By Brenda Myles
Students with special needs face many academic challenges that are often intensified by social issues. Because social skills are not always rule-governed and are carried out differently across communicative partners and environments, it is a difficult area to teach. One skill area, the hidden curriculum. addresses these social incongruities and, is an essential skill for individuals with social challenges. While extremely important, once it is understood it can be taught in just minutes per day.
Richard Lavoie described the hidden curriculum as important social skills that everyone knows, but no one is taught. This includes assumed rules, adult or student expectations, idioms, and metaphors. Understanding the hidden curriculum is difficult for everyone, but it is when compounded when associated with a deficit in social interactions.
For example, everyone knows that Mrs. Robbins allows students to whisper in class as long as they get their work done, whereas Mrs. Cook does not tolerate any level of noise in her class. Similarly, everyone knows that Mr. Johnson, the assistant principal, is a stickler for following the rules, so no one curses or even slouches in his presence. Everyone also knows that the really tough guys (the ones who like to beat up unsuspecting kids) hang out behind the slide, just out of teacher view. Everyone knows these things, that is, except the student with exceptionalities.
There is no one comprehensive list of all hidden curriculum items. A brief listing of hidden curriculum items that may be applicable to children and youth with special issues school and community settings follows:
- Treat all authority figures with respect (i.e., police, firefighters). You would not address a police officer like you would your brother.
- Not all people you are unfamiliar with are strangers you can’t trust. You may not know your bus driver or your policeperson, but these are people who help you.
- What may be acceptable at your house, may not be acceptable at a friend’s house. For example, although it is acceptable to put your feet up on the table at home, your friend’s mom may be upset if you do that in their home.
- People do not always want to know the honest truth when they ask. Your best friend does not want to hear that she looks fat in a new dress she just bought for the high school dance.
- Teachers do not have the same rules. One teacher may allow gum in the classroom, while the other gives out fines for chewing gum.
- Teachers have assumed expectations for their students. They are expected to greet the teachers, sit down when the bell rings, and listen quietly to announcements.
- When a teacher gives you a warning, it means that she wants the behavior to stop and that most likely there will be a consequence if the behavior occurs again.
- It is absolutely impolite to interrupt someone when talking, unless it is an emergency.
- Acceptable slang that may be used with your peers, i.e., dawg, phat, may not be acceptable when interacting with adults.
- When the teacher is scolding another student, it is not the best time to ask the teacher a question.
- When a teacher tells another student to stop talking, it is not an appropriate time for you to start talking to your neighbor.
- People are not always supposed to say what they are thinking.
Problems in understanding unwritten rules puts our students at a disadvantage. To remediate these problems, it is important that as educators, we are equipped with strategies to help students make sense of the hidden curriculum. By introducing students to one hidden curriculum per day – writing it on the board and reviewing it over a five-minute period first thing in the morning – you can make a significant difference in the social understanding of your students.
AAPC (Autism Asperger Publishing Company) will give a free hidden curriculum calendar to the first 100 new teachers who contact them. To get your calendar, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.