Group Social Skills Instruction (page 5)
Group social skills instruction can take place schoolwide and classwide (tier 1) or in targeted small groups (tier 2). There are many ways to embed group instruction into the everyday structure already in place in the school environment.
Schoolwide and Classwide Social Skills Instruction
Schoolwide and classwide social skills instruction provides the foundation for addressing basic skill deficits. It is extremely important (and often overlooked) that behavioral expectations at this level need to be clearly defined and taught. Many times educators will say, "Oh yes, we teach the rules. We have them posted in the school and the classroom."
Simply posting rules is not the same as teaching the expected skills, however. It is important to schedule time for teaching the expected behaviors to all students and practicing them regularly rather than simply hoping that it will just happen. When you walk into your classroom on the first day of school, assume that none of your students know how to behave appropriately in a school environment, and have a plan for embedding social skills instruction into your school day.1
Holding class meetings is an effective way to embed social skills instruction classwide and involve students in a democratic problem-solving process. Class meetings serve as a forum for students and teachers to discuss issues, set goals, and participate in peaceful conflict resolution. Class meetings should be held regularly (ideally at least once a week), and not only when problems arise. Teachers need to provide structure for class meetings, determining who can request one and when they will be scheduled. Some teachers allow class meetings to be called by anyone at any time and any place, and others have certain days and times they are regularly scheduled. It is important that the topic of the meeting is determined at the beginning and that the meeting stays on topic.2
Daily lessons should always have at least two main objectives—one academic and one social. For example, at the beginning of a math lesson on division, the teacher may describe to students how to appropriately get her attention by raising a hand before calling out, discuss why this is important, and practice this skill by doing a brief role play. During the lesson the teacher can give specific verbal feedback to students who are and are not exhibiting this skill, and at the end of the lesson she can provide reinforcement to those who have successfully exhibited this skill.
Frequent Positive Feedback
Frequent positive feedback provides social skills instruction by frequently letting students know exactly what behaviors are expected. Two concepts are important in providing frequent positive feedback: positive-to-negative ratio and behavior-specific praise.
Although there are critics of giving students praise,3 a large research base supports its effectiveness with improving student behavior.4 In addition, there is really no excuse not to use this extremely simple intervention: it is free and requires no extra time or preparation. Although the exact positive-to-negative ratio in the research literature varies slightly, a four-to-one or five-to-one is fairly common.5 Paying attention to your positive-to-negative ratio will not only provide social skills instruction to students, but it will also ensure that your learning environment feels encouraging and positive, even when redirection needs to be given at times.
As adults we don't like to be around people who point out only the bad things we do. Imagine what your job would be like (or maybe is like) if you get mostly negative feedback from your supervisor. Most people are not productive or motivated in this type of environment, and students are no different. If you are unsure of your positive-to-negative ratio, consider asking a colleague to observe your classroom and take data or videotape yourself for a day and take the data yourself. Reproducible 1 can be used for this purpose.
Positive feedback or praise that is immediate (or as immediate as possible without seriously interrupting the flow of your instruction), frequent, enthusiastic, and clear is most effective. Feedback should be given about the specific behavior that was appropriate rather than using general statements.6 For example say, "I really like the way you are standing patiently in line" rather than, "Good job!" to increase the likelihood that students will recognize exactly what they are doing right and repeat that behavior.
Schoolwide and Classwide Expectations or Rules
Most educators set their individual classroom rules at the beginning of the school year. The most important thing to remember here is that classroom expectations should (1) be limited to three to five general expectations that cover all common behavior problems, (2) involve students in making them whenever possible because this promotes student buy-in, (3) be stated positively in terms of what the students should do instead of what they should not do ("walk in the hallway" versus "don't run"), and (4) be posted in multiple places where they can easily be referred to. We recommend that written classroom expectations be accompanied by pictures for students who are not able to or have difficulty reading.
The classroom rules that we typically use are
- Be safe.
- Respect others.
- Follow adults' directions.
- Do your best.
Being safe at school is always the most important rule. "Respect others" targets common problem behaviors such as using appropriate language at school and keeping hands off peers. "Follow adults' directions" is self-explanatory and is an important one for most educators. "Do your best" refers to skills that are important to academic learning, such as staying on task and putting forth maximum effort.
Various programs positively state common school expectations or rules in different ways, and one is not necessarily better than the other. The key is that they follow the four guidelines listed above and are taught and reinforced consistently. Ideally, the same expectations would be used throughout the entire school (or, even better, the entire district) to send the message that all of the adults have the same expectations and are in agreement on the rules. Students often have difficulty realizing that Mr. Jones has different expectations from Ms. Castro and struggle to simply master the behavioral skills needed to be successful in one environment, much less the more complicated skill of changing their behavior based on the different expectations of different teachers. Think of how many problems could be prevented or avoided (and how much time would be saved) if every adult in the environment (including office, lunch, and recess staff) consistently expected, reinforced, and held students accountable for the same behaviors.
Schoolwide and Classwide Routines
In addition to overall schoolwide and classwide expectations, the first part of the social and behavioral curriculum at the start of a school year is to teach school and classroom routines. Teachers often make the mistake of assuming students enter their classroom knowing basic classroom routines such as how to line up, listen in groups, walk in the hall, and hand in papers. Just like basic behavior expectations, educators need to provide direct instruction of classroom routines using the basic lesson plan components provided in Table 3.1. Students should be highly reinforced for practicing the routine, especially over the first few weeks of school, with reinforcement fading over time as the students demonstrate mastery of the skill. Teachers may also choose to precorrect for desired behaviors by providing students with opportunities to practice or with prompts about expected behavior before they enter situations in which displays of problem behaviors are likely.7 For example, if a class typically has difficulty in line, students could be asked to recall the four expectations for acceptable behavior in line immediately before lining up. Figure 4.1 provides a student-illustrated task analysis of this common routine.
All classrooms have their own routines so we can't assume that a student who is successful in one teacher's classroom will automatically be successful in the next. Classroom routines need to be taught at the beginning of the school year, and then reviewed and practiced regularly throughout the year when behaviors surface that communicate that this is needed. The book Teaching Effective Classroom Routines by Joe Witt, Lynn La Fleur, Gale Naquin, and Donna Gilbertson is an excellent resource for this purpose. Table 4.1 provides a list of common classroom routines that students should be directly taught.
Important Schoolwide and Classwide Lessons
Later in this book, we will be encouraging you to use a variety of prevention and reinforcement techniques for individual students and are already anticipating the common protest, "What about the other students? Why should the problem student get special treatment?" We all have people in our lives with social and behavioral problems. The following schoolwide and classwide lessons will teach all students important life lessons for dealing with these individuals and will reduce the common protests, "Why does he or she get that and I don't?" and "It's not fair!" that you may hear from students when they perceive that you are giving students with challenging behavior special accommodations and reinforcements:
Lesson One: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It is crucial for students to realize that absolutely everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and we all would prefer that others build on and appreciate our strengths and ignore or help us overcome our weaknesses. Some students have weaknesses in reading, some in athletics, some in musical ability and some in social skills.
Lesson Two: Fair is not equal. Life isn't fair. It isn't fair that many students with social and behavioral challenges have language or neurological disorders. It isn't fair that some of them come from less-than-optimal homes and family lives. Fair is not giving everyone the same thing; it is giving everyone what they need. Not everyone wears glasses, not everyone needs hearing aids, not everyone needs their assignments in braille, and not everyone needs extra behavioral support. If students don't need extra behavior support, they are most likely already way ahead when it comes to things being "fair."
Lesson Three: Ignore others who are making poor choices. Despite best efforts, there will be times that some students make poor choices and behave inappropriately. The purpose of teaching their classmates to ignore them during these times is to minimize the reinforcement that may be provided by peer attention and to encourage others not to join in. It is amazing how on task students can be even in the presence of some pretty unusual or extreme behavior if they are taught to ignore others who are making poor choices and are highly reinforced for doing so.
Lesson Four: Evacuating the classroom.Most schools directly teach their students and regularly practice how to handle crises such as fires, tornados, and bomb threats. Simply add handling behavior crises to these routine procedures. Students should know a code word for initiating this process, independent learning activities and packets that they can take with them, and a predetermined location to go where there is an adult who has been informed ahead of time about what to do in this situation. This ensures that the school day of all students stays as productive and uninterrupted as possible when a behavior crisis occurs.
Taking care of teaching these concepts at the beginning of the school year will save hard feelings, time, and effort when difficult situations emerge later. Being proactive is the key.
If you teach students the above skills and why they are important, our experience is that a vast majority of them understand that peers with behavior challenges are sometimes part of the school day and accept it. In fact, we have yet to teach these lessons to a classroom of students who were not understanding and accepting. Well-informed students who are taught how to support their peers with behavior or social challenges and how to respond if these students disrupt the learning environment often become your best helpers and have a powerful impact on the lives of these individuals. Don't underestimate them.
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