How do we teach life skills in General Education?
Somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that if I tell a student something, they should be able to do it. Yet I don’t expect them to understand long division after quickly explaining it to them once. That is unfair and terrible teaching! Why do I expect them to pick up life skills with one simple request? “Don’t shout out the answer.” Since I said that, they won’t ever do it again, right?
Think of all the life skills we expect from students everyday. Things like time management, organization, conversational turn taking, and working with a partner are all skills we want them to have. Is it necessary to take the time to teach these skills? Yes! Life skills lessons are often set aside for special education classrooms where these skills are the main curriculum. Unfortunately, many general education students have these deficits and instead of being taught how to do them, they are being punished for not doing them. Instead of teaching these skills, we resort to endless reminders that leave us and the students frustrated.
I remember one time I was co-teaching in a 4th grade classroom for Science. The classroom teacher and I acted out what it looked like to work with a partner. We took 5 minutes at the beginning of a class that was going to involve lots of partner work and we demonstrated what partner work should and should not look like. The students did so well with partner work that day! Granted, our demonstration was pretty captivating if I do say so myself! There was running and screaming and we sure enjoyed letting our crazy side out and the students loved it too. Talk about an engaging introduction to a lesson! This is what students, even 4th graders who have been working in partners for years, need.
Take a quick inventory of your classroom. What directions are you always reminding students to do? Make a lesson out of it! Instead of providing with you 100 life skills lesson, I’ll give you an outline of what a lesson could look like and you can adapt it for the specific needs of your classroom.
Life Skills Lesson 101:
- Take data. Make a list of the skills you think your students need. Then take a little data on it. For example, maybe you picked how your students call out instead of raise their hands. In one subject or for a whole day, make a tally mark on a sticky note every time a student calls out. See how bad it really is.
- Pretest. Give the pretest a few days before the lesson. Come up with 5-10 questions about the skill you want to teach. See if the students actually know when it’s appropriate to raise their hand and why. Allow this pretest to inform and direct how you plan your lesson.
- The lesson! Skill intro. Define and explain the skill. Find a short video clip or read a book where the main character struggles with this skill. Catch their attention and engage them right from the beginning!
- I do. Model how you want them to do the skill and how you don’t want them to do it. They love this one! Be dramatic! Get into character.
- We do. Practice together. Answer questions, give feedback, and show them you are here to teach them.
- You do (practice). Have them practice on their own!
- Test. Give them the pretest again and see how they do. Did they get better scores? Did learning happen?
- Observe in real life. The real test though is if they can actually apply this skill to everyday life in the classroom. Repeat step 1 and see if your data shows progress.
- Provide regular feedback. When students follow the life skill you taught, recognize it! “I noticed that you are raising your hand, thank you!”
- Review. After a couple weeks, you may notice that the class is falling back into their old patterns. Read the book you read in the intro or show that video clip again to remind them what they learned. We all need reminders and encouragements to keep up the good work!
As you make these lessons, keep them. You’ll likely need to teach them every year!