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Task Difficulty

For students, the school day is all about academic demands and those tasks can sometimes give rise to problem behavior. Another antecedent or environmental adjustment that can be made to set students up for academic engagement and greater success is task difficulty. When problem behaviors occur primarily in the face of academic demands, it is important to consider what aspect of the task might be contributing to the problem. Work assignments that are too difficult for students or require them to use skill sets that are challenging for them commonly result in problem behavior (Scott, Anderson, & Alter, 2012). Selecting instructional materials or tasks that are at the correct level of difficulty involves considering aspects of the student, the materials and the task.

Generally, adjustments can be made in three ways: 1) to the length of assignments or the time frame allotted, 2) the mode of input or response, or 3) the extent of instruction or practice provided.

Assignment Length or Time

In some cases, the academics are accurately matched to the student’s ability, but the length of the assignment exceeds the student’s motivation or endurance. Research has demonstrated that decreasing the overall task length and offering periodic breaks to do something else can aide in decreasing problem behavior (Dunlap, Kern-Dunlap, Clarke, & Robbins, 1991). If evidence suggests this might be the case, the question to ask is, “Will the student be able to complete the assignment if time or assignment length adjustments are made?”

Assignment Length or Time Adjust Length
Have shorter work periods with other tasks in between. Provide physical breaks between difficult tasks. Provide alternative times for the work to be completed. Extend the due date. Shorten the assignment, allowing the student to demonstrate mastery with fewer items.Highlight, in color, those problems the student is to complete. Break the assignment up into shorter tasks; put fewer problems on a page. Have the student cover all items except the one he is working on at the time.

The decision of which strategy might be best is based on knowledge of the student and consideration of what fits with the task. When learning goals can be achieved with a modified length of work or the time frame, much misbehavior may be eliminated.