Task analysis

Understanding the task or activity involves a process called task analysis. (The terms task and activity are used interchangeably in this chapter to refer to the horticulture action to be performed by the client.)

The process involves looking at

  • • The steps to successfully perform the activity (Lamport et al. 2001)
  • • The materials, equipment, and facilities required
  • • Possible adaptation or modification to materials, instruction, or environment

It may also include

  • • Analyzing the skills necessary to perform the task
  • • Looking at the cultural, age, and developmental appropriateness of the task
  • • Identifying the therapeutic qualities of the task

This section focuses on the necessary steps to do the task, including developing an awareness of what is entailed and the concrete actions required.

The analysis begins with the performance of the task. More experienced gardeners often overlook this essential step. While familiarity with the task or activity at hand increases confidence and contributes to horticultural success, leaders also need to be aware of the meaning, effects, and demands of each activity from the client's perspective. Furthermore, it is important to identify a preferred method for accomplishing the task, as there may be several acceptable approaches to any particular gardening task.

First, as the task is performed, the therapist should notice and record the following:

  • • Any thoughts or feelings evoked while doing the task
  • • The physical and cognitive requirements to complete it
  • • Any emotional response upon completion

This helps the therapist/leader to understand some inherent qualities of an activity and possible meanings it may have to program participants. Understand that background, culture, and health status will all affect an individual client's reaction to and experience of each activity.

Second, record the materials, equipment, and space used in the activity.

Lastly, identify the actions necessary to perform the activity. Write out the sequential steps that were completed in concrete, observable terminology. In other words, describe what was done that could be directly observed by another. Include as much detail as necessary to clearly show what took place. It is helpful to watch someone else perform the same task and use the observations to modify the list of sequential steps (see Exhibit 4.6 for an example of a basic task analysis that lists the materials and steps necessary for performing a horticultural task).

Using this example as a starting point, the therapist alters the task analysis to increase its usefulness in an actual horticultural therapy setting, adding steps and materials that are specific to the person, place, and situation. The basic performance steps may be modified to allow a client to successfully complete the activity. Changes in the setting, tool

Exhibit 4.6 Horticultural Therapy Practice: Task Analysis

Task: propagation of indoor foliage plants by stem tip cuttings. Materials: stock plant, pruners, container(s) filled with potting soil, and water.


  • 1. Find direction of growth on stock plant and locate the tip.
  • 2. Measure an index finger length from the tip of the stem.
  • 3. With the pruners, cut the stem at the point located about one finger length from the tip. Be sure that the cutting point is located at least below the third node.
  • 4. Remove leaves from the lower one or two nodes.
  • 5. Push a finger into the center of the potting soil in a container to make a hole about two inches deep.
  • 6. Place the cutting in the hole, with the bottom nodes (those that are leafless) below soil line.
  • 7. Gently firm the soil around the cutting to hold it upright and ensure soil contact with the nodes.
  • 8. Repeat for the desired number of cuttings.
  • 9. Water.

and materials selection, amount of detail or number of steps to perform, degree of self-initiation required, or time allowed may be necessary for success. Based on knowledge of the client's functional level, the therapist should aim to encourage the most independent performance possible and should gradually reduce the modifications or supports as the client progresses. Modifying the basic task analysis results in an individualized approach for training and performance. Further information on adaptation and modification is provided later in this chapter.

A clear outline of performance steps, modifications, and supports makes it possible to have consistent expectations of the client. It even allows multiple trainers to maintain this consistency. Additionally, the task analysis may be used to document performance on each step, create a record of progress, and identify the need for further training or adaptation (see Exhibit 4.7 for another example of how the sequential list of steps might be used).

Exhibit 4.7 Horticultural Therapy Practice:

The Importance of Following Directions

Individuals with traumatic or acquired brain injury in a vocational training program may have a goal to follow multistep directions. In this case, it is important for the therapist to determine the best method for accomplishing the task, give clear and succinct instructions, and provide any compensatory strategies necessary for accomplishing the task. A checklist of the steps is an example of a compensatory strategy for short-term memory loss.

For example, Adam may decide that rather than filling a pot, selecting a rooted cutting, transferring it to the pot, and adding the remaining soil as instructed, he would prefer to do the task assembly-line style (filling many pots at a time, etc.) While his method would still achieve the desired end result, he would not meet his goal of following directions. In this case, it would be up to the therapist who is filling the role of work supervisor to decide how to manage this individual. Requiring the client to check with the supervisor before making procedural changes reminds the client that following directions is important to succeed in getting and keeping a job. It also addresses communication skills and appropriate work behaviors.

Note: For other types of groups, following directions exactly as given may not be as important as comprehension and the client's satisfaction with the final product.

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