Top 10 social skills students need to succeed

September 26, 2007

Reading, writing, 'rithmetic and... good manners? Researchers have found that 10 basic social skills such as taking turns, listening and simply being nice are just as important to children's academic success as the subjects they study, and that students can and should be learning these skills in the classroom.

"If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn't mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning," Stephen Elliott, Vanderbilt Peabody education and psychology researcher and co-author of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System--Classwide Intervention Program, said. "In our research, we found that elementary kids and teachers value cooperation and self-control. When we teach and increase those behaviors, we reduce problem behaviors and maximize learning time."

Elliott and co-author Frank Gresham identified the top 10 skills that students need to succeed based on surveys of over 8,000 teachers and over 20 years of research in classrooms across the country. They are:

  1. 1. Listen to others
  2. Follow the steps
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Ignore distractions
  5. Ask for help
  6. Take turns when you talk
  7. Get along with others
  8. Stay calm with others
  9. Be responsible for your behavior
  10. Do nice things for others


"Our new publication is based on a survey we did in 2006, but we found almost exactly the same list of desired social skills when we did the survey in 1989," Elliott said. "Society has not changed what it values as fundamental social behaviors."

In the new book, Elliott and Gresham present a detailed 10-week program that teachers can use to incorporate teaching of these skills into pre-school through middle school curriculum. The program devotes a week to each of the 10 skills, with each section building upon what is learned in the previous unit. In addition to the guide for teachers, the program includes student workbooks, videos and other supplemental materials.

Elliott believes that rather than adding on to a teacher's already heavy workload, the program will in fact help them reach children more effectively.

"Many teachers feel pressured by the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act and see this as an add-on," Elliott said. "But we have found after this program they can teach these skills at the same time as they are teaching science and math, and it will help them be more effective across the board."

The program includes a simple screening tool that teachers use at the beginning of the year to assess their individual students' social and basic academic skills. The tool allows them to provide specific assistance in a particular area based on the student's needs, and also to assess progress. It includes communication with parents throughout the process to encourage their involvement in supporting these skills at home.
-end-
Elliott is professor of special education, Dunn Family Chair in Educational and Psychological Assessment and interim director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of education and human development. Gresham is professor of psychology at Louisiana State University's Department of Psychology.

Pearson, Inc. published the SSIS. More information is available at http://www.PearsonAssessments.com.

Vanderbilt University

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