Meet the Authors
Elizabeth Delsandro, M.S., CCC-SLP
Liz is the author of We Can Make It Better! A Strategy to Motivate and Engage Young Learners in Social Problem-Solving Through Flexible Stories. She describes how this dynamic and engaging teaching approach came about: "As a speech-language pathologist in the Iowa public schools during the 2006-2007 school year, I supported an elementary program for children with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome and another one for children with behavior challenges. I was constantly reminded of how children with social learning problems have difficulty negotiating everyday social interactions, such as playing on the playground at recess, standing in line, eating in the cafeteria and having a simple conversation. I was looking for additional ways to provide engaging and safe learning experiences with a focus on social problem-solving.
I sat down one evening to write a story that had a defined formula or structure, one that would invite the kids to be active participants in solving social dilemmas. I wrote the story specifically to build upon the learners' background knowledge, presenting scenarios that they might experience at school or in the community with a friend, peer or family members. Through this flexible story, I wanted them to learn that a set of situations can lead to a specific outcome — and to see that they could influence the story's outcome by changing the behavior (the actions and spoken words) of the characters.
The next day, I introduced my first We Can Make It Better! story in the classroom. Although I had some experience with using narrative approaches to improve social understanding, I'll admit I was initially a little tentative about pulling off this untested strategy with a group of kids, their teachers and paraeducators. But as we worked through the story that morning, I became more and more excited about how motivated the kids were to participate. Their interest inspired me to write more stories that presented additional social situations and possible outcomes.
I planned a structured weekly lesson that centered on We Can Make It Better! stories. Over time, I noted qualitative improvements in the children's performance during the lessons. The kids took an active role in storytelling and role-playing. They demonstrated interest in their peers' responses and contributed their own responses. Some in the group made connections between the events in the story and events in their own lives. I also noted improvement in some of the children's expressive language, such as the length of their utterances, word choice and overall quality of their verbal responses.
The stories resonated with these children because of the formulaic and consistent format, the highly visual nature (illustrations/drawings), the character development, the active participation component (verbal problem-solving and role-playing) and the familiar scenarios. Their high motivation to participate, qualitative changes in their contributions to the stories, and enthusiastic feedback from colleagues encouraged me to share the program with a broader audience.
This book introduces the We Can Make It Better! strategy and story structure, includes sample stories and an outline of a weekly lesson for an individual or a small group of students, and offers guidelines for writing original stories. My hope is that We Can Make It Better! will become a useful tool in educators' toolboxes to help meet the needs of learners with social cognitive learning challenges."
The Book - Just Released!
We Can Make It Better! is a resource for safe and motivating social problem-solving practice. With the right tools, practice and understanding, students can learn how to make good choices — in their thoughts, actions and words — that result in improved social interactions. With a bank of successes to draw upon and opportunities to generalize their way of thinking to real-life situations, they may increase their potential for positive social interactions in the future.
The Story as Strategy
At the center of the We Can Make It Better! strategy is a short story that provides opportunities for an individual or small group to identify social dilemmas, express ideas to make the dilemmas better, and gain more understanding in how one person's behavior (spoken words and actions) can positively or negatively impact the outcome (relationship) between people.
Each story follows the same sequence, with the introduction of a familiar event or activity (such as playing a board game with a friend) and a set of social dilemmas related to the context. These dilemmas (e.g., cheating at the game, making inappropriate comments, quitting the game when losing) occur between the characters of the story and lead to an undesirable conclusion or natural consequence (e.g., a character reconsiders playing with his or her peer, quits the game and goes home). Each story invites the learners to "make it better," resulting in active verbal problem-solving and a more preferred ending or outcome to the story.
More on Liz
Liz will be a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, beginning in August 2010. She works with individuals with autism spectrum disorders and social cognitive challenges, focusing onfunctional communication, social participation, emotional regulation, and peer and community awareness. She has been an autism consultant with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency in the Iowa public school system and an assistive technology trainer in Virginia public schools.