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Social Competence - Part 5: Embedding Social Competence Into Everyday Instruction

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Welcome to the webinar “You Might Be a Social Competence Teacher If…:  Embedding Social Competence Into Everyday Instruction.”  I’m Wendy Szakacs, a regional coach specializing in autism spectrum disorders and low incidence disabilities.

Maybe you are watching this because you have students who you know need social competence instruction.  Or maybe somebody told you that this is required watching and you have to start teaching this topic.  Maybe you are feeling like these two teachers—it’s not my problem or I can’t handle thinking about one more thing to teach.  Hopefully, after listening, you’ll be feeling a lot better about how you can, and probably already do, teach social competence.

Let’s clarify what we mean by social competence.  This term means that an individual can approach any situation with any persons and have a successful outcome from the interactions that take place.  Social situations can be difficult when you have social challenges because your brain is wired differently.  Social interactions are constantly changing and require skills that most of us acquire naturally, but we see some of our students struggling to understand, interact, fit in, and develop positive relationships.

Why do we need to care about social competence?  Let’s think about what any teacher at any grade level is helping a student work towards:  full time employment after training or further education; living as independently as possible; has friends; is enjoying leisure activities; and has an enviable life!  To gain this life, ALL of our students need to develop social competence.  It’s tied in to each of these goals for the future.

How can we guide our students in gaining social competence?  Research tells us that our students need a lot of structured, planned practice opportunities throughout the school day.  The more the social activities are a natural part of the day, the better they are generalized.  When peers are involved, there is a natural learning process and motivation built in.  

How can you do it?  Chances are you are going to hear about strategies today you are already using, and maybe some new ones that you are going to consider implementing.  So, let’s see what the research tells us is working.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you use direct instruction to teach social competence skills.  Once you assess your students and find out their needs, you can build in instruction to your content areas that addresses those needs and teach it just like math or reading.  For instance, if a student needs to learn how to answer a question while staying on topic, during history you can teach a lesson about how to answer a question.  Then have students develop questions about the history chapter you are reviewing; next set up pairs of students; have one ask a question and the other answer it; and then you’d be sure to spend some time giving feedback and monitoring the student who is in need of learning this skill.  This would be direct instruction of social competence embedded in a history chapter review lesson.   

Direct instruction can also include quick daily or weekly activities, like having the class work together on one social skill a week.  For instance, “I will raise my hand to answer a question”; or you could teach a Hidden Curriculum item each day, like “Don’t walk into somebody’s house without knocking and being told it’s okay to come in”; or once a week talk about a skill and practice it, like how to join a group activity on the playground; and include teaching in small and large groups to give students practice in different situations.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you teach rules and routines.  For individuals who struggle with social challenges, rules and routines may need to be taught directly and repetitively rather than just posted and reviewed one time.  As a teacher, you may want to check for understanding through discussion or a quiz.  Also, remember when you get a new class at a quarterly or semester change you may need to review those rules and routines again.  

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you have a class meeting.  This can be a regular time that students get to practice social competence skills.  For younger students, it can be a time to listen, raise your hand, share, take turns, stay on a topic, and receive priming information about possible changes in routines.  For older students, it can be a time to discuss issues that come up as a class, a time to choose a class social goal, or to work on something that has gone wrong socially as a group.  This doesn’t have to be a long time frame, but if you build it into your weekly schedule then you know that you are hitting some important work on social competence each week or day.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you use co-operative learning experiences.  This is a strategy that almost all teachers are using.  You have small groups of students work together as they do their academics.  This can be structured where you assign guidelines and roles.

Here are some examples of co-operative learning experiences.  If you do an internet search for them, you will find many more.  These experiences allow your students to interact and practice their social competence skills.  Keep in mind that while you are monitoring the academic experience of the students, you can also monitor the social experience.  

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you incorporate role play.  This gives students a chance to practice a skill they are learning.  It allows them to “try it out” in a less stressful situation.  You can use pre-written scripts, or have the students write their own role plays.  To embed this, think about asking the students to write a scene using a character from a historical story or book doing something in today’s time, like going to a movie or amusement park.  This will require thinking about the social rules of the past times and the social rules of today while they are putting themselves in someone else’s mindset and they practice writing.  Covering content standards while practicing role play.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you connect to the standards.  After hearing this webinar, hopefully as you work on your planning using grade level content standards, you will see how social competence is EVERYWHERE!  One way to help students with social challenges know what to focus on is to post the academic and social standards you will be working on for the day or the week.  There are skills to touch on in every subject area.

Here are examples of English Language Arts standards from grade 4 and grades 9&10.  The Social Competence Applications include:  perspective taking; motivation for actions; identifying problems; problem solving; anticipating consequences; and evaluating outcomes.

Here are examples of Social Studies standards from Grade 2 and an American History standard from high school.  The Social Competence Applications represented are:  perspective taking; identifying emotions of others; understanding rules; giving and receiving praise or criticism; identifying problems; generating alternative solutions; evaluating options; and evaluating outcome.

And finally, here is a math standards example from Grade six.  This could include a project that uses small groups taking a survey and then working up the data to answer the statistical questions.  Appropriate social behaviors could be taught, like how to approach someone and ask the survey questions.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you use visual supports.  For many students who have social challenges, visual representations can help bring understanding and increase memory of the skill.  Pictures can be used to represent social situations, including speech and thought bubbles.  Graphic organizers can help show how a social concept or academic concept fit together or progress.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you teach in context.  With so much to fit into a class period or a school day, sometimes it can seem hard to take advantage of  those “teachable moments” that present themselves.  We just need to try to keep in mind that those moments can add up in a student’s life to make a difference in their social competence.  There are two examples on this slide that probably only took a few minutes out of the day, but could support a positive outcome for the students.

Research is supporting the use of examples and non-examples in teaching social skills.  This can be done through stories, role play, photos, or videos.  There are commercial materials available, you can produce your own, or have your students make them as projects.  For example, before a community based trip, you could have students write up or draw scenarios of how to behave at the zoo.  Then, have discussions about the scenes to help teach appropriate social behaviors before you go.

The next four slides have questions you can use to initiate social competence conversations.  It might be cool to keep these somewhere you can see them to remind you about having these conversations with your students.  This slide includes questions that address social knowledge.

These questions promote discussion about emotional regulation issues, like being upset or how to calm down.

These questions can help a student with social challenges think about the perspective of another person.  This can sometimes be a difficult task for them.  These questions might assist you in bringing some comprehension of a social situation to them.

This list of questions takes the students through solving the social problem themselves instead of the teacher or an administrator solving it for them.  There are also some questions that could be used in the classroom to facilitate problem solving.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you include reinforcement and prompting as part of social competence instruction.  Students who are challenged by social situations typically experience a lot of anxiety due to many failed social occurrences.  So, reinforcing the learning of new skills is going to be a crucial step towards successful outcomes.  You may need to do some prompting at first, reinforcing successive approximations, and keep building the student’s confidence through support and reinforcement.  This allows the student to know the new skills are worthwhile to keep working towards.

Here’s a few key points about reinforcement from the literature.  Think about how many times you give a positive comment in relation to a negative one.  Are you saying 4 times as many positive reinforcing comments to the negative ones?  Are you being specific in your positive reinforcement?  Have the student’s interests been considered when choosing the reinforcers?  Does prompting include priming the student for social interactions or situations before they happen?  These can all move the student towards more positive outcomes.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you use self-monitoring.  Giving students who are able the responsibility of tracking their own progress on social behaviors and skills can help them be motivated and keeps it on their radar.  This also reinforces self-awareness.  You can find many self-monitoring charts and ideas when you search the internet.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you utilize peer support.  ALL students can benefit from the instruction of social competence skills.  When employers were asked what the top 10 skills are for working at their companies, 7 out of 10 relate to social competence, such as communicating well with others and working in a group.  So, using a class wide reinforcement system as everyone focuses on learning a new social skill means all the students can help teach and reinforce each other.  You can also set up your partner or small group activities with peers who have more social skills matched with those who have more limited skills.  Giving an opportunity for cooperative game time is another activity that can give an opportunity to practice social skills.

Identifying and teaching peers how to support students with more limited social competence increases the occasions for repetition and helps build a network of support around the students.

You might be a social competence teacher if…

…you incorporate parent involvement.  Working as an educational team with parents and family members of the students gives more opportunities for practice in different environments with a variety of people.  Sharing what social competence skills the students are working on in school and how to promote them at home can only increase the chances for success.  Having a home-school social journal may be appropriate and helpful for some students.  Also, OCALI has a series of webcasts that explain social competence strategies for families with many home and community examples.

In summary, to embed social competence instruction, take a planned, systematic approach to adding social competence skills into what you are already teaching; watch for those teachable moments; use assessment to identify what needs to be taught; use themes across students; and keep data to see if what you are doing is working.

Let me share a few resources with you.  OCALI has a Social Competence Webinar Series on the website in the webinar archive.  It covers an overview of social competence, assessment, play, friendship, proactive strategies, and reactive strategies.  And I already mentioned the Strategies for Families Webcast series listed here.

Also, you can access the Autism Internet Modules, or AIM, at no cost to learn more about social skills, social narratives, social skills groups, and social supports for transition-aged individuals at the address listed on the slide.

We hope you have recognized social competence instruction you are already doing in your classroom, and that you have gained information about new strategies to try.  Thanks for learning with OCALI.

Learn 12 strategies designed to help educators embed social competence lessons into every day instruction. Social competence increases options for employment, success in school, and productive involvement in social and community activities.

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