When we present students with a new unit or project, we often explain what students are going to learn. As we were taught in teacher preparation, it is very important to have clear, explicit and measurable objectives for our lessons. Generally, we also explain how they are going to learn this content (through hands-on activities, going to the lab, searching the internet or all of the above). Something that is not so commonly shared with students is the social and emotional competencies that they’ll need in order to learn; in other words, the skills that will allow them to perform the proposed tasks (the how) in order to reach the learning objective (the what).
Why don’t we explicitly tell students the skills they’ll be using when engaged in certain activities in the classroom? You might say that students are ALWAYS practicing their self-control, their conflict resolution skills or their empathy. You’re probably right! However, you should explicitly tell students the key social and emotional competencies involved in a task to build their awareness and help them further develop these skills. For example, if students are participating in a classroom discussion about a literary text, you might want to emphasize that they will be practicing their:
- Self-management skills by regulating their emotions and waiting for their turn.
- Social-awareness skills by actively listening to others and trying to understand their opinions.
- Relationship skills by working cooperatively.
It is your decision which competency you emphasize for a particular lesson and/or activity. It will depend on your learning goal, the content itself and your classroom culture; the key is to explicitly share the skill or skills with your students. Here’s a suggested process:
1. Explicitly share social and emotional competencies involved. When you introduce a new unit, lesson or activity explicitly tell students which social and emotional competencies they will be practicing.
2. Gather evidence. During the activity, write down a couple of examples of students using the skills you emphasized when introducing the lesson.
3. Reflect. During your closing activity, ask students to reflect on how they felt practicing the skill/s. Did they notice anything new or different about themselves or others? What did they learn? After students share their thoughts, give them the examples you saw. Close by providing suggestions for further development or just congratulating for great work!
Being explicit about the social and emotional competencies involved in learning is a great way to integrate your SEL framework with the academic content you teach. It helps build awareness in students and offers meaningful situations to practice these skills. Try it out and let me know how it goes!