You can see how this approach might help children conquer a number of feats, all the way from bouncing a basketball to reading, or controlling their impulses. Here are four specific examples:
1. Play a not-too-challenging skill game like Operation with children. As you are playing, talk out loud your steps, and your feelings when you succeed and fail in getting the body parts out of the patient. The way you respond to failure is particularly important, because it tells children what to say when things don’t go their way. It also lets children know that everybody makes mistakes–even teachers. It’s good for children to see you make mistakes. A model with effective coping skills is better than one who never makes mistakes.
You can also train peers to act as models. They may even have a stronger impact on another child than you do.
2. Ask children to direct a peer in doing a task, say weaving a paper basket or making popsicles. Make sure they don’t use any body movements in getting their message across, just words. This gives children practice in using words to direct actions.
3. Play a game of Copy Cat with your class. Mary-Ann Bash and Bonnie Camp (1975) incorporated this idea in their program “Think Aloud.” You play the game by asking children to say what you say and do what you do. Children copy out loud your problem-solving steps: (a) identifying the problem–“What is my problem?”; (b) developing a plan–“What is my plan?”; (c) monitoring performance–“Am I using my plan?”; (d) evaluating performance–“How did I do?” Gradually your copy cat model is faded and replaced by cue cards to remind children of their problem-solving steps.
4. Combine self-instructional training with imagery. If you notice children day-dreaming when they should be self-instructing, you can get them back on track by asking them to imagine themselves walking a tightrope or pretending they are a robot, two things requiring concentration and deliberate action.
M. Schneider (1974) combined self-instructional training and imagery in his innovative turtle technique. Children are asked to be like a turtle by going inside their shells whenever they feel themselves losing control. While inside their shells, children practise relaxation, and think about how they can manage their problems without losing their tempers. The turtle technique helps children control their tempers and aggressive behavior.
Self-instructional training is not for every child. Take Michelle for instance, she knows how to instruct herself in doing multiple choice questions, but she doesn’t understand what her words mean. Consequently she doesn’t know what she’s telling herself to do. Self-instruction may not be appropriate for younger or mentally handicapped children.
Bill is another example. He knows inside-out the steps for doing a lay-up in basketball, but he just can’t do it. Children who lack ability may have to practise the desired actions before starting their self-instructions.
And then there’s Cory. She can repeat the steps for doing mazes, only she’s gazing out the window as she’s saying them. Saying does not always equal doing. You have to make sure children follow through on what they are telling themselves to do.
Lastly, we have Spencer and Rory. Spencer is quite anxious and already thinks too much about what he does, while Rory already knows how to do mazes, and finds the self-instructional process slows down his performance.