Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

The Effects of Assignment Format and Choice on Task Completion

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

The Effects of Assignment Format and Choice on Task Completion

Article excerpt


Modifying task presentation format and providing opportunities to choose are two effective procedures teachers can use to improve academic productivity for students with learning difficulties. Combining the two procedures may result in academic interventions that teachers can use without significantly changing the curriculum. The present study investigated the effects of choosing between total task and partial task presentation on academic productivity of three 4th grade students with learning disabilities. In the context of an alternating treatment design, the results showed that task presentation format may influence student preference and may be a promising choice alternative teachers can provide. The results also suggest that the effectiveness of choice making depends on the relative discrepant preference levels of the choice alternatives.

Keywords: choice, task format, academic task completion

1. Introduction

Researchers continue to investigate methods that most efficiently and effectively promote academic competence. One promising area that appears to be a key component of academic achievement is opportunities to respond via independent academic assignments (Trautwein & Koeller, 2003; Trautwein, Koeller, Schmitz, & Baumert, 2002). Haring and Eaton (1978) argue that drill and independent practice are critical and necessary instructional component used in all stages of learning. For example, during skill acquisition independent seatwork in combination with demonstration and modeling allows the learner to acquire new skills successfully and efficiently (Skinner, Pappas, & Davis, 2005). After skills have been acquired, the learner can achieve fluency through active and repeated responding to targeted academic assignments (Skinner, 1998). Academic assignments that incorporate drill and repeated practice also facilitate generalization and adaptation. For example, activities designed to practice previously learned skills in the solution of new problems make the skills functional in daily life (Blake, 1974). Clearly, maximizing the benefits and efficiency of independent academic assignments is critical for both teachers and their students.

The effectiveness of independent academic assignments is directly related to the rate of active responding on those assignments, as frequent opportunities to respond increases academic achievement (Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1984). Greenwood and colleagues found that teachers can improve student learning by eliciting frequent responses from the students. This finding implies that students should be placed in learning situations that promote (a) active responding and (b) high rates of correct responding. During independent work, students should respond at a rate of 9 to 12 responses per minute with a minimum accuracy of 90% (Stephens, 1976). Unfortunately, students with learning difficulties tend to complete assignments more slowly, far below the recommended rate, and with a lower accuracy. Correct responses for these learners can range from 20-76% (Carpenter-Aeby & Aeby, 2001; Umbreit, Lane, & Dejud, 2004). This discrepancy highlights the need for independent assignments that promote high rates of correct student responding.

One procedure that teachers can use to increase academic productivity and engagement is providing students with choice-making opportunities. As one example, Cosden, Gannon, and Haring (1995) investigated the effects of choosing academic tasks and reinforcers on the productivity of students with severe behavior problems. In the choice condition, the teacher provided the students with a choice of ten tasks from four academic areas including reading, writing, mathematics, and science. In addition, the students could choose one of ten reinforcers (e.g., games, magazines and activities) contingent upon task completion. During the no-choice condition, the teacher assigned the academic tasks and reinforcers without giving students the opportunity to choose. …

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