Task Analysis

What is task analysis?

A very important aspect of teaching students with special needs involves breaking down the teaching into small, discrete steps.  Exactly how you do this will be covered in this section and it contains the following components:

  • the steps involved
  • ways to teach the task: forwards chaining, backwards chaining and total task
  • recording
  • individual educational plan brief overview
  • SMART objectives
  • modifying the curriculum
  • where to find the National Australian Curriculum, example videos and links

Task Analysis means analysing the sequential micro steps needed to complete an objective and breaking the objective down into those tiny steps.  The student then gets taught the steps one by one until they have achieved the entire objective.  This may seem very painstaking compared to teaching a more mainstream student but it is often necessary to ensure that learning takes place.

Within our classroom the task is often the lesson which contains a lot of micro tasks that students do to complete the lesson and hopefully achieve the lesson objective.

It is important to record how well students did the steps of a task and not simply to record that they completed the steps. Remember when you create your task analysis document to add a column that allows you to comment on how well they completed each component.

We use task analysis with special needs students to teach:

  • Academic skills (the ABC’s etc)
  • Self-help skills (dressing)
  • Life Skills (shopping)

Using a task analysis approach enables us to assess what the student is able to do, what are the steps involved, what are the curriculum objectives and how can we support our students to achieve the set outcome.

As outlined in the Reward and Reinforcement section, tasks may well have to be done in small steps anyway, so that they do not overwhelm the student and outweigh the reinforcer used.

Steps involved

These are the steps involved in performing a task analysis;

  1. Decide what task you want the student to perform.
  2. Figure out what steps will be required to complete the task. Double check to make sure nothing is missing. Sometimes you can give it to another student or someone else and see if they can do it to see if anything is missing.
  3. What is the student’s current ability level?
  4. Do they have the pre-requisites skills required to complete the task?
  5. Decide what order to teach the steps in
  6. Teach the student one step at a time until the student displays mastery of it.
  7. Record the student’s progress
  8. Evaluate/review the effectiveness of the task and student’s progress.
  9. What modifications/supports are needed?
Ways to teach the task

There are different ways we can choose to break a task down and teach our students;

  • backward chaining
  • forward chaining
  • total task

It will depend on the ability level and type of activity as which is the best one to use.

Backwards chaining:

involves the student completing the very last step involved in the task and once they have mastered that you get them to learn the last but one step and so on until finally they learn the very first step.

For example: putting the last piece into a puzzle and gradually removing more and more pieces until they are doing the whole thing

Forwards chaining:

involves the student completing the very first step of a task and as they become more proficient you increase the amount of steps they do until they are doing the whole task independently.

For example: the student ruling up their page for handwriting learning one step at a time in order

Total task:

is where the student is given a lot of prompts and support throughout the activity until over a period of time they are able to do the whole task independently and the amount of support is faded away.

For example: completing a numeracy or literacy activity


Think about a simple task such as making and buttering a piece of toast and write down all the steps you think are required to complete the task. Then give the instructions to someone else and see if they can complete the task just by following the steps they are given. Surprising enough you will find you may have left out one or two steps, as being adults we often do many of the steps automatically because we know how to do the task.

Creating a task analysis document

These individual steps can be used in the documents you create to record what the student did. Other important information that should be considered and possibly added to your recording sheet are:

  • Student’s name
  • Date
  • Recorder of data – name
  • What prerequisite skills are needed
  • What are some of the steps that could be included
  • How are you going to teach it
  • Forward chaining
  • Backward chaining
  • Total task
  • What supports could you use if any
  • The level of progress the student has made for example e = establishing, d = developing, a = achieved.


Please click to download an example of a Task Analysis Document for you to use. Please print out and keep for future reference to fill in when planning the tiny stages of a new task for your student.

Short video talking about task analysis with illustrations

Individual educational plans

In a school setting we are generally using the teach-plan-evaluate cycle to create comprehensive programs for our students that match up with departmental policies/documents (The National Curriculum, K-10 Syllabus, The Western Australian Curriculum, The Curriculum Framework).  This applies a lot of pressure on a mainstream teacher when they have a student who has a learning disability within their classroom, as generally these students have strengths and weaknesses in learning areas that are not linear or at the same level as the other students in the class.  Students with special needs in a mainstream setting should always have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which will have the specific academic goals outlined for that student. These goals/objectives may have come from numerous sources and people.

  • An Individual Education Plan is a plan that identifies the learning needs of a student.
  • It should include physical, academic, social and emotional objectives as needed.  (Social and emotional aspects may fall under a Behaviour Management Plan or Emotional Regulation Plan as well)
  • Individual Education Plan objectives can be directly embedded into task analysis situations.

There are many formats for an IEP but they should include general information such as date, age, year group, objectives or IEP goals for the student and what strategies/support will be provided for the student.


Please click to open an example of an IEP that we have written for a hypothetical student, showing the kinds of objectives we might use.

Creating useful IEP objectives

We have found it useful to have our objectives as SMART goals:  Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, Timely;


how and what you want the student to achieve?

how much support will be provided?


how will you know when the student has actually achieved the goal?

is it 5 out of 6 times

a percentage

consider how you are going to record assessment data and student progress


is target goal within the student’s ability level?


how relevant is it to the student. Consider the bigger picture!


is the student going to be able to achieve the goal within specific time frame or does the objective need to be broken down further?

SMART objectives

When creating an IEP goal for your student it is important and beneficial to you and your student if they are SMART goals regardless of the template they are being embedded in.  Of course we have to follow departmental policies and mandated documents but we can be really specific when we can create their students objectives.  It is these objectives that can be used in a task analysis.

An example of creating a SMART objective for Writing:

Suppose we start with the objective ‘Student will write all the letters of the alphabet’. This objective is Measureable, you can ask them to do it and see if they can.  However, if the student has special needs, it might take quite a while to get to this stage so it is not Timely.  It might be better to have ‘Student will write the first 5 letters of the alphabet’ or even better‘…letters of his name’.  This objective would be more Relevant and more Timely and therefore more Achievable.  It might also be better to include ‘Using physical prompts…’ because at first the student might need to have hand over hand help.  This would make the objective more Specific.

So the final objective might be, ‘Student will write the letters of his name by tracing over dots with physical help’. This objective may then eventually be superseded by ‘Student will write the letters of his name by tracing over dots with no help’ if that seems possible for the student.

It is worth remembering that no-one is going to expect that a teacher can turn someone with high needs into a mainstream level student.  It is likely that your special needs student will be working at a level lower than her classmates.  It may be worthwhile befriending the Kindy and other teachers of classes younger than yours to get some resources and ideas.

An Australian Curriculum for all students

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) provides the policy framework for the Australian Curriculum. It includes two goals:

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence.

Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.

The expectation is that the Australian Curriculum is appropriate for all students. These propositions include:

  • that each student can learn and that the needs of every student are important
  • that each student is entitled to knowledge, understanding and skills that provide a foundation for successful and lifelong learning and participation in the Australian community
  • that high expectations should be set for each student as teachers account for the current level of learning of individual students and the different rates at which students develop
  • that the needs and interests of students will vary and that schools and teachers will plan from the curriculum in ways that respond to those needs and interests.

The National Curriculum was designed to enable all students to be able to access the curriculum and also has examples of how to assist students who have disabilities within the classroom and provide illustrated videos that show how the objective has been modified for different ability students.

Illustrations of personalised learning to think about from the Australian Curriculum

Who are students with disability

Video clip examples of personalised learning

Inclusion is a Legal Requirement

You may encounter parents of non-disabled children who want to know why a child with a disability is in the classroom and would prefer that they were not there.  It might be an idea to let them know that it is the law following on from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The following text explains exactly what the legal position is:

Review of Disability Standards for Education 2005, Discussion Paper, December 2010

Rights and Requirements under the Standards


Right to seek admission and enrol on the same basis as prospective students without disability including the right to reasonable adjustments.

  • Take reasonable steps to ensure that the enrolment process is accessible
  • Consider students with disability in the same way as students without disability when deciding to offer a place
  • Consult with the prospective students or their associates about the effect of the disability on their ability to seek enrolment; and any reasonable adjustments necessary


Right to access courses and programs; use services and facilities; and have reasonable adjustments, to ensure students with disability are able to participate in education and training on the same basis as students without disability.

  • Take reasonable steps to ensure participation
  • Consult with the student or their associate about the effect of the disability on their ability to participate
  • Make a reasonable adjustment if necessary
  • Repeating this process over time as necessary

Curriculum development, accreditation and delivery

Right to participate in courses and relevant supplementary programs that are designed to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding, on the same basis as students without disability and to have reasonable adjustments to ensure they are able to participate in education and training

  • Enable students with disability to participate in learning experiences (including assessment and certification)
  • Consult with the student or their associate
  • Take into consideration whether the disability affects the students ability to participate in the learning experiences

Student support services

 Right to access student support services provided by education institutions, on the same basis as students without disability

  • Students with disability also have the right to specialised services needed for them to
  • participate in the educational activities for which they are enrolled
  • Ensure that students with disability are able to use general support services
  • Ensure that students have access to specialised support services
  • Facilitate the provision of specialised support services

Harassment and victimisation

Right to education and training in an environment that is free from discrimination caused by harassment and victimisation on the basis of their disability

  • Implement strategies to prevent harassment or victimisation
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and students are informed about their obligation not to harass or victimise students with disability
  • Take appropriate action if harassment or victimisation occurs
  • Ensure complaint mechanisms are available to students
Who must comply with the Standards?

If a person or body complies with the Standards they are not liable under the relevant provisions of the DDA. All education providers are bound by the Standards including:

  • preschools and kindergartens
  • public and private schools
  • public education and training places, such as TAFE
  • private education and training places, such as private business colleges
  • universities
  • organisations that prepare or run training and education programs
What happens if there is a breach?

Under section 32 of the DDA it is unlawful for a person to contravene a Disability Standard.  An aggrieved person or someone on their behalf can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) about non-compliance with the DDA. This includes complaints about non-compliance with a Disability Standard. If conciliation by the AHRC is unsuccessful, an aggrieved person may commence legal proceedings in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.

Since 2005, approximately seven per cent of complaints made under the DDA relate to disability discrimination in the area of education. In addition, most States and Territories have Equal Opportunity legislation. People who wish to lodge a complaint about discrimination can choose to complain under the Commonwealth’s Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 or the relevant state/territory legislation

Useful Documents



Inclusion in Education – towards equality for students with disability


You have reached the end of our course.  We hope you found something in it that will be helpful to you.