How to Infuse Social Skills Training into Literacy Instruction

Article excerpt

Bill Lafond is a teacher with 6 years of experience teaching students with varying disabilities in kindergarten through fifth grade. During his first 2 years of teaching, he did not recognize the value of teaching social skills to students with mud disabilities and instead emphasized increasing students' academic outcomes. His philosophy, which aligned with the school district philosophy, was that if he increased students' academic skills, their self-concept and behavior would, consequently, improve. At the beginning ol Lafond's third year of teaching, he reflected on his previous years of teaching and realized that although his effort to increase student achievement was successful, his students could have made greater gains if he had spent less time dealing with behavior issues.

At that point, Lafond decided to infuse social skills activities into his literacy instruction to teach students how to independently solve problems and to teach specific steps for ignoring inappropriate behavior and completing tasks independentily. Lafond implemented principles of bibliotherapy along with a social skills program that used folk literature to teach skills. At the end of the year, stu-dents' academic and social gains had surpassed Lafond's expectation, and he decided to continue infusing social skills into instruction in future years.

Instruction and Effectiveness

Teachers like Lafond recognize the importance of social skills instruction and its effectiveness on improving the skills and self-concepts of students with high-incidence disabilities such as specific learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and mild mental retardation. The classroom teacher or school counselor typically delivers social skills instruction to students as part of the school curriculum, and these schoolbased interventions enhance the selfconcepts of students with disabilities. Elbaum and Vaughn (1999) found that social skills interventions using techniques such as self-enhancement (e.g., social problem-solving), combined with skill-development approaches, led to the greatest gains in the self-concepts of students with learning disabilities. This finding is encouraging, considering that students' gains in self-concept occurred from teacher-led interventions that typically lasted less than 12 weeks with lessons occurring two or three times per week.

Although educators and researchers have debated the effectiveness of social skills instruction, most people agree that social skills instruction is effective in promoting the acquisition, performance, and generalization of prosocial behaviors (Gresham, Sugai, & Horner, 2001; Mclntosh, Vaughn, & Zaragoza., 1991). In a recent meta-analysis on the effectiveness of social skills intervention outcomes, Gresham and colleagues reported that six previous meta-analyses on social skills interventions found small to large gains in the overall effect sizes that ranged from .20 to .87 in studies designed to increase students' social skills. By analyzing effect sizes, researchers can compare the results of different research studies in a systematic way. According to Bear, Minke, and Manning (2002), "An effect size reflects the strength or magnitude of a relationship or the impact of an intervention" (p. 2).

Overcoming Challenges

Forness and Kavale (1996) provide insight into potential barriers of effective social skill interventions: lack of sustained training, measurement and research design issues, ineffective training packages, lack of coordination of social skills training with academic instruction, and the possibility that social skills deficits are highly resistant to intervention. Therefore, future social skills training programs must do their best to address these critical areas of effective social skills training: integration of social skills training with academic instruction, more sustained social skills training, cooperative learning, prosocial modeling, and opportunities for practice of social skills (Anderson, 2000; Carter & Sugai, 1989; Cartledge & Kiarie, 2001; Forness & Kavale; Korinek & Popp, 1997; Sugai & Lewis, 1996). …