Jigsaw Skills

Many of the observable behaviors that we attempt to teach students such as conversation skills, organization skills and personal problem solving are actually Jigsaw skills. This means that even though they look like one skill they are actually comprised of several smaller skills. And if even one of the smaller skills is missing the picture is incomplete. When teaching the components of Jigsaw skills we must be sure that we are working on the correct pieces.
Take conversations skills as an example. I have often seen goals written that say a student is capable of 3 conversational exchanges and the team would like to increase that to 5. Here is the problem: Conversation skills are about more than comments and questions. In order to have a conversation we are actually employing a host of different skills such as drawing on background knowledge, eye-gaze tracking, Language skills including initiation, participation and cessation, and tons of perspective taking. Also, we are constantly modulating our language, thoughts and facial expressions in reaction to our conversational partner. Simply teaching the student to ask 2 more questions or make 2 more comments is not really addressing the deficit or teaching the skills the student need. When teaching social cognitive skills we need to be sure to analyze the skill and the student’s performance to address core deficits instead of masking them.