Saturday, July 12, 2008

Visual schedules and tasks lists

When we say a student is having trouble with transitions, the first thing asked is "Have you tried a visual schedule?" We often use the phrase "visual schedule" to refer to true visual schedules, and also to task lists, which are sort of mini-schedules. One lets the student know the actual physical setting and the other lets the student know what is expected in that setting. One communicates "where am I supposed to be?" and the other communicates "what am I supposed to do?" Yet we use them interchangeably. No wonder students get confused.

I ran up against this at my last job when trying to make a schedule for a second-grader who was new to the school and had ADD. The kids in the self-contained classes had picture schedules where the photo of that art teacher or the actual lunchroom were the main cues. In his case, he was an emergent reader so we needed some visual cueing, but it could be subtle and more icon based. He was learning to tell time as well, so the schedule could hopefully help him with that.

There was a debate about what was needed for him. His regular classroom teacher wanted something to let him know the major transitions of the day, the big location changes like lunch, P.E. etc. His resource teacher wanted more of a task/reward system -- letting him know that he had to do worksheets while her her room, math and then science in his regular teacher's room, etc.

I ran into that when I made schedules for the self-contained class and it ended up being very complicated when I factored in all the contingencies of a student's day -- a card for P.E., class party, fire drill, assembly, etc. The problem is, in a visual schedule, most of the items are static most of the time, but not all the time. It has to allow for some change without being too cumbersome. Sorting through tons cards to indicate lunch is at 11 am doesn't make much sense, especially if you multiply it by six kids with visual schedules. Why use all that velcro and those small, easily lost cards, to indicate something that is usually static and go through all of those headaches? But as soon as it's on paper, there's a special lunch period at 11:30 so that a class can do a field trip or something like that. So a schedule can't be absolutely permanent or it causes more trouble.

Visual task lists are rarely effective for me because they usually don't account for how dynamic special ed is. I never have the cards I need, or worse, I have too many of every card in the world. Instruction time gets away while I realize that a kid wants playdough and I sort through piles of cards to use playdough on the task list after worksheet. A task lisk has to be more dynamic than a visual schedule but not cumbersome either.

This boy has ADD and the more simple his schedule, the more effective it would be for him to read himself.

Finally, I came up with something that seemed to work. .black laminated paper binderThe outside of the schedule was made with black paper, folded over twice to make a book. I used binder rings and a hole punch to bind it and wrote his name on the top. (which I'm covering in the picture. Apologies for pictures snapped with camera phone.)

Next, I made the major events of each day. I used different colors of construction paper on each day and used very simple large text and icons. A day would take up 3-4 sides of paper. Only one day at a time would be put into his binder. The pages were laminated to allow for dry erase editing or marking off events as they passed. When there was a change, like an assembly, we could mark through the class it was taking up and write the word "assembly." I often used post its to edit the calendar as well. He didn't necessarily need a picture of "assembly" to understand what it meant; the pictures were to reinforce the words.

green paper with 4 tasks listed

And then I had to figure out the task list. Rather than build a separate schedule, I glued a fold over sheet of construction paper to make a back flap. I attached velcro to it and he had a traveling task list. (I laminated these together). It could fold over his main page and he would still have an idea of where he was in the day as he focused on the tasks of that setting. I attached an envelope to the back with his main task and reward cards. These could be as dynamic as needed. Since he could read and knew what words were, I also left post it notes in the envelope for changes. A dry erase marker also served to edit on the fly.

Finally, I made lots of copies of the main tasks he was expected to complete in each setting for the teacher in that setting. That way, when he came into library. the teacher already could have her "listen to a story" "do a worksheet" and "check out books" cards handy and didn't have to sort through math and science cards to find them, nor rely on him having them in the envelope on his schedule. If he didn't bring his schedule, those cards could easily be set out on a table.

It was never fully implemented while I was there, but he seemed to do very well with it when I used it.

I'd like to market it somewhere. The closest thing I've seen is a schedule from Attainment Company:

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