Our social knowledge is vast. And for most of us, it was never directly taught. We picked up on it as we grew older instinctively. Or our peers taunted us until we figured it out. The following are a few examples of things I learned from a recent Michelle Garcia Winner conference about rules that are taught, and those that are untaught.
All of you are sitting there quietly. And none of you look particularly happy. And that is considered good social skills in this setting.
How many times do we tell students to sit silently and scowl? Really.
More likely, we tell the student to smile, be happy, or perk up. But imagine that child sitting in class, facing the teacher, and grinning broadly. That would not be appropriate social skills. In fact, I’d wonder why the child was laughing at me! But no one teaches this skill until the unspoken rule is broken. Even then consequences are often doled out with the rule being thoroughly explained.
Here is another example from Ms. Winner:
We are always monitoring what we do and what other people are thinking. For example, if I were in church, I would sit relatively quietly and discretely hide any bodily noises. However, if no one else were in the building with me, I would cough, burp, etc. without restraint. If there were 2 or 3 people in the space with me, I would keep my body noises to a minimum, but I would talk. It would be socially awkward to not speak in a small group and sit with a sustained silence.
When do teachers explain the lesson that sustained silence in a small group is awkward, but sustained silence in a large group is expected?
A child with social differences, such as a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, may not learn these social rules by watching his peers. Instead he may need direct instruction in each of these areas. Ms. Winner explained that these students may benefit from peer mentoring, but not modeling. With mentoring, a peer is assigned to actually teach the child how to “fit in” better with the group. She warned, however, that kids are only enthusiastic to be mentors when in elementary school. In secondary school, students do not want to be seen with another student from a difference social peer group. I saw this completely when recently reading the book Nineteen Minutes about a student who is bullied and harassed by most of his school. No one wants to be seen with him, and no one wants to teach him how to fit in. How lonely and depressed is he.
What are other unspoken rules you can think of from childhood?