Task Variation to Reduce Problem Behavior with Academics

Specific indicators act as a warning that the current situation is about to get worse, for example, the tasks will be more difficult, a greater response effort will be required, or the task will be boring (Carbone 2010). In these situations, some children engage in problem behavior such as screaming, flopping to the floor, or resisting physical prompts (Cooper et al. 2007).  In children with developmental disabilities, between 33% and 48% of self-injurious and aggressive behaviors occur as an attempt to get out of a given instruction (Carbone 2010). This may happen in an academic environment and increasing the effectiveness of instruction will help make work time easier (Cooper et al. 2007).   One way to do this is to vary the tasks given instead of repeatedly presenting similar work demands (Carbone 2010).  Presenting the same task over and over again can become predictable and dull, so requesting varied tasks eliminates the value of escape, decreases problem behavior, and even increases the number of new skills learned (Carbone 2010).

Task variation involves increasing a student’s motivation by presenting different types of instructions and also mixing new topics with those previously mastered (Dunlap et al. 1987).  Presenting unknown subjects interspersed with known material is a much more efficient and effective form of instruction (Dunlap 1984). For instance, if a student is learning multiplication facts for 8’s and has previously shown proficiency in multiplication facts for 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s, to maximize motivation and effective instruction, multiplication facts for 8’s should be presented with multiplication facts for 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s (varying difficulty), as well as mixed within reading tasks (different subjects).


Contributed by:   Rebecca Drew – St. Mary’s Clinic