Thinking Books

Using Superflex and Social Detective

Using Superflex and Social Detective: Making PBIS Supercool!

Michelle Garcia Winner

Michelle Garcia Winner First - a little background on our two primary school products with a legion of children and adult fans in the UK, USA and around the world: You are a Social Detective! and Superflex® A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum.

You are a Social Detective! is a 68-page comic book, written to teach parents and professionals, along with children, many of the core Social Thinking concepts such as social observation or detective, school smarts/social smarts, thinking with your eyes, and expected/unexpected behaviour. In this book we also present our core formula for teaching explicitly the concept of social responsibility.

We guide the reader to be an observer (or detective) in order to figure what to do (expected or unexpected) in the situation. What a person does in a situation is then linked to thoughts and feelings of others, which causes their responses. Students learn that each of us can strongly influence how people react and respond to us, and how we respond to them. We also teach adults and children how to use their "built-in" detective toolbox consisting of eyes, ears, brain and emotions. We strongly believe that individuals must learn to be keen social observers in order to launch into the Superflex® series.

Both Detective and Superflex connect to the core Social Thinking framework to explode the social code by providing meaningful lessons about the social world and concrete strategies to establish stronger self-regulation skills.

Self-regulation is where Superflex comes into play. The Superflex series helps adults teach strategies for self-regulation in a manner that most students find really engaging. Stephanie Madrigal, co-author of the original curriculum, was the brainchild behind using a superhero to represent the thinking ability that resides in each of our brains to defeat our social challenges. The idea is to teach children that they have a superhero inside their own brains (a superhero that takes on their appearance) in order to launch into action to defeat a sneaky group of characters who live in ALL of our brains called the “Team of Unthinkables.”

Each Unthinkable, like the child's personal Superflex, has powers. While Superflex has powers to provide people with flexible thinking and problem-solving skills, the Unthinkables have the power to derail specific aspects of social behaviour, leading all of us to do unexpected behaviour. Each student is encouraged to define, describe, and develop strategies to minimize the appearance of one to three personalised Unthinkables who may show up to thwart their flexible thinking. There are also Thinkables, a group of positive and equally powerful brain inhabitants, who help to defeat the Unthinkables and coach us along the expected social route!

You can see why this is appealing! Lessons are launched against the backdrop of a place called Social Town (which is actually ANYtown and EVERYtown) where kids attend the Superflex Academy and where earning certificates and even graduation is possible! Students enjoy the process of learning about themselves while also developing stronger observation skills so they can spot an Unthinkable that may be invading the brains of people around them — including their parents or teacher. They can also learn how to call on their Thinkables to stay strong and powerful.

Superflex has created a lot of buzz in schools, clinics, and homes. Teachers, parents, and students have created their own Social Town communities, discovered and drawn new Unthinkable characters, and composed skits using these characters. Some schools have even adopted the curriculum and its language and strategies school-wide for all students.

As more and more adults are embracing Superflex and this type of social learning/social awareness teaching, enthusiasm is growing for its use as a social–emotional learning tool that dovetails into PBIS (Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports).

In response, Social Thinking in the US have developed ideas, strategies, and a Superflex conference day to address the connection to PBIS, social emotional learning and academic standards. Here’s a sampling of the some of the questions that have prompted their efforts:

Q: “I observed a teacher at our school effectively use the books, You are a Social Detective, and the Superflex curriculum in a mainstream third grade class. Have you had much experience with schools using it more broadly as part of PBIS? How are people doing this?”

Yes! Many districts have been using these teachings as part of their Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. The powers of Superflex help define and create a school culture that is attractive to students. Here’s an example of how a principal used this with his elementary school: Each day during morning announcements over the speaker system he announced which Unthinkable was on the loose, the powers of the Unthinkable and a strategy that all students could use to empower their own Superflex to defeat the Unthinkable.

Q: “My kindergarten kids love Superflex but find it hard to use all the strategies - it's too complicated. Is it OK to use the curriculum in a more limited format?”

Yes! Many young elementary-school students enjoy learning about their own powers of self-control that reside in their brain and enjoy creating their own Unthinkables — ones that relate directly to them. We see that many of these kids also try to develop a strategy to defeat the Unthinkable, but our students with larger self-regulation issues will struggle to use Superflex’s strategies at this age. We actually recommend that the teacher start by exploring the fact that each child's brain has powers to control behaviour, but stop short of having the student use strategies to try to control his/her own behaviour. In other words, give them information to think about it without asking for the behaviour change until they get a bit older. Teachers are finding that just by having their young learners consider this information and design their Unthinkable, they become more aware of their own internal powers of self-control. It’s a great first step toward self-regulation but please make sure to start with teaching observation skills by starting with the Social Detective!

You can read more of this article and find other useful articles on the Social Thinking website.

Superflex® A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum
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by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner Comic Book by Stephanie MadrigalIllustrated by Kelly Knopp Superflex®: A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum provides educators, parents and therapists fun and motivating ways to teach students with social and communication difficulties (undiagnosed or diagnosed, such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, high-functioning autism or similar). The three-part cognitive behavioural curriculum helps students develop further awareness of their own thinking and...

You are a Social Detective
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By Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke Illustrated by Kelly Knopp Every one of us is a Social Detective. We are good Social Detectives when we use our eyes, ears, and brains to figure out what others are planning to do next or are presently doing and what they mean by their words and deeds. You are a Social Detective: Explaining Social Thinking to Kids is a comic book which has many different concepts that can be reviewed over and over again with students. It is best to read this book in...

Social Town Citizens
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Discover 82 New Unthinkables for Superflex® to Outsmart! Edited and Expanded Upon by Stephanie Madrigal, Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke This latest edition in the Superflex series, for children aged 8-11, is a compilation work that introduces 82 new Unthinkables and 14 new Thinkables submitted by Social Town citizens of all ages, which have been edited and expanded upon by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner. Unthinkables and Thinkables are grouped by theme/category for easy...

The Zones of Regulation
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By Leah Kuypers, MA, OT, Autism SpecialistThe Zones of Regulation is a curriculum geared toward helping students gain skills in consciously regulating their actions, which in turn leads to increased control and problem solving abilities. Using a cognitive behaviour approach, the curriculum’s learning activities are designed to help students recognise when they are in different states called “zones,” with each of four zones represented by a different colour. In the activities, students also learn...


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