What is a Decision Tree or Workflow?
A decision tree or workflow is a visual representation of a process or procedure. Students respond and may learn best when verbal is paired with visuals. Decision trees and workflows can be used to teach students a sequence or prompt them to choose appropriate behaviors.
Decision trees and workflows can be scheduled to pop up at the beginning, middle, or end of a student’s activity. The decision tree or workflow will be read to the student prompting him/her to complete an activity, move to the next activity or follow a certain work sequence, etc.
Positivity™ provides many options of visuals that can be used:
1. Decision Tree: The decision tree template is used to visually show the consequences of making an appropriate choice or an inappropriate choice. Decision Trees are most effective if you first determine the reason for the student's undesired behavior (e.g., to get out of work, to gain access to a toy, to get attention, etc.). Once the reason is determined, it becomes the reward for the replacement of the undesirable behavior. For example, if a student was attempting to gain access to a computer game, then computer time should be used as the reward for the desired behavior you are teaching the student.
2. Workflow: A workflow can be used to visually guide a student through a sequence of steps to perform a single task or show the student a sequence of tasks that needs to be completed. When teaching a workflow, be sure that the student is able to see what is needed for each step to the workflow.
3. First-Then: First-Then is a great way to visually support or assist in transitioning a student to what is coming next in their schedule. The First-Then can be used to incentivize the student to finish the first activity because it is followed by a more preferred activity. First-Then strategies work best when the “first” activity is less desired task and the “then” activity is either a more preferred task or a reinforcer. It is important that the “then” activity happens immediately upon the completion of the “first” activity.
4. Make Your Own: If you have an idea for a different type of visual that would be beneficial for a student, Positivity gives you the flexibility to make your own.
Why are They Important?
Visuals help show students exactly what the service providers expect of them. Visuals are often made stronger by being paired with spoken words. Many students often have difficulty with self-regulation and task completion. Often behavioral problems occur because a student has been asked to do an undesired activity that they would like to get out of or delay, are attempting to gain access to an activity/item they would rather have, to get attention from peers and/or adults, or for sensory stimulation. Visual prompts, such as a decision tree or workflow, will make abstract concepts or directions more concrete. Visuals can be used to prevent problem behaviors from occurring while teaching an alternate behavior, such as how to appropriately ask for a desired activity, object, etc.
The use of decision trees and workflows in the classroom promotes independence in students as they work on tasks throughout their day. The decision tree or workflow should be scheduled to appear when a student typically struggles or needs support from a service provider. For example, if a student needs a reminder to first work, then earn a small snack 10 minutes into a 15 minute task, a First-Then strategy should be scheduled to pop up on their screen as a reminder instead of a service provider needing to remind them. This will give them increased independence in work completion as well as helping to increase self-direction, a very necessary job skill for students to learn!
How to Implement:
1. First, determine whether your student responds better to icons, pictures, or words. Icons work best for most students. Prior to using icons, the student should be able to match real pictures to icons to show their understanding of icons (this could also be determined through the use of the Reading with Symbols benchmark in the Unique Learning System® GPS). Words work best when a student is able to read basic words and comprehend what was read. Real pictures work best for students who are able to match real objects to pictures of that object but are unable to match pictures to an icon.
2. Determine which template works best for your student’s needs or create an individualized visual.
4. Assign the visual to an event. You will have the choice to use the visual at the beginning of an event, a certain number of minutes into an event, or at the end of an event. Decision Trees can also be assigned as a activities for students to access as needed.
5. Teach the visual to the student:
a. Assign the strategy to the student or open the visual you plan to use in your teacher account. Review the visual with the student, explain what the visual says and what the expectation is when the strategy displays on their computer during the day. Have the student select the cells and listen to the steps in the decision tree or workflow strategy. Cue the student to attend to the visual, listen, and then carry out the directive. Many students will need this practice and review each day when the visual is first introduced until the student can use the strategy independently.
b. When the visual strategy comes up on your student’s screen, have a service provider close by to use prompting to teach the student to follow it's direction. At first, you may find that students needed additional prompts from service providers, then, as your student shows independence, these additional staff prompts should be faded.
c. Teach the child how to end the strategy by either manually advancing (close out the strategy) or time advancing (the strategy is set to stay on the screen for a set amount of time).
d. When learning a new skill, such as a visual, it is important to reinforce the student for providing the desired response. This can be done using Positivity Incentive Strategies. Then these additional reinforcers should be faded (see Incentive Strategies How-To Guide).
6. If a student is having difficulty using a decision tree or workflow, review the following questions:
a. Does the student understand the words, icons, pictures that were used?
b. Was additional staff prompting stopped too soon?
c. Was the proposed reward being used to reinforce the decision tree/workflow actually reinforcing to the student?
d. Was reinforcement taken away before the student learned to use the decision tree/workflow independently without additional reinforcement?
- The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning for Vanderbilt University. (n.d.) Tips and Ideas for Making Visuals to Support Young Children with Challenging Behaviors (Handout). Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/module3b/handout2.pdf
- The Center for Development and Disability for University of New Mexico. (n.d.) Visual Supports for Children with ASD (Handout). Retrieved from https://www.cdd.unm.edu/autism/pdfs/Visual%20Supports%20PHT%20Parent%20Handout.pdf
- Hume, K., Sreckovic, M., Snyder, K., & Carnahan, C. R. (2014). Smooth transitions: Helping students with autism spectrum disorder navigate the school day. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(1), 35-45.
- Mesibov, G., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH® approach to autism spectrum disorders. New York, New York:: Springer.