SPECIAL SERIES: CHAPTER*
Teaching competence in group care practice1
Richard W. Small and Leon C. Fulcher
Any discussion about specialized helping environments for children would be incomplete without reference to the relationships which can be found between practice in group care centres and in schools. After all, a large proportion of each child’s day is spent in some type of formal classroom experience. Moreover, many of the important advances in the education of children with special needs (Mann and Sabatino, 1974) are of relevance to group care practice with children. Piaget (1970) and Montessori (1964, 1973), amongst others, have influenced the development of teaching methods based on children’s interactions with their physical environment in all learning situations. Some of the approaches derived from their work are of direct relevance to activity programming outside the classroom (Silberman 1973; Weihs 1971), a practice theme which VanderVen considers elsewhere in this volume. Other educators have contributed directly to our knowledge about practice with children who have learning disabilities (Bangs 1968; Cruickshank 1971; Cruickshank and Johnson 1975; Frostig and Maslow 1973; Frostig 1976; Kirk 1966).
The development of behaviour modification techniques in the special education classroom has paralleled advances in the wider field of child care, especially in the United States. The literature provides a rich source of practical advice for those working with children in the group care field (amongst others cf. Bijou 1971; Bradfield 1971; Brown and Christie 1981; Hewett 1969; Homme 1969; Meisels 1974; and Pizzat 1973). Special education has given considerable attention to the management of surface behaviour in the classroom. Swift and Spivak (1974) offered a detailed review of the contributions made by teachers in this area of practice. However, in spite of the potential for common ground between teachers and group care workers, such common ground is not all that frequently recognized in practice. Some have attempted to illuminate the common themes between special education and group care practice, most notably Apter (1982), Brendtro and Ness (1983), Brown and Christie (1981), Hobbs (1966), Kashti (1979), and Nash (1976) amongst others. From an ecological perspective, the school classroom must be considered as a significant influence on child and family life. More importantly the classroom should be considered as an integral part of group care and treatment for children. Both the school and the group care centre offer a sophisticated technology and legitimate goals which can be used for teaching competence skills to children with special learning needs.
Individual learning style and the teaching
When attempting to think of a child’s total environment as a curriculum for teaching competence, one is faced with the problem of relating the goals and techniques used by a group care worker to those used by the classroom teacher and others. In many respects, shared practice involves finding a language which all staff can share, as suggested by Casson elsewhere in this volume. In other respects the task involves making a conscious effort to deal with a child’s functioning in the present, thereby avoiding the temptation to make diagnostic conclusions which over-emphasize difficulty in one area as the cause of learning problems. The initial strategy for effective competence teaching should be to set aside — at least temporarily — the labels and stereotypes which children bring with them, so that observable behaviour can be analysed, and some conclusions reached about what is likely to work best with each child. In this way, it is possible to build a common vocabulary for teaching, by looking at a child’s personal learning style.
Learning style is something far more comprehensive than the rate at which a child acquires learning or his overall temperament. Here, learning style can be said to refer to the level of competence that each child brings to learning. Competence is shaped by a particular balance of developmental strengths and weaknesses which can be observed, recorded, and supplemented by specific teaching strategies. Implicit in this notion is a view of the learning process which considers each child as a whole; as a unique being who receives, associates, and expresses him/herself through the interactions of five developmental modes — perception, cognitive functioning, affect, language, and motor functioning. Assessment of competence skills in each of these modes of functioning should assist workers more directly to meet the special needs of children in group care practice.
The manner by which the brain interprets stimuli received by the sense organs — or perception — depends on the integration of previous sensory experience and individual neurological patterns. Perception skills are critical for learning and can vary greatly from child to child. Children who are referred to group care services are frequently misperceivers, in relation to both human interactions and perception of basic sensory data. Both visual and auditory perception require consideration. Competence in the area of visual perception influences the extent to which a child can ‘tune in’ to learning situations. Some children are especially oriented to visual experience and would seem to leam most effectively through this channel. However, a child who is seriously lacking in these skills may consistently lose his place when reading, be unable to find things when they are right in front of him, or become disoriented in familiar surroundings. lf a child is unable to judge distances and spatial relationships with confidence, then he may exaggerate his footsteps when moving up or down stairs, or move awkwardly across open ground. Many of the symptoms associated with the condition labelled ‘dyslexia’ seem related to visual-perceptual confusion.
A social and educational learning environment which emphasizes structure, repetition, and consistency can help a child to organize his day around specific tasks, and is therefore strongly indicated for children with visual-perceptual difficulties. Some of the elements which may be expected to influence practice relationships include:
Laterality: Social competence is affected by a child’s ability to see him or herself as the central figure in a space, distinguish right side from left side, top from bottom, and front from back. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as moving through crowded spaces (a busy train, a shopping centre, rugged terrain) or distinguishing right and left body parts (getting dressed, personal hygiene).
Directional tendency: A child’s social competence is influenced by his ability to orient his/her body towards a space outside him/ herself. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as map reading, following directions to school or the shops, or helping with the laundry.
Figure-ground relations: Social competence is limited by a child’s ability to perceive objects in the foreground while at the same time blocking out background distractions. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as focusing attention on one word on a page while reading, or finding a cooking utensil in a drawer while helping prepare a meal.
Discrimination: Social competence in this area involves the ability to pick fine visual detail in distinguishing one form or object from another. Competence in this area is necessary for learning tasks such as discriminating between the letters f and t, and recognizing a smile or frown in social relations.
Closure: A child’s social competence in this area involves his ability to fill in the missing parts of an object when only some parts are shown. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as spelling in written form, reading road signs from the bus, or playing video games.
Position in space: Social competence in this area involves a child’s ability to discriminate between objects which have the same general form, but vary in their spatial position. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as seeing that the letters b and d are different while reading, drawing pictures or geometric patterns on sheets of paper, or finding a room in a high-rise office block for an interview.
While some children are ‘all eyes’ as they make sense out of their environment, others are ‘all ears’, leaming most efficiently through the auditory channel. The child with weak auditory perception is likely to say ‘Huh?’ as a first response to questions or instructions, although he may have had little difficulty hearing what was said. Such a child may forget instructions or follow them in the wrong sequence. During a lesson when the teacher is speaking, such a child may be paying attention to workmen, birds, or motor sounds outside the classroom window. When asked to bring something to class the next day, she/ he may forget or bring the wrong object. As with children who have problems of visual perception, children with limited social competence in the audio perception sphere may encounter, as well as create, a great deal of frustration in their social relations. Such children may become withdrawn or stubbomly ‘deaf’ in situations where they are unsure or frightened.
Auditory perception is the interpretation of stimuli sent from the ear to the brain. When working with children who lack competence in the audio perception area, practitioners need to resist quick interpretations of emotional conflict or resistance (even though these may be apparent symptoms). Until simple accommodations are made by children to their immediate environment, they will be unable to engage in learning. Practice tasks may include: providing a quiet place for the child to work or play; presenting tasks one at a time; using pictures of words for items and activities in the environment; emphasizing hand movements; and insisting on eye contact so that a child can ‘hear’ what is said through watching the speaker’s lips. Some of the elements workers can expect to encounter in their practice relationships include:
Foregr0und-buckgr0und: Social competence in this area involves a child’s ability to focus on foreground sounds and block out background sounds. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as hearing the teacher give assignments in a noisy classroom or paying attention to the instructions given by an adult at the dining room table.
Discrimination: Social competence is limited for a child if she/he is unable to discriminate between different sounds or auditory stimuli. Competence in this area is necessary in order to hear the difference between sat and sad during a spelling test, or the difference between no and now, when an adult is giving instructions.
Sequence: A child’s social competence in this area involves his/her ability to interpret what she/he hears in correct order of presentation. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as hearing the difference between bets and best, or hearing which is done first when making breakfast: put the egg into a pan of boiling water, or put the egg into a pan of water and bring it to the boil.
Closure: Social competence is affected by a child’s ability to fill in missing parts of a whole word or meaningful sequence of sounds. Competence is important in this area for such tasks as learning new words, disceming accents or speaking with someone over the telephone.
It is tempting for the teacher and some group care workers to dwell on cognitive functioning as the most important determinant of individual learning style. It is certainly the case that cognitive ability plays an important part in all areas of physical and social development. In practice, however, one can become very unclear about the precise nature of a child’s social competence in this area, as distinct from others. In what follows, an arbitrary distinction is made between language, on the one hand, and specific, measurable skills associated with cognitive functioning on the other. It is hoped that such a distinction will assist practitioners to make clearer distinctions between several aspects of a child’s social competence in the cognitive area.
The ability to think clearly, to move beyond concrete events to abstract ideas, to form complex concepts and to assign objects or ideas to categories are but a few of the cognitive skills necessary in learning social competence. As with language, the precise manner in which the brain develops and carries out these operations is not entirely understood. On the evidence available, it would seem that cognitive skills are partly constitutional and partly based on the relative variety and intensity of sensory experience in early childhood (Piaget 1963; Piaget and Inhelder 1969). Actual opportunities to manipulate, touch, smell, or otherwise experience concrete objects and people can be said to aid concept formation throughout life. Some of the essential cognitive operations associated with learning social competence include:
Abstraction: Social competence in this area involves a child’s being able to discern between numerous concrete events, elements, characteristics, and relationships. Competence in this area is necessary for a child to find his/her home in a row of similar terraced houses. This requires dealing with the idea of home as different from the other houses that look the same as the one in which the child lives.
Categorization: A child’s social competence in this area involves his/her ability to group experiences and objects into classes, based on similarity of type or function. Competence in this area is necessary for a child to understand basic geometry, handle tools, or simply separate the laundry.
Generalization: Social competence will be restricted in this area if a child lacks the ability to infer causal relationships from specific events and particular consequences. Competence in this area is necessary for a child to use the Highway Code while riding his/her bicycle across town, as compared with simply knowing how to ride a bicycle. Understanding the rules associated with advanced arithmetic, or figuring out that hitting the baby will always make mother angry are other cognitive skills in this area.
Time sense: Social competence in this area involves the ability to be oriented to time and changes measured in time. Competence in this area is necessary for planning ahead or for matching energy available to the duration of a given task.
Number concepts: In this area, a child’s social competence is influenced by his/her ability to count and use simple numbers to represent quantity. Competence is required in relation to number concepts if a child is to engage actively in the vast range of social encounters in a technological age.
Arithmetic reasoning: Social competence in this area involves the ability to manage such concepts as equality, inequality, computation, and distribution in daily life. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as shopping, making change, and estimating costs.
A child with noticeable confusion in his pattern of cognitive functioning may seem far more of a puzzle than other youngsters in a group. Such a child might have persistent trouble with ‘simple’ tasks such as grouping, counting, or sorting objects by category. She/he may become confused when asked to list everything she/he can think of that is used in a workshop, or may be unable to predict adult responses following repeated episodes of interaction. Children like these may count on their fingers, and be unable to give change or tell time. In many ways, a group care placement is ideally suited to the task of managing cognitive difficulty, given the potential for restructuring and reinterpreting the social environment for each child. The primary tasks for teachers and group care workers in this context can be seen as promoting a child’s inner organization by shaping learning environments which ‘make sense’ for each child. The classroom or group home provides a venue in which social competence can be rehearsed for use in future environments.
Social competence in relation to affect, or emotional functioning, can be said to involve a broad category of skills, each of which is expected to influence a child’s overall pattem of functioning. Mastery in this area includes the skills required to manage emotional turmoil, personal thoughts, and feelings. Competence in this area also involves a range of skills associated with presentation of self in interpersonal relations. Such skills might be considered with respect to the following areas:
Self-image: Social competence in this area involves a child having accurate and positive thoughts and feelings about himself/herself. Competence in this area is necessary for meaningful social interactions and for such tasks as tolerating one’s own mistakes or learning to be more assertive in social relationships.
Impulse control: A child’s social competence in this area involves his/her ability to monitor and control personal thoughts and actions. Competence in this area is necessary for a child to sustain attention in a given task or to leam that she/he must ‘Wait their tum’.
Social perception: Social competence in this area involves a child’s being able to ‘read’ the emotional communications of others and to ‘hear’ what is expected of him/her in a given social setting. Competence in this area is necessary for learning to make friends, for becoming part of a group or avoiding expulsion from the library.
Social judgement: In this area, a child’s social competence is influenced by his/her ability to weigh the altematives, probabilities, and potential consequences of his actions in different social situations. Competence in this area is necessary for such situations as knowing when to be aggressive and when to walk away from a fight.
Delayed reward: Social competence will be restricted for a child in this area if she/he is unable to postpone gratification for future gain. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as saving one’s pocket money to buy an expensive toy or budgeting for cigarettes between one pay packet and another.
Foresight: Social competence in this area involves the ability to consider future events in the midst of current activities. Competence in this area is necessary for planning ahead and for conscious self-control of behaviour.
Motivation: A child’s social competence in this area involves his/her ability to take pleasure in and derive satisfaction from semi-autonomous achievement. Competence in this area is necessary for learning to read for pleasure, pursue hobbies, ride a bicycle, or any other type of self-learning activity.
Adaptability: Social competence in this area involves a child’s ability to remain calm, oriented, and persevering in the face of change. Competence in this area is necessary for mastering the anxiety involved with transitions, such as moving to another town, changing schools, starting work, and so forth.
Body image: Social competence for a child in this area involves an internal awareness of feelings in his/her body and body parts, as well as a conscious awareness of his/her body feelings in space and time. Competence in this area is necessary to help a young person prepare for a first date, to modify impulses to behave dangerously, or to maintain involvement with selected peers.
Learning is clearly hampered in a child who is handicapped by anxiety, rage, or distorted self-image. Learning is also impaired in a child who is unable to give affection. In more subtle ways, learning is hampered in a child who cannot deal with sadness, joy, or excitement, or who constantly falters in social situations because she/he misreads the emotional responses of others and her/his effect on others. A child lacking in emotional competence may be unable to heed danger or may be paralysed by anxiety. She/he may be unable to think ahead, to know when the teacher or foster parents are angry, or to understand why other children in the playground avoid playing with him/her. Finally, she/he may be unable to risk making mistakes which are a part of social learning.
Most children learn to manipulate language from a very early age in life. Word games and the nuances of meaning are a continual delight to them. For some children, however, language may be slow or problematic. For these children, words and the use of words may be less a tool of social interaction than a perplexing barrier to entering into the life of things. Several of the processes involved in language functioning are outlined below:
Simple vowel and consonant sounds: Social competence in this area involves an ability to discriminate among language sounds and to produce particular sounds correctly. Competence in this area is necessary for pronouncing words correctly or for learning a foreign language.
Vocabulary: In this area, social competence involves a child’s ability to understand the meaning of words, including the comprehension of different meanings in different contexts. Competence in this area is necessary for the correct interpretation of written and spoken communication, and for fluency of speech.
Grammar: A child requires a degree of social competence in this area in order to understand both surface and depth structures of sentences. Competence in this area is necessary for determining when a collection of words is a sentence, when sentences have meaning, when sentences with different word order can mean the same thing, and how the arrangement of words in a sentence indicates their relationship to each other.
Auditory and visual reception2: Social competence in this area involves a child’s ability to derive meaning from verbally presented or visually presented bits of information. Competence in this area is necessary for grasping the complex differences involved in the question, ‘Did you hit Jimmy or did he hit you?’ following a fight in the bedroom. Competence in this area is also necessary in order to understand the action in a comic strip or to read non-verbal expressions on the face of an adult.
Auditory and visual association: In this area, social competence involves a child’s ability to understand the relationships between words or concepts when presented orally and visually. Competence in this area is necessary for such tasks as filling the salt cellar and sugar bowl with a white, granular substance, selecting categories of picture on a video screen, or for anticipating danger when seeing a young child run into the street.
Verbal and manual expression: Social competence in this area involves the ability to express simple and complex meanings in both verbal and non-verbal means. Competence in this area is necessary for a child to tell a friend or adult about a school outing, or when a child needs to explain which hand tool he needs if he has forgotten its name. In short, competence in this area is necessary for complete communication in almost all social situations.
Emotionally closed-up youngsters who also have distinct language difficulties may refuse to speak or may use mostly single words and simple sentences in their speech. Sentences they do use may seem confusing. In dealing with these children, both the teacher and group care workers need to be aware of a child’s difficulty with language and what this means for that child. A child may easily distort the meaning of words in communications with others because of this difficulty. In order to be certain that a meaningful exchange is taking place, an adult needs to determine whether the child cannot understand what is expected of him, or whether he understands but is unable to express himself in response. If the child cannot understand what she/ he hears, she/he can be helped to attain greater competence by allowing him/her more time to respond, by simplifying the sentence, or by using pictures or gestures to aid meaning. If the child has trouble with expression, she/he can be assisted by adults asking questions that elicit more precise responses. For example, if the question ‘What would you like to do this aftemoon?’ elicits no response, ‘Would you like to go shopping?’ may be more productive.
An accurate evaluation of a child’s motor abilities is of critical importance for teachers as well as group care workers. Many children function best when they are actively involved physically in any number of learning tasks. Movement and activity are likely to be distinctive features of their learning style in most situations. For the child who is reasonably competent in terms of motor functioning, workers need to provide positive, means for such skills to be exercised, as well as maintaining a focus on the control of excess energy. The child with weak motor skills may be able to read or watch television, but be unable to write legibly. For such children, the classroom teacher may need to provide a tape recorder in order to avoid struggles which are related more to the physical problem of shaping words on paper than to emotional blocks to expression. Similarly, a group care worker may need to arrange personal practice sessions before exposing a child such as this to competitive play situations, where he may experience failure and humiliation.
The general area of motor functioning may be examined as the integration of large and small muscle activity. Functioning in the motor skills area is likely to include the following elements of performance:
Gross motor skills: Social competence in this area involves the ability to use and co-ordinate the large muscles of the body, including legs, arms, and back. Competence in this area is necessary for such activities as running, jumping, or climbing.
Fine motor skills: In this area, social competence involves the ability to use and co-ordinate the small muscles of the body, including fingers and wrist, and so on. Competence in this area is necessary for such activities as drawing, writing, or cutting with scissors.
Eye-hand co-ordination: A child’s social competence in this area involves his/her ability to control both eye and hand at the same time to perform a task. Competence in this area is necessary for gross motor activities such as catching or kicking a ball. It is necessary for such fine motor activities as drawing a picture or operating a self-powered wheelchair.
Balance: Social competence in this area involves the ability to co-ordinate large and small muscles to maintain balance equilibrium. Competence in this area is necessary for such activities as riding a bicycle or hopping on one foot.
Posture: In this area, social competence involves a child’s ability to hold his body erect. Competence in this area is necessary for sustained activities such as sitting, standing, walking, or bicycle riding.
Motor skills are important for adaptation to, every part of the environment. Motor functioning is an excellent area for highlighting ways in which curriculum goals in the life space of group care and curriculum goals in the classroom overlap. With the provision of motor skill training, such as football or dance practice during recreation periods, a child will increase proficiency as well as develop skills for interacting with a peer group. Furthermore, motor skill training also helps improve body awareness, self-confidence, and even specific skills, such as handwriting in the classroom. There would seem to be a great deal of potential in this area, for positive collaboration between teachers and group care workers — collaboration which would enhance their practice with children.
To summarize, consideration has been given to five developmental modes of functioning which influence individual learning styles and social competence amongst children. The five developmental modes involved perception, cognitive functioning, affect, language, and motor functioning. It must be emphasized again, however, that learning is very much a dynamic process in which interaction takes place between all five of the developmental modes referred to above. In short, some level of integration is achieved across all five modes of functioning, and this integration is likely to shape learning style and pattems of social competence for a child.
Other abilities, such as attention and memory, are also influenced by the integration of developmental skills within the individual child. In many ways, a child’s ability to ‘pay attention’ — when involved in a particular task — is the most delicate of all developmental competence skills. Memory is also a highly variable capacity in each person. Some children may have trouble with specific recall of words and names, while others are at ease reciting the alphabet backward. Some children may have the uncanny ability to remember details in physical space, while others need to keep asking directions to the bus station. Social competence for children in receipt of group care services requires the support and encouragement of teachers and group care workers whose practices are complementary.
Learning style and the learning environment
The value of looking at the whole child and emphasizing social competence with observable skills is that workers can be eclectic in their approach to learning tasks with children. More to the point, the emphasis on individual differences in learning style, rather than individual pathology, may assist workers to make more practical sense out of assessments and to formulate more clearly practical goals in learning environments committed to teaching competence skills. Most important, since the focus of attention is the child as a whole person with a consistent learning style, then the methodological emphasis of an educational or group care programme changes as interventions are redefined.
By turning attention to each child being helped to acquire competence skills in any or all areas of functioning, workers can emphasize personal strengths and only secondarily focus attention on individual weaknesses. This represents an important technical and clinical shift in thinking for those engaged in group care practice. Although a child’s weak or problem areas are acknowledged, primary attention is given to existing competence skills which can be exploited (and which a child can learn to use on his own) in any new learning situation. The whole group care programme thus becomes a comprehensive learning environment which is responsive to learning style as well as special learning needs. Several programme features require consideration if workers are to use their group care centre as a learning environment for children, where social competence skills receive primary attention.
Assessment of competence
In setting up an effective learning environment, group care workers must compile a record of information about the personal learning style of each child. Such a record may be informally held amongst a team of workers, or more helpfully written in summary form in a quickly referenced file, as in the Kardex or Problem-Oriented Record systems. Compiling a record of information about a child’s functioning must be understood as involving a process of continuous assessment, rather than a diagnosis of the ‘problem’. All too frequently, workers are tempted to use assessment typologies to ‘diagnose’ a child’s problems and, just as frequently, such an approach has resulted in constant struggles around a child’s incompetence in social situations. With the focus on deficiency, everyone working with a child — and more importantly the child himself — may be blind to areas of strength in his overall pattem of functioning. Even the most seriously handicapped child has some capacity to learn, and more importantly, she/he approaches learning with his/her own special combination of strengths as well as weaknesses.
The daily curriculum
In daily programme terms, an emphasis on social competence requires that the learning opportunities available for children should possess three basic attributes. First, the daily curriculum and expectations for every participant in the programme should be easily comprehended by each child. A child should be able to understand where she/ he is headed with particular learning tasks, what skills she/he is using or struggling to master in a given task, and how she/he can use the skills she/he does have to engage in problem solving. Second, the daily curriculum should be directed at specific goals, both in academic terms and in relation to daily living. Non-specific or esoteric objectives may result in basic survival skills — reading, writing, and arithmetic — being unlearned, thus undermining the social competence of a child when she/he reaches school-leaving age. Basic cookery, laundry, and self-care skills should probably become concrete goals in any group care centre for adolescents. Finally, the daily curriculum should be continuous, in that formal academic learning parallels learning in other areas of a child’s life. Ideally, a child should experience learning to read as part of the process of growing up and changing, which includes learning how to make friends, purchase an item of clothing at a shopping centre, or deal with angry feelings after an argument.
Selection of curriculum materials
The books, games, papers, puzzles, and other objects a teacher brings into the classroom as aids to learning are part of the concrete reality of curriculum design. Such materials are important factors in defining the physical impact of the classroom as a learning environment. The group care centre, in the same way, makes use of curriculum materials which can be used in the teaching of social competence, where a range of materials can be adapted to the learning style of each child. Two things are implied by such an approach. To begin with, curriculum materials should include variety, to take account of different learning styles, different learning content, and changes in the weather. Both indoor and outdoor curriculum materials are required so that children can attain social competence skills which can be used in a wide range of situations. The second point implied by this approach is that curriculum materials need to be chosen with maximum flexibility in mind. Here, the idea is that materials need to be used with more than one child, in different situations, and in combination with other materials. ln the group care centre, this issue is encountered with respect to recreation and leisure-time materials, including games equipment or craft supplies.
Use of physical space
Teachers can use the shape of their classroom as a physical instrument which can enable implementation of curriculum objectives. In a similar way, group care workers can use their centre as a ‘classroom’ for teaching social competence. To begin with, teachers and group care workers need to consider how responsive the physical environment (classroom or centre) is to individual learning style and the varying demands that are made by children and staff. As Maier suggests, ‘The Space We Create Controls Us’ in many subtle and not so subtle ways (1982). A second consideration involves the question of whether the physical environment is instructive, communicating the message that this is a learning environment where social skills are used and competence is possible. The physical environment can invite or intimidate those who inhabit that environment. To use a theatrical metaphor, the physical environment does not provide the ‘script’ used in the learning drama which unfolds. The ‘script’ is provided by the ‘actors and actresses’, each with their own personal learning style. The physical environment provides the ‘staging and props’ which give ‘context’ to the drama, and thereby influences the ‘intensity’ of a given sequence of activities. The significance of purposeful activity with children is considered further by VanderVen elsewhere in this volume.
Social climate in the learning environment
At least five important features will need consideration if the climate of group care and treatment is to facilitate social competence learning. One of the most obvious features involves a climate of respect for individual dfferences. Since few behaviour management techniques are both effective and meaningful for every child in a group, so workers should be willing and able to adjust certain rules or regulations accordingly. A second feature which influences the climate of a centre can be said to involve clarity of expectations in all areas. There should be no unnecessary mysteries in the classroom or group care centre. Each developmental step of the living and learning curriculum should be as clear and unambiguous as possible. A third feature which requires consideration is the attitude of support that is present within the climate of a centre. Low morale, disinterest, boredom, or an interest in different priorities elsewhere can have a significant impact on the learning potential available in a centre. This feature is frequently influenced by a fourth feature, the presence of sufficient and instantly available back-up support to help manage disruptive behaviour. No one person should be expected to engage extremely disruptive behaviour on his own. Management of disruptive behaviour needs to arouse as little attention as possible — to avoid either active or covert positive reinforcement — until both child and worker(s) can agree to resume their learning tasks. Such an approach requires considerable staff teamwork and an acceptance of back-up as another of the learning resources available, not a sign of staff weakness. Finally, careful attention to group composition may help to minimize extreme variability in the behaviour patterns of a group of children. This feature is given further attention by Burford and Fulcher elsewhere in this volume.
Collaboration with and support from others
When seeking to establish learning environments which teach social competence skills, it is necessary to consider all those in direct contact with children as teachers in the broadest sense. The classroom teacher orients his or her learning objectives towards one set of goals and the group care workers are oriented to another set of goals. To the extent that learning goals are complementary in both the school classroom and group care centre, then social competence learning will be facilitated. The same argument holds for the service goals pursued by an attached social worker, a social worker based elsewhere, or social service managers. Each staff member working with individual children, or a group of children, will benefit from knowing which learning approaches seem to work best for the other workers. It may be helpful if time can be scheduled for different workers to spend some time working in the others’ domains, such as a teacher being involved in after-school activities, a group care worker helping in the classroom, or a social worker helping with recreation activities. Such overlaps may help to generate a fuller appreciation of the importance of co-ordinating all aspects of the learning environment. The administrative supports available in any group care centre should include mechanisms for bringing workers together to share their daily experiences with children. Rigid scheduling pattems and territorial boundary disputes can, and frequently do, undermine collaborative efforts in group care practice. In this way, important sources of support can be removed from workers and children in their shared task of promoting social competence.
An overall commitment to promoting competence skills rather than curing illness is perhaps one of the most important goals of practice in the group care field. Such a goal is more readily achieved if all those working with a child — teachers, group care workers, and others — take account of his overall pattem of functioning and his personal learning style. Functioning in the areas of perception, cognitive functioning, affect, language, and motor skills are all important considerations in teaching children skills which will enhance their social competence in different situations. Assessment of competence, as compared with ‘diagnosing the problem’, will help to inform the daily curriculum of practice and the curriculum materials needed to promote learning. Planned uses of the physical environment can help to facilitate a social climate in the centre which encourages learning. Finally, collaboration with others involved in a child’s life can offer valuable support to both children and care-givers alike. In short, the whole centre programme can be conceived as a learning environment in which the goals of formal education in the classroom and goals in the life space of group care are closely co-ordinated. Elsewhere in this volume, Hopkinson and Conte explore some of these issues further when considering practice in inter-disciplinary teams and working with parents.
1 This chapter draws heavily on an earlier work published with Clarke (1979). The concepts outlined in this earlier paper have been re-examined and extended, so as to make them more applicable to a wider readership.
2 The Reception, Association, and Expressive categories
used in this section on language functioning are based on the
comprehensive work by Kirk (1966).
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This feature: Small, R.W. and Fulcher, L.C. (1985). Teaching competence in group care practice. In Fulcher, L.C. and Ainsworth, F. (Eds.). Group Care Practice with Children. London and New York. Tavistock Publications. pp.135-154.
*This is the twenty-first in a series of chapters which the authors have permission to publish separately and which they have now contributed to CYC-Online. Read more about this program.