Strategy

Task Variation

Interspersed Requests, Behavioral Momentum, High-Probability Request Sequence

Task Variation is an instructional practice that strategically alternates between previously mastered and/or highly-preferred skills (i.e., maintenance skills) with challenging, new and/or non-preferred tasks (i.e., target skills). To implement Task Variation, the teacher starts an activity with maintenance skills and when the student begins to consistently participate, includes the target skill. Teachers can extend Task Variation schedules by interspersing the maintenance skills throughout the entire task (e.g., maintenance skill, target skill, maintenance skill, target skill). Task Variation builds positive momentum by guaranteeing opportunities for success thereby increasing student motivation and the probability that the target skill will be attempted.

Implementation Tips

Selecting Maintenance Skills
Ensure each maintenance skill has the following attributes:
1. Highly Preferred (i.e., the student has self-identified it as enjoyable)
2. Previously Mastered (i.e., the student can do it successfully without any support or prompting)
3. Quick to Do (i.e., it takes less than 30-seconds to a minute to complete)
Sequencing
Sequence tasks by beginning with with 3-5 maintenance skills, before integrating target skills. Maintenance skills can also be interspersed throughout the task, alternating between maintenance and target skills as appropriate.
Reinforcers
Pair tasks with reinforcers, such as a token board, to increase engagement and participation. Prior to beginning a Task Variation sequence, establish a specific number of tokens that are required before earning a reinforcer. Tokens can be received for both maintenance and target skills, then slowly faded as student increases success.
Implementing in the Moment
Implement Task Variation in the moment when the teacher identifies that the level of a student's engagement has decreased. For example, a teacher might see a student displaying signs of disengagement (e.g., slouching in seat, slowed work production). Before the student has an opportunity to engage in an escape behavior (e.g., talking with peers, putting head down on table), the teacher can implement Task Variation. Doing so decreases the likelihood of disengagement or non-compliance during the activity.
Whole-Group Implementation
Use Task Variation for whole-class instruction when introducing new and challenging tasks. When using this strategy with the entire class, teachers can use collaborative tasks (e.g., Think-Pair-Share) or whole-group guided instruction in lieu of having students independently complete maintenance skills.

Examples

Developing New Academic Skills
When a teacher observes students consistently engaging in non-compliant behavior when introducing new, more rigorous tasks, the teacher can implement a schedule of Task Variance. For example, when introducing double-digit multiplication, a teacher observes students demonstrating verbal avoidance (e.g., “This is too hard,” or “I don’t want to.”) In order to increase motivation for participating, the teacher can begin the class with several single-digit multiplication problems as maintenance skills. As the students build successful momentum with the maintenance skills they are more likely to attempt the double-digit multiplication problems that follow. The assignment can also alternate between single and double-digit problems (e.g., single-single-double-single-double-double-single) in order to sustain successful experiences and intrinsic motivation.
Building Routines/Following Directions
This strategy can assist students in developing routines and following multi-step directions. Instead of saying, “Clean up and get started on your science notes,” when transitioning to a new activity, a teacher can scaffold the instructions to include single-step directions that the student has a history of following successfully. Allow the student to complete three to five of these maintenance skills (e.g., “Put the paper in your binder,” “Return the art supplies,” “Take out your science book”) before giving the multi-step direction (e.g., "Reread chapter 3 and write down the main ideas on your note sheet.”). The successful completion of the single-step directions builds momentum for the student and increases the likelihood that he or she will attempt the multi-step directions.
De-Escalating Students
Task Variation can also be implemented when a student is exhibiting signs of physically or verbally aggressive behavior. Before implementing Task Variation for these types of behaviors, the teacher should identify warning signs that precede aggressive behaviors (e.g., whining, head on table, etc.) and pre-determine reinforcing maintenance skills. During an activity, when the student displays a warning sign, the teacher can intervene by asking the student to do a quick succession of actions (e.g., clap hands, make a silly face, give a high five). Once the student calms down and is engaged, the teacher prompts the student with directions for completing the target skill. In order to maintain student motivation and engagement, the teacher then continue to include reinforcing maintenance skills throughout the activity (even if no warning signs are exhibited), alternating between maintenance and target skills.

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