Michelle's Blog

Back to School: Social Thinking Can Be Used for All Kids

The concepts of teaching Social Thinking and related social skills were developed for students with social learning challenges who were spending much of their day in a mainstream setting.  This fall I celebrate my 10th anniversary of speaking about these concepts in front of a national audience.  As the years have passed, not only have I started to dye my hair but the concepts have deepened and the teaching strategies multiplied.  One of the very cool thing is that Social Thinking concepts and strategies are now being embraced by inspired mainstream teachers who realize they need to teach more explicit social concepts to all students. While the ILAUGH model has brought awareness of what it takes to be a social thinker, it is really the more practical use of the Social Thinking Vocabulary and then Stephanie Madrigal's creative discovery of using “Superflex” to work against “Rockbrain” that has been so appealing to mainstream teachers.  This is lovely in many ways:

First, our students with social learning challenges benefit from the Social Thinking Vocabulary concepts being used across the school day. Taking these lessons out of the therapy room and using them during those “teachable moments” is where it is at! After years of the research saying our students were not showing much “generalization” from the therapy room to the playground or classroom, through the use of the Social Thinking Vocabulary we have a mechanism to help kids observe, think and problem solve about social information all day long. Parents are also helping out by using these same concepts at home and in the community. How cool is that?

Second, mainstream teachers and administrators are acknowledging that most neurotypical kids are less skilled at learning as part of a group. Our kids who have grown up on sound bites, visual graphics and computer games lack the more sophisticated ability to deal with the boring moments as successfully as we need them to when we educate them as part of a larger group (eg, the classroom). Furthermore, No Child Left Behind (aka: no teacher left standing), by accident discouraged taking the time to teach “soft” social skills given the presumed importance of teaching “hard” factual skills so that their students could show progress on tests….but tests lack the ability to demonstrate how students share knowledge dynamically with others. Now, teachers are motivated to bring back to life the caring classroom. Teaching students to be more active social participants engaged in the dynamics of learning together creates a learning community and teachers like the honesty of the social thinking vocabulary.

I remember giving a workshop to educators in a school district. Near the end of the 1st workshop day two mainstream teachers came up to me to say they were angry they had been forced to attend this workshop and they admittedly arrived with a bad attitude. They were angry because one student in each of their classes had autism and while they wanted to help, they did not feel missing two days classroom teaching to help one child made sense. However, they now stood in front of me not to complain but to confess their earlier anger and now to explain that they had no idea that by attending this workshop they were learning strategies to help all their students. Not only with social behavior but also in understanding how the social mind impacts academic success (see other writings on this website for that information). They also commented that they liked the honesty involved in these lessons. Some of the core social thinking vocabulary concepts that are very appealing to teachers include:

•    Think with your eyes

•    Make a smart guess

•    Keep your body and brain in the group

•    Expected and Unexpected behavior

•    Social Behavior Mapping: Relating how students’ behaviors  (expected or unexpected) impacts how a teacher treats them.

•    Just Me verses Thinking About You

•    Coping with the Boring moments

•    Weird thought/normal thought

•    Managing blurting by reminded students to think with their eyes, etc..

There are many more social thinking concepts available to teach; these initial core concepts reviewed above help to provide teachers with concrete ways in which we all can teach more explicitly our social expectations to all kids.  Ultimately we want students to demonstrate “respect, cooperating, negotiating, etc.., “ but often our students need more explicit teaching to help them learn to be more sophisticated participants in the world of social regulation and social thinking.

The introduction last year of the book, You Are A Social Detective (Winner and Crooke), was quickly embraced by mainstream teachers in elementary school. This book reviews some of the core social thinking concepts important for all kids to be aware of.

The use of Superflex and the Team of Unthinkables has also become a valuable tool for helping kids explore how their brains related to each other in the mainstream setting as well as treatment settings. The real value in Superflex is that it is an engaging, motivating curriculum to help students explore their own thinking and social regulation. We have had so many emails from classroom teachers and specialists reporting on how their students have generated many more unique “unthinkables” to help better describe specific social learning challenges. As we all know, we learn best when we find a tool that we can connect with that encourages our own problem solving and creativity. Superflex has proven to be a tool that encourages students to think about their own and others’ social minds. We know of many mainstream classes who have adopted Superflex and the Team of Unthinkables.

Most recently, Pam and I have co-authored a book for high functioning teens and young adults to read themselves to better understand the social expectations of these complex years, Socially Curious and Curiously Social. Once again, while this was written with our clients in mind who have weak social learning, every neurotypical student will benefit from thinking about the increasing subtle intricacies involved in social emotional relationships as they merge into adulthood. Parents and teachers have also reported enjoying reading this book as it provided them with language they can directly use with their kids to explain some of these more abstract concepts.

With the beginning of the new school year, it’s a great time to think about Social Thinking. When a classroom is highly connected to what others’ are thinking and planning, they learn best together. A classroom disconnected from social thought often struggles to have students learn and work together; thereby making it that much more difficult to teach the standards of education to anyone in the room. Furthermore, you will find that the more you teach social thinking the more you take it home with you. Whoever we live with; man, woman, child or pet, we have to try to think about what the other person or pet is thinking about to co-exist more peacefully. My dog and my daughters can make my life miserable when I don’t read their intentions well!

©2012 Social Thinking Publishing - Michelle Garcia Winner  www.socialthinking.com
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