Brought to you by Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW®) through the generosity of Saint Joseph's University.
Assuring that the skills our students lack (or are weak in) are worked into the plan for the day cannot be understated. As important as it is to assure that we work critical thinking questions into a lesson plan, or assure proper amounts of individual and guided practice in our academic skill areas, the key to effective planning for our students with learning disabilities is to assure that we also work into the plan effective skill-building in the social communication, behavioral, or otherwise non-academic skills—as it is in this skill development that real learning begins to occur and opens the door to increased achievement, and increased opportunities for growth.
Too often as educators we get tied up in assuring that our students with disabilities can pass the test, or make the grade, and forget that it is our duty to assure that all goals on the IEP are addressed, and the most important of these are often the social skills and communication goals. Improvement in these areas leads to self-efficacy and self-confidence, that ultimately will results in increased achievement. It’s easy for special educators to put their focus on academics in this age of increased accountability—but ignoring the social needs of our students with disabilities can result in an actual delay in the acquiring of academic skills. If you believe you don’t have time to fit these in, I would argue that you can’t afford NOT to fit them in, and by fitting them in, and taking the time, the actual learning time that will occur in your classroom will be increased. Effective planning for improved communication, behavior, and social skills improvement, will add instructional time to your day.
Learning disabilities and social skills (problem-solving) deficits seem to go hand in hand. Social skills are the basis for getting along with others, and that inability to get along with others often interferes with learning on many levels. A deficit in social skills can often lead to problems in school related to attendance, attention, bullying, aggressiveness, low self-esteem, rejection, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty in making and keeping friends. It is imperative that teachers and parents assure that social skills are addressed and reinforced both in school and at home. This social skills training and reinforcement should also consider self-control mechanisms like how to take turns, or wait in line.
Simply put, teachers can work social skills training into their day by developing mini-lessons that teach the skills that students need such as socially acceptable approaches to people, work habits or academic skills (following directions, how to get help from the teacher, understanding the consequences of behavior). Use teachable moments to take the time to address anger management, redirecting oneself when distracted, using words instead of hands to communicate or simple routines as where to put homework. Students with learning disabilities often need explicit instruction in these social skills areas, and they often need that instruction over and over again.
It has been a long winter—and we’re quite a few weeks away from that time of Spring Renewal we all look forward to. Students have been cooped up and probably getting less time to practice their social skills. Take time now to review appropriate processes and procedures for your classroom. Use teachable moments to model effective communication, manners, and skills that will assist our students in getting along in both school and our society at large. Review with students the skills that will assist them in getting what they need—asking questions, inviting friends to play, talking out their frustrations, and dealing with stress.
Use "if this, then what?" scenarios to open your classroom instruction daily—with a goal to improve the social skills of your students. It is time that is needed. It is time we cannot afford to pass up; in effectively developing a social skills training piece to your lesson planning, you will gain instructional time, and your students will gain confidence! Be sure that your lesson development considers the goals on the IEP; goals to not only improve academics, but sometimes more importantly to improve the quality of life for our struggling learners. With the development of appropriate social skills often comes an overall improvement in life: as students gain independence in skills that will help them across the board, as they maneuver through the educational system, and ultimately and most importantly through their journey to the future. Prioritize the goals you wish to teach—and teach them explicitly, over and over again! Your students will thank you.
Lois R. Favre, Ed. D. is the Superintendent of Schools at the Bridgehampton Union Free School District in Bridgehampton, New York. Before joining the Bridgehampton team, she has worked as an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, a Pupil Personnel Services Director and a Special Education Teacher. She is well-published in the field of education and has presented both nationally and internationally on topics such as differentiation, students who learn differently, change process, learning styles, leadership and best practices.