Teaching group responding skills is super important. It’s a set of skills that most children don’t need to be taught intensively. But when they do, it can be tough! It’s really important for a person to be able to respond to group demands in order to be an independent learner in the classroom.
If you really think about it, it’s pretty difficult to think about the skills needed to respond as part of a group. I think most people would assume that if you can answer questions and respond on a 1-1 basis, then you can answer as part of a group. Pre ABA I definitely would have seen that as pretty much the same thing. This is definitely not my experience when working with children with learning difficulties and/or autism.
If you don’t break down skills the way that ABA does, it can be difficult to know what’s ‘missing’. The VB MAPP and ABLLS-R break down skills in this area well. I generally use these assessments to guide which skills need to be taught, especially as the VB MAPP is developmentally sequenced (lists the skills needed in the correct order).
It can be tough to teach these skills in schools. Children often go from 1-1 learning in to a class of 15 or more children, and that jump can be too high. It can sometimes be the case that the learners sit appropriately as part of a group, but sitting with the absence of problem behaviour, and learning as part of a group, are not the same thing, and it’s not enough. Another common observation is that teachers may ask the learner several questions during group time (which is great, we want to encourage active student responding), but they are presented using the learners name, with direct eye contact (so again, essentially a 1-1 response, when sitting as part of a group). It must be presented non specifically such as ‘everybody go and get your pencil case’, or ‘can you all show me clapping’, not ‘Joey, go and get your pencil case’.
If group skills need to be taught, it usually needs to start in a small group (maybe even 3 participants to start). Reinforcers should be delivered from the person running the group. It’s important that 1-1’s don’t simply repeat what the teacher says, because even if the learner is sitting in a group and responding, it’s still a 1-1 demand, not a group one. Instead, stand behind the learner, and if they need prompting use physical prompts where possible and fade (no talking). Remember, that when starting out and establishing group responses, it’s good to start with skills that are already fluent on a 1-1 basis, teaching new skills and group responding at same time can increase the effort on the learners part. Provide lots of opportunities to respond in the group, the more responses, the more opportunity for reinforcement; we only learn if we behave.
It’s not always easy for teachers to cater for this within the school day. It may be due to time restraints, lack of staff, or the fact that it’s not necessarily fair to other children to participate in a group that is too easy for them, just to benefit the learner you’re working with; all fair points. It has worked in the past by collaborating closely with teachers, and taking any given chance to squeeze some group time in. You can start out teaching group responses during fun games (like Simon Says, or Befuzzled), so it could be done in golden time, or a break time/free play. The most important thing is working with the teacher to see what can be realistically done. Providing some data can also be useful, showing a simple tally of how many opportunities there were to respond over a given time, and if they were 1-1 or group, prompted or independent. Further down the line, there is some good research for hand raising.
Anyway, I could go on forever about this. All of the above has motivated a colleague and I (Holly Cowlam, previous guest blogger, check out her website here) to start a group teaching group skills. The group is called Squad School, and will be run out of The Children’s Place clinic in London. If you’re interested in signing up, or finding out more, check out the flyer below. There’s a free drop in day to meet Holly and I at 9am on Wednesday 23rd August, at The Children’s Place Marylebone clinic. Or just comment on the blog/email the address on the flyer if you want to ask any questions! Thanks!