Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tour Our Classroom's Independent Work Area

Building from last week's post that detailed our Direct Instruction area, this week we are going to look at our Independent Work area. Students transition to the Independent Work area directly following their time at the Direct Instruction center.

Independent Work is another area in the classroom that was created after I attended a Structure Teaching training based on the TEACCH concept.  The goal of the Independent Work area is to individually teach each child how to sit and attend to activities at his/her level.  This video demonstrates how the Independent Work area is set up in our classroom. 

Please ignore my less than professional, soccer mom attire! The only time I could schedule the video this week was right after Saturday morning soccer ... said this working mom! :).

In the video, I shared that each student has a drawer and contained in his/her drawer there is a task or activity specific to that child's development.  To promote true independent work, the activity in each child’s drawer requires skills already mastered at either Direct Instruction or elsewhere. The work in each drawer always has a clear beginning and end as we want the student to know how much work must be completed and when he/she will be finished.  Some students have work as simple as putting items into a container.  Others have sorting, matching or writing activities.  As the school year advances, the student's work increases based on his/her individual progress.  

Here is a peek into every child’s drawer for next week. I am sharing them in order of lowest to highest skill level.

Drawer One: A simple errorless put-in activity where the student puts the pegs into the same color container and then closes the container by placing on its lid.

Drawer One
Drawer Two: A simple money slot where the student puts pennies in.  This is a great one for hand strengthening as the slot gives little resistance and the student has to push to add the pennies.
Drawer Two
Drawer Three: An errorless sorting activity where the student has to put tokens and bears into the correct holes.  Note: If you flip this task over, there is an option to simply put all the tokens and bears in the same large hole which is an easier skill. It's been a nice feature so I can use the same box for two skills!

Drawer Three
Drawer Four: Another errorless sorting task where the student has to sort circle and square blocks by putting them in the correct holes.

Drawer Four
Drawer Five: A sorting task where the student has to put the bears in the correctly colored bucket.  Notice: I hot glued foam to the top of the buckets so that the items would not fall out when the student puts them in "All Done".

Drawer Five
Drawer Six: Another sorting task where the student puts the pom-poms in the slit in the middle and sorts the pipe cleaners by the correct color around the outside of the slit.  This task is from Second Story Window

Drawer Six
Drawer Seven: Is a silverware sorting task provided by Kimberly A Henry’s "How Do I Teach this Kid?"
Drawer Seven
Drawer Eight: The student must use the mini tongs and fine-motor control to place the pom-poms into the ice cube tray.  

Drawer Eight
Drawer Nine: A task from Christine Reeve and Susan S. Kabot’s book "Building Independence: How to Create and Use Structured Work Systems."  (If you are struggling with the concept of how to build independence, take a look at this book. It is a phenomenal resource!) In the task, the student has to simply put a colored eraser top on the correspondingly colored pencil and put them in the "All Done" portion of the pencil box. 

Drawer Nine
Drawer Ten: A size sorting task where the student matches the circles to the correct circles on the Velcro board.

Drawer Ten
Drawer Eleven: This is a task that takes a little more time and effort. The student has to put the correctly colored beads into the approriately marked canister.  You can read more about this one by clicking here as it was featured in my Top 10 Task Box Countdown last winter.

Drawer Eleven
Drawer Twelve: A task that came from my errorless learning worksheets that were shared in last week’s Direct Instruction post.  The task I simply filling each bug in with color. 

Drawer Twelve
Note:  Each drawer is assigned to a morning and afternoon student. Between classes, my staff undoes all the tasks and puts them back into the drawer for the next class.  Which leads me to a really good point....NEVER EVER undo a child’s task in front of the student!! As promoted by the TEACCH model, undoing a task in front of the child leaves an impression that his/her work does not matter.  It would be like your administrator coming into your classroom and deleting an IEP you just completed because your work was not meaningful.  (Maddening thought...but it really drives home the point, huh?)

On the note, I'll share my "Dos & Don’ts for the Independent Work" area. We have this list posted along-side the center to help staff remember how to support students.  

The most important tip is to prompt from behind and use as few cues as possible especially verbal cues as they are hardest to fade.  These tips were given to me by a colleague of mine, Peggy Lawrence.  Thanks Peggy!!

Also as we do at all centers, I have a list of rules for the students to follow at independent work.  

Beside the rules, I also have a Velcro strip that shows which students work at that desk as we have a two work areas. Here to see a video model of my sons using the Independent Work area.  NOTE: In the video, I am the camera lady and the teacher so it is little different but I think you will get the idea. 

This video clip was shared with my students last week to show them how the process should look as some of them were struggling to figure out how to use their time wisely after the task was completed.   

As you noticed in the video, my boys did their work and then sat and did one of the choices for two minutes.  The two minutes was noted by a large sand timer.  We have a 10, 5, and 2 minute large sand timers. They are a favorite in our classroom!!  We use them for a variety of things.  I honestly don’t know what we would do without them!  You can purchase them from Watch Time Pass.  

After the two minutes were up, the boys transitioned to the iPad table.  The iPad table and independent work area are a joint center. Together, they run 10 minutes for my morning students who have shorter attention spans and 15 minutes for my afternoon students.  

From Direct Instruction, some students transition to the iPad, followed by the Independent Work while other students transition from Direct Instruction to the Independent Work then to the iPads.  I know this sounds a little confusing but with all students using an individual schedule, everyone knows where & when they need to be.  I promise to show you how individual schedules work in my classroom in a future post.

Finally, I did want to share a little "extra credit" with you.  On occasion I will have a student who can’t attend all of large group but is very successful with independent work. In these cases, I will have a set of three drawers that that student transitions to in the middle of large group.  The student will then get some much needed downtime from large group by completing the three independent tasks.  When the child is finished, they come back to group with the rest of the class.  This helps to give the student a functional, engaging break from group in a while offering the rest of the class the opportunity to attend to group in a much more relaxed, calm environment.  Here is a pic of what the drawers look like for this process.  

I know this post may seem like a lot of "Independent Work" for the teacher but I promise the success you will see in your students makes it well worth it!  You don't have to do it "independently", feel free to reach out for support or guidance.  It may take some time, but I eventually respond to all your emails.  (In fact, it makes my day to hear from y'all!) 

Wishing you lots of success with your own Independent Work areas! 


  1. I love this post! Is there a way to get a copy of the Dos & Don’ts for the Independent Work area?

    1. It's a very interesting video and the children are doing very well playing with the small stuff. Recently I saw a video on pbn links for sale that was the first informative video I had the experience.

  2. Hey! Either I am missing something or the link that you provided for the timers (which I think are really neat!) no longer works. Do you think you could check that out if you have a spare minute! :)

    1. Thanks for Letting me know that the link is not working I will re-link it! But for now if you want to access the timers here is the website! http://www.watchtimepass.com/products.php They are totally worth it!!

  3. I just set up an independent work area in my class last week, and we were able to implement this week. Some of the kids took to the work system right away, and others are still learning how to use it, but I love it! I learned the TEACCH structured teaching method in the 90's and have never forgotten the principles. Thanks for sharing your classroom with us. I discovered your website not too long ago, and keep coming back for ideas and inspiration!

  4. I have been reading different post. I think that the setup and organization in this classroom is great. I look forward to getting many ideas as I read through your posts. I was just wondering, and I believe I may have asked this already in a previous comment but, from what I understand within the 20 minute period of the learning rotation they will do direct instruction, independent tasks, and ipad? BTW I really like this setup that they go from one center to the next within the 20 minutes. No downtime. Great to avoid behavior problems. I plan on switching up my schedule because your setup really makes sense. Just trying to figure it all out in a class of 10 students and 3 adults.

    1. My biggest suggestion and one that has been a lifesaver for my staff and I is building students independent work abilities as it helps free up time for staff to work in smaller groups or one on one on intentional skills needed for each individual student. The next post I put out will give you more understanding of this. Expected it tomorrow:)

  5. We have 2 tasks per box, ex. Pencils get grips and an eraser, then put in the completed box. Next student to get the box unesembles and sorts items back to designated containers, erasers in marked box, grips in mark box and pencils in marked box. Then this task is complete as part two.

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