An Interview with Angie Neal and Rynette R. Kjesbo: Simply Social at School?

Dec 9, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Angie and Rynette – why did you develop this program called “Simply Social 7 at School”?

Social communication is more important now than ever. The world of work that we are preparing our students to enter now is dramatically different than the work 20 years ago. Work is completed within teams with each member contributing a unique perspective on the problem to be solved. “Virtual offices” have made clear and concise communication skills even more important than ever with the advent of conference calls and email. As our students are “growing up digital” they are facing a world where face-to-face interactions are less and less prevalent because of instant messages, internet, Facebook, email, texting, blogs, etc. Without good social communication abilities, the academic curriculum they’ve acquired in school may not be enough to enable them to successfully interact in a rapidly changing, technology driven, modern world. Simply Social 7 at School was developed because there is a great need for a program to address the specific social communication skills that students must have in order to function well in the school environment where they spend eight hours a day, nine months a year.

2) What grades and ages is this for?

This book is appropriate for students who are verbal and in the 2nd–9th grade, though some sections can be adapted to use with students who are older or younger than that age range.

3) Now, why do you think it is that students and pupils in the schools across America are not developing these social skills?

Students are struggling to develop these skills for many different reasons. One is that the advent of technology has led to a decrease of face-to face interactions. Technology is not bad; in and of itself it is an amazing powerful tool, however the use of TV in cars and other technological distractions decreases the time families have to just talk in the car, at the dinner table, etc. Students who have difficulty with social language impairments have even greater difficulty because they lack the deeper understanding of what “communication short cuts” mean. For example a student who lacks the understanding of sarcasm and/or figurative language may not truly understand a message such as “Mr. Jones’ lesson on molecules was so very interesting LOL.” In addition, many students lack exposure to learn the specific facts of social communication. Only once they have the social “facts” they can begin “social thinking.” Without social thinking, they may learn one area of social communication, but not be able to apply it across a variety of situations or social communication partners. Moreover, those with strong communication skills may struggle to understand how they are good communicators and therefore not be able to describe, much less teach, someone else how to improve their communication skills. Many a well-intentioned parent has told a child over and over, “Look at people when you talk to them,” but failed to explain that the reason this is so important is because the underlying understanding of this action is that people tend to think about what they are looking at. So, if the listener isn’t looking at the speaker, the speaker tends to assume that the listener isn’t thinking about what they’ve said. It makes sense, but again to a strong communicator it comes so naturally that it is hard to pin down why you do it… you just “do.”

4) I see you have a C.D. with the program- what’s on this C.D.?

The CD-ROM contains all of the great worksheets, checklists, and parent letters in the Simply Social 7 at School book so that teachers and therapists can print the pages from the book directly from their computer.

5) I see that you try to teach 50 Social Skills- Can you give our readers an overview of perhaps FIVE or SIX of the Fifty that you cover?

Topics range from everyday skills such as following directions, using greetings, and turn-taking to more complex skills like giving advice, understanding figurative language, and understanding facial expressions. Within each topic students learn about the skill and then apply the skill by completing extension activities.

6) Tell us about this SOCIAL SKILLS CHECKLIST that you have with the book.

Typical assessments of students with social language impairments aren’t able to measure the impact of social skill deficits within a school setting. This is why the Social Skills Checklist that is part of the book is so incredibly fundamental. It is designed to be part of an authentic assessment that includes a variety of curriculum and standardized based measures. However, many students do very well on standardized measures of social language/pragmatic skills, because they have a good rote memory for the “correct’ answer, but in the emotionality of a real-life social communication event, they are not able to apply it. Formal assessment measures also ask questions in a decontextualized manner where there is usually only one right answer and real life is not that way. This checklist looks at areas of social development across a variety of raters to give a more accurate picture of the consistency of a student’s areas of strength and weakness in “the real world” or to identify the complete absence of a skill. Because the skills relate to the school setting, it also helps the development of goals that are appropriate to be addressed in school.

7) You have letters to parents also included- how are these used?

Each social skill addressed in Simply Social 7 at School includes a Take-Home Practice page that students can give to their parents to let their parents know what skill(s) they are working on. The Take-Home Practice page gives parents a practical way to review the social skill(s) with their children and gives students an opportunity to reinforce what they learned. Teachers and therapists can customize the Parent/Helper Letter provided in Simply Social 7 at School to explain to parents how to help their children practice these skills at home. Because social communication happens everywhere, a key part of remediation is to have all communicators with this student be aware of the skills being addressed, how they can help, and what “language” to use with them so that the student is hearing the same thing over and over again even if it is from different people.

8) Who did the illustrations? I feel they are really appropriate, humorous, and hit the proverbial nail on the head in terms of communicating about these issues.

Super Duper Publications has a team of very talented artists on staff. Mark Bristol is the very talented Super Duper artist who worked on Simply Social 7 at School. Mark has such a great sense of humor and was able to illustrate students using the social skills appropriately and inappropriately in fantastic illustrations that will engage students and give them additional opportunities to learn about social skills.

9) You also include some Seven Steps – tell us about some of these?

The Simply Social 7 Steps are a set of seven practical steps for students to think about while working on a social skill. Often they include basic things that many people do without thinking, but students who have deficits in social skills may not think about these little details. For example, how many times do we instruct students to look at a person in order to make eye contact? The Simply Social 7 Steps for making eye contact go a little bit further by breaking the skill down into seven steps including, “Focus on the other person’s face,” “Relax,” “Don’t stare,” “Remember to blink,” “Glance away from time to time,” “Understand that the other person will look away from time to time,” and “Don’t forget to listen!” It also provides reasons why each step is important. For example, the third step, “Don’t stare,” tells students that when they look at someone for too long, it can make him or her feel uncomfortable.

10) Can this book be used with children who have special needs?

Absolutely! It is designed predominantly for students who have speech-language impairments, learning disabilities, and for those who are on the autism spectrum including students with Asperger’s disorder.

11) What have I neglected to ask?

a. What are some good “strategies” to use when teaching social skills and using Simply Social At School? A strategy I use is to have the students “rate” the area that we are working on at the beginning and the end of the unit. For example, on a scale of 1–10, how important do they think that helping others is in their lives? This type of questioning helps them to think about more than metalinguistically about the skill, but also provides an emotional underpinning for the skill which helps to increase the likelihood of it going into memory. Another strategy I use is once a student has demonstrated some level of mastery with the skill, I ask them how they will use this skill. For example, “How are you going to practice asking questions in class?” I then take that response and turn it into another “how” until you have three “how” questions and three “how” responses. I want more than just “I will raise my hand.” I seek to have them say something more like, “I will listen closely to what the teacher is saying, I will figure out what doesn’t make sense to me, then I will raise my hand to ask her for help.”

12) Would counselors be able to use some of these lessons?

I hope counselors WILL use some of these lessons. As a speech-language pathologist in a school setting, I work closely with our school guidance counselors to develop good social communication skills. So this book would be a perfect resource for an SLP, guidance counselor, teacher, or any other adult who works with students.

13) Where can teachers and counselors perhaps, get more information?

To see sample pages from Simply Social 7 at School, and to watch a video about the book, you can go to and type “Simply Social” into the search box. Super Duper also provides free online continuing education courses. Angie recently spoke about social skills and Simply Social 7 in a course called “Simple Strategies for Social Success at School.” Individuals can access this course from Super Duper’s website. Super Duper also provides free online informational newsletters for teachers and parents called “Handy Handouts” on a variety of subjects including using greetings, interrupting, making eye contact, using manners, and more. One last resource we can recommend would be the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website, ASHA’s website has a wealth of information to help people understand communication and communication disorders, including speech, language, and social skills deficits.

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