We’ve had a super busy semester and are hard at work building our Social Thinking smarts. Here’s a quick update on what your child has been working on in his or her Social Thinking group. If you’re not sure which group your child is participating in, email me and I’ll let you know.
1st/2nd grade combo group
- We’ve explored at a basic level how our body feels when we experience various emotions. We’ve practiced what other people’s non-verbals look like when they are experiencing those same basic emotions.
- We’ve used play-based activities to practice following multi-step auditory instructions (since that is the most common type of instruction given in a classroom setting) and worked to connect the positive thoughts and feelings of adults and peers when the student pays attention to the instruction and tries to follow it.
- We’ve spent a considerable amount of time learning to use visual cues to guide comprehension of text, problems in a static form (e.g. picture form or “frozen” video form). We’ve expanded the use of visual cues to help us learn to answer who, what, where, when questions with more appropriate syntax and pragmatic language. We’ve begun to explore how to use our visuals + other clues we gather to begin to answer basic why/how questions.
- We’ve delved into using inferential clues in play-based activities to learn to think “top down” (thinking from large category to sub category to detail). This practice aids the development of central coherence which assists our students in all academic areas (central coherence refers to the ability to see the “big picture” vs only attending to irrelevant detail). We’ve worked on adding relevant detail to our stated sentences and comments to aid the listening partner in understanding what we want to communicate.
- Recently, we’ve begun working on how to initiate play, how to keep our bodies “in the group” with our play partner, and how to take turns deciding what to play first (it’s not always “me first!”).
- Finally, the kids are working hard at learning what it means to “think with your eyes”. We gather valuable information by using our own eye gaze to determine what our partner is looking at and then using that info to make a good guess about what they are thinking about.
Why is this so important??? The development and use of eye gaze is essential to the development of joint attention. Further, it is essential that individuals integrate both the verbal message and the message gleaned from body language (plus the context of the situation) to fully understand the message. This allows the individual to make a good guess about the thoughts/feelings/perspective/desires of their communication partner. Without the use of eye gaze, our children miss an enormous amount of information and can’t truly develop their ability to think socially. From an academic perspective, students are constantly expected to track the teacher with their eyes, refer to information on the board or anchor charts when the teacher indicates with a non-verbal cue (like pointing), and must be able to begin to read the body language of peers as they work in cooperative groups.
So, how do we teach this skill? At the basic level, we model using concrete objects.
- Step 1 is to teach the kids “what you look at is what you are thinking about”. We practice using arrow glasses and teach them to “follow the arrows” to the object their partner is focused on to make a good guess what they are thinking about.
- Step 2 is to remove the arrow glasses and teach/practice that the “colored part” of our eyes are the arrows. The kids practice looking at the iris of their partner and try to determine what they are looking at. This is INCREDIBLY difficult for many of our students with ASD. They tend to look around the eye instead of at the eye. Please play this game at home with your child often and teach them to look at the iris of your eye to track eye gaze. Ask them to figure out what you are looking at and what that means you are thinking about.
- The follow-up to step 2 is to make sure your child is alerting to the position of your head. Most of the kiddos in this group focus only on what is in a direct line in front of them (or you). They still need cueing to note if your gaze is pointed up, down, or to the side.
- Step 3 is to then begin to connect the thought to a more natural form. For example, if I draw their attention to my eye gaze while I’m looking at the clock, I would then model with a thought bubble visual that I’m thinking about what time it is. Or what time is lunch? Or is it almost time to go home? There are a variety of logical thoughts that someone could draw from my eye gaze by combining my physical cue of looking at the clock with the context. This is a more advanced skill and we will be working on it for quite a long time. For children who are at this concrete stage of learning (which all members of this group are!) they benefit from the use of an actual thought bubble visual. Feel free to print this for home use. Also, often Teacher Heaven sells packages of heavy-duty laminated, magnetic thought/speech bubbles that are super helpful to use at home. Click the image to download.
- Home Connections: If your child tends to wander away when others are talking (or they are space invaders and get too close!), prompt them to use “just right space” to keep their body “in the group”. Then immediately connect your thought and feeling when they are using just right space. “Wow, when you use just right space and keep your body in the group with me and your brother, I feel calm and know that you are thinking about where we’re going for dinner.” Also, start modeling using your own “arrow eyes” to note what your child is looking at and ask if that is what they are thinking about. You can then step up the activity by modeling a more complex thought. “I see you’re looking at the apples. Are you thinking about being hungry and wanting a snack?”
1st grade group
- We explored the way our sensory system works and different activities that help us focus. We’ve spent a good chunk of time on the concept of personal space and how people have different sized personal space bubbles. We’ve learned about the words and nonverbal signals people use to let us know we are too close.
- We’ve explored basic problem solving skills using the red/green visual (see below in the 2nd grade description). Feel free to download to use at home.
- We’ve begun learning about the Social Detective.
The Social Detective teaches us about expected and unexpected behaviors and how they affect the thoughts and feelings of others. Expected and unexpected behaviors are neither good nor bad. It depends on context. For example, it is expected to shout at recess, but unexpected to shout in the classroom. Shouting is not a “bad” behavior. We are learning about the tools (eyes + ears + brain) the Social Detective uses to help him make good guesses about what is expected.
- We have worked on identifying how our sensory system works. We’ve worked to identify specifically how our body feels when we are stressed.
- We’ve worked on identifying social problems, the feelings they create in our own bodies, and doing basic problem solving using the red/green problem solving visual. This is an especially useful tool for quick problem solving in a visual format. Feel free to download it by clicking the picture and printing for your use at home.
Here’s an example of a completed map:
- As we explored the problem solving process, we began to focus on the costs vs benefits of various solutions (the things we want vs the things we don’t). Here’s a tip for home use: if your child’s thinking is becoming rigid and he or she is having difficulty moving past the problem or the choice boxes, complete the “then” box for them and cover up the rest. Then have them identify which end result they want. They’ll invariably choose the positive option. Then uncover just the path to that result and read the map.
- We’ve delved into the world of Superflex. Superflex is a superhero who uses super flexible thinking to solve problems and uses behavior that keep the group feeling comfortable. Superflex uses strategies to defeat the Unthinkables. Unthinkables are characters who cause us to become stuck by using behaviors and strategies that don’t help us think flexibly. Unthinkables are not bad guys. They are troublemakers that affect all of us. We’ve studied Rockbrain, Unwonderer, and One-Sided Sid.
Rockbrain gets us stuck on our own ideas. He’s the boss of the Unthinkables and likes to work in teams with other Unthinkables to cause difficulty.
One-sided Sid gets people to only think (and talk) about themselves.
We’ve learned strategies that help defeat Un-wonderer and One-sided Sid are watching for body language that we’re sending our conversation partner to Boredom City! We model talking about a variety of topics (even topics that aren’t our favorite!) by color coding a pie chart to indicate the different topics. If our pie chart is becoming all one color, then we’ve got a Boredom Alert! We’ve practiced using the add-a-question and add-a-comment strategies. We’ve learned that by using these strategies we are showing people we are interested in being their friend and that by letting Un-wonderer and One-sided Sid control our brains we are showing people that we are not interested in being friends. It’s all about becoming a “thinking of others” kid instead of an “all about me” kid!
- We’ve recently begun using 5-point scales to measure our stress. If you’d like a copy for home, click the image and you can download to print.
Over the rest of this semester we will concentrate on learning to identify what our body feels like at various levels, situations that trigger our stress levels, and begin to identify strategies we can use to lower our levels. As we identify our own personal strategies, we will write them in the third column.
3rd grade lunch bunch: Lots of conversation practice focusing on attending to the interests of others and using the add-a-question and add-a-comment strategies.
4th grade: We’ve had two new group members join us this semester. It has been fantastic to see our more experienced social thinkers begin to teach skills to the new guys!
- We’ve continued to work on developing more complex conversation skills including the difference between joining conversations between 1-2 people and larger groups. We’re currently discussing the difference in conversations between people on different levels of the relationship target.
- We’ve practiced the add-a-comment and add-a-question strategies to keep that conversation ball in the air and our biggest focus during conversation is about tossing the ball to each other, using our eyes to determine whether the ball is being tossed to us, and resisting the urge to “grab” the ball (interrupting).
- We’ve also continued to expand our understanding of effective planning. We’ve begun using the Get Ready – Do – Done strategy to help us “see” what the end result should be, then use that vision to guide our planning (materials/steps needed), then execute, and finally to compare the finished result with the original vision. The boys had a great hands-on experience that illustrated the need to work through all steps of the process. They were challenged to make cookies as a group. I provided all the ingredients (bag of flour, bag of sugar, bowls, measuring spoons, etc), but did not lay out the recipe with the ingredients. The boys were instructed to use their Get Ready – Do – Done strategy to discuss what the end result should look like, then discuss as a group the ingredients and tools available and determine if they were missing anything needed to complete the task. They dove right in without noticing the lack of a recipe. The flour was flying! Eggs were cracking all over the table! About a cup of baking soda was poured into the mix! The boys created an icky blob. When we discussed whether the end result was met and what might have prevented it, they finally identified that they hadn’t thought about the need to follow directions. The next week we tried again and they were able to apply the planning skills to bake some delicious cookies!
- We’ve also spent time using our conversation skills, planning skills, and incorporating the skill of negotiation and compromise to do team projects (building a bridge that could hold blocks, creating a survival plan on a snowy mountainside, creating a survival plan for a shipwreck scenario). The boys LOVE these hands-on activities and it really challenges their ability to consider the perspectives of other members of the group.
I look forward to finishing out these last 28 days of school with each of the kids and applying these newly learned skills in fun ways. It’s great to be a Social Thinker!