Often when we talk about behaviors in the classroom, we talk about the behaviors we want to decrease, but there are also so many behaviors we want our students to develop so they can reach their goals. This year, I have a lot of new students and one of the most important things you can teach is how to work independently. This is the foundation of any cluster program because you can pull small groups while other students are working on their own and you are teaching students independence which serves them in the long run. Here are five strategies I use in my classroom to help students to develop independent working skills…

1. Multiple Timing Fluency

Recently, I started using multiple timing fluency to have one of my students build momentum when he completed independent work tasks. This student was able to some work tasks with adult support, but when he would do the task by himself, he would move slowly or undo a task he just completed. I wanted him to build a good working momentum, where he was working consistently throughout the task. We used a  multiple timing fluency in which he did part of  task for three-15 second intervals, as fast as he could.  This helped to “train” this student at the speed in which he should be working so he could feel how consistent working should feel. My paraprofessional then collected data on the total time it to the student to complete the whole task after the shorter timings. This resulted in the student completing the task at a more consistent rate. 

My student is currently being timed on the larger format pegs in the pegboard during factory time so he is able to complete the pegs in the pegboard task box independently. 

2. Imitation Instructional Programs

Imitation programs are essential for students in a cluster population because so much independent working and success is based on your ability to observe and do what the group is doing. There are three types of imitation I have taught in my classroom: fine motor imitation, gross motor imitation. The Autism Helper has two amazing blog posts (with videos!) about Fine Motor Fluency and Gross Motor Fluency. Currently, I am using more vocal imitation programs in my classroom because I have students who are younger and students who are blind. Using an vocal imitation program for students who are blind or have limited writing skills is essential because students can still learn a variety of skills (e.g. letter sounds, categories, personal information) without writing or visual cues. 

Two, three and four word practice phrases for vocal imitation programs. 

3. Prompting 

I know, I know, this is an obvious one…but I wanted to bring it up because I wanted to talk about physical and partial physical prompting. I usually try to stay away from this type of prompting, because it seems like the most intrusive and the hardest to fade, but I find that it is effective when teaching students a variety of independent work skills. When you are physically prompting a student, it can help the student to develop a “muscle memory” of how doing the task should feel-specifically what speed they should be working, the steps of the task and what physical space they should put items. While this obviously works well for more hands-on tasks like sorting, I have also used hand-over-hand with students who already know how to writing so they get the feeling and cadence of a written skill. For example, I might do hand-over-hand writing with a student just learning tallys so they understand the rhythm of tallys (“one, two, three, four, cross”) and can incorporate that as part of their muscle memory.   

4. Visual Directions

I think the more we as teachers can factor ourselves out the better chance our students have of building independence. Visual directions are a great way to do this because while you can teach students how to use the directions using verbal prompts, you can easily fade to gestural prompting and just leave the visual directions at the station so that students are able to follow them without you or a paraprofessional. One of my favorite Autism Helper products for teaching and encouraging independent working is Visual Rubrics for Special Education, which includes seven rubrics that help students to see what the expectations of assignments and behaviors even if you are not right there.   

5. Timers

I have used timers with my class ever since I have been teaching. This year is the first year I have used a timer system whole class in a cluster program. Before, it was very individual, but teaching students to refer to a timer helps them to learn time management and keeps them on-task. With the visual timer in my classroom now, I have taught students to refer to the timer with verbal prompts, which I will fade over time. For example, I might say, “I notice there is one minute left. This is a good time to start to put away your puzzle and wait in your seat until the timer goes off.” For my students who need shorter, simple commands, I usually say, “Look at timer. Almost done. Clean up. Wait for buzz.” Another option is a timer that goes off at various intervals to ensure students are on task. During my first few years of teaching, I found a kitchen timer that had a different beep that went off at 5 minute intervals. It gave students a little wake up call to get working before they actually needed to be finished. 

I hope this helps you to teach your students to develop independent work skills in your classroom! Share the ways you teach and promote independence in the classroom. 

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