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Thinking Inside the Box (part 3): Work Areas

Submitted by on 03/15/2009 – 11:20 pmNo Comment

The Structure. Visually Structured Classrooms use individual works areas for students to complete their independent tasks. The structure of the area may differ from classroom to classroom and may look different depending on the skill level of the student. However, a student’s work area must be presented consistently to optimize independence. As with all components in the visually structured classrooms, the work area is structured left to right and top to bottom. Every piece of visual material in the work area provides relevant information that tells the student the order of the tasks, the number of tasks and where to go or what to do when the tasks are completed. Ideally, the workstation will include 4 elements: 1) a small table, 2) a set of shelves on the left (for tasks to complete), 3) a set of shelves on the right (for completed tasks), 4) a “mini-schedule” that guides the student through the sequence of tasks. A table (at the right height) is preferred over a desk because many tasks require more room than is found on student desks. There must be room to complete tasks and a space on the desk for the mini-schedule. The shelves must also provide enough depth to hold tasks that may be fairly large. One variation to the “finished” shelf is the use of a finished basket (often a laundry basket or something equally large). The problem with using a basket is that the completed tasks may fall or become disarranged when the student places them in it. 

The Work Flow. The student:

  1. Takes the “work” card from the main schedule and matches it on the work card in their area. 
  2. Takes the first card from the mini-schedule and match it to a task on the shelf on the left.
  3. Takes the first task off the shelf and places it on the table.
  4. Completes the task
  5. Places the completed task on the shelf to the right.
  6. Takes subsequent cards from the mini-schedule and repeats the sequence.
  7. Removes the final card from the mini-schudule that returns the student to the main schedule.

On the main schedule, the next activity for the student should be highly reinforcing. This will motivate the student to finish the tasks and return to the main schedule. Remember that in the example given, the student has progressed systematically to a level of indepence that is the goal of individual work areas. Most students will start with one task and the reinforcer card (or object) placed directly after that task is completed (no need to return to the schedule). Some children have a great compulsion to complete tasks and will quickly progess to mulitple tasks in sequence. Other children will need the visual reminder of the reinforcer that awaits them. The tasks themselves are individualized and must be kept novel and appealing to the students. This means classrooms must have space to store tasks that are not currently “in the rotation.”

Teaching the System. Before the student is placed in the work area, the teacher should first teach the workflow in another area of the room. Set the area up identically to the work station, with shelves on left and right and the mini-schedule on the table. Initially, the teacher will need to provide a combination of verbal instruction and gestural prompts, but these should be faded as soon as the student gets the idea. The reason for teaching outside the work area is to minimize the need for prompting (especially verbal) in the work area. If the student associates the work area with verbal instruction, they may become dependent on these prompts. Once the student has shown the ability to complete the tasks independently, they can be moved into the work area. This process should be repeated each time a new task is introduced.

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