A role model demonstrates the desired behavior in front of the child
under conditions that are as close to "real world" as possible. Correct
behaviors must be modeled. What the child "sees" is what you will "get"
during the rehearsal stage.
Finding an appropriate model, so that the child will imitate the desired
behaviors, is probably the hardest part of the entire process. Schools
get into trouble because they think that the gifted child is like all
the other children -- and will imitate the other children. Not so.
Imitation requires these four conditions to be met:
1) the model is more expert or more powerful;
2) the model is pleasant (appealing);
3) the child identifies with the model because the model is similar in
b) intellectual ability,
c) status or ethnicity,
d) approximate age;
4) the model is rewarded for the behavior and the reward is something
the child wants or desires (food, approval, etc.).
In classroom situations where the gifted child has no intellectual peers,
it is highly probable that the "model" will be the teacher rather than
the other children. This creates problems when the other children object
to having "another teacher" telling them what to do or correcting their
behavior. A far more effective method for ensuring that the required
identification and imitation occur is to place the gifted child with a
"buddy" in an older group. (This is why grade advancement often results
in dramatic improvements in behavior. The gifted child accepts the other
students as role models and quickly learns to imitate their prosocial
At home, children usually identify with one or both parents or an older
brother or sister. Neighbors and relatives may also serve as role models.
The largest problem, by far, is that "modeling's" effects are short term.
The next three steps must occur if we are to insure that the new behaviors
replace the old.
Rehearsal or Role Playing
Rehearsal means practicing appropriate responses to social situations.
In the classroom, teachers have the children "pretend" and role play
situations as group learning activities. You can do this at home as well.
Practice and reinforcement must occur together, regularly, in order for
stable learning to take place. Without sufficient practice, the old
behaviors will tend to recur, more and more frequently.
Rehearsal works best under the following conditions or ground rules:
- participation is voluntary;
- it's done in front of others so that the child cannot "disown" the
behavior being rehearsed;
- child is allowed to improvise or improve upon the model's performance;
- child receives reward or reinforcement ("good job!", clapping, etc.)
for rehearsing or practicing the behavior.
Rehearsing the desired behaviors is a necessary step, but in and of itself
is not sufficient to replace the old behaviors with the new, desirable
Feedback (Encouragement and Reinforcement)
Praise the attempt. Suggestions for improvement should not take the form
of "yes, but ..." Model the behavior again if necessary. Encouragement
and reinforcement increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur
again. At first, material reinforcements may be necessary (food, stickers,
money). Over time, reinforcements should gradually move towards "social"
reinforcers, e.g. verbal praise and finally "self-reinforcement"
("I did a good job").
Anything that the child perceives as a reward or reinforcement will do.
Be very careful that the chosen reward is actually seen as a reward by
the child. Classroom teachers often trip on this one. Gifted kids don't
always place high values on the trinkets or rewards that other children
"would die for." Opinions vary on how often to give out rewards. After
the desired behavior is established (recurs reliably), material rewards
should occur less frequently and less predictably.
Social reinforcements, i.e. verbal praise or recognition, are more likely
to occur in real life than material rewards. That is why it is important
to move away from using material rewards. It is just as important, however,
to help the child recognize that many, if not most, "good" behaviors will
go unnoticed and unappreciated. Some schools institute a "catch them
in the act of being good" program but most do not. Self-reinforcement is
extremely important for this reason. The child should be encouraged to
say "I did a good job" and to think of herself as successful each and
everytime the desirable behaviors occur.
Reinforcement ensures that the child is motivated to maintain the newly
learned behaviors and to use them. Without motivation, it is highly
unlikely that the child will practice the new behaviors sufficiently to
replace the old behaviors.
Transfer -- Out Into The Real World
The first three steps, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback teach the
desired behaviors and then check to insure that learning has taken place.
The fourth step, transfer, is necessary to ensure that the newly learned
behavior will be used, especially if it is replacing a socially undesirable
The following techniques will improve the child's ability to use the
newly learned behaviors in real world situations:
1) General principles -- rules, strategies, and organizing principles
help the child to generalize the behavior to new situations which do
not exactly match the "rehearsed" situation.
2) Overlearning -- practice makes permanent. The more the desired behaviors
are practiced the more likely it is that the new behavior will replace
the old behavior. Under stress, especially, the most frequently used
response (past) is the one that is most likely to occur (future).
It is important to remember that is is "practice of perfect" that is
of most benefit to the overlearning or conditioning process. Extending
the learning process, i.e. continuing beyond what is necessary to learn
the new behavior initially, is what makes overlearning work.
3) Change things around -- do things a little differently for some of
the practice sessions. Use a variety of role-playing situations to
keep things from getting boring. Vary the emotional tone as well as
the actual words used.
4) Keep things the same -- the greater the similarity between practice
and real world, the more likely the practiced behaviors will occur
in the real world.
5) Show the child how to keep her own records of how well she's doing at
using the new behaviors in real life situations. Teach her to use
self-talk and self-praise, e.g. "It's OK, everything is going to be OK.
I'm doing OK. Yeah! I did it!"
6) Praise the child regularly for any and all attempts at using the new
behaviors. After the behavior is firmly established, go to unpredictable
or erratic reinforcement. Always acknowledge the child's successes when
asked for praise and let her know that it's OK to ask for reinforcement.
("Yes, dear, that was a good way to handle the situation.")
Learning how to act in socially acceptable ways requires that the child
get enough "life experience." Once a child is old enough to remember to
say "please and thank-you" without prompting, she's old enough to start
practicing more advanced social skills. In "Problem Solving 102" we'll
talk about specific situations and the types of social skills which
gifted children need to learn in order to "get along" with age-mates
as well as older children and adults.
In the previous article, Problem Solving 101, we talked about a four
step process for teaching social skills. The assumption is that, for
whatever reason, the child may never have learned the desirable,
prosocial behaviors that are required by the teacher or the classroom
environment. It is also possible that the gifted child has developed
undesirable behaviors in response to an ill-fitting or inappropriate
environment either at school or at home. These behaviors may cause the
child to be labeled "emotionally immature" or "socially backwards."
Many gifted children find themselves isolated from their age-mates
early in their school careers (pre-K or K) due to communications
problems, i.e. differences in speech patterns or vocabulary. This can
result in the gifted child not having gained sufficient "group"
experience. Unlike the other children, the socially isolated child does
not experience the day-to-day give and take which results in the
unconscious acquisition of desirable and socially appropriate behaviors.
The socially isolated child sees herself as "different" from the others
and thus does not imitate the prosocial behaviors of the other children.
The socially isolated child may identify with the teacher or older
children and thus imitate their behaviors. The gifted child is often
misunderstood in such situations and her behavior is interpreted as
aloofness ("I'm better than you"), bossiness, or possibly even prejudice.
Whatever the cause, it is possible to teach desirable behaviors and
responses to real-life situations. We've done it in my household and
found that it's kind of fun! The previous article was a lengthy
explanation of the process. Here it is in a saying that my son, the
Boy Scout, likes to use:
See one, do one, teach one.
This doesn't exactly match the four step process but, it's a little
easier to remember. You see the skill. You practice the skill and
receive feedback and praise (steps 2 and 3 together). You teach someone
else which forces you to generalize and take the skill into the real world.
It is important to remember to practice social skills in situations
where the other person is:
2) same age
3) a recognized peer
4) an older child
5) an adult
and, the situation is either
1) formal or
and, the individuals involved are either
1) calm or
2) angry (upset).
Beginning Social Skills:
- Starting or entering a conversation
- Ending or leaving a conversation
- Asking for help or assistance
- Following instructions
- Giving and receiving compliments
- Saying "thank you"
- Taking turns or "sharing"
Dealing With Feelings Skills:
- Expressing your own feelings
- Understanding another's feelings
- Preparing for a stressful conversation
- Reacting to failure
- Standing up for your rights
- Giving assistance or responding to requests
- Giving directions or instructions
- Making a complaint or giving criticism
- Answering a complaint or receiving criticism
- Negotiation (especially in regards to conflict or disagreements)
- Persuasion (also, knowing when to stop)
- Responding to persuasion
- Handling pressure from a group
Finding Good and Bad Examples To Learn From
Sometimes, it helps if we have a variety of possible responses to model
for the kids. Sometimes, we adults really don't know what the "kid" style
of prosocial behavior looks like for a given situation. The public library
has wonderful books for children regarding how to act in social situations.
We must have read "What do you say, dear?" hundreds of times to our
children when they were younger. In the young adult and adult sections
there are books about coping with a variety of social situations which
include sample dialogs. If you look around you'll find a wide variety
of source material from which to pull both good and bad examples of
social behavior. Just remember to practice, evaluate, and reward. Reading
books or watching movies is not enough.
One word of warning: if you decide to people watch, make sure that others
do not hear your comments regarding the behaviors you've observed and
make sure that your children know not to announce to the world every
time they catch someone else in an inappropriate behavior. A silly
warning, perhaps ... but the one time we forgot to remind the kids to
whisper ... it was VERY embarrassing. But, it was also a learning
experience. The kids learned how to handle situations where you've
inadvertently offended a stranger.
Adult Places and Kid Places
From a very young age, we have made it a point to let our children know
that behavior standards are different in different places. So many times
I see gifted children who get into trouble with other children because
they use "adult-style" manners on the playground or in other "kid"
places. It is very important that adults teach gifted children that it
is OK, in fact that it is very desirable, to use "kid-style" manners around
An important part of growing-up is learning to modify your speech and
your behavior to fit the situation. Good etiquette is just that --
modifying your behavior so that others feel welcome and accepted.
Miss Manners' Guide To Rearing Perfect Children by Judith Martin.
An absolutely hilarious book with more truth than humor. You
may not agree with her point of view but she does cover the
bases when it comes to social skills that children need.
Social Skills for Mental Health: A Structured Learning Approach
by Robert P. Sprakfin, N. Jane Gershaw, and Arnold P. Goldstein.
No, you don't need to go find a copy of this to read. This was the
reference book used in writing both Problem Solving 101 and Problem
Solving 102 for this issue of MonTAGe.
Instructor Magazine's "Caring Classroom" Column. Published 8 times yearly
by Scholastic, Inc. (http://www.scholastic.com)
The role of the school principal has changed dramatically in the last
decade. Legislative mandates fueled by the school restructuring and
reform movements now require greater accountability for student outcomes
at the local school level. With the increases in accountability and
responsibility has come the granting of greater autonomy, authority,
and power. Site based management empowers the school staff to make
changes and solve problems. The principal is the focal point for this
empowerment. The job of school principal encompasses the following
- curriculum development and selection
- instructional improvement
- student services
- financial and facility management
- community relations
The principal is both leader and manager. In the leadership role, the
principal sets the pace for student and staff productivity and creativity.
The principal is responsible for seeing that both students and staff
have adequate opportunities and motivation to achieve the developmental
goals set for them as individuals and as members of the school
organization. In the managerial role, the principal acts to obtain,
allocate, distribute, and evaluate the use of resources in support
of the school's educational mission and those other tasks assigned to the
school by the society of which it is a part and for which it acts as
a change agent.
As leader and manager, the principal is the local "expert" when it comes
to the education of children. The principal receives regular updates with
regards to changes in federal, state, and local policies, regulations,
and legislation both through internal school district communications and
via professional journals and meetings. The current legislative climate
strongly influences the organizational structures in public schools through
funding of programs promoting site based management and the strengthening
of the principalship. Principals today find themselves with greater
autonomy, greater responsibility, and greater public scrutiny of their
actions than was true thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago.
Knowing the "other side's" argument as well or better is an important
negotiating principle. In order to present an effective counter argument
you must be able to understand the issues facing the school principal.
This doesn't mean that you must agree with the principal's point of view,
professional judgement, or personal opinion. It does, however, mean that
you must understand the issues and how they affect the entire organization,
teachers, staff, parents, and students.
1. Equity. Equal access to educational resources for all children. No
one group of children receives more than another group of children unless
there is a specific legal basis for the provision of additional services.
This is mandated by law and is the subject of numerous "training" programs
designed to instill in educators a belief that all children deserve a
good education. Unfortunately, many "training" programs have distilled this
down to the phrase "all children have gifts and talents" which, while true,
results in incredible misunderstandings and the denial of appropriate
educational services for intellectually gifted children.
2. Policy. The principal must insure that any and all exceptions to policy
do not result in situations where the decision is open to either legal
challenge or places the school in a position where the "exception" becomes
the rule due to demands for "equal treatment" by parents and/or pressure
3. Money. Special education is taking a larger chunk out of school budgets
than was originally anticipated. The Congress and local jurisdictions are
unwilling to fund these programs at the levels mandated by law. Schools
are forced to apply the most stringent eligibility criteria legally
allowed in order to keep their budgets balanced.
4. Bias. Everyone has their own personal biases and expectations. For many
professionals in the field of education these prejudices are augmented
by coursework, inservice training, and a body of research literature
fraught with errors and misconceptions. Many educators are totally
unaware of the problems with educational "research" and are unable to
accept the criticisms leveled by "outsiders."
"Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why.
Then do it." -- Robert A. Heinlein, "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long"
If you can get the principal to tell you WHY something cannot be done,
openly and honestly, then you stand a good chance of being able to find
a way to overcome the objections and achieve a workable solution. Finding
out the true source of the objections is an extremely difficult task since,
in many cases, the principal and/or school staff is unaware of their own
personal biases and prejudices and how those are affecting their judgement.