How to Teach Adaptive Skills and Soft Skills to K-12 Students

A significant role of teachers is to help students learn soft skills and adaptive skills as a means of preventing behavioral problems. Yet, because of the many responsibilities’ teachers have (e.g., delivering lectures, correcting homework, keeping records, attending staff meetings and professional development sessions), they often don’t have the time to develop to help their students these skills. However, teachers can significantly impact the acquisition of soft skills, even in the little time they have.

Soft skills are those that contribute to a positive self-presentation and are typically used to get and keep a job and to take advantage of opportunities in life. These behaviors include maintaining eye contact, studying and preparing for class, listening while others are talking, using good manners, asking questions about what is not understood, using complete sentences, and following instructions. Teachers should make and post a list of soft skills, review and discuss the list with all of their students, and then praise the occurrence of these behaviors.

Teaching adaptive skills, including communication skills (e.g., how to express feelings, make a complete sentence, and write a business letter), socialization skills (e.g., how to resolve conflict, problem solve, initiate a conversation, and interview for a job), and daily living skills (e.g., how to write a check and balance a checkbook, make an emergency telephone call, pay bills), is something that most teachers agree is important. Yet, many teachers feel that these skills should be taught at home.

The problem is that neither parents nor teachers are sure how to teach these skills. Furthermore, many educators feel it is hard enough to teach math, reading, science, history, and other courses without adding adaptive skills. However, if teachers don’t teach these skills, many students won’t acquire them. Learning adaptive skills is vital for social, academic, and life success, all three of which are the main deterrents of behavioral problems.

One thing that teachers can do to teach these skills is to integrate them into their teaching of academic subjects. For example, when teaching math, the math assignment could be to calculate the cost of a list of grocery items and then write a check to pay for them. This assignment adds interest to the task and also prepares them for something they will do in real life. Fortunately, there is a growing recognition in schools that what is taught in the classroom needs to be directly related to what students will do in the real world to be successful in life.

Teachers can also help students learn adaptive skills during field trips in which they learn by doing. They can learn about banking, saving money, check writing, etc., by taking a field trip to the bank. Bank professionals can teach students the adaptive skills related to their profession. Through this process, some students might decide on a banking career as opposed to becoming a school dropout. The bank could then provide mentors to work with students interested in the banking field.

Another creative way teachers can help children learn adaptive skills is by inviting experts in various fields to teach these skills in the classroom, thereby teaching and serving as a role model at the same time.

Can you think of additional ways to teach soft and adaptive skills to K-12 students?


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