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Social skills refer to the abilities necessary for effective interpersonal functioning (Bornstein, Bellack, & Hersen, 1977). Assertiveness represents an important set of social skills, and although defined in various ways (Rich & Schroeder, 1976), is often described as expressing one's rights and opinions with respect for the rights of others (Alberti & Emmons, 1974; Lange & Jakubowski, 1976). Assertiveness training began as an individual therapy for adults (Wolpe & Lazarus, 1966), but more recently, numerous training programs have been developed and used with groups of normal populations, including adults (Galassi, Galassi, & Litz, 1974; Kazdin, 1974, 1982; Langelier, 1981) and adolescents (Englander-Golden, 1984; Lee, Hallberg, & Hassard, 1979; Lee, Hallberg, & Slemon, 1985; Pentz, 1980; Rotheram & Armstrong, 1980) with an emphasis on prevention and education.
Adolescence is associated with complex social relationships (Petersen, 1987, 1988) and heightened stress and depression (Whiting, 1981). Increased pressure to conform to peers (Coleman, 1980) is accompanied by a conflicting desire to establish a unique identity (Newman & Newman, 1986). Assertiveness training, which emphasizes self-expression in socially acceptable ways, is particularly appropriate at the beginning of adolescence. It has been associated with various benefits for adolescents such as enhanced self-concept (Stake, DeVille, & Pennell, 1983; Waksman, 1984a, 1984b), lowered self-abasement (Jackson, 1979), and improved locus of control (Waksman, 1984a). It also has been used effectively in drug refusal (Horan & Williams, 1982; Williams, 1980) and sex refusal (Rayvid & Brock, 1986) programs.
Bandura's (1977,1986) social cognitive theory offers an effective guide for developing a systematic social skills training program for adolescents. Bandura suggests that people use symbols as internal models to guide their behavior and as a means for estimating outcomes of their actions. Thus, the first step in assertion training is to provide information that fosters the acquisition of the symbolic representation of the assertive response and its likely consequences. Subsequent steps, according to Bandura's model, involve giving opportunities to achieve skilled performance through practice and providing experiences designed to facilitate self-efficacy and enactment of assertive behavior in specific situations.
The curriculum for this program was carefully planned to address the unique problems of young adolescents, focusing exclusively on peer interactions. It emphasized the concept of responsible assertion, which focuses on equal regard for the rights of self and others, rather than "just getting what you want." Presentation of the concepts of assertion, nonassertion, and aggression included information about underlying ideology, verbal content, and nonverbal components (i.e., gestures, posture, facial expression, and voice). Students were taught to anticipate likely social, physical, and emotional consequences of assertive responses and their alternatives, and to choose reasonable behaviors associated with positive feelings. Guidelines were provided as to responsible uses of assertion, including when not to be assertive, how to use persistent assertion and workable compromise, and how to foster assertive behavior in others.
Special materials and activities designed to be appropriate for the abilities and interests of sixth graders included oversized posters with self-sticking panels, cartoon homework, "game shows," puppet interviews, videotapes, and role-plays. A game show atmosphere was maintained in scripting and directed role-play activities through the use of oversized posters, individual performances, and audience applause. Scripts pertaining to adolescent interactions were used as a low-demand way to encourage initial participation. Students read the scripts, and class members used the posters to identify the rights exemplified in the various situations. In one directed role-play activity, each student was given a self-sticking panel with a nonverbal component printed on it. Students took turns acting out their components and placing them in the appropriate positions on posters that were labeled assertion, aggression, and nonassertion. In another directed role-play, students used these posters to guide their demonstrations of the differences between the three behavior styles as they repeated the same message using different nonverbal components.
Identification of verbal and nonverbal components of assertive, aggressive, and nonassertive behavior was facilitated through puppet interviews and videotape presentations. Three puppets made individual visits to the class and interacted with students and instructors as they presented various attitudes and nonverbal behaviors generally connected with their overall behavior styles (i.e., assertion, aggression, or nonassertion). The videotape was made by the authors for this training session and involved 11- and 12-year-olds (not class members) portraying some typical adolescent interactions as they demonstrated the three behavior styles. Both the puppet demonstrations and the videotape provided a safe way for students to discuss feelings associated with these behavior styles.
Improvised role-play activities for small groups were scheduled at the end of the training session. The situations were provided, but not scripted, and students were coached to act assertively. Immediate feedback, which emphasized praise and encouragement rather than criticism, was given by peer observers as well as the instructors. At a posttraining session, students were presented with certificates for successful completion of the program and encouraged to behave in a responsible, assertive way in the future.
The means and standard deviations for the experimental and control groups on the pretest, posttest, and follow-up are presented in Table 2. The performances of the two groups, in terms of number of correct responses and percentages, are shown in Figure 1.
This study is the first step toward developing a systematic and effective assertion training program based on social cognitive theory. Past research, to our knowledge, has not been based on any particular theoretical model and has never emphasized documenting the acquisition of symbolic information before attempting to measure changes in behavior and self-constructs. Because of this, it has been difficult to compare and draw conclusions from these studies. We hope that others will use this theory as a guide for future research in social skills training. Thus, their results will be better understood and will build on what has been done--systematically, rather than in a random pattern, which is of limited use to other researchers. Additionally, a systematic body of research in this area will provide for the testing and modification of social cognitive theory.
Results of this study indicate that young adolescents can learn and retain information basic to understanding the concept of assertion--the first step in a social cognitive theory approach to assertion training. Students scored an average of 85% on the posttest and retained the information at a satisfactory level--scoring 72% on the 6-month follow-up. It also was shown that it is possible to present this information to young people in a way that is relevant and enjoyable for them. In a student evaluation of the program, carried out immediately after training, the majority indicated that the lessons had been fun and a good learning experience. From an instructor's viewpoint, the assertiveness training program was enjoyable and practical to administer, and was well-received by the parents, teachers, counselors, and school administrators.
Because assertiveness training is potentially beneficial for adolescents, developing a systematic program and demonstrating its effectiveness is worthwhile. Our ultimate goal is to develop a program for public education that can be easily administered by school counselors and is adaptable to various scheduling needs. This program will include lessons that teachers can present to their classes, and procedures for counselors to use with students who need individual attention. This kind of assertiveness training in the school curriculum is particularly beneficial to adolescents with social skills deficits because it allows for intervention without negatively labeling the students (Waksman, 1984a).
The documentation of students' acquisition of symbolic information in this study is only the first step in developing a social skills training program based on social cognitive theory. Strategies should be developed for using practice with intrinsic and extrinsic feedback to transform the symbolic representation of the assertive response into skilled assertive behavior within the student's repertoire of behavioral choices. Bandura (1977,1986) suggests that once a response is learned symbolically and refined through practice, high perceived self-efficacy is necessary to motivate its enactment in specific situations. Thus, the development of methods for enhancing self-efficacy for assertive behavior in various situations is critical in enabling students to actually choose these behaviors in their daily lives. Future studies should focus on these issues.
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