The Importance of Independent Work {and how to set it up in your class!}

Now comes the big question:

I hate to break it to you my sweet friends – but nobody is going to stop by your classroom during those start of the year PD days and hand you a bright and shiny box of expertly aligned curriculum that will suit the needs of each student in your room. I think my first year teaching I honestly expected that box to arrive one day and hear I am… still waiting… You have two jobs. You are a teacher and your a curriculum developer. I going to get to work on advocating for our double salaries to kick to account for all of this additional work. I’ll keep you posted 😉

As special education teachers, we need to create curriculum for our students that is individualized to meet their needs. And our classrooms are so diverse! One size does not fit all. Not even close. So likely we will be creating multiple curriculums. Also – our students don’t always have a nice strong foundation of basic so we may need to build those up before moving on to more complex concepts. The nice sequence of learning doesn’t always happen for our kiddos. There tends to be lots of splintered skills and lots of missing skills and it’s your lucky job to figure the whole misery out!

 

First thing to tackle: Independent Work

You need a LOT of independent tasks in your classroom. Your students aren’t going to be able to be working with you all day. As we’ve already talked about – they will be rotating around centers and some of those centers will be on their own (or working towards working on their own). This isn’t a bad thing. The ability to work independently is a great life skill to have. We want our kids to go to get jobs and be meaningful members of society and to do so you need to learn to work on your own. It’s vitally important. So you need a complete crap-ton of tasks for students to work on. Variety is the spice of life and you want to make sure you students are working o different tasks each day. You also want to make sure they have the chance to work on a variety of skills, generalize skills into different forms, and (of course) not get bored.

The goal is to have our students actively engaged at all points of the day. Even when they aren’t with us, we want them to be working and practicing skills. This will make your life so much better. Especially in the start of the year, there is a lot we need to do. We need to train our paras. We need to teach students new schedules. We need to take data. We need to implement behavior plans. While we are doing all of this – what are the other kids doing? If you haven’t planned for that – it’s going to be a hot mess. I promise. But if the other kids are actively engaged in independent work tasks – winner, winner chicken dinner.

Types of Work Task Systems:

You will need a system for your students to rotate between different independent work tasks. Here are a few common setups:

 

Traditional TEACCH 3-Bin Work System

Based on TEACCH’s structured teaching approach, this system is nice because it is SUPER structure, good for younger learners or learners work on very foundational skills, and it’s very concrete.

The Numbered Box System

Time for things to get real. This is my obsession. The pride and job of my classroom. Over 70 tasks on two shelves, all leaners use the same system, students set it up, ahhh perfection. Check out these posts {Independent Work Setup, Video Tour, Independent Work Tips} for lots more info and check out the quick video below as well. Grab the color coded task list here:  Archive

Love this system?

Grab this system here!

Binders

Binders are great to store velcro tasks and worksheets and work so well for independent work. Kids can have their own independent work binders or organize binder by level and share. The options are endless!

Advanced Systems

With your higher functioning students – think generalizable! What can easily be done in the gen-ed, at home, etc.? What systems do you use? I love creating simple checklists and to-do lists for these learners. You can make things a little more complex and lengthen the time they are working as well!

Looking for task box and other independent work activities?

Click below to check out two of our best-selling resources!

Also check out all of our File Folder Activities and Sorts – perfect for independent work!

19 Comments

  1. I love how you stress independence! I spent 11 years as a high school teacher and I’m switching to elementary (grades 3-5). I definitely want to set up a work box system (in high school they had a their own box system in a separate room in the school I didn’t really have to worry about). After your kiddos do the task, do they leave it together for you to check later? Or is there another way that you check their work.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Yep! They leave it together so we can check it and undo it for the next day.

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  3. What kinds of things do you have listed for their choices off of the independent work list (#4?).

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  4. Some things we have: quiet reading, word boggle, word of the week, puzzle, crossword puzzle, word search, Moby Max, Compass Learning, Xtra Math. Hope this helps! 🙂

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  5. How do you keep track of what the kids have done and what they need to do yet?

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  6. The mini schedule shows which takes they have to do each day. Does that make sense?

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  7. Perfect, thank you so much! 🙂

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  8. Thanks for reading!

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  9. I purchased your 40 work tasks mega pack, and love it. How can I get a copy of the color coded task guide?
    Thanks!

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  10. Just emailed you! Will def do a post on this soon as well!

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  11. I got it, thanks! I’m very impressed with your quick responses. We started implementing a work system this week and it has been great!

    Reply
  12. Sasha, I’m am so impressed with your classroom organization. I’ll be organizing my task boxes this summer, so I can introduce an independent work station to my students. How can I get a copy of your color coded task guide?

    Reply
  13. Just added it to this post! Hope it helps!

    Reply
  14. You could also leave a tracking sheet in each bin so so when its completed all you have to do is check off its been done for that day.

    Reply
  15. I’m an assistant for a 3rd grader and of course we had to keep it basic for her. We have done it all last year and of course the start of this year. It still seems like on some days not everyday but Some that she doesn’t understand that the first number she matches she has to do and so on in order. One day she may go to box 3 and just do the task and forget the number. than match number 1 box and do task and then forget to do task box 2 number and do the task number matching. Than the next class she is in she will do the opposite than next class after that she may do it all right… so with all of that being said is there a step I need to take before this to make it better for her

    Reply
  16. Sasha. This is an amazing system. How did you find the time to set it all up? I work in England and would be interested to see examples of higher level activities as a video. Would this be possible? Or does one already exist?

    At the moment we are in lockdown, and as someone who is only contracted until the end of August I am not sure what I will be doing come September.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Mx

    Reply
  17. This article was very interesting to me. I hope to implement more independent work like this in my classroom this year. I have always had independent work included in my academic centers, but after viewing the Woodrow Wilson video and reading this article, I have a clearer picture of how important independent work is to help students increase confidence and develop true independence.

    Reply
  18. Hi Sylvia, great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

    Reply

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