Wouldn’t it be great if our students turned up to school, tuition, or therapy everyday with smiles on their faces and ready to work. I suppose it would make things a lot easier, but also less interesting. In reality it doesn’t work that way, but here are some things you might be able to do to encourage more engagement and participation.
1. Use visual supports such as timetables and timers to clearly communicate expectations. Sometimes children can become overwhelmed by the amount,or possibly even the idea, of work. This sense of gloom can sometimes be overcome if the child has a very clear end in sight, or if he or she has that visual reminder of something to look forward to later in the day.
2. When presenting work, be sure to present only the amount of work required. For example, if working on fine motor skills such as stringing beads, don’t set the entire tub of beads on the table and just keep pulling from the tub. Instead, present a tray with 10 beads so the child knows exactly when he’s finished. Or, you can also use some other visual cue to indicate the stopping point (e.g. bookmark at last page to be read, line drawn after 3rd word problem, x through problems that don’t need to be completed).
3. In general, you want to clearly state expectations and follow through/insist, but you may find with some children a better approach is to negotiate with them the amount of work at the onset. This will help them feel that they may have some control over the situation. It is very important however that this negotiation occur at the onset of the activity, and not after any problematic behaviour as the student may come to think problematic behaviour is an effective way of lessening the work.
4. Increase opportunities to make choices. There are many ways to offer choice without compromising the end goal. Think of where you might be able to offer an element of choice:
- Who to complete the activity with
- Maybe you can offer choice about when to do _______ or what to do first
- Where to complete the activity
- How to complete the activity or with which materials
5. Make sure that the task is relevant and meaningful. For many children, they see no value in what we are teaching. And honestly, how many lessons did we have to sit through that served us no purpose. If possible, make it fun by incorporating interests. Or use functional materials and activities to teach essential skills. Teach numeracy and literacy through baking with reading recipes and counting units.
6. Set up for success. Use errorless learning strategies such as most-to-least prompting to minimize errors and reduce frustration. This means that you provide high levels of prompting or assistance initially, and gradually over time reduce the level of assistance.
7. Begin the day, lesson, or activity with an easy task or series of easy requests to establish success and build momentum. Similarly, intersperse easy with difficult tasks to maintain a high rate of success.
8. Consider the learner’s attending skills and where necessary, begin with brief activities, gradually increasing over time. Token boards or similar visual supports can provide a great, visual structure for accomplishing this. You might start with only having to earn one token, but then gradually and systematically (one by one) over time increase the number of tokens required.
9. Intersperse movement activities with work at the table. Better yet, teach the child to self-regulate and appropriately requests breaks as needed. Use visual cues on the desk to remind the child, and/or to provide limits as necessary on the number of breaks allowed.
10. Engagement is influenced by both motivation and response effort (how difficult or much work is involved). If you need to use motivational strategies, you can consider either reducing the amount of work required or providing more help (reducing difficulty level), or you can establish a programme to explicitly reinforce task engagement and task completion. Give them something to work for. And why not; we don’t (typically) work for free.