There’s a picture I took last spring of my students during their social skills group. They’re playing a matching game. The rules of the game are: chose a picture and ask your peer if he has it. Peer tells the first person he has the match and gives it to them. First person makes the match and puts it in the box. The students in the picture look absolutely pained, like this was the worst thing I could have possibly asked them to do.
It’s not the academic task. Matching was specifically chosen because it’s a mastered skill and the one they default to when they’re not sure what is being asked of them. No, what is paining my students, who are accustomed to doing their academic work 1:1 with a teacher, is that just answering the teacher they’re working with (who will provide prompting and reinforcement) isn’t enough to complete this activity. Interacting with a peer is a lot more work!
Enter Hacking Classroom Culture: Designing Compassionate Classrooms by Angela Stockman and Ellen Feig Gray. I was struck by how their ideas would fit so sensibly into the outlines I already had in place. I loved how easily and sensibly they dovetailed with best practices in severe disabilities and prevocational training. Finally, someone had given me some tools to build a classroom community, instead of a class of students who happen to share the same room and teacher.
So what are we going to do?
First off, I moved the basic calendar and schedule work out of morning group. The students all need 1:1 support to complete this task and can do it at different speeds and independence levels, so it makes more sense to make it part of their arrival/unpacking routine.
(You can view my trello board to see a full implementation of our morning meeting here: https://trello.com/b/383gGHvw)
One of the best practices in severe disabilities for eliciting attention and language is a mystery box. The idea is that you put an object in a box and the students have to use their senses/language to figure out what it is. Here, I’ve put a social language spin on the idea:
Place object of high interest to a specific student (or highly correlated with a specific person in the classroom/school) in a box.
Students can take turns making guesses about what it will be like based on sound/touch or opening the box and describing/identifying it (scaffold for skill level)
Once object is identified, students complete the activity it is used for (e.g. fill out attendance for secretary) and then identify/bring it to correct person (vocational delivery skill and social interaction skill integration)
An old tired idea you see in most special education classrooms is practicing greetings and personal information during morning meeting. Or the age-old variant of identifying who is at home/work/school. I’ve brought in some math instructional targets to keep it fresh (and keep us moving!) and brought back some good old-fashioned “show-and-tell” (with a new more social spin!):
Organize students/have students organize themselves using personal information (e.g. height, birthday month, age, etc) - visual models of data.
Each student has an opportunity to share a skill they are working on in class or something that happened at home with the rest of the class.
-Encourage community, not just what I did but who I did it with/who helped me do it and where I did it (what tools helped me be successful)
(Teachers can model too, but careful not to turn it into sharing on behalf of students!)
*Both teachers and students (probably mostly teachers at first) have the opportunity to point out things they saw others do - that they thought was cool or they might want to try themselves.*
Social Skills Group:
The first idea I fell in love with when I read Angela and Ellen’s book was the idea of Empathy Mapping. I tweeted at the time, and I still think, that teaching Empathy Mapping in conjunction with Story Grammar Marker would be a powerful way to give students a structure and language to understand the social world around them. So I want to do exactly that. My students have been working on body parts and what they do. Our next step is to develop visual empathy maps. I want to use folders, with one side being the self, what I am seeing, hearing, saying, feeling, etc. The other side will have a pocket that can be a generic person (background) or you can place a picture or a specific person, and have the same options (what are they seeing, hearing, saying, feeling, etc.) The folder format will allow me to keep the visual supports for both sides in the center.
Ideas I’m Still Pondering:
* I’ve usually used the standard Story Grammar Marker imagery/materials when I teach that unit/skill. I’m wondering if it would make more sense to use the same imagery as the Empathy Maps for students to more clearly see the connection. Haven’t made a decision yet.
* I’d love to invite some of our non-classroom school people to join us for morning meeting (I originally was calling it morning cafe for this reason) but I’m not sure if that will help or hinder the social connection of the objects that are related to them (if they are not in their expected context.) Maybe try and see what happens? Most won’t be able to come except once in a while anyway!
My copy of Teach Like Finland is supposed to arrive later today. Can’t wait to see what other ideas I find!