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2y + 3x = SEL

It has been almost 6 years since the Common Core State Standards were released. The adoption of common standards in the US has brought exciting changes for students and teachers, and a fair amount of frustration, anger and fear of failure. Although the standards have received many criticisms, Montoy-Wilson, a 2nd grade teacher in East Palo Alto (California), describes them as a tool to address the achievement gap and equip all students with proper tools for the 21st century:

Every day as I teach the Common Core standards, I am confident and excited that I am equipping my students with habits of mind that will make them college-and-career ready”.

In Mathematics, the Common Core standards reflect the view that learning is a social process, implicitly calling for teaching practices that leverage the power of group work and collaborative learning. The Standards for Mathematical Practice (known as SMPs) require that students solve real-world problems by working effectively with peers; elaborating and communicating arguments; understanding and critiquing diverse points of view; and persevering in solving problems. Those skills seem to go beyond being able to fill out some bubble sheets, right? In order to develop students that are mathematically proficient in the Common Core standards, math instruction will need to incorporate the development of social and emotional competencies.

The Charles A. Dana Center and CASEL have recently published a set of resources connecting the SMPs with the specific SEL competencies that support them. This is the most comprehensive list of resources that I have seen so far, and it is definitely worth spending some time going through it. A great place to start is looking at the social and emotional skills that students will need in order to be proficient under the Common Core standards. Here’s an example.

Standards for Mathematical Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

SEL and math

As you can see, in order to prepare students to meet the expectations laid out in the SMP-1 (making sense of problems and persevering in solving them), you will need to support the development of students’ self-awareness and self-management skills. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Discuss with your students their emotional reaction to math problems. Do they get excited about the subject or shut down? What’s their stress level in your class? If the emotions generated by the subject are not conducive to productive work, you will need to offer alternative ways to think about the subject. How is math connected with the outside world? How can math help them meet their goals? Here’s a 1-hour activity that you can do with your students to identify and share emotions.
  2. Help students identify their strengths. This is the foundation of self-awareness! Students who can identify their strengths will be more likely to build on them to improve their areas of growth; they will probably have a greater motivation, and will be more self-confident.  Here’s a 3-step process to help students identify their strengths.
  3. Teach self-talk strategies to help students (re)focus. Learning ways to cope with stress when faced with a difficult task (such as solving a complex problem) or strategies to re-engage with a task that requires perseverance are essential in the Common Core math classroom. What can students tell themselves when they get stuck? Have students brainstorm strategies and give them suggestions. Taking a deep breath, rereading the problem and finding what they know, or taking one step at a time, are a few strategies that can help students re-engage with the task. This is a great article that provides tips to help students overcome the “run” response in math.

Developing mathematically proficient students requires that teachers develop students’ social and emotional competencies alongside their mathematical knowledge. You can help students develop self-awareness by discussing their emotional reaction to the subject and helping them identify their strengths; self-management can be supported by teaching self-talk strategies that students can use to re-engage with challenging problems. How are you connecting SEL with your math instruction? Please share in the comments below!

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