Friday, June 12, 2015

Using Social Skills Authentically: Introductions

Happy Summer!!

I am officially on summer break and it hasn't really sunk in yet. I still feel like I have a million things to do. Of course there really are a million things that I want and need to do for next year, but I don't have to do them right now. For the first time in my teaching career, I still have the key to my classroom and I can go whenever I want to over the summer!! Seriously!! Whenever I want!! That is such an amazing feeling. So maybe this summer I will actually finish some things...

Anyway, on to something more purposeful...

After my visit to the Ron Clark Academy, I knew that I wanted to take a more direct approach with my students in regard to social skills. I have always embedded social skills in our lessons, primarily using Kagan structures, and the kids do very well interacting with each other within our four walls. Though they do well in the classroom, I wanted them to have more authentic experiences using social skills outside of the classroom. Knowing that we only had a few weeks left in school, I wanted to create an opportunity for them to use social skills in a very authentic way. So, in our debriefing after our Ron Clark visit, my friend Ashley and I decided we would have our students introduce themselves to the fourth grade teachers and initiate a short conversation.

I was so excited explaining this idea to the kids, but I could immediately see the fear on their faces. They were terrified of the idea of having to walk up to a complete stranger, introduce themselves, and carry on a conversation. They had never had to do anything like this before. So, we took it in baby steps. Below is a little snapshot of the pacing I used. Even though I introduced a new element each day, we spent several days putting it all together.

The first lesson was how to greet someone. Before we got into the HOW of greeting, we talked about TIMING. This was a lesson we should have done at the beginning of the year! We discussed when it is ok to approach someone and when it is not ok. Meaning, when a teacher is already talking to another teacher, you cannot just walk right up to them and start talking. It's rude to interrupt. We discussed how to wait from an appropriate distance and catch the person's eyes. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but it was discussed nonetheless!

We talked about making eye contact, having a pleasant look on our faces, saying hello and using the person's name if they knew it. We practiced this with each other. It was so cute watching them walk around to greet each other. We then extended this practice to the adults outside of our classroom. The expectation was that from then on as they walked in to their specials class or walked through the lunch line, they would greet the adult there. The teachers had to of gotten tired of hearing the same "Good morning, _______," a gazillion times, but they were very supportive and complimentary.

After a day of this, we moved on to how to shake hands appropriately. I told them that when you are greeting someone you have not met before, you must also introduce yourself after greeting them.  I spent time explaining that a handshake is important and can either give off a sense of self-confidence or insecurity. I went around to each student and modeled how to shake hands with an appropriate grip. Once the students had an idea of what it looked like and felt like (and of course what it did NOT look and feel like), we added this step to our greetings. I had the students go around the room and greet each other and introduce themselves. We added the line, "Hello, my name is _______." Of course the kids felt silly doing this with each other when they already knew each other's names, but we had to practice!

The next step was how to initiate a conversation. I wanted my students to get a sense of who the teachers were so I wanted them to ask a couple of questions. Before asking the questions, they had to ask, "May I ask you a few questions?" and wait for the person to respond with a yes or no. To be sure it didn't feel like an interrogation, we discussed how to ask open-ended questions and how to answer your own questions and add comments so the conversation goes back and forth. For example, if a kid asked a teacher if they had any pets, they would then discuss their own pets so the conversation involved both people. I required the kids to ask only two questions out of respect for the fourth grade teachers' time. The kids practiced this with each other for several days. As they were practicing, we had several mini discussions about how to stand, where to put your hands, how to maintain eye contact, and how to show that you are actually listening to the other person. I wish I would have taken pictures. They were so stinkin' cute asking each other questions!! My wiggly students were trying so very hard to keep their hands and feet still. Sweet babies. They were determined to get it right!

The last step was how to end the conversation. We practiced using the sentences: "Thank you for your time. It was very nice meeting you! Have a good day!"

In the end, we had a script that looked like this:

After a week of practicing with each other, we were ready to introduce ourselves to the teachers! Thanks to some amazing and very flexible fourth grade teachers, my kiddos had the opportunity to meet several new people who could also possibly be their teachers next year! The kids were so nervous before going in, but they all came out smiling and excited and gushing about the teachers.

Originally, I was going to have the teachers fill out a little rubric for each student, but in the end I abandoned it because it would have taken way too much time. We did use this rubric as we practiced in the classroom, though, to be sure the students were on track.

To get an editable copy of the files shown above, click HERE

Was the whole experience very contrived? Yes. Was it corny? Yes. Did they follow all the steps when they actually introduced themselves? Of course not! But hey, we had to start somewhere! My kids who were more comfortable were able to be more genuine and natural, but for the kids who were doing well just to stand still, they needed this structure to fall back on. Many of my students had never been put in a type of situation like this before, so they were scared. Having the predictable structure eased the nervousness.

Overall, it was a success!! I'm looking forward to making this an end-of-year tradition. Next year I am going to look for ways to embed little experiences like this all throughout the year so my students are constantly using social skills in authentic ways. :)

Happy Summer!!

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