As I was walking into one of the nine schools I visit, I noticed that blue stars had been painted along the sidewalk leading to the front door. As a fan of symmetry, I immediately began to notice that most (if not all) of the stars had smudges, uneven angles and wobbly lines. Nothing that would jump out at you as a mess, but less than perfect. Perfect. Hmm, has that become the standard? I let that sit with me a minute and it didn’t feel quite right.
Yes, there is merit, and even beauty, in precision and sameness. But does that make those that fall outside of that expectation less valuable? Nope. Education models are merging into business models today. Children are being viewed as “products” and parents as “consumers”-kind of a weird analogy, don’t you think? But in the striving to create the perfect “college ready”, all AP, best athlete, highest score on the SAT type of product, we are missing the bigger picture. What about empathy, compassion and kindness? Not exactly standardized score kinds of stuff. Our kids (and parents) are stressed out, angry, depressed and discouraged by trying to reach an unreachable standard for most.
So here’s to the wonky stars this school year, the kids who don’t quite fit in, the ones whose smiles are contagious, the ones who are happy with exactly who they are, regardless of where they fall on a bell curve. As an adult, I recognize that some of my personal strengths are not from the straight edges and perfect angles of trying to be the best, but from the smudges and the wobbles that came with my struggles. They were blessings in disguise.
Lights, Camera, Action!. A cumulative project for classrooms on social language concepts.
We are crawling towards the last week of school in my county. When I ask everyone how they are, the response is the same, “I’m hanging in there” they reply wearily. There is a light at the end of this school year but we aren’t quite done. In one of my classrooms I am working with, an amazing resource teacher has used the lesson plans, handouts, videos and activities I have given her to work on 3 areas of social language that her students struggle with including: whole body listening, humor, and appropriate commenting. This should frankly be a curriculum in every middle school as far as I am concerned as 99% of students struggle with these skills!
The lessons are finished for this year and this fabulous teacher mentioned how they benefited ALL of her students, not just the students with ASD (hurray!). As Michelle Garcia Winner so aptly noted, social skills are life skills. Everyone needs to work on these skills to get along in a world with other people! The next step was how to wrap up these lessons. I thought and thought. and came up with a class project (or as it is known in the Post-core-curriculum world, a “cumulative project”). The students would create a short video on one of the three areas taught this year. Their target audience would be other students and they would have to not only create the video but demonstrate and apply the skills they have been working on all year. Jackpot!! Here is the timeline of the project:
|Activity||Social area addressed||notes|
|April 28th||Video groups/ideas||Cooperative work in a group with peers|
|Team meeting||Problem solving|
|Divide responsibilities||Whole Body Listening|
|Storyboard development||Perspective taking, humor|
|Storyboard development||Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately|
|May 5||Develop script||Cooperative work in a group|
|Develop script||Problem solving|
|Develop script||Whole body listening|
|Develop script||Perspective taking, humor|
|Develop script||Sharing Ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately|
|May 12||Start filming videos||Cooperative work with peers|
|Filming||Perspective taking, humor|
|Edit||Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately|
|edit||Whole body listening|
|May 19||VIDEO SHARE in class||Whole body listening, perspective taking|
|VIDEO SHARE in class||Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately|
Students will create a short video on one of the three areas of social thinking introduced this Spring
WHOLE BODY LISTENING
SHARING IDEAS, COMMENTS or OPINIONS APPROPRIATELY
Students will be divided into teams and given the task of creating a 3-5 minute video about one of the three topics above. The target audience for the video is other students. Each team will follow the time line for dividing responsibilities, creating storyboards (ideas and pictures that represent the sequence of the video), developing a script, then filming their videos. The last week of school, the students will show the videos to the class and vote on superlatives: funniest, most creative, best use of theme, etc..
I am bringing the popcorn and awards for the viewing this week, and can’t wait to see how the videos turned out! I have a sneaking suspicion that videos made by kids, for kids, will be really effective and I plan on getting permission to use them in other classes around the county. Happy (almost) summer and I am off to the red carpet….
How have you generalized social skills into your classrooms?
The Scholastic Book Fair rolled into my school this week for the last hurrah before summer. I strolled through the aisles looking for this and that when I found the book, “You Will Be My Friend” by Peter Brown. I read the title first as “Will You Be My Friend?” but when I looked again, sure enough the title was a command not a request! This book illustrates the difficulties of figuring out how to make friends, whether you are a beast or a boy. For a lot of my students with social language weakness, friendship is tricky!
One of my favorite students started a conversation with a new classmate this year. She recounted that she wanted to be friends with the new girl, so she told her, ” I am just going to warn you, you don’t want to make me mad.” She felt that she was offering good insight on how to be her friend, just don’t make me mad. She didn’t consider that starting off a friendship with a perceived threat was not a great first impression. Yikes.
Lucy, the main character of our story, heads out on a mission one morning to find a new friend in the forest. She bumbles her way into frog ponds, a giraffe’s breakfast and invades the personal space of a local ostrich. Lucy’s intentions are good, but she struggles on her quest to find a friend. The illustrations are beautiful and offer great clues on reading body language, emotion and what other’s might be thinking in the story. It is filled with fantastic opportunities to talk about social language concepts such as whole body listening, personal space, talking too much and being yourself around others!
I have created a three page activity to go along with the story (factual questions and social thinking questions) here
What books have you used for friendship?
Humor is not a one size fits all concept. For the students I work with, it’s often the way they try to connect with their peers or gain their teacher’s attention. It’s also one of the things that get them into trouble at school and in the community. From the eye rolling knock knocks to the more nuanced yo mama jokes, being funny is a high level skill. Michelle Garcia Winner describes it beautifully in discussing her Social Town Unthinkable, WasFunnyOnce. This character gets a random laugh for something they say or do, and then repeats it to everyone’s annoyance over and over again. We all know this person, don’t we? We might have even been this person (I apologize sincerely). This annoying orange video is a great illustration (and a bit creepy).
So how do you know when it’s okay to be funny? MGW’s guidelines have three questions to ask:
Is it with the right person/people? Hanging out with close friends, check, but meeting the Pope? Probably nope.
Is it the right time? If it’s recess, go for it, but during the middle of a big test? Not a great idea.
Is it the right place? Sitting around the table after dinner is okay, but sitting in the Principal’s office? Uh-uh.
I created this free (PDF) humor powerpoint to use in class with a fifth grader on the spectrum, however, it really benefited everyone in the class. I have always believed that social skills are a people thing, not an ASD thing. My kids with ADD, LD, super bright arguers, extroverts, etc. all can use the skill of stopping to think before speaking (heck, most of us adults need to do this too)! To be fair, this is an ongoing lesson, not a one time instruction. The subtlety of humor changes as we get older and the pace of social communication gets faster, often leaving our kids who process just a bit behind their peers at a disadvantage. It is also a good point of discussion to talk about the difference between humor and sarcasm, tone of voice, non-verbal communication and reading your audience for cues as to when they are engaged versus when they are not.
One of the great things about working with kids, especially kids with ASD, is they love to find the loopholes. My students formerly known as Aspergians take great joy in trying to argue me under the table with exceptions to the rules. I usually require Tylenol and a nap after these sessions because they are smarter than I am. However, it opens up interesting discussions on arguing and accepting other people’s opinions even if they don’t agree with yours. Determining when it’s time to tell a joke or be funny is tricky, but these three questions give the student a pause button to think before acting, and it may be the difference that keeps them out of trouble.
Sometimes the most unexpected finds make me smile, case in point is my classroom trashcan. As I was changing out the liners this week, I found the bottom of the can coated in gold glitter. The more pragmatic me would have rinsed it away, but it was so pretty all I could do was marvel at it for a moment. It was a tiny gift of pretty in a cinder block kind of day. It is my birthday, so I am off to enjoy the sunshine and blue skies. I wish for you to find your trashcan full of glitter today and some joy in the unexpected.