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One of the most important skills we have is communicating effectively with our peers. This is the pathway to friendship. It is the means by which we thrive (or survive!) at social gatherings. It is how we navigate the workplace. For our students, it can be the difference between playing with peers at recess and sitting alone on the playground bench. Social interaction is part of succeeding and engaging in school and life.
If we are to teach children to grow in peer communication, we must do it well. It will be one of the most important skills they ever learn. Consider these five (brief) points for laying a solid foundation for the children with whom you work:
1. Never assume. Children with social learning difficulties often don’t make sense of social interaction like typical children do. This means that every step needs to be taught and explained. Never assume that they see it like we do. Never assume that they understand why greetings are important or that they know not to interrupt another peer when they start talking. Social interaction is a part of living that does not come naturally to children with autism so we need to help them develop a new category for connecting with others.
2. Break it down. Every social interaction is comprised of many individual steps. Always strive to reduce peer interaction down into these small steps in order to increase understanding and keep things manageable. Be patient. Your student may be learning to greet others for a long time before he or she is ready to tackle simple conversation starters.
3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Much practice is required here. And just because a student does something once, does not mean that he or she has fully learned it and will always have it. As you likely have seen, students with autism can have days where they are quite “on,” demonstrating skills quite well. Other days, however, can seem like they never had the skill at all. The more teaching and practice the student has, the more he/she will gain the skills towards sustained application.
4. Use actual peers. All the time. Using social narratives, visuals and other teaching tools are helpful only so far as they are used in conjunction with real peer interaction. As you teach social interaction skills, have typical peers involved to practice with your students. Even better, have the typical peers teach your students and role-play. There is nothing like the power of positive peer influence. This also allows for natural learning and practice to take place outside of your classroom or office. Peers who work with your students can continue to interact with them in other settings throughout the day, increasing generalized learning.
5. Keep it visual. As you provide and build an understanding of social interaction with your students, keep a clear, visual record for them. Social narratives and talk/thought bubble conversation templates are a couple of strategies you can use. Also, keep these materials interactive by having the student fill in greeting and conversation ideas. Be sure to send a copy of these materials home in order to provide parents an opportunity to practice and review social interaction skills with their child.
Shown throughout this post are resources I have created to help children grow in these essential skills. These can be used individually with students, with small groups, or as smart board presentations for a whole class. They also serve as helpful resources to send home to parents so parents can support their child’s social learning.
Be sure to visit my TpT store for 25% off most products, including my newly posted product: Social Narratives 5-Pack: Blurting Out, Interrupting, and more…
For the past couple of months, I have been thinking about quick-reference supports for students with social learning needs – something smaller than a full social narrative, but more informative than a visual picture card. The result? Social Skills Help Cards. These cards serve as handy teaching tools that provide students with social learning opportunities throughout the day.
Why are Social Skills Help Cards needed? Simply put, we need to be surrounding our students with more social learning opportunities. Students with social learning difficulties struggle with learning a skill and generalizing it across multiple settings. The size and simplicity of the cards make it easy to present students with key concepts throughout the day, both at home and at school.
This product also marks the first time I have provided a video preview in the product description of my Teachers Pay Teachers product page. Hopefully it provides a more thorough look at how the Help Cards can help your students learn these essential skills for life.
I hope you all had a restful holiday! Are you feeling refreshed and ready for the new year, or are you already suffering from the winter blues? I hope you are generating new ideas and creative strategies for learning…
To start the new year, here is something from Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching by Anita Archer regarding what research tells us about how kids learn best. Dr. Archer’s book lays out what works for special-needs learners (and all learners for that matter). In chapter one, Dr. Archer presents the foundational elements of Explicit Instruction. I chose to highlight 9 of the 16.
Elements of Explicit Instruction:
- Focus instruction on critical content
- Sequence skills logically
- Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units
- Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations
- Review prior skills and knowledge before beginning instruction
- Provide step-by-step demonstrations
- Monitor student performance closely
- Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback
- Help students organize knowledge
Theses are essential teaching elements whether you are a general education teacher, special education teacher, homeschooler, or parent. One of Dr. Archer’s mantras is, “How well you teach = how well they learn.” This correlates perfectly with John Hattie’s research, which concludes that far and away, quality of instruction is the number one predictor of student achievement. We are always teaching kids based on a set of skills and beliefs about how we think kids learn. I highly recommend Dr. Archer’s book to help inform the way you teach in order to maximize student growth.
I’ll leave you with a short clip of Dr. Archer explaining the use of instructional routines:
This 10-minute video asks some good questions about what special education currently looks like and where it needs to be. We ought to be regularly stepping back to examine our work in schools and the thoughts offered here are helpful to that end. It’s worth watching.
How many times have we said this to kids? Students are feeling stuck, falling behind, and discouraged, and we say, “Oh Johnny – you didn’t ask for help… you just need to ask for help and I would be happy to help you!” Obviously, we mean well. The problem is, as is often the case, we’re assuming far too much. We’re assuming the student has the skills to identify what he/she doesn’t know and we’re assuming that the student has the skills to actually ask for help (a multiple skill process in itself). This is often a skill deficit and, like anything else, children need to be taught. Even if the student has an emotional barrier to asking for help, he/she still needs to overcome that barrier with a new skill.
There could be any number of reasons a student is not asking for help:
- He doesn’t want to look stupid.
- She finds adults intimidating.
- He finds the assignment overwhelming.
- Her mind is on a home stressor.
- He doesn’t know what to ask.
- She doesn’t know how to ask.
All students benefit from being taught self-advocacy skills. Taking 5-10 minutes to teach your class how to ask for help will go a long way to help all students feel more comfortable and empowered to advocate for their own needs. Some students need additional teaching and individual attention to learn this skill. Asking for help is a skill that all students need not only throughout their education but throughout all of life.
Social narratives such as those shown above and left walk students through the process of asking for help from start to finish. These can also be used for classroom presentations shown on a smartboard or projector. Click on the images for more information.