I remember the feeling of panic when I realized that I had lost control of the group. If the FitBit was around back then my heart rate would have showed that I was in the fat burning zone and I swear that I gained an extra wrinkle from the permanent look of terror on my face that has stayed with me as a visual reminder of that day.
If you have ever run a group, you know what I am talking about. You have had the child who has to do things their own way or else they meltdown. You have negotiated 5 stars for their chart if they would just follow your instructions. You’ve broken up fights and arguments and confiscated the seemingly endless supply of trinkets that come from their pockets. To put it simply, you have run groups that don’t actually run as groups. While you might have produced a visual schedule or written down what you were doing (to problem solve these inevitable group issues) you didn’t take it any further. And because you didn’t take it any further, your student’s haven’t figured out your intentions. They haven’t connected that they are part of a group. And that’s where these two words come in.
Now this is a little embarrassing to admit, but I initially glossed over the group plan, which is term that I came across from the We Thinkers! Volume 1: Social Explorers series. I was too focused on what I thought were more important concepts and was anxious to start teaching them. But then I read something in the book that changed my mind, “When children know the plan, they can think about what is expected”. I read the examples in the book about when kids ‘follow their own plan’ instead of the group plan and it hit me that this was what I had been missing in all my years of running groups. I wasn’t being explicit or consistent and I just expected that because I had a few words scrawled on a whiteboard with quick sketches of activities, that that was enough. But when your kids are doing their own thing, ‘following their own plan’, can you really call it a ‘group?’
I see the group plan as a lot of things, but first and foremost, I see it as a tool to start a group successfully. It’s my scaffolding, my sturdy frame for building solid foundations… otherwise I might as well be building a mud hut with fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain and just dissolve in front of my eyes. Our role is to communicate our intentions – explicitly – so that students start to learn that everything we do together (ie. as a group) is driven by intentions.
The storybooks are paramount to this curriculum and out of all the storybooks that come with the Social Explorers curriculum, The Group Plan made the most sense to me because the illustrations clearly demonstrate the teaching concept. I remember flipping through the story and thinking ‘Ohhhhhhh yes, now I see why I’m teaching this’ when I had initial plans of just breezing through it. It turns something abstract into something visual and therefore more concrete for little learners. I wasn’t only reading about the group plan, but I was seeing the group plan in action. I could see what was expected when children are given a task to do. I could see what happens when a child follows their own plan. I could see how not following the group plan impacts the rest of the group. And I could see how encouraging a child to change their plan makes people happy.
Now, I am one of those therapists who really thrives from examples. Give me an example and I can go with it! What this curriculum book does particularly well is to provide examples of how to use the language and what to say, because you can then see the opportunities of how the group plan works and why you should start using it. It just becomes part of your everyday language and consists of simple tweaks from “can everyone sit on the floor” to “Emma is following the group plan sitting on the floor” to foster this change. And by making these small vocabulary changes as you explore the curriculum you will find that Social Thinking® starts to become more natural and subconscious. This is not just for teaching your students to look for a plan, but teaching YOU too.
These two words are powerful.
They are meaningful.
These two words will change your therapy and your groups can really be a ‘group’ in the truest sense. Remember, “When children know the plan, they can think about what is expected”.
The Group Plan is storybook 2 that’s part of the We Thinkers! Volume 1 Social Explorers Curriculum, written by Ryan Hendrix, Kari Zweber Palmer, Nancy Tarshis and Michelle Garcia Winner and published by the Think Social Publishing Inc. I’m a big Social Thinking® fan and love to share real thoughts and feelings about using these materials. Social Thinking® provided me with a copy of the We Thinkers! Social Explorers book, and I am thrilled to share my big ‘aha’ moments while exploring them. If you’ve been nodding your head as you read this and want to delve more into Social Thinking® I have a post about Lessons I Learned Dabbling in Social Thinking® that can help you get on the path.