Incorporating social skills training in daily academic instruction

iStock_000016678101XSmallFailure to meet social expectations early in their schooling puts children at risk for both peer rejection and academic failure, write a group of authors in a recent article in Preventing School Failure.

While educators face enormous pressures to boost student achievement, they say social skills are so important to students’ success, teachers should find time to include social skills training into daily academic instruction.

“Classroom teachers have long recognized the importance of social and behavioral skills, viewing cooperating, self-control, and other social skills as critical to achieving academic and behavioral success,” write the researchers. “Indeed, students who lack these skills are more likely to face a number of undesirable outcomes that include poor interactions with teachers and peers, diminished academic performance, and an increased number of disciplinary infractions.”

Rather than setting aside a special time or removing students from the classroom, teachers can incorporate various social skills into daily instruction for the whole class, the researchers write.

The article in Preventing School Failure includes an appendix with resources for teaching social skills. The resources include DVDs, software and curriculum guides. Social skills deficits are as unique as the students themselves, so educators must take into account individual circumstances.

The authors outline the following steps for incorporating social skills training in daily classroom instruction:

Step 1: Select target students

Identify students who exhibit significant deficits. Take the time to closely examine students and observe how and with whom they interact.

Step 2: Determine desirable social skills

Before beginning instruction, it’s important to identify skills a student needs. Does the student have difficulty coping with frustration, accepting criticism, cooperating with classmates, working independently or following classroom protocol? As the student population becomes more diverse, it’s important for educators to take into account varying cultural values, community norms and parental expectations.

Step 3: Distinguish between can’t and won’t

To intervene effectively, it is important to distinguish between students who cannot perform a given skill because they have failed to acquire it and those who have the ability but don’t use it. Students who lack the skill must be taught it, while students who choose not to engage in the behavior need to be motivated to do so.

Step 4: Instruct

A sound social skills program should teach students to identify alternative pro-social behaviors and strategies, provide opportunities to practice the behavior, reinforce the behavior and introduce concepts of self-control. Once an educator chooses a resource, it’s best to use small increments of time within a lesson–beginning, middle and end–when infusing social skills instruction into the academic content, the authors write.

“ENGAGE: A Blueprint for Incorporating Social Skills Training Into Daily Academic Instruction,” by Naomi  et al., Preventing School Failure, Volume 52, Number 3, Spring 2008, pp. 17-27. 

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