A while back I wrote a post about my frustrations with sticker systems – or, really, reward and punishment systems. After learning so much about how these reward systems stimulate the addiction center in the brain, and how they encourage children to work only for the prizes, I have eliminated any of these systems from my classroom, and I actively work to educate teachers and parents about the reasons not to use them. You can read that post, and the comments, for some background.
Of course, saying that I don’t use them obviously begs the question, “What do I do?” Well, I have shared a couple of ideas already about building community through Education Through Music and about using A-B-C analysis to get to the bottom of what causes negative behaviors. Please check out those posts for information.
This post is all about one more thing I do to teach my kids what I expect from them without using rewards and punishments. Social stories are short, easy to understand stories told in the first person. The idea is that a student takes the perspective of the narrator – kind of like they are reciting the story as a mantra. The stories can be about any issue that comes up. I have written stories about sitting safely at the carpet, how to manage silliness, ways of problem solving, what to do when you are worried about starting something new, how to make friends – you name it. It is important to validate feelings in the stories. Sometimes kids do feel frustrated, bored, and angry. Sometimes they really and truly would rather be doing something other than what they are meant to be doing. It is important for them to know that these feelings are ok, and that they can learn skills to manage them. The social story recognizes the feelings, and it has the child read what they can do.
The beauty of social stories is that you came make them general enough to apply to more than one student, but specific enough to meet the needs of your group. For example, this year I have a group of about five kids that like to mess around near the bathroom area in my class. They frequently leave during lessons to allegedly use the bathroom, but end up playing, singing, messing around in the water, and other silliness. I was able to write a social story that addressed this behavior, but was also general enough that it reminded all of my students what our bathroom procedures are. That way I am not singling kids out, but making the appropriate behavior a shared understanding.
I use social stories in different ways. Sometimes I read them to the whole class. Sometimes I print a book and have a specific student keep it in his or her book bag to read more regularly. I also have had students that read the story on a schedule (I note when they tend to need reminders, and then schedule a “story time” just before that time period to try to head the behavior off.) And sometimes I have used the story as a consequence for a negative behavior. For example, a student does something inappropriate, so we read the story together to help them remember what to do in that situation the next time it arises.
I truly believe that we need to spend the majority of our teaching time showing kids what we want them TO do, not telling them what NOT to do. If we are specific, kids will have an image in their minds of what they are expected to do. Do you use social stories with your students? How do you use them? What topics have you written social stories for?