brain, Classroom, Emotional regulation, Executive Function, Language Therapy, Pragmatic Language, Random SLP, self-regulation, Social Cognition, Social Regulation, Uncategorized

Social Communication On Your Feet Part Two

By Hanna Bogen, M.S., CCC-SLP

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In the part one post I introduced readers to the fundamental principles of improvisation (“improv”) and the connections between improv and social-regulation. Again, they include:

  •  Principle One:        Be prepared
  •  Principle Two:       Willingness (to fail spectacularly)
  • Principle Three:    Stay in the moment
  • Principle Four:      Quiet down and listen
  • Principle Five:       Action beats inaction
  • Principle Six:         Be honest
  • Principle Seven:    Let go of your need to control
  • Principle Eight:     There are no mistakes
  • Principle Nine:      Trust
  • Principle Ten:        Teamwork

These principles of improv (Peter Bromberg, 2007) demonstrate the value of flexibility, perspective taking, and reciprocity in successful social interactions. This blog post will take a deeper look at three of the principles and their necessity in the world of social-regulation, specifically: willingness, stay in the moment, and “Yes, and…”

Willingness:  One constant we can count on time and again is that social behaviors have consequences — others either have comfortable, positive thoughts about us or uncomfortable, negative thoughts about us based on the things we do. While the brain is inclined to stick with reliable behaviors with predictable outcomes, social situations often require us to push the comfort zone and try something new. Individuals with social-regulation challenges may struggle to shift away from predictable behaviors, even when they have socially-unexpected outcomes. Willingness to ask new questions, attempt new connections, and risk the possibility of failure is key to learning and adapting to increasingly more mature forms of communication. In improv, the structure and rules of the games offer a safe place to try new things because it is ok to make mistakes; mistakes are often celebrated with shared laughter, which builds confidence in in students. Along with this willingness to evolve is the need to reflect on one’s social experiences: “Did the interaction go as planned?” “How did the conversation partner react to the comment?” “What might I do differently next time to have a more socially-expected outcome?” Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable in social development, and engaging in thoughtful reflection on social behaviors and their consequences, provide a context for successful social growth.

Stay in the Moment:  Successful executive functioning hinges on one’s ability to engage in “mental time travel” (i.e., the ability to use foresight and hindsight to make decisions in the present moment).  That being said, mindful, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment allows individuals to make intentional decisions about how to behave at any given moment, rather than simply being carried away by impulses and emotion.  The mindful practice of staying in the moment, even when that requires regularly redirecting thought and attention from the past or future to the present, strengthens our brain’s ability to “insert the pause” between stimulus and response, thus improving self-regulation skills.  This “pause” represents an individual’s opportunity to decide whether (s)he wants to continue with a social behavior, or redirect to a new, more socially-expected one.

“Yes, and…”:  Acknowledging and validating one’s emotionally dysregulated experience does not imply inherent agreement with that dysregulated state. As stated by the Emotional ABC’s curriculum (Venice West Productions, Inc., 2012), “emotions are like the weather.” Like the weather, we don’t strive to control our emotions; instead we strive to equip ourselves with tools and strategies to cope with the emotions that appear in various social situations. Acknowledging and validating one’s emotional experience is critical to bringing awareness to the emotional state, and providing an opportunity to engage in regulating strategies. Identifying one’s emotion(s) and moving forward to initiate a regulation strategy (i.e., “Yes, and…”) embodies the process of emotional regulation, a critical component of social-regulation (e.g., Example of self-talk: “Yes, I am feeling anxious and I can use my focus tool to calm myself.”). The social landscape is complex and dynamic, often requiring individuals to demonstrate flexibility, reciprocity, and adaptation to changing social rules. The principles of improv highlight many of the skills required for successful social experiences, and practice with improv games and activities can help to build the skills needed for social success.

brain, Classroom, Emotional regulation, Executive Function, Language Therapy, Pragmatic Language, Random SLP, self-regulation, Social Cognition, Social Regulation, Uncategorized

Social Communication on your Feet

By Hanna Bogen

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(This will be the first in a two part series of posts on “Improv”)

Improvisation (improv) is often mistaken for stand-up comedy, though the two are fundamentally different. Stand-up comedy typically involves pre-written jokes, memorization, and a polished performance. In other words, it’s the “performance” we wish we could give every time we engage in a social situation. With some realistic reflection, though, one realizes that social situations are intrinsically unpredictable. Scripting is a wonderful way to prepare for the social world, and practice with fundamental concepts of social communication can boost confidence, awareness, and overall success. That being said, there is also great benefit to strengthening our students’ abilities to demonstrate flexibility during social encounters. The fundamentals of improvisation speak directly to building that flexibility, as well as countless other core social communication and social-regulation skills:

  • Principle One: Be prepared
  • Principle Two: Willingness (to fail spectacularly)
  • Principle Three: Stay in the moment
  • Principle Four: Quiet down and listen
  • Principle Five: Action beats inaction
  • Principle Six: Be honest
  • Principle Seven: Let go of your need to control
  • Principle Eight: There are no mistakes
  • Principle Nine: Trust
  • Principle Ten: Teamwork

In addition to these ten principles, there is an ultimate, overarching principle of improv that runs, like a golden thread, through each of the other principles: “Yes, and…” The “Yes, and…” principle implies that each social experience is an offer for engagement and successful interaction. It acknowledges that all individuals bring a unique and valuable perspective to the interaction. Practice with improvisational games and activities can strengthen our students’ cognitive flexibility, perspective taking, creativity and shared interest, thereby readying them for greater success in their future social interactions.

One improv game to get you started at home is called “The Imaginary Object.”  While best played in a group, this game can be played with as few as two people.  One person begins the game by pretending to use an imaginary object; they engage in actions that would be typical of using the object.  After a moment of demonstrating the imaginary object, they “pass” the object to the next person, who must continue on with using it.  This “passing” continues until all participants have modeled use of the object. At the end, everyone can announce what object they thought they were “holding” or “using.”  This game hones awareness and use of nonverbal communication cues including gestures, facial expressions, and body positioning.  Participants can talk about which nonverbal cues were helpful in identifying the imaginary object during the game, and/or which cues they would add next time to make understanding of the object more clear.

brain, Classroom, Executive Function, Random SLP, self-regulation, Social Cognition, Social Regulation

Building Metacognitive Skills with Brain Talk

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As adults, we spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking we’ve got our students’ and children’s problems figured out:

“I know why he’s mad…it’s because he can’t get the Legos to fit together!”

“She must be sulking because her friends left her out during recess today”

Grown ups certainly have more life experience than kids, and sometimes we are great at reading between the lines to sense what might be going on under the surface of a seemingly shallow problem. That being said, I’m always amazed at how often I (and others) forget to do the most logical first step in problem-solving with children: asking them what’s wrong. I’m not talking about a “grazing” question; the kind you ask when you already have an answer in mind and are merely extending a formality. I’m talking about a thoughtful, considerate, invitation into problem-solving and self-regulating dialogue; the type of invitation that comes along with Ross Greene’s initial steps of Collaborative Problem Solving (for more information about Collaborative Problem Solving, visit: http://www.livesinthebalance.org).

Here’s the tricky thing about asking a child to describe an underlying trigger for dysregulation: more often than not they don’t yet have the awareness and skills to effectively communicate it. The way I see it (stemming from my research brain rather than my opinion brain), you need the following, in this order, to effectively express a trigger for dysregulation:

1. Metacognition: the ability to think about your own thinking and emotional state well enough to figure out what’s going on internally. This is where brain learning and mindfulness-based strategies come in!

2. Self-regulation: regulation of your thoughts/attention, emotional responses, actions, and motivation in order to behave in an expected way for a given situation. Self-regulation and executive functioning are inherently tied, since self-regulation sandwiches executive function thinking skills (i.e., using mental schemas to manage complex tasks) by allowing for inhibition of impulses and the ability to follow through with the plan.

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3. Strong (or at least functional) verbal and nonverbal communication skills: collective expressive communication skills to allow you to get your ideas from your “thought bubble” into someone else’s “mind movie.”

I know I’m a speech-language pathologist, and therefore would typically hone in on the third step of this structure. But I’m a unique breed of SLP when it comes to my areas specialization, and I actually live far more in the domains of steps one and two. In my adventures (and misadventures) of working in the world of self-regulation and executive functioning (ok, ok, they’re essentially one in the same), I’ve become very clear that kids need to understand their brains. More generally, everyone should have a basic understanding of their brains that goes beyond “It has a left side and a right side.” As therapists (and teachers, and administrators, and psychologists-hi everyone!), we are, at the core, brain specialists. If we want kids to get to step three (effective communication of their triggers), we need to start by TEACHING them metacognition and self-regulation.

This matters so much to me and my fabulously brilliant colleague, Carrie Lindemuth, M.Ed/ET, that we created a curriculum designed to teach students about key concepts and functions of the brain: Brain Talk. This narrative-based curriculum consists of eight short, white-board animated videos and corresponding lessons plans, discussion points, worksheets, and activities. Different lesson plans and activities exist for early elementary, upper elementary, middle/high school, and a therapy model. Through these videos and the corresponding learning activities, students are introduced to their amygdala (Myg), basal pleasure-and-reward system (Buster), hippocampus (Ms. Hipp) and prefrontal cortex (The Professor), and what happens in the brain during a “Myg Moment” (i.e., fight/flight/freeze avoiding reaction) or “Buster Bam” (i.e., dopamine-driven grab-and-gulp reaction). Additionally, they learn how the integrated conversation (i.e., Brain Talk) between their “emotional” limbic brain and their “thinking” cortex leads to strategic thinking and self-regulated decisions.

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Many of us don’t have the opportunity to learn about our brains until we are in the midst of a crisis, whether it be anxiety, depression, hyper-impulsivity, or significant dysregulation. What a gift we could give to our students to teach them these critical metacognitive skills from the get-go! The Brain Talk curriculum is available through an annual subscription ($50.00/year) at the Brain Talk website (www.braintalktherapy.com). An annual subscription to the curriculum provides access to the full curriculum suite, as well as new materials as they are added throughout the year.

Classroom, Just for Teachers, Social Cognition, Social Regulation

Holy Moly Whole Body Listening

Let’s play a game called concrete or abstract. I’ll say a word and you decide if it’s concrete (simple to picture, describe and define) or abstract (context-based, dynamic, challenging to consistently define). Here we go:

1. MOOSE: Concrete or Abstract?

2. SUCCESS: Concrete or Abstract?

3. FORK: Concrete or Abstract?

4. LISTENING: Concrete or Abstract?

Today’s post is all about number four: Listening. Despite being one of the most common words I hear in K-8 classrooms (and I have no doubt it’s a high frequency word in high school as well), LISTENING is an abstract concept. My image of listening may be very different than your image of listening. Listening on the playground may look different than listening during a math lesson. Some teachers want students to listen with their ears alone, while others expect students to freeze whatever they might be doing in order to listen. Neurotypical students struggle to form consistent rules for listening, so imagine how challenging this is for children with language processing challenges, lack contextual awareness, challenges recognizing social cues, and overly rigid interpretations of social situations. We need a hero!!!!!

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WHOLE BODY LISTENING to the rescue! Whole Body Listening (WBL) is a term coined by Susanne Poulette Truesdale in 1990, and later adopted into the Social Thinking Curriculum (Michelle Garcia Winner). The goal of WBL is to transform an abstract concept (listening) into a concrete, highly comprehendible one. Rather than require children to determine what is meant by “Listen to me,” each part of the body is described as either active/on or quiet/off:

Active/On:

  • Ears are hearing what is being said
  • Eyes are looking at the speaker
  • Brain is thinking about what is being said
  • Heart is caring about how the speaker is feeling
  • Body (upper body) is facing the speaker

Quiet/Off:

  • Mouth is quiet
  • Hands are quiet and not distracting self or others
  • Feet are quiet and not distracting self or others

Reinforcing WBL requires a shift from “Listen to me,” “I need everyone listening,” and “I’ll wait until the whole class is listening” to “I’m waiting for quiet mouths and eyes looking at me,” “Let’s be whole body listeners; brains, ears, eyes, and hearts on and mouths, hands, and feet quiet,” and “I will know you’re listening with your whole body when your hands and feet are quiet.” Taking the guesswork out of listening allows children to more quickly and easily understand the whole-body expectations of being a strong listener, allowing them to engage more successfully in classroom tasks.

At The School of The Madeleine in Berkeley, CA, we are bringing WBL to every classroom, K-8. Here are some creative ways to teach WBL skills to students in all grades:

Kindergarten through 2nd Grade: Read the Whole Body Listening Larry Books to teach students the components of WBL with the help of Larry, a lovable illustrated character: Whole Body Listening Larry at School by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter and Whole Body Listening Larry at Home by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter. You can then play “Larry says,” a spin-off of “Simon Says.”

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3rd through 5th Grade: Create crazy character collages and ask students to label whether the parts of WBL are being done in an expected way or an unexpected way.

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6th through 8th Grade: Collaborate with students to translate the traditional WBL Larry poster (most appropriate for younger students) into a foreign language being taught across the school. Additionally, older students can be encouraged to reinforce WBL for younger students during assemblies, transitions, buddy activities, etc.

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Whole School: Encourage “contagious quiet” across all grades in a school. Create a hand sign that represents WBL (like a ‘W’ with your fingers) and challenge students to see how quickly they can all “catch the quiet” when they see the hand sign.

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A happy child is a child who feels successful, and WBL is a fantastic strategy to allow all students to feel like successful listeners!

Classroom, Executive Function, Just for Teachers, Social Cognition, Social Regulation

Mini Minute Executive Functioning (EF) Tuck-Ins

This one goes out to all the teachers who are looking for ways to support Executive Functioning without giving up your carefully planned lesson times. I work with a lot of K-8 teachers who are always on the lookout for quick and easy ways to target foundational EF skills within their existing classroom routines. The thing is, EF isn’t something you do separate from your regular curriculum. The more you know about EF, the better you get at realizing that so much of what teachers are already doing is supporting and improving students’ skills. It’s like a hidden super power! The goal of this post is to help teachers become more intentional about using their otherwise lost minutes of transition time to keep that EF momentum going!

Let’s say you have two minutes between the end of your math lesson and the lunch bell. What do you do?

(a) Tell students to take out a book and read

(b) Play the “quiet game”

(c) Use an EF tuck-in exercise

(d) Let absolute chaos reign

Using our own inferential skills, let’s examine the likely outcomes of each scenario:

(a) Your announcement = 20 seconds, getting out books = 40 seconds, opening to the right page = 15 seconds, reading one paragraph = 25 seconds …then…time to clean up (followed by copious amounts of “grumble grumble grumble”). Effective? I think not!

(b) Students are annoyed with having to be quiet, you’re annoyed they can’t be quiet…who wins at the quiet game? No one!

(c) Students have fun and improve their EF skills!

(d) Total destruction of the classroom (and your sanity).

In case you’re still scratching your head, I’ll give you a hint: the answer is C. There are countless EF teachable moments (and I do mean moments) during a typical school day: lessons end a little early, students need something to keep them busy in line, you name it! Here are some ideas to turn those lost minutes into EF learning treasure troves, while simultaneously supporting general education skills.

 

EF Tuck-Ins for Cognitive Flexibility

  • Word Association: Begin by saying a random word. Snake through all students in the class, having each student say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word from the student just before them. This fun game strengthens association pathways in the brain and supports cognitive flexibility during conversations (i.e., the ability to connect to others’ ideas).
  • Two-Word Association: Create a jar of random words. During the tuck-in, select two words from the jar and ask a student to come up with some way those words can be related. This task encourages strong concept association and mental flexibility.
  • Ask students to generate antonyms, synonyms, or a shade of meaning (i.e., a word that means slightly more or less intense than the provided word) for a target word. For example, if the word is happy, the antonym could be sad, the synonym could be glad, and the shade of meaning could be content (less intense) or excited (more intense).
  • Ask students to respond to yes/no questions with an answer that doesn’t involve yes or no (e.g., “Do you like carrots?” response: “Only when they are dipped in ranch”). This task requires engagement of “slow thinking” over automatic “fast thinking.”

EF Tuck-Ins for Working Memory (all tasks done verbally)

  • Ask students to repeat back increasingly longer sequences of numbers in the opposite order of how you give them (e.g., if you say “3-5-7-2,” students say “2-7-5-3”).
  • Give students a target word and ask whether various letters are in the word. This requires students to hold the word in their mind while scanning it for letters.
  • Ask students to verbally spell a target word forwards, then backwards. Switch between common, overlearned words and grade-level vocabulary or spelling words.

EF Tuck-Ins for Inferential Thinking

  • Provide three attributes of a secret object and ask students to make a smart guess about the object you’re describing (e.g., it’s white, it comes from a cow, you drink it). The more nuanced the clues, the more challenging the task.
  • Provide students with an obscure word that has a commonly known root (or a word in a different language). Ask them to make a smart guess about the meaning of the word based on a recognizable root.

EF Tuck-Ins for Problem Solving

  • Provide age-appropriate What Would You Do scenarios to students (e.g., “What would you do if your friend got an ugly hair cut and asked what you thought?” or “What would you do if you were invited to a party and didn’t want to attend?”), and ask them to generate the most expected response they can think of.
  • Ask students to judge the grammaticality of a sentence. If it’s incorrect, ask them to correct it.
  • Present If…Then verbal problems for students to solve (e.g., If Jenny is shorter than Billy, Billy is shorter than Mark, William is taller than Tony, and Mark is the same height as Tony, who is the tallest?”).

EF Tuck-Ins for Categorization

  • Provide four+ words or numbers to all students. Ask the students to determine how they can be sorted into two+ categories based on attributes, functions, locations, materials, appearance, etc. You can use random words/numbers or ones that relate to a current lesson.
  • Provide four words that all connect through a shared attribute except for one. Ask students to identify which one word does not belong and why. The more nuanced the isolating difference, the more challenging this task will be.
  • Provide a category to students (e.g., animals, literary genres, Greek Gods, vehicle types, colors, etc.) and ask them to generate as many items as they can that belong in that category in a given amount of time.

EF Tuck-Ins for Gestalt vs. Details

  • Show a picture scene to the whole class. Ask each student to write or say the gestalt (i.e., big idea) of the picture scene and the three most relevant details that support the gestalt. This helps students improve part vs. whole awareness and how parts are relevant to the whole.
  • Ask students to tell as many parts of an object as they can think of (e.g., parts of a tree: roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc.). Encourage students to use a strategy to determine parts (e.g., move from the bottom to the top of the object, move from small to large parts, etc.).

Here’s to a whole new, EF-filled school year!

Random Therapy Ideas, Social Cognition, Social Regulation, Worth Every Penny

All Aboard the Friend Ship

Remember when you had to memorize all the presidents of the United States for U.S. History Class…in order?!? It took me about 2 minutes of blankly staring at flash cards to realize I was never going to cement those names through repetition alone. So where does one turn for help at 10:00pm the night before the test? Music, of course! The Animaniacs saved my tush that night with their president song (proof here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vvy0wRLD5s8). Kids are a lot like me when it comes to learning (or should I say I learn a lot like a little kid…): they do better with multimodal, experiential, and “stuck-in-your-head” leaning styles than mere lecture from adults.

Raise your hand if you find it easier to engage kids in post-play cleaning when you sing the “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…” song (did you really raise your hand? No one can see you, silly!). That’s because the song jumpstarted a memory for the child (hippocampus activation) that it’s time to clean. We use songs in all corners of education: ABC’s, rainbow colors, counting, wh-questions, etc. I think I can skip the part where I spend a whole paragraph convincing you why songs matter for learning, because our scientific community has already agreed that music activates important association and learning centers in the brain. Instead, I want to introduce you to my favorite new set of songs for facilitating social regulation, social cognitive, and social emotional development: The Friend Ship.

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You may or may not know that I spend my days targeting social regulation skills with “boys and girls of all ages” (yeah, it’s a bit like the circus!). I am forever on the hunt for innovative ways to help my clients both learn and generalize the key concepts of expected social communication, and music is a personal favorite strategy of mine. The Friend Ship, created by speech-language pathologist Erica Bland, is a CD of songs all about social regulation. With titles like: “What’s the Plan,” “Adding to the Fun,” and “What Zone Are You In,” the songs take teaching and reinforcement phrases I find myself using like a broken record and puts them to a soundtrack of kid-friendly rock, reggae, and hip hop. Whether the songs are used as direct teaching tools or are just on as background music during collaborative play, I find that my clients are humming and singing along after the first couple replays.

Want a sneak peak? Have a listen: https://soundcloud.com/thefriendship-1/sets/the-friend-ship

So how do you get this musical gold mine? Here are a couple ways to make it happen (p.s. it’s only $9.95!!!!!):

Erica also created a companion packet of family or therapist-led support activities to go along with each song. In other words, your lesson plan is already done! So drop whatever you’re doing, pump up the Friend Ship jams, and get your social regulation on!