Friday, 11 January 2013

Social Thinking Taught Through Visual Pictures-Grade 5

For the past few years, I have started the year teaching my class (and other classes throughout the school) about the concept of Social Thinking. Social Thinking is basically teaching kids how to be metacognitive about their social behaviour. It is getting kids to be thinking about their behaviours in various social situations and realizing that others are having thoughts about their behaviours too. This concept of Social Thinking was brought to my attention a few years ago when I attended the Cross Currents Special Education Conference. The keynote speaker was a woman named Michelle Garcia Winner who was toting the merits of using Social Thinking with special needs students. As Michelle explained the core foundations of Social Thinking I immediately thought that this concept would work just as well with my current grade five class. I also considered the broader implications of applying these concepts to a whole school setting and felt that the suggested common language used within Social Thinking would be a powerful tool both class and school-wide. Michelle has written a series of books that help explain the concept of Social Thinking in picture book formats. "You Can Be A Social Detective" is the book that I use to introduce the concept and language of Social Thinking. What appealed to me most when hearing about this concept was the language of "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours. Kids are taught that there is always a set of "expected" behaviours for any social situation. When you do what is "expected"people have good thoughts and feelings about us. When we do the "unexpected"people often have uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about us. What stuck with me about this language is that is not "value" based. We are not judging kids regarding their behaviour and deeming it appropriate or inappropriate.  Any given behaviour is either "expected" (following social norms) for that social situation or it is "unexpected".  

The first year I worked with this concept, I read the book to the kids and then had them work in groups to brainstorm various social situations they find themselves part of within a school day. This is traditionally called "Behaviour Mapping". Kids came up with social situations such as walking down the hallway, standing in line, using the bathroom, etc. We created a series of anchor charts listing the "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours for each social situation and how others would feel as a result. I then posted these anchor charts and  referred to them often in order to pre-teach and remind students about "expected" behaviours   before engaging in different social situations. This activity also gave our class common language to use on a daily basis thereafter. It proved to be very powerful and effective. It allowed me to respond to both expected and unexpected behaviours in a non-emotional way  putting the onus back on the kids to make the correct behaviour choice for each social situation. I was just someone who was pointing out whether their choices were expected or unexpected. I believe it allowed them to become more metacognitive and gave them the power to reflect on their behaviour and see how others were responding to them as a result.

This year I challenged the class to come up with a way that they, in turn, could teach other students in the school about this concept. They liked the idea of visually representing both the "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours using a camera. I divided the class into small groups and then they were given the task of coming up with a social situation and be ready to act it out for the camera. What a ball they had! They loved the idea of acting out the "unexpected" behaviours. It was a great conversation starter for other classes who were watching this all transpire. One of our regular bus drivers even got in on the action and suggested that a group come on to his bus and display both "expected" and "unexpected" bus riding behaviours. Our school principal was supportive of this leadership action the kids were taking and bought the original teaching book for each classroom so that other teachers could teach the social thinking concept to their classes. He suggested that the whole school begin using this common language and he now uses it regularly at school assemblies and other occasions. Our support staff have also begun using this language as well during supervision times. It has been interesting to see how much power that common language can have on a class and school-wide basis if all stakeholders "buy in" to the idea. Having given the reigns over to the kids to promote Social Thinking within the school made all the difference in helping this very worthwhile concept take root and grow.

"Expected" playground behaviour
"Unexpected" playground behaviour
"Expected" drinking fountain behaviour
"Unexpected" drinking fountain behaviour

"Unexpected" bus riding behaviour

"Expected" bus riding behaviour
Post courtesy of Heather Rose

1 comment:

  1. Heather, I think it is wonderful that you are using Social Thinking with your whole class and that others in the school are using it too! As you mentioned, having a common language can be really powerful. It also really helps the students who may be working with a classroom resource teacher on these skills in a one on one or small group situation to see them being used with all of their peers. It helps those skills to transfer over to more areas.