Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Iterative Development and Initial Evaluation of We Have Skills!, an Innovative Approach to Teaching Social Skills to Elementary Students

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Iterative Development and Initial Evaluation of We Have Skills!, an Innovative Approach to Teaching Social Skills to Elementary Students

Article excerpt


We describe the development and initial evaluation of the efficacy of We Have Skills! (WHS), a video-based social skills instructional program for early elementary school students. The components of WHS were designed to be scientifically sound, maximally useful to elementary school teachers, and effective in increasing students' social skills. Results from feasibility and social validity testing showed that teachers felt the program was easy to implement and highly recommended its use. The initial efficacy evaluation of WHS conducted with 70 classrooms randomly assigned to intervention and control conditions showed that teachers in the intervention group scored significantly higher on self-efficacy than teachers in the control group. Students in the intervention classrooms were rated significantly higher on key social skills by their teachers at posttest compared to students in the control group. Implications for further testing of WHS are discussed, along with study limitations and recommendations for future research and practice.

Many students enter elementary school lacking basic social skills necessary to benefit from academic instruction (Hamre & Manta, 2001; Kupersmidt, Bryant, & Willoughby, 2000; Lopez, Tarullo, Forness, & Boyce, 2000; Ryan, Fauth, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006; Walker et al., 1998). Specific social skills, such as listening, staying on task, and following teacher instructions are associated with academic success (Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1994; Algozzine, Wang, & Violette, 2011; Ervin, Schaughency, Goodman, McGlinchey, & Matthews, 2006; Horner et al., 2009; McIntosh, 2005; McIntosh, Homer, Chard, Boland & Good, 2006; Scott & Barrett, 2004; Wang & Algozzine, 2011). Peer related social skills are also associated with academic success and delayed onset of harmful behaviors such as drug and alcohol use in later grades (Eddy, Reid, & Curry, 2002).

Because of this association, explicitly teaching social skills to elementary students is strongly recommended (Cartledge & Milburn, 1978; Gresham, 2004; Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004). Not only are social skills essential for students to benefit from classroom instruction, they are critical for long-term life success (Elias, 2011). Students who engage in appropriate behaviors tend to have positive peer relationships (Ladd, 1999; Wentzel, Baker, & Russell, 2009) and better relationships with their teachers ultimately resulting in better academic outcomes (Kim, Anderson, & Bashaw, 1968; Malecki & Elliott, 2002; McClelland, Morrison, & Holmes, 2000; Swift & Spivack, 1969; Zins, Weissbert, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Not surprisingly, students engaging in appropriate behavior receive more praise, more opportunities to respond, and less criticism (Good & Brophy, 1972). Students who receive more positive teacher attention outperform their peers who receive negative teacher attention (Baker, 2006).

Ironically, with increasing pressure to prepare students to perform well on high stakes academic tests, teachers often find little time to teach students the social skills they need to succeed academically (Anderson, 2009). In addition, teachers tend to receive little pre-service and in-service training in social skills instruction (Bromfield, 2006; Dobbins, Higgins, Pierce, Tandy, & Tincani, 2012; Priyadharshini & Robinson-Point, 2003; Reupert & Woodcock, 2010; Smart & Igo, 2010; Stoughton, 2007). As a result, they tend to resort to ineffective and unnecessarily punitive responses to student misbehavior in the classroom, rather than using effective social skills instruction (Gresham, Sugai, Horner, Quinn, & McInerny, 1998).

Effective social skills instruction, like academic instruction, consists of distinct phases: acquisition, fluency building, and generalization (Bullis, Walker, & Sprague, 2001; Walker, Schwarz, Nippold, Irvin, & Noell, 1994; White, 2005). …

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