Cogntive Connections, LLP

Situational Awareness

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What IQ scores do not answer:
How Does a Student go From Intention to Action?

Dismissed from class, John a 7th grader, leisurely walks towards his locker. At the same time, the peers around him are moving quickly towards their own lockers. He tries to catch the attention of his peers, but many just give a quick dismissive smile and hurry to gather their belongings before the bell rings. Once at his locker, John starts to talk eagerly to the boy next to him, but he does not initiate gathering his class materials. The boy is quickly exchanging one set of binders for another and gives John a few head nods that are clearly sending nonverbal signals that he does not want to talk right now because he is focused on arriving to class on time. Regardless, John keeps talking and then the bell rings. He seems almost startled by the bell and shoves one book in his locker before absentmindedly grabbing another book and spiral notebook. With an unhurried pace, he heads to his next class and is the last to arrive. Other students have out on their desks a textbook, pencil and composition notebook. John walks to the back of the class, flips through the newest science magazine on the teacher's desk, then sits down and drops his books on the floor. Upon being prompted by the teacher to take out his book, he suddenly realizes he does not have the right book with him.
 
He leaves class to get the correct book. Upon his return, the class has already begun to do a science experiment. Students are preparing slides and looking through microscopes. John sits at the science lab table and when cued hops up to retrieve a slide. He takes the long way around the classroom, finally grabs the slide and returns to his stool. The teacher reminds him he needs to get a water dropper and a coverslip. En route to get the materials he stops and socializes with a peer for a quick moment and then returns with the coverslip but not the dropper. By the time John has gathered all the supplies and prepared his slide, the other students in the class have already begun to sketch their observations into their lab notebooks.

Class ends at 9:50. At 9:45, students are told they need to get ready to leave class. John stays focused looking through the microscope and does not notice his classmates getting up and moving about in the class. Peers start writing down their homework, putting away the microscopes in a cabinet and begin packing up their personal belongings. John did not appear to notice these subtle changes in the pace and movement of the class, and instead, stays focused on his lab notebook. The teacher then announces to the class, "2 minute warning to finish drawing your observations and store your materials. Then, take out your agenda book." John still does not respond. At this point, all the other students are packed up and ready to go and have agenda books out for the teacher to check off their homework as being recorded. The teacher cues John, "Pack up please." John still does not respond. The teacher approaches his lab table and says, "John you are running out of time." He replies, "UhHuh." However, he does not change his behavior and remains focused on the lab. All of the students have left the classroom. When John finally stops working, he leaves his microscope and lab notebook on the table and walks out of the classroom. 

While his overall grades are okay John struggles on almost a daily basis to be on time to class, to have the required materials, to initiate and complete in class work. This prompted a referral for an evaluation. Scores on standardized measures of intelligence were high to above average and John did not qualify for special education services. These high standardized scores demonstrated that when he was in a highly structured test setting with a limited number of factors to attend to, he could hold information in his working memory, process information, and execute effectively. However, when the situational factors, such as peers, environmental cues, materials, and directions, to attend to increased even slightly so he had to integrate and organize these factors as a means to regulate his behavior, his executive control processes dramatically declined. As if often the case, executive function challenges are often not a correlate of IQ.

More often executive function challenges are associated with SQ. SQ? You might have heard of EQ- Emotional Intelligence. But SQ? SQ is Situational Intelligence. There is a wealth of research on Situational Awareness (SA) as it pertains to military operatives, emergency response providers, and medical professionals in high attention demand situations. Yet, there is little research related to SA, task execution, and academic performance. A pioneer in in the field of military situational intelligence, John Boyd, developed the OODA loop to identify the core features of situational awareness: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The OODA loop is a process that defines how we react to the stimuli we are bombarded with all day. In the first stage, we Observe or sense the key features in a situation to understand what is happening around us. These are not limited to visual stimuli, but also include kinesthetic (spatial/perceptual/temporal) and emotional information. In the Orient stage, an individual now focuses his or her attention to interpret what he or she has observed or sensed. The next step is to Decide and to determine a course of action based on what has been observed and focused upon. The last step is to Act upon that decision. The "loop" is considered to be what happens between the onset of the stimulus and one's reaction to that stimulus to regulate their behavior towards a future goal.
 
SA informally as "knowing what's going on" and, more formally, as "the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future." Situational awareness involves both a spatial and temporal component. Time is a critical concept, as SA is dynamic and changes at a speed imposed by the characteristics of the task, the actions of people, and the features of the surrounding environment. 

Situational Intelligence includes four specific elements:

1.  Extracts: the student observes the key information about space, time, objects, and people in the environment to orient themselves and "gets a sense" of what is happening in the specific moment in time to extract the most relevant information while ignoring nonrelevant information. They use this salient information to successfully integrate information with their internal knowledge to create a mental picture of the current situation.

2.  Determines Purpose: the student uses this mental picture to decide or determine his or her role (status) or purpose within that given volume of time and space of the situation.

3. Predicts: The student comprehends the meaning of the above to anticipate his or her expected behaviors in the near future and to predict the most efficient way to navigate space, sequence actions for goal attainment, gather necessary materials, and coordinate his or her actions with and in consideration of others.

4.  Shifts flexibly: In the OODA loop, once the person has observed and oriented to the environment, he or she decides a course of action and then acts. In the classroom "act" presents as the ability to stay on-task and to inhibit those behaviors which impede task completion. In other words to "not act" or exhibit impulse control. Given the ever changing demands of the classroom environment, the student must remain flexible to shift and change their actions to match the dynamic nature of the situation.

To help a student go from Intention to Action and Do the task it is imperative to strengthen their Situational Intelligence: to STOP, observe and read a room, orient to the expectation in a moment in time, decide what is required and then act within the allotted time frame. 
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