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Teaching SEL Through Academic Content: ELA, History and Music

In an earlier post, I described the 3 strategies to address SEL in the classroom that CASEL (2013) recommends. The third strategy encourages integrating SEL with academic content, which means that you connect the strategies and vocabulary of your SEL instruction with your subject matter.  In Perseverance in Solving Problems we saw how you can do this connection in your math class. Today, let’s look at other subjects and see ways in which SEL can be integrated with the academic curriculum.

  • English-Language Arts. There are several ELA Common Core Standards naturally aligned with social and emotional skills. For example, those related to describing characters in a story (RL.3.3), describing how a particular story plot unfolds and how the characters respond or change overtime (RL.6.3) or how particular lines of dialanna-karenina1ogue or incidents in a story propel the action (RL.8.3). When teaching these standards in the classroom, you will be helping students identify emotions (emotional literacy), analyzing the pros and cons of the characters’ actions (consequential thinking), and identifying how emotions and actions are connected to motivation or long-term goals. In addition, research has shown (Kidd and Castano, 2013) that continued exposure to literary fiction could increase empathy. My personal pick: Russian novels; exquisite in their description of complex characters and soul-searching processes!
  • History. Teaching history offers a great opportunity for teachers and students to confront the complexities of humanity, in ways that promote critical thinking, empathy and moral development. The language provided by SEL around emotional literacy, self-management, social awareness and relationship building can help you create a safe environment for students to discuss subjects such as racism, immigration, diversity, human rights, etc. At the same time, historical figures can be analyzed through the lenses of social and emotional competencies. If you teach High School, you could use this lesson plan Nelson Mandela & The Fight Against Apartheid to analyze how Mandela used different social and emotional competencies through his fight against Apartheid. Also, Facing History and Ourselves has great resources for teachers (units, lessons plans, videos) to discuss complex moments in history and work with students to understand the range of human behavior.
  • Music. The history of music is full of artists that struggled to find a place in the music scene, were often broke and sometimes lost hope that they would ever make it. Ask students about their favorite musicians and help them analyze these artists under the lens of social and emotional competencies. Another way to integrate SEL in your music class is analyzing songs through emotional literacy. I cannot think of a place where you can identify more emotibrain_musicons and feelings than in music (both with or without lyrics)! You can also discuss how music makes students feel and how different genres might generate similar/different emotions. Music is often therapeutic for a lot of us, try discussing with your students how music can be used to increase motivation or engage optimism!

In order to increase the impact of the SEL program in your class, you can integrate its content and language with the academic curriculum. Addressing Common Core ELA standards related to characters and plots, analyzing historical figures through the lenses of social and emotional competencies or identifying the emotions and feelings that music generate are a few strategies that will develop students’ social and emotional skills while they learn the specific academic content you teach them in class. How do you integrate SEL with academic content? Please share!

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