Do you know how to follow the Group Plan?

Chances are, your JPS students are probably familiar with language like “the group plan” and “keeping your body in the group”. These phrases and concepts are part of a learning tool called “Social Thinking” and they help instruct our kiddos on expected and unexpected behaviors in various settings. For example, when your family visit a restaurant, it is unexpected to stand on your chair and ask for a milk refill but expected to say “thank you” to the server when they deliver your meal!

Language like “keeping your body in the group” helps teachers point out when a student has left a group situation and it is expected to stay with your peers [i.e. walking too quickly or too slowly down the hall with a small group]. Social Thinking also teaches students to keep their “brains in the group” by reminding them to stay focused on the topic being discussed and how it helps the people around you feel comfortable when they know you are listening.

Teacher Consultant, Kristen Gray, shares the ins and outs of this valuable teaching tool: “Social Thinking is not one curriculum, but rather defines a methodology that is taught using a variety of materials based on the age and characteristics of the students being taught.  Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist, created the concept of social thinking in the mid-1990s, then opened the Social Thinking company which produces the majority of the curricula we use.  We began teaching it in Jenison approximately 8 years ago.  It was initially introduced in the categorical programs for students on the Autism Spectrum, and grew from there.”

Ms Gray, School Social Worker, Aimee Jackson, and Behavior Specialist, Yvette Smith, have worked to develop comprehensive curriculum plans for a variety of age levels in Jenison. This month, Social Thinking was also begun for Sandy Hill’s youngest students with a lesson on Whole Body Listening.

Social Thinking is generating positive changes for students. “In my opinion, the biggest change I have observed with Social Thinking is a shift in mindset when students recognize their ability to at least partially control the social environment and other’s responses to them.  This, in turn, can influence the way a student feels about him or herself.

For example, if a student struggles to work in a group, the student might feel as though the other kids do not like him/her and choose to not include him/her in a group.  Using social behavior mapping, one of the tools in social thinking, we can break down both the unexpected and expected behaviors associated with working in a group.  We then help the students to develop visual maps of how these behaviors might make others feel, what outcomes might occur because of how others are feeling, and finally how the student might feel about himself/herself based on the responses he/she is receiving.  The student can use this information to change behaviors, thereby changing outcomes and potentially changing feelings.  I have observed many students experience a “light bulb moment” when they suddenly connect their behaviors to the outcomes experienced.”

If social skills have always come naturally to you, you may not notice that having these skills is woven into every aspect of life. “A person’s social thinking ability has a considerable affect on his or her relationships and success in school and at work. It affects the person’s social skills, perspective taking, self-awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social problem solving, play skills, reading comprehension, written expression, ability to learn and work in a group, organizational skills, etc.. Nearly all job growth since 1980 has been in occupations that are relatively social-skill intensive, while jobs that require high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning, but low levels of social interaction, and jobs that are comparatively easy to automate, have fared comparatively poorly.  The research indicated that workers with greater social skills are more likely to work in social skill-intensive and less-routine occupations and to earn a relatively higher wage return in these occupations.”

Using the analogy of an iceberg, Social Thinking is a tool that “teaches below the surface” and our social responses are what is visible but what is below the surface [social attention, interpretation, problem-solving] are what drives those responses. “Truly, it is empowering for students once they realize that they have the ability to change how others think and feel about them by changing their behavior.”

We love the thoughtful work of our support staff members who strive to equip students with as many tools as they need for success! And thank you to our teachers for incorporating something new into your already busy days!

[*Photos courtesy of http://www.socialthinking.com]

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