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Effective Practices for Teaching Social Skills  

Timothy J. Lewis, Courtney Jorgenson, Jessica Simpson, and Trisha Guffey

Student problem behavior continues to significantly impact student academic, social, and emotional functional in school and post-school. Positive behavior support (PBS) focuses on identifying and teaching prosocial behavior and providing environmental supports to increase the likelihood that students will fluently use prosocial skills across school environments. Directly teaching prosocial social skills, discrete behaviors that lead to important social outcomes for the student, has been an advocated strategy for decades. Effective social skill instruction follows a direct instruction format and are taught through a “tell-show-practice” format whereby the teacher provides a definition of the skill and under what conditions it should be used (tell), then provides examples and non-examples of the social skill (show), followed by students using the skill in role-play situations based on natural school contexts (practice). Key to success, of course, is providing multiple opportunities to practice across all school settings with multiple adults to build fluency and generalized responding. Social skill instruction is one component of increasing student “social competency.” Social competence is defined as using the appropriate social skill, as defined by the students’ peers, adults, and larger community standards, to get their needs met. Social skill instruction should focus on improving overall student social competence, and not simple discrete skill mastery. Recent work expanding PBS across all school settings (i.e., school-wide) through a continuum of tiered instruction and environmental support strategies has demonstrated improved social competence among all students, including those at risk and with disabilities.