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Simulated and in situ vocational social skills training for youths with learning disabilities.

Social skills are critical for both in-school and out-of-school performance of students with learning disabilities. Fortunately, research and curriculum efforts in social skills training (e.g., Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1980; Hazel, Schumaker, Sherman, & Sheldon-Wildgen, 1981) have demonstrated an effective instructional technology for acquisition of social skills. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done in demonstrating generalization to a number of criterion settings. Work settings have received increasing attention because of the federal transition initiative (Will, 1984; P.L. 98-199, Education for the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1983) and because social skills are clearly important for obtaining and maintaining employment.

Several studies have examined social skills training methodologies within vocational contexts. For example, Mathews, Whang, and Fawcett (1982) found that vocational social skills, such as accepting negative feedback, providing constructive criticism, and explaining a problem to a supervisor, were performed at lower levels by adolescents with learning disabilities than by their peers without disabilities. Subsequently, they taught two adolescents with learning disabilities job-related social skills. These skills included: explaining a problem to a supervisor, accepting a compliment, acceptig an instruction, providing constructive criticism, and offering a compliment. Instruction included written descriptions of each task, examples of appropriate performance (modeling), rationales for task use, rehearsal through role-play, feedback, and study questions. As measured by novel role-play situations in the training setting, the youths demonstrated substantial increases in their skill performance following training.

Another study designed to teach social skills relevant to occupational situations to adolescents with mild and moderate disabilities was conducted by Montague (1988). The 49 students had been identified as either learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, or mildly mentally retarded. The 10 job-related social skills targeted for instruction included (a) understanding instructions, (b) asking a question, (c) asking for help, (d) accepting criticism, (e) ordering job responsibilities, (f) accepting assistance, (g) giving instruction, (h) offering assistance, (i) apologizing, and (j) convincing others. These skills were taught over a 10-week period according to specifically scripted lessons. The actual teaching procedures included modeling, active participation, verbal rehearsal, directed questioning, visualization, cueing, guided practice, role-playing, feedback, and reinforcement. The training package increased job-related social skills within the training setting. Anecdotal data as well as student, parent, and teacher perception surveys indicated limited but promising transfer of skills from the classroom to the work environment. Montague noted, however, that further investigation would be necessary to accurately measure the student's transfer and maintenance of these skills in the workplace.

Studies of social skills training for students with learning disabilities have generally reported substantial transfer to novel role-play situations. However, Schumaker and Ellis (1982) stated, "Findings indicated that performance in novel role-play situations do not necessarily reflect how a learning disabled student will generalize newly learned social skills to the natural environment" (p. 413). Research on training strategies that may increase generalization to natural settings is limited. Warrenfeltz et al. (1981) found generalization of trained vocational social skills across settings and people. The training program employed both role play and self-monitoring techniques. However, because the techniques occurred simultaneously, it was impossible to isolate or assess their separate effects on generalization. Subsequently, Kelly et al. (1983) isolated these two components by first monitoring the effects of the role-play training alone and then applying the self-monitoring procedure. The targeted vocational social skill was "appropriately responding to instructions." Following role-play and self-monitoring, the students acquired a repertoire of a ppropriate responses to contrived supervised instruction. Yet they failed to generalize this behavior to their vocational training setting.

Recently, Schumaker, Hazel, Pederson, and Nolan (in press) conducted social skill training, which included opportunities for practice of the newly acquired skills within the criterion classroom setting. Once students met criterion in the training and classroom situations, they began to exhibit a generalized use of the skills in other situations and settings throughout the school and with people not related to the training. These findings indicated that training that extends beyond the training environment to the natural setting tends to provide for greater generalized use of social skills.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the generalization of job-related social skills to a natural work environment. The training of these skills took place as part of a comprehensive community vocational training program. The Career Ladder Program (Siegel, Greener, Robert, Prieur, & Gaylord-Ross, 1989; Siegel et al., in press). It was hypothesized that the students would exhibit increased levels of skills generalization to their work sites following social skills training in a classroom setting. It was also hypothesized that given additional social skills training at the job site, the students' levels of skill performance would further increase. This result would provide additional support for the notion that generalization increases when training is extended into the natural environments.

METHOD

Participants

Four students with learning disabilities participated in the study. The students were all high school seniors who had been diagnosed by a district school psychologist according to the California state guidelines for learning disabilities. They attended resource classrooms in a large urban school district.

Randy. Randy was a 17-year-old, low-income, African American male. According to teacher records, he had been labeled "passive-aggressive," noted to be "quite moody," and unable to deal appropriately with criticism. He had good visual motor and auditory memory skills, yet was weak in the area of mathematics. Randy scored at the 10th grade level in reading recognition on the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT), 7.0 in spelling, and 4.0 in math. He was described as having a "low to average cognitive level."

Jackie. Jackie was an 18-year-old, middle-in-come, female Caucasian student. According to teacher records, she lacked self-esteem and confidence and was "behind" in most academic areas; she demonstrated poor use of phonics skills, had a limited sight vocabulary, and had problems with visual and auditory memory Jackie scored at the 5.3 grade level in reading recognition on the WRAT, 4.5 in spelling, and 5.0 in math. She had been labeled "learning disabled with visual motor integration problems." Her scores on the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt test placed her two standard deviations below the age-level norm. Her records also indicated a score on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R) of "well below average."

Donna. Donna was an 18-year-old, middle-income, Hispanic female student. According to teacher records, she had "learning difficulties" and was lagging behind in her age and grade level placements, especially in the areas of auditory and verbal processing. Her WRAT scores included a reading recognition grade level of 7.1, a spelling level of 7.5, and a math level of 4.5. Her scores on the WISC-R indicated an "average to slightly below average" IQ.

Joan. Joan was a 19-year-old, middle class, Chinese American female student. Teacher records indicated that Joan had been enrolled in an aphasic program for 4 years. Her language difficulties included weak auditory processing and a poor use of syntax. Her teachers noted that she was somewhat socially immature. Her WRAT scores included a reading recognition score of 3.3, a spelling score of 2.0, and a math score of 3.3. Her records also indicated an IQ score which placed her in the "slow learner" category.

Confederates. Confederates were those people who aided in this study by observing and rating behaviors and participating in planned probes. Confederates included coworkers who held regular jobs in the students' various departments; visitors, who were either graduate students or professors; and teachers from the students' job sites or other teachers or paraprofessionals from the school district.

Settings

All haseline and generalization behavioral probes were taken at the job site of the four participating students. The job site was a large California State Automobile Association (CSAA) office complex, which employed 1,600 persons. The students participated in four half-day work experiences at CSAA.

Each of the four students worked in a different department. Their job tasks were quite varied, ranging from filing to basic computer work. Positions were considered "entry-level clerical," and the students were expected to maintain professional standards and attitudes at all times. As previously mentioned, once the students began to reach acceptable levels of competence and independence, the on-site instructor gradually faded her supervision, transferring it to the coworker.

Vocational social skills training took place at a Transition School in a classroom known as the "Employment Skills Workshop." The students attended the work shop every Friday throughout the semester and received training in three targeted vocational social skills: ordering job duties, conversational skills, and giving instructions. Each skill was addressed for 2 consecutive weeks.

Generalization training at the job site took place in the break area of the personnel office at CSAA, as well as in the students' specific work sites. Discussion and role-play were carried out in the personnel office, and additional role-play (if necessary) and targeted practice took place in the students' actual work areas.

Behavioral Probes

Baseline and generalization probes were conducted in the natural work site. The first author and several trained confederates served to initiate the planned probes and to observe and rate the students' behaviors. Periodically, confederates conducted interrater reliability checks. One to three probes were taken per week, across a 2-3-month period. Teacher confederates conducted a total of 143 probes (across all students and the three behaviors). Visitor confederates conducted 97 probes across the three behaviors. Coworkers conducted 40 probes for the conversational behavior only.

The three targeted behaviors were assessed through planned probes. The confederate would request that the students either "Tell me your job duties here at CSAA" (Behavior 1) or "Explain to me how to do the task you are working on" (Behavior 3). Variations made by the confederates altered the syntactical form of the question but maintained its meaning, for example, "So what do you do here at Triple A?" (Behavior 1) or "Could you please show me how to use this copying machine?" (Behavior 3). The probe for Behavior 2 (conversational skills) had observers provide an opportunity for conversation through body lanuage, gestures, smiles, and so forth, in hopes that the student would initiate a conversation. If the student failed to initiate, the observer would ask, at the most, two "open-ended" questions, again with the intention of eliciting the student's conversation skills. Once the interaction was completed, the observer would then leave the area to immediately and discreetly complete a behavior rating form for each observed behavior. Interaction probes for any of the three behaviors usually took from 45 s to 3 min.

Probe Data and Reliability

The three targeted behaviors were each broken down into nine component parts. Each component could either be scored with a yes or no, or with a performance rating on a 7-point rating scale. Each dichotomous item received 7 (yes) or 0 (no) points. The rating-scale items received I to 7 points. Thus, total scores (9 items) could range from 3 to 63.

Reliability. Interobserver reliability was assessed during baseline and generalization phases. Observers were trained to rate component skills on behavior rating forms to serve as reliability observers. Agreement data for Behavior I were gathered during an average of 36% of the sessions for each participant, for Behavior 2 an average of 8%, and for Behavior 3 an average of 27% of the sessions, throughout all phases.

Reliability coefficients were calculated after obtaining scores from two observers' rating forms. The following perceived-agreement formula was applied:

Low Score / High Score x 100

Interobserver agreement ranged between 71% and 100% with a median of 94%. Table I presents the reliability score ranges and medians of each behavior for each student.

Vocational Social Skills Training (Phase 1--Classroom)

The four participants attended a weekly "Employment Skills Workshop" (Siegel et al., 1989) along with four to eight other students. These weekly, 2 1/2-hr meetings throughout the semester were designed to teach specific vocational social skills, in addition to job search, job keeping, and general work behaviors.

The social skills training sessions began with a discussion of the particular skill to be learned. This discussion included a rationale clarifying the benefits of using the skill. Students were asked to reflect on where and when such a skill

TABLE 1

Reliability of Observation Measure of Social

Skills Training
 No. of Range Median
Student Behavior Probes (%) (%)
Randy 1 5 78-98 95
 2 3 95-100 97
 3 5 81-88 87
Jackie 1 9 84-100 92
 2 4 84-98 90
 3 5 80-98 86
Donna 1 5 96-100 98
 2 2 96-100 98
 3 4 71-98 89
Joan 1 6 72-100 98
 2 4 94-97 96
 3 6 71-93 89
Summary 1 25 72-100 97
 2 13 84-100 97
 3 20 71-98 88
Totals 58 71-100 94


Note: Behavior 1 = ordering job duties; Behavior 2 = conversational skills; Behavior 3; giving instructions.

could be used in their work site. A general definition of the skill, highlighting its component parts, was also discussed. At this point, teachers distributed student self-rating forms, reviewed skill components in the context of the form, and explained rating procedures.

After the discussion, a teacher modeled the social behavior. The first display was intentionally flawed, and the second demonstrated correct usage of the previously discussed steps. Modeling both versions provided a basis for contrast and allowed the students a chance to clearly note the differences. Students were asked to rate the performances on the self-rating forms. Feedback for the two role-plays followed the format on the rating forms. Students discussed what score they had given and why.

Next, the students themselves were given an opportunity to develop a role-play for a given situation. Whenever possible, sample situations would be derived from the students' actual on-the-job experiences. The students in the audience were instructed to rate the performances using the self-rating forms. Following the role-play, feedback was provided and the students were asked to discuss their own feelings regarding their performances. Role-plays were repeated until the group consensus affirmed mastery of the skill. Because students rotated in role-plays, everyone was given an opportunity to practice the skill, as well as practice completing self-rating forms. Every student engaged in four role-plays for each of the three behaviors.

Teachers addressed the "homework" step of the training by again calling attention to how, when, and where the student could use the skill at the job site. In addition, they instructed students to complete self-rating forms at their work site following any occasion when the skill was used. These forms were located on the desk where the students signed in and out of work.

Vocational Social Skills Training (Phase 2--In

Situ)

If a student failed to display a targeted behavior in the probe setting within 2 weeks of training, he or she participated in Phase 2 training. The training took place in the main break area of the workplace as well as in the student's own department. Thus, in situ training refers to training in the actual, criterion situation. Initially, the instructor discussed the skill (its importance and its components) with the student in the main break area. This was basically a review of the "discussion" step of Phase 1 training. After determining a number of relevant on-the-job situations requiring this skill, the instructor and student would engage in two to four role-plays, each alternating in the lead role. Again, as in Phae 1, feedback was provided, as well as practice using self-rating forms. Next, the student was helped to pinpoint a situation or coworker with whom he or she could practice the particular skill on the same day (homework). This "targeted practice" was followed by discussion as soon afterwards as possible.

Two separate sessions (lasting 10-20 min) were conducted within a week at the break room. Subsequently, one to three sessions occurred in the student's department if no generalization had occurred after break room training.

Social Validity Measures

To establish some measure of social validity, a coworker questionnaire was developed. One or two of the students' coworkers were asked to complete the questionnaire, which asked the coworkers to assess certain indicators of the student's vocational social skills. As in the behavioral rating forms, the items on the questionnaire were based on the component behaviors of each of the targeted skills, as well as predetermined employer standards and expectations. The questionnaires, which involved a 7-point rating scale, were completed once at the beginning of the semester (pretest), and once near the end )posttest). The 12 items resulted in a range of possible scores from 12 to 84.

Experimental Design

A multiple-baseline design across three vocational social skills (behavior) was used in this study to asess the participants' generalization of skills to a natural work environment. Behaviors were always rated in the natural work setting: Initial ratings took place before any specific social skills training (Baseline); then concurrent with classroom social skills training (Phase 1); and finally, in certain cases, concurrent with in situ training (Phase 2). Consistent with the multiple-baseline design, the training was applied sequentially to the targeted behaviors over a 6-week period (one behavior every 2 weeks).

RESULTS

The data presented in Figures 1-4 illustrate the results for each of the four students. Overall, each of the four participants showed improvement over baseline levels of performance as a result of Phase 1 (school) training. Likewise, Phase 2 (in situ) training resulted in a general increase over Phase 1 levels.

Randy

For Randy, training for Behavior 1 resulted in an increase from a baseline median score of 27 to a posttraining median of 51 (Figure 1). However, a few weeks after Phase 1 training was completed, his scores began to drop to near baseline levels. At this point, Phase 2 training took place at the work site, resulting in scores at levels higher than Phase 1.

Training in Behavior 2 resulted in similar increases for Randy. Median score increased from a baseline of 26 to a Phase 1 score of 45. The most significant improvement in this behavior can be seen by inspecting Randy's item-by-item conversation skill scores (see Behavior 2, Table 2). Items 2, 4, and 8 ("Initiate the conversation," "Conversational questions," and "Eye contact") showed distinct improvement. During baseline these component behaviors were either lacking completely or rated at very low levels. Following Phase 1 training these items received scores of 5.5 and above. Item 6 ("Reinforcing complimentary comments") showed no increase over baseline level.

Scores for Behavior 3 again show improvement from baseline levels, yet not as pronounced as that of the first two behaviors. The item-by-item scores (Table 2) reveal specific weaknesses in Item 2 ("Explain the purpose of the job"), Item 5 ("Ask if there are any questions"), Item 7 ("Use of appropriate terminology"), and Item 8 ("Eye contact"). Each of these items failed to show any significant improvement over baseline levels during Phase 1. However, given Phase 2 in situ training, these skills (except for Item 5, "Ask if there are any questions") increased considerably over baseline and Phase 1 levels.

Jackie

For Jackie, the introduction of Phase 1 training for Behavior 1 led to increases in her performance scores over baseline levels (Figure 2). Her median score increased from 30 to 49, with a peak score of 60. Table 2 indicates consistent resistance to change for Item 5.

For Behavior 2, Jackie's generalization scores improved somewhat, her greatest increase being in Item 5 ("Self-disclosing statement"). For Behavior 3, Jackie's total scores increased from baseline during Phase J; the addition of Phase 2 training further increased performance, however.

Donna

Figure 3 shows that Donna consistently improved her performance from baseline as a function of Phase 1 training for all three behaviors. Table 2 indicates that she consistently improved for all skills except Items 3 and 5 of Behavior 1 (respectively, "Tell your job title" and "Ask if your answer is complete").

Joan

Figure 4 shows that Joan increased Behavior 1 as a function of Phase 1 training. The addition of Phase 2 led to very little change from an already high level. Behaviors 2 and 3 displayed no marked changes with the onset of Phase 1. The addition of Phase 2 led to an increase in Behavior 2 but no marked change in Behavior 3. Table 2

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

indicates increases in all skills for Behavior 2 with both phases of training. Behavior 3 had consistent skill increases from Phase 1 to 2.

Pretest and Posttest: All Students

Table 3 presents pretest and posttest ecological validation scores. In summary, the overall median posttest score (the median of the individual medians) for the four students (70) increased markedly from pretest (53). This aggregate change was reflected in the changes of individual students. There was a considerable amount of agreement between coworkers. Donna had the smallest amount of change, but she had a high pretest score. Coworkers made many anecdotal comments about the students' becoming more friendly and conversational by the end of the semester.

DISCUSSION

Increasing attention has been given to social skills training for students with learning disabilities. This

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

activity seems particularly important for the vocational preparation of this population. While a few previous studies demonstrated the acquisition of social skills, they were not validated in actual work settings. The present study demonstrated that a behaviored training procedure can, in some cases, produce generalization to actual work contexts.

Four students practiced and were trained in three behaviors. Across the four students, 8 of 12 behaviors improved as a function of simulated training in a school setting. In situ training occurred in six instances. Four of six behaviors improved with in situ training conducted at the work site. On-site training may thus be viewed as a useful adjunct to simulated training. The social validation outcomes further supported the power of the training procedures.

Part of the difficulty and reason for relaively few studies being conducted in work settings is the challenge to the investigator to control conditions and measures. The main purpose of a job site is worker productivity and not employee education. The investigator is thus more a guest than a collaborator in this setting. Direct observational measures may be intrusive. The planned probes used here, however, were both economical and nonintrusive; and they were able to pinpoint specific skill needs or flaws in the instructional design. For example, asking if one's answer is complete or if there were any questions proved particularly resistant to training efforts.

Different work areas also produce variations in social climates that may be more or less conductive to conversational or other social exchanges. These variations in social climates contribute extraneous, uncontrollable variance that a training package must transcend. The training procedures used here proved to be efficacious across such environmental variation. This was particularly noticeable as social behaviors appeared across a range of interactions and were perceived to change by different coworkers. In addition, since the training took relatively little time and space, it could be implemented in such real world circumstances.

Still, a number of questions remain about the characteristics of vocational social skills training. For one, the role-play (rehearsal) component was combined with a self-monitoring component. It is possible that one or the other component, alone, could have induced substantial changes. For example, Storey and Gaylord-Ross (1987) found that self-monitoring alone could maintain the original social behavior changes produced by a combined rehearsal/self-monitoring package.

More important, there needs to be more research systematically comparing the relative contributions of simulated versus in situ training. The present findings argue for the need for an in situ adjunct. Still, more simulated training sessions beyond the relatively few conducted here might have led to substantial generalization. Yet Kazdin (1987) recently reported that rather lengthy rehearsal/self-monitoring training was insufficient to produce generalization to criterion settings. We would argue that in situ training should be explored with more challenging behaviors or students (as was the case with Kazdin's antisocial children). Such training applies the Stokes and Baer (1977) strategy of manipulating the natural contingencies of reinforcement to promote generalization.

In an enlightening review, Horner, McDonnell, and Bellamy (1986) reported that simulated (vs. community-based) training can produce generalization effects for persons with mild disabilities. In contrast, persons with severe disabilities require more in situ training to promote generalization. Thus, individual differences may call for different admixtures of simulated and in situ training. Simulated training offers the benefit of convenience and economy. In situ training may be required with more intractable cases. Future research needs to investigate the optimal combinations of these training approaches for students with learning disabilities as they make the transition from school to adult life.

REFERNCES

Education for the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1983 (P.L. 98-199).

Goldstein, A. P. Sprafkin, R. P., Gershaw, N. J., & Klein, P. (1980). Skillstreaming the adolescent. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Hazel, J. S., Schumaker, J. B., Sherman, J. A., & Sheldon-Wildgen, J.S. (1981). ASSET: A social program for adolescents. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Horner, R. H., McDonnell, J. J., & Bellamy, G. T. (1986). Teaching generalized skills: General case instruction in simulation and community settings. In R. H. Horner, L. H. Meyer, & H. D. Bud Fredericks (Eds.), Education of learners with severe handicaps: Exemplary service strategies (pp. 289-314). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Kazdin, A. (1987). Treatment of antisocial behavior in children: Current status and future directions. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 187-203.

Kelly, W. J., Salzberg, C. L., Levy, S. M., Warrenfeltz, R. B., Adams, T. W., Crouse, T. R., & Beegle, G. P. (1983). The effects of role-playing and self-monitoring on the generalization of vocational social skills by behavioral disordered adolescents. Behavioral disorders, 9, 27-35.

Mathews, R. M. Whang, P. A., & Fawcett, S. B. (1982). Behavioral assessment of occupational skills in learning disabled adolescents. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 15, 38-41.

Montague, M. (1988). Job-related social skills training for adolescents with handicaps. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 11, 26-41.

Schumaker, J. B., & Ellis, E. S. (1982). Social skills training of adolescents: A generalization study. Learning Disability Quarterly, 5, 409-414.

Schumaker J. B., Hazel, J. S., Pederson, C. S., & Nolan, S. (in press). Evaluation of a method for promoting generalization of newly learned social skills (Research Report). Lawrence: The University of Kansas Institute for Research in Learning Disabilities.

Siegel, S., Greener, D., Prieur, J., & Gaylord-Ross, R. (1989). The community vocational training program. Career Development for Exceptional Children, 12, 48-64.

Siegel, S., Robert, M., Greener, K., Meyer, G., Halloran, W., & Gaylord-Ross, R. (in press). Career ladders for challenged youths in transition from school to adult life. Austin, TX:Pro-Ed.

Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1987). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10 349-367.

Storey, K., & Gaylord-Ross, R. (1987). Increasing positive social interactions by handicapped individuals during a recreational activity using a multicomponent treatment package. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 8, 627-649.

Warrenfeltz, R. B., Kelly, W. J., Salzberg, C. L., Beegle, G. P., Levy, S. M., Adams, T. A., & Crouse, T. R. (1981). Social skills training of behavioral disordered adolescents with self-monitoring to promote generalization to a vocational setting. Behavioral Disorders, 7, 18-27.

Will, M. (1984). OSERS programming for the transition of youth with disabilities: Bridges from school to working life. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

KIM CLEMENT-HEIST is a teacher in the Mount Desert Island School District, Maine. SHEPHERD SIEGEL (CEC Chapter #127) is the Director of the King County Vocational/Special Education Cooperative in the Puget Sound Educational Service District, Seattle, Washington. ROBERT GAYLORD-ROSS was the director of this research and a Professor in Behavior Disorders and Vocational Special Education at Vanderbilt University before his death in December 1990.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Council for Exceptional Children
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clement-Heist, Kim; Siegel, Shepherd; Gaylord-Ross, Robert
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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