
By getting to choose when they will complete the tasks for the day children can be more likely to engage with each task as they have made the decision where on their schedule to place them and, as a result, when during the day they want to complete them. Increasing a child's engagement with tasks typically means they are more likely to focus, concentrate and do better on each one.
In addition it can help them to develop planning skills as they will have to consider what they want to do and in what order will suit them best.
So how do you put this into practice? Read on to find out!
Schedules that visually display the different activities that will occur throughout a day are often used with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) (Lequia, Machalicek, & Rispoli, 2012). These schedules can be used for transitioning, self-management, task completion, daily planning and numerous other tasks.
Depending on the child’s needs, their schedule could be an A4 page that has spaces to place small cards that have various task names (words only) printed on them; for others it could be images representing each of the tasks that they can also place along a long line to indicate what will be happening during the day.
One of the reasons for using an activity schedule is to reduce confusion and bring some predictability to a child’s day (Lequia et al, 2012). This feeling of predictability can be taken even further by allowing your student to set up their own daily schedule.
Instead of them having to follow the routine you’ve set up for the day, consider putting out all of the tasks (the cards with the tasks printed on them) that have to be completed for the day on the table and let them decide in what order they will be completed by placing each one onto the schedule.
By doing this, another level of self-control is added for the student and it may also help when it comes to completing tasks that aren’t all that favourable to the child as they will have selected when they want to complete them.
Remember to only put out what you want the student to engage in for the day. Don’t give them the option to spend the day playing boards games. Also, try to make sure to count how many tasks can be done in a day and make sure you have enough space for them all on the schedule board – it would be better to have too many spaces so some are left blank than not enough and cause some confusion about where they should be placed.
You can give your student another level of control by allowing him/her to have a “Do This Later” space at the bottom of the schedule, so that when they get to a task that in that particular moment they are not too keen on, they can decide to put it into the “Do This Later” section of the schedule.
One thing to remember here is to make sure the student actually does the task later and that the day doesn’t end before you get to run the programme. It’s useful to run maybe one or two other programmes and then come back to the “Do This Later” task so it doesn’t become an “I Don’t Have To Do This” option.
Sometimes we all decide to take a few minutes to just sit back from work once and a while to refocus on the tasks ahead. Again, this same privilege could be offered to your student.
A way of letting the student decide to take a break from their routine or academic tasks is to give them a “Take a Break” card that they can place on the schedule in whatever position they want. Or they could just have this card and can use it once a day to take a break from whatever task they are engaging in.
Just like the “Do This Later” method, make sure you come back to the task that the student took a break from and get it done on the same day.
The last piece of advice is again not that different from the options we have in our everyday lives. We typically get to decide what leisure activities to engage in after work or what type of treat we buy ourselves when we go to the shop. This option to choose (have control of) what we want to do or what we want to treat ourselves to should be extended to your students.
For example, if you’re running educational programmes where your student will earn back-up reinforcers (fun activities and treats they like) throughout the day then allow your student to choose the back-up reinforcer they want to work for.
This can have two primary benefits. Firstly, your student will feel they have choice and so this will give them a sense of control over what is happening. Secondly, it can ensure that your student is motivated to work because they are getting to choose things they want; if you are choosing for them then you could be selecting something they are not particularly interested in so their motivation to work could be reduced or even non-existent.
To do this, you could ask your student “What do you want to earn for your work?” or “What do you want to work for?” and then allow them to write down what they want to earn on a token mat; or you could have text based cards or small photos (PECS photos) of the things they can earn stuck on a “choice board” and they can remove these photos and put them onto a token board as the item/activity they are working for.
Remember that we all like to have some level of control over our daily lives. Obviously, it is important that you maintain the role of the teacher within the classroom and that your student/s doesn’t take over the whole show! But allowing your students to make some decisions about their daily lives can help them to engage more with their work, increase their motivation to complete tasks and also help them to think for themselves.