Social Thinking has always stressed the importance of the connection between social learning and the core academic standards and now the latest version of the academic standards, called the Common Core Standards (CCSs), recognizes Speaking and Listening as an integral part of learning. Standards included in the new CCSs include concepts related to collaboration, cooperation, understanding other’s minds or point of view, analysis of fiction, understanding bias in our media and science, just to name a few! For those of you who've struggled to convince others about the importance of including a social component to the academic day or write goals/objectives related to this, the broader adoption of the CCSs may be of help. Finally, social relatedness, group listening, and conversational skills will be recognized as part of the academic day.
Here's an example of the Speaking/Listening Comprehension and Collaboration standard for Kindergarten (www.corestandards.org)
- Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
- Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion).
- Continue a conversation through multiple exchanges.
- Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.
- Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
- Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.
- Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.
- Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
The reality is that these types of skills don’t start or stop at kindergarten! Take a look at what happens to this Comprehension and Collaboration standard as it evolves into 7th grade (www.corestandards.org)
- Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
- Follow rules for collegial discussions, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
- Pose questions that elicit elaboration and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant observations and ideas that bring the discussion back on topic as needed.
- Acknowledge new information expressed by others and, when warranted, modify their own views.
- Seamlessly analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.
- Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
As you read the standards above, consider for a moment that much of what is described as academic learning is actually based in social concepts. The reality is that typically developing students actually bring a set of social learning abilities to the classroom that have evolved from birth. The role of the classroom teacher when “teaching” these standards is not to literally teach the core skills, but instead provide opportunities to practice within the academic lesson (and across the academic day). In fact, most typically developing children are hard-wired at birth to seek out social information over the first few years of life! That means we expect most of our students have adequate to solid social communication skills by the time they enter kindergarten and that these skills continue to evolve and progress over time.
However, for our students with socially based learning disabilities, the same type of social growth takes not only time, but explicit lessons and even with the best of teaching not all students will acquire the concepts. So, specialists, parents, mainstream teachers and administrators will need to shift from asking “when will the teacher provide the opportunity for students to relate to each other as members of the classroom?” to “how will our educational team approach the process of addressing the missing social concepts that we assumed were present well before kindergarten, let alone 7th grade?”
The answers to these questions are complex. One approach to differentiate teaching for students with academic learning challenges has been through the 3 tiers of Response to Intervention (RTI) model (http://www.rti4success.org) Within the RTI model, teachers and specialists are expected to break down core concepts that are not easily addressed in the general curriculum for students who need extra time and energy to grasp academic and social concepts (e.g., students in tier 2 or 3). However, providing more time to learn is not the same as crafting specific lessons around these concepts. For some of our students, the ability to understand that another person can have thoughts and feelings that are unique from his/her own makes learning grade level standards like the collaboration/cooperation standard listed above very difficult—if not impossible. This means we need to back up and take a look at what we would expect earlier in development and then start with those concepts. For example, students may need specific instruction in all of the precursors needed such as: establishing joint attention, understanding joint intention, taking perspective of others, sharing an imagination, sharing the right amount of information, understanding the relevance of turn-taking, tracking shifts in conversation while simultaneously reading other’s body language, reading facial expressions, interpreting meaning for language based on context, interpreting when to engage vs. keeping the thought in your head, and many more! Without learning these fundamental core concepts, students cannot be expected to be able to approach the standards for his/her age group.
We've attempted to connect these key social concepts to the Common Core and State Standards in our workshop days, ZOOMING IN: Strategies for Individuals with Subtle but Significant Social Problems. We focus on how to better assess the core social learning abilities of our students with social challenges and then systematically break down how to teach academic standards such as POINT of VIEW through the lens of Speaking and Listening, reading comprehension, written language as part of narrative language, and vocabulary as it relates to social learning. We provide tools to help teach this concept.
Also, please continue to keep your eye on our blogs and articles for specific strategies around the complex information taught to all students in the mainstream classroom, with an emphasis on how we break it down to introduce prerequisite knowledge for students with social learning challenges. There are also great resources to help demystify the social learning process - our books Inside Out and Think Social! and Why Teach Social Thinking and how to use our academic time to teach core social lessons to those who did not acquire this information naturally I Get It! by Audra Jensen