Talent in Teaching Social Thinking
The Communication Development Program for High Schoolers who attend SWCCCASE in Tinley Park, Illinois
"Social Thinking" has been an exciting "teaching way of life" for the Communication Development (CD) Program of SWCCCASE in Tinley Park, Illinois for the past 6 years. Jan Petru, Speech/Language Pathologist, initially became aware of Michelle's "Social Thinking" literature in 2001. She tested Michelle's theory of eye gaze (thinking with your eyes) with the CD students and observed a definite student need in this CD population. A new class was planned to directly teach the "social thinking" skills.
The SWCCCASE Special Education cooperative program supervisor, Gina DioGuardi, and Assistant Director, Christi Flores, were very interested in supporting the team in our efforts to expand our knowledge and creative planning for the future. The "Social Thinking" SLP/SW team first met Michelle in Ripon, Wisconsin for a 2-Day training in social thinking. After sharing the new information with administration, the team received the go-ahead to complete 4 tasks:
- Identify Illinois Learning Standards that would be addressed in this class,
- Assess students and identify 10-12 potential students for the first class,
- Formulate individual goals and objectives based on social thinking needs,
- Continue to read social thinking literature and organize a class scope and sequence.
Our Cooperative has continued support of our efforts by enabling us to attend various out-of state conferences, providing summer contracts for curriculum writing, promoting the CD Team as local presenters at association events, coordinating with local and state-wide professionals to share ideas, and brainstorming ways to help other professionals start their own "Social Thinking" classes for high school credit. Awesome support!!!
In the Beginning......
The Social Communication, initially developed during the 2002-2003 school year, has since been renamed "Interpersonal Applications" and has been expanded so that now four distinct levels have been developed as of the 2008-2009 school year. "Social Thinking" concepts, course outline and teaching guidelines were based on "Social Thinking" literature and lectures of Michelle Garcia-Winner. (www.socialthinking.com) The elective-credit class was (and still remains) team-taught by a CD Social Worker and CD Speech-Language Pathologist. Social thinking rationale is directly taught, explained and practiced in class. Behaviors are observed in self and others during role-plays and videotape. The class meets daily with students being held accountable for social thinking homework, projects, tests, grades and finals. Class content consists of strategies that students use to think about academic achievement, transition topics and personal IEP goals/objectives.
The CD Team is.....
The CD Certified Staff is employed by the Southwest Cook County Cooperative for Special Education (SWCCCASE, Oak Forest, Illinois) and work with high school students who have the primary disability of Speech/Language Impaired.
The CD Certified Staff at Andrew High School includes:
- Gina DioGuardi, SLP/Program Supervisor
- Jan Petru, SLP, CD Department Chair/After-School Coordinator
- Vanessa Granato-Wagner, SLP, Parent Group Coordinator
- David Myford, Social Worker
- Sharron Santefort, Educator, Transition/Vocational Coordinator
- Terri Stangel, Educator
- Krystin Rinkus, Educator
- Monique Prohaska, Art Therapist
The Students have various needs
The students in the CD program are characterized as having needs in the area of language comprehension and/or language expression in social settings and lack social-cognitive behaviors in social settings. The S/L disability may be accompanied by Autism, Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Disorder, Emotional Disability, or Other Health Impaired Diagnosis. All CD students have low average to high IQ as determined by current psychological reports. Students are placed in the CD program based on the IEP eligibility documentation, district request, and/or IEP team decision. The students typically attend the cooperative class for the entire 4 years of high school and receive a typical district diploma. Students may attend general education classes for up to 50% of their day in addition to the Interpersonal Applications elective class.
Connecting to the Learning Standards
In order to offer a class for elective credit, it was necessary for the CD Team to demonstrate what various aspects of social thinking needed to be directly taught to this population, as well as, demonstrate how these needs were connected to the Illinois Learning Standards. These goals and standards were then incorporated into student annual goals based on individual student needs. We now have a wide variety of student needs and connections to the Illinois Learning Standards.
Gain awareness of own disability
- Will make progress toward analyzing how personal qualities influence choices and successes (*1B.3a) as evidenced by creating visual records reflecting how he's demonstrated his strengths, needs or feelings in a situation during 3 out of 4 opportunities within a consecutive 4-week period.
- Will make progress toward identifying important themes and topics (*1.C.1b) given direct instruction, step-by-step visual organizers, homework assignments, discussions, field trips and parent support, as evidenced by completing 3-4 social plans outside of school with a peer of his choice.
- Will make progress toward recognizing that others may experience situations differently form oneself (2A.1a) by completing a chart that indicates whether her perspective of a situation in which she was involved was the same or different from the other person's perspective (perspective = feeling and reason for feeling) on 10 occasions.
Applying Listening Skills
- Will make progress toward understanding the relationship of verbal and nonverbal messages within a context, given direct instruction and role plays, (*4.A.4d) as evidenced by increased social pragmatic skills in class by completing a conversation sheet about 4-5 members of the class 1-2 times by the end of the 3rd quarter.
- Will make progress toward identifying main verbal and nonverbal communication strategies to maintain communications and to resolve conflict (*4.B.2d.) when given direct teacher feedback, calm voice, visual stories and drawing, B will identify his own 2-3 unexpected behaviors in an upsetting situation on 3-5 occasions.
- Will make progress toward participating in discussions around a common topic (*4.B.1b) given small talk rules, eye gaze strategies and ways to phrases to connect topics, as evidenced by initiating, commenting and using connecting phrases in a 1-2 minute conversation with a peer 4 times per semester
General class content
The majority of the CD students are enrolled in the Future Focus class during the 9th grade. This class introduces "high school" issues and the basics of "social thinking" to the freshman. The following include some of the initial topics taught.
- "Expected and Unexpected" behavior (Winner)
- "Social Mapping" (Winner)
- Multiple Intelligences as related to identification of strengths and needs.
- Naming and Identifying Emotions
- Regulating emotions and behaviors
- Emotions do impact behaviors
- Using "Flexible Thinking' (Winner)
- "Eye gaze" (Winner)
- "Thought Bubbles" (Winner)
- Introduction to disability awareness
Interpersonal Applications I is the class that provides the "WHY" foundation for all future social thinking concepts. Such topics are initiated and explored:
- "Why Care?" (Winner)
- Emotions related to an event
- Regulating our emotions is expected
- "Friend Files" (Winner)
- Making phone calls
- Social planning
- Change is hard
- No one is perfect..... everyone makes mistakes
- "Making an Impression' (Winner)
- Verbal and Non-verbal communication
- Observing expected/Unexpected behaviors in self and others
- Social Plans and Typical Teen-age behavior
- "Being a Part of the Group/Hidden Curriculum" (Winner)
- Strengths and Needs
- Disability Awareness
Interpersonal Applications II and III continue to build on the previous topics and expand on the meaning of these topics:
- Relationships, friendships and using "friend files" (Winner)
- Planning, making and problem-solving social plans
- Changing behavior is expected
- Communication is expected
- Expectations of work and community
- We can only change ourselves
- Some people are "Just Jerks" (Winner)
- Emotions are related to thoughts
- Thoughts and perspective-taking (Winner)
- My disability and strategies to use
- Gestalt thinking
Interpersonal Applications IV usually include topics related to the application of the social thinking skills to real life situations:
- Planning events for other groups of people
- Reviewing, updating and writing own IEP goals
- Charting and keeping progress on own goals
- Interviewing techniques
- Reading articles related to social thinking topics
- Understanding the "soft-skills" of job success
- Journal reflections related to personal problem-solving and social plans
- Discussions regarding decision-making, conflict, values, and social relationships.
- Conflict Resolution
- The Expected and Unexpected of a job.
The teaching staff uses a variety of methods to directly teach, practice and assess the social thinking skills. These may include:
- Direct Instruction
- Hands-On tasks
- Social Stories
- Social Interaction Fridays
- Daily Emotion Check-In
- Daily Problem Check-In
- Class discussions
- Cooperative Group projects
- Lunch/Cafeteria assignments
- Rubrics for communication interaction
- Movie Clips (examples: "Napoleon Dynamite", "Castaway")
- TV Clips (examples: "Everybody Loves Raymond", ‘Dick Van Dyke Show")
- Field Trips and Community Outings (i.e. shopping at the mall, restaurant, bowling)
- Gift Giving activities
- After-School Bowling League
- Classroom rewards
Our students have increased their social thinking awareness in school, at home and in the community. The following are parent testimonials about the Social Thinking curriculum in the CD program:
Parents of students in the After-School Bowling League provide "testimonial comments" about how the Social Thinking approach has helped their child interact with others:
"The Social Thinking class sure makes a lot of sense and is right "on target" of what our kids need. With gratitude, I commend Michelle Garcia-Winner (name says it all), Ms. Millette, Ms. DioGuardi and Mrs. Petru for designing and providing this program for our special students!"
"Ramon has become a social animal per se. He enjoys the members of his CD class but he is also trying to mingle with Mainstream students! He is managing to deal with the idea that he has a disability and how it can affect his social skills and relations with the mainstream."
"Social Thinking has been an "a-ha" moment in our son's development. It provides him with a good roadmap for understanding his feelings and considering the thoughts and feelings of those around him. As parents of a high school freshman, we wish our middle school district had applied the curriculum-it seems perfect for earlier application. We like that the usage and processing of language is so easily incorporated at home, helping to reinforce what he is learning at school. Social Thinking is definitely helping our son communicate and understand others."
"My son Lars, wanted to have friends but was nervous about the process. The social thinking class has given him a lot of "ease". He calmly rings his friends on the phone because it is his homework. He doesn't even care if the friend can socialize that day... he's excited that he can mark down on paper that he called. Having socializing as part of the instruction process and part of "school work" really lessens his anxiety."
"Our daughter has been a student of the Communication Development program, run by SWCCCASE at Andrew HS for the last 3 years. And as such, she has had the opportunity to participate in the IA classes, which use the Social Thinking method as a framework for the development of students' social interaction skills. It is difficult for me to accurately express just how much our daughter has benefited from this program. Words like "significantly" or "greatly" do not seem to contain the substance with which to describe the type of progress that this method has made possible.
Our daughter had made great strides in areas of her life that some would have thought impossible just 4 years ago. Over these years her growth in ability to accurately express herself and to understand the thoughts, actions and emotions of others has been a genuinely amazing experience to witness. Her understanding of these areas and the abilities that she has gained as a result have helped her to succeed in areas of her academics as well as in her social life.
Our daughter has always been a trusting and gentle person, but as a result of her condition has been hampered by anxiety in social settings and in situations that she perceives as stressful. Because of the knowledge that she has gained from this program, and specifically in the area of social thinking, she has been able to develop and maintain relationships and reduce her level of anxiety in situations in which, in the past, would have made her too anxious to interact appropriately. She has also been able to reduce her stress level in school, which has allowed her to concentrate better on her studies, which in turn, has allowed her to improve her grades. Our daughter has learned, as a result of these lessons, the mechanics of social interaction, solid building blocks of knowledge from which she has been able to expand upon.
The most noticeable benefit that our daughter has received from this program has been her increase in self-esteem. The single most detrimental aspect of her condition was not a direct symptom, but that she lacked the confidence in her self to overcome the obstacles that stood in her way. This was the demoralizing effect that came from not understanding others or how to act in relation to them. Today she has the tools and courage to advance in areas of her life that were once a confusing, freighting and foreign.
Much of the credit for her development in these critical areas is due to the efforts of the speech pathologist, social workers, teachers and aids, who have come together to promote this effort for the benefit of the students.
We hope that many others will have the opportunity to benefit as well."
Compiled by Jan Petru, 2008