Social Skills Training for the 21st Century

By Weiner, Ivor; Fritsch, Ronald E. et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Social Skills Training for the 21st Century

Weiner, Ivor, Fritsch, Ronald E., Rosen, Brandie, Academic Exchange Quarterly


This paper introduces the Social Skills Training for the 21st Century Model (SST-21). This innovative group approach for enhancing social skills provides creative and indirect activities to students. The SST-21 Model has four components; Media, Recreation, Family and Community, and Enterprise.

While the need to develop effective strategies to improve the social skills of students with disabilities has long been apparent, the methods used to develop these skills have varied considerably. In their review of the history and development of social skills training, Goldstein and McGinnis (1997) suggest that until the early 1970s, three major psychological approaches dominated the field, the psychoanalytic, nondirectivist, and behavior modification models. The first model represented the psychoanalytic school of thought and suggested that calling forth and interpreting the unconscious thoughts of the child could facilitate behavioral change. In this way, the latent awareness of the child could emerge, and healthy, appropriate behavior would follow. The nondirectivist, or humanistic psychological model, sought to create changes in behavior by providing an empathic and accepting environment. Theorists postulated that such environmental adaptations would stimulate the potential for change within the child, enabling the child to make better proactive behavioral decisions. Practitioners of the third model, behavior modification, employed contingent reinforcement of appropriate behaviors in an attempt to increase the probability that these behaviors would recur.

In the early 1970s, a shift occurred from the therapeutic model toward a pedagogic or direct teaching approach. As greater numbers of educators came to the conclusion that inappropriate or ineffective interpersonal skills were learned, it became clear that appropriate and effective interpersonal skills could and should be taught. Based on the principles of social learning (modeling) theory, a number of direct teaching models were proposed and implemented (Bandura, 1977). Several of these approaches are in wide use today. Among the most widely used approaches are the Boys Town Model (Dowd, Tobias, Connolly, Criste, & Nelson, 1993), and Skillstreaming the Adolescent (Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1998).

While differences exist in the implementation and practices of these and other social skill models, certain commonalties are apparent. Direct teaching of social skills is emphasized. Specific skill deficiencies are identified, and student groups are formed based upon common needs. Many models require specific classroom arrangements, specific timing and spacing of class sessions, and prescribed systems of reinforcement. In order to maximize success, many direct teaching models require hours of teacher training prior to implementation, and remain personnel intensive after training, often requiring the presence of more than one trained instructor at each teaching session (Weiner, Fritsch, & Crenshaw, 2000).

Many of these demands can be met with relative ease in a Special Day Classroom (SDC) for students with disabilities. However, the ongoing trend toward inclusive programming as mandated by the Reauthorization of IDEA (1997) has resulted in the placement of many students with disabilities in general education settings. Thus, the demands of the direct teaching of social skills may simply be overwhelming and impractical in general education settings. As the social skills training movement has matured, relevant evidence regarding effectiveness has accumulated. It has become clear that specific social skills can be acquired in the classroom situation. The generalization of these skills, however, is quite another matter. Both generalization to new settings (transfer) and over time (maintenance) have been reported to occur in only a few of the training situations (Gresham, 1998; Mathur & Rutherford, 1997).

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