ERIC Identifier: ED468580
Publication Date: 2002-07-00
Author: Vincent, Claudia G. - Horner, Robert H. - Sugai, George
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
Arlington VA. ERIC/OSEP Special Project.
Developing Social Competence for All Students. ERIC/OSEP
Schools are under pressure to create safe, orderly and effective learning
environments where students acquire social as well as academic skills that will
allow them to succeed in school and beyond. This pressure has emerged from real
disciplinary challenges combined with wariness of school violence
sensationalized in the media (Lewis & Sugai, 1999; Sugai et al., 2000;
Walker, Nishioka, Zeller, Bullis, & Sprague, 2001; Walker & Shinn,
2002). At the same time, teachers, parents, and administrators report more and
more time consumed by disciplinary measures intended to correct students'
antisocial behaviors (Skiba & Peterson, 2000). Traditional punishment and
exclusion may provide a short-lived reprieve from disciplinary problems, but
research has shown that in the long term, punishment and exclusion are
ineffective and can lead to renewed incidents of disruption and escalating
behaviors (Mayer, 1999).
Over the last two decades, school populations have become increasingly
diverse. Children sharing the same classroom come from a broad range of
cultures, languages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Schools face the challenge
of creating environments that are sensitive to a myriad of individual
backgrounds and support all students' social and academic success. They can no
longer afford to focus exclusively on delivering academic curricula; they are
also responsible for establishing and maintaining socio-cultural microcosms that
teach children to negotiate the diverse values and social norms of a pluralistic
society. This digest describes the challenges of social skills instruction and
provides three strategies to improve all students' social competence. Social
skills are crucial for mutually productive interactions and durable
interpersonal relationships. Children benefit not only socially, but also
academically, when appropriate behaviors increase their access to instructional
time. We emphasize the importance of teaching individual social skills within
the context of establishing a school-wide culture of social competence.
The success of teachers and administrators in helping students develop social
competence depends on their ability to (a) develop a school-wide culture of
social competence, (b) infuse the curriculum with situation-specific social
skills lessons that target key behaviors, and (c) match the level and intensity
of instruction to students' social skills deficits (Gresham, 1998; Sugai &
Lewis, in press).
DEVELOPING A SCHOOL-WIDE CULTURE OF SOCIAL
Schools are complex environments comprising heterogeneous
populations and activities. Students, teachers, staff, administrators, and
parents often have differing expectations of how a school should function. To
establish a school climate acceptable to all, a team representing all members of
the school community should be formed and asked to define school-wide behavioral
expectations (Lewis & Sugai, 1999). School-wide behavioral expectations
typically (a) address the most frequently observed problem behaviors across all
school settings, (b) are condensed into three to five short and easy to remember
statements, (c) are age appropriate, and (d) are positively stated (e.g., "be
respectful" instead of "don't tease") (Sugai & Lewis, in press). Visibly
posted throughout the building, school-wide behavioral expectations are intended
to publicize the social values shared by all members of the school community and
the behaviors representing those values. For instance, a middle school in Oregon
developed the following school-wide behavioral expectations: (1) Be Respectful,
(2) Be Responsible, (3) Follow Directions, (4) Hands and Feet to Self, and (5)
Be There-Be Ready (Taylor-Greene et al., 1997).
Formulating and posting school-wide behavioral expectations alone does not
automatically result in improved student behavior. All students need to be
taught directly and actively how to perform the behaviors representing the
school's social values (Horner, Sugai, Lewis-Palmer & Todd, 2001, Lewis
& Sugai, 1999; Sugai & Lewis, in press). A one-day training could be
conducted at the beginning of the academic year or at intervals throughout the
year to illustrate the school's behavioral expectations through concrete
examples in various school settings (Taylor-Greene et al., 1997). For instance,
being respectful can mean waiting one's turn in line in the cafeteria or raising
one's hand to get the teacher's attention in the classroom.
To encourage students to practice the taught behaviors, students' performance
of appropriate behaviors should be reinforced through routine acknowledgments
and monitored through ongoing data collection (Taylor-Greene et al., 1997). In
comparison to students who receive teacher attention only in the form of
reprimands for rule violations, students who know that their socially
appropriate behaviors are appreciated by teachers and staff are more likely to
repeat those behaviors and encourage their peers to behave appropriately (Sugai
& Lewis, in press). Once a behavioral skill becomes functional for a student
(i.e., is positively recognized by teachers and peers) the skill is likely to
become part of the student's general behavioral repertoire.
SOCIAL SKILLS LESSONS TARGETING KEY BEHAVIORS IN SPECIFIC
To support the development of a school-wide culture of
competence, social skills instruction must be an integral part of the school's
curriculum and daily operations (Sugai & Lewis, in press). During any given
school day, students encounter a variety of settings, for example, the school
bus, hallway, classroom, cafeteria, playground, and gym. Each setting requires
specific skills for successful interactions with others sharing the same space.
With mounting pressure to improve students' academic achievements, classrooms
have become the focal point for improving student behavior through social skills
instruction, thereby ensuring students' access to academic content (Sugai &
Lewis, in press). To create a classroom environment where all students can
learn, teachers must teach appropriate social skills giving students access to
the academic curriculum. Appropriate behaviors, such as raising one's hand to
signal for help or sitting still during seat-work help to ensure access to the
academic content being delivered. Once students acquire the skills necessary for
successful classroom interactions, they will be more likely to generalize their
acquired skills to other settings and contribute to the school-wide culture of
social competence (Horner et al., 2001; Sugai & Lewis, in press).
Teachers need to respond to a student's inability to perform a social skill
exactly as they would to a student's inability to complete an academic task. If
students do not know how to solicit teacher attention appropriately, they need
to be actively and systematically instructed to signal for help, for example, by
raising their hands. Situation-specific social skills instruction should focus
on teaching behaviors perceived as functional by students and others with whom
they interact. For instance, getting teacher attention must result from raising
one's hand, and talking out or leaving one's seat must not result in getting
teacher attention. If an inappropriate behavior is made functional for a student
by evoking the desired response, teachers inadvertently might encourage the
performance of inappropriate behavior. Socially appropriate behaviors in the
classroom are likely to decrease the amount of time spent on disciplinary
actions and increase students' access to academic content. Situation specific
instruction should incorporate a model or description of the appropriate skill,
provide students the opportunity to observe and practice the skill, assess the
students' ability to perform the skill, provide reinforcement contingent on
performing the taught skill, and avoid reinforcing inappropriate behavior
(Gresham, 1998; Sugai & Lewis, in press).
MATCHING THE LEVEL AND INTENSITY OF INSTRUCTION TO STUDENTS'
Children enter school with varying degrees of social competence. While
some students are fluent in social skills and therefore able to interact
appropriately with peers and teachers, others might not have learned to perform
socially appropriate behaviors and, therefore, are at risk of low academic
achievement and developing antisocial lifestyles (Walker et al., 1996). Although
variation exists, general research has shown that approximately 80% of a
school's student population responds to instruction in school-wide behavioral
expectations, and approximately 15% of students need additional instruction in
the form of targeted situation-specific lessons. Students who are unresponsive
to school-wide and targeted instructions comprise about 5% of a school's
population and present the toughest challenge to the daily operations of a
school (Horner and Sugai, 2002; Sugai et al., 2000; Walker et al., 1996).
Addressing individual students' persistent antisocial behaviors requires a
systematic process of determining why a student repeatedly performs the specific
behaviors (Sugai et al., 2000).
Functional behavioral assessment offers strategies to identify events and
conditions triggering a specific behavior and the functions maintaining the
behavior (i.e., get/access or escape/avoid). Direct observations, review of
archival data, or interviews with students, their teachers, and/or their parents
help to define the circumstances under which the problem behavior occurs. Based
on this information, individual behavior support plans focusing on teaching and
reinforcing socially appropriate replacement behaviors can be designed and
implemented to match individual students' skill deficits (Sugai et al., 2000).
To use the technology of functional behavioral assessment effectively and
efficiently, schools need to focus on training personnel to conduct functional
behavioral assessments and implement the resulting individual behavior support
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