Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which students, teachers and families learn and practice the skills of emotional intelligence. As a process, implementation of SEL might look differently in different schools with unique needs and students. Although there are certain key ingredients to create an evidence-based, sustainable SEL program, the way in which schools, teachers and students make these ingredients come together will vary. Teachers’ readiness, leadership support, students’ social and emotional needs and existing resources, among other factors, will influence how schools go about making SEL “work” in their communities. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Read more
Posts tagged ‘CCSS’
It is that time of year again… it’s testing season! In California, students in public and charter schools are taking the Smarter Balanced Assessments, aligned to the Common Core Standards. The stakes are high… teachers have been working hard to prepare students and now it is students’ chance to show what they know on the test. This time of year is stressful for everybody: teachers, students, administrators and even parents. Since emotions are contagious, if students are anxious teachers might become agitated too! Read more
In an earlier post, I discussed the concept of emotion and offered a few suggestions to build self-awareness and self-management in your students. After reading the blog, did you start identifying your different emotional responses during the day? Did you find yourself paying more attention to how your emotions predispose you to act? Understanding how emotions work is key to build our awareness! Today, we’ll explore how emotions affect learning.
Students bring to the classroom emotions from life outside of school; they might be dealing with an ongoing stressful situation at home, like a divorce or a parent losing their job, or maybe something more momentary, like an argument with a sibling. If students didn’t have a chance to manage their emotions before getting to school, they will need your support to cool off and re-focus before they can move on with their day.
In addition, students also experience emotions that originate in the classroom and that are especially relevant for students’ learning (Pekrun, 2014):
- Achievement emotions relate to success and failure resulting from classroom activities. Students might feel hope and pride can they have been successful, but they can also feel anxiety, shame or fear of failure. Taking tests, for example, is an achievement activity that tends to create high levels of anxiety and stress in our students. These emotions will influence how students approach the task and how well they perform. Remember our discussion on growth mindset?
- Topic emotions pertain to the topics/subjects presented in class. Students might feel excited about a new art class, disgusted with certain lab experiments or saddened by the fate of a character in a novel.
- Social emotions relate to teachers and classmates, as students (and teachers) work together and interact in the classroom. Compassion, envy, sympathy, anger or social anxiety can be present at different times during the day with any and all of our students.
As a teacher, it might be difficult to respond to your students’ emotions at all times, while you manage the classroom and attend to academic content. However, there are things you can do to incorporate students’ emotions when you are planning and also during class.
- Offer a variety of tasks and activities, so students can feel successful during your class/period, and combine both achievement and performance tasks. Building self-confidence in your students by providing opportunities for success and accomplishment is key to promote a joy for learning and to avoid achievement anxiety.
- Provide contents that are meaningful to students and, when possible, allow students to define their own learning. You can make tasks more meaningful by connecting content to students’ current interest or relating them to their career goals. When possible, give students autonomy to select tasks or topics for learning. Both of these strategies promote students’ engagement and offer opportunities to practice social and emotional competencies.
- Build regular check-ins with students (both at the beginning and during the day/class). This can take the form of a classroom meeting, but could also be a silent activity where students quickly show you how they are feeling. Check out this example. You can also use check-in time to ask for feedback about lessons, classroom routines or particular projects students are developing.
Students bring emotions from life outside of school that influence their disposition to learning. In the classroom, students experience emotions based on the activities, topics and social interactions that are presented to them. Offering a variety of tasks and activities for students to feel successful, providing engaging content and allowing for students’ autonomy in learning are a few examples of strategies teachers can use to incorporate students’ emotions in their planning. And don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your students to continue building awareness!
Last week, I was rereading my research data and came across this amazing quote from one of the teachers. We were discussing the connections between Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and academic achievement.
“I think that SEL is a foundation you need to have before you can get to the academic learning (…) It also reinforces the study skills that they use in order to learn. So knowing their emotions and know their needs has to come first and then it also goes hand in hand with the academic learning when they know their strengths and weaknesses and they can use those in order to learn better.”
We could spend a lot of time analyzing each sentence and seeing how this teacher’s insights speak to your teaching practice, as you are transitioning to the Common Core. However, today I want to focus on the last part of this quote: the importance of being able to identify strengths and weaknesses and using those to learn better. As an adult, I can say that it is not an easy task! Admitting your weaknesses is recognizing that you aren’t perfect… and using them to learn better means that there are certain things that you need to improve. Although this is difficult for adults to do (challenging performance review? Difficult conversation with a spouse/partner?), we often ask students to recognize their challenges, and we send them off to start working on getting better.
Students (and adults) 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. Also, working with students on identifying their strengths will help you to know them better, and learn things that they like to do and do well in other parts of their life. This is especially important for students that might be struggling in your classroom, don’t seem motivated or are having a hard time adapting to the new Common Core. You can use their strengths and connect them with the content you teach!
In addition to help students feel more confident and motivated, working with students to identify their strengths will make it easier to talk about their areas of growth, and set up some goals to improve them. Here are 3 suggested steps to talk with your students about strengths and challenges. These activities could be done during morning meeting, check-in time or advisory period.
1. Have students complete a personal inventory. This inventory should ask students to reflect on the things they like to do, the ones that they do well, and others that might be hard and/or boring for them. It should include different aspects of students’ lives, such as school subjects, sports and hobbies, relationships and family. Display these inventories (or a section) in the classroom, a powerful visual reminder that we all have strengths.
2. Help students set up goals based on their strengths. We sometimes tend to set up goals for improvement without reflecting on how our strengths can help us achieve these goals (which might lead to frustration if they aren’t met). When working with students, focus on their strengths as the catalysts for improvement!
3. Refer back to students’ strengths when providing feedback, and check regularly on progress for meeting goals. Students will be more open to hear feedback, if you start a conversation discussing their latest accomplishments or complimenting something they’ve done. Even when you are working with a challenging student, try to start the conversation by saying something positive! And check back with your students on their goals, so you can help them rephrase or adapt depending on the progress.
Helping students identify their strengths is a great way to build motivation, self-confidence and a closer relationship with your students. Creating a personal inventory with students, setting up goals based on strengths and using students’ positive attributes when providing feedback will help build self-awareness in your students, and develop stronger learners. How do you use students’ strengths in your classroom? Please share your thoughts!
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 dialogue 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 emotions 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!
Life has some interesting twists, and sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. After a failure, we might feel lost, embarrassed, scared, upset, or even numb… we might not feel anything at all! At my last post, Perseverance in Solving Problems, I discussed how perseverance, grit and tenacity could be addressed in the classroom by creating a climate that supports challenging goals where mistakes are seen as normal and by developing a growth mindset in students. Today, I want to focus on some specific strategies that can be used to develop a growth mindset and deal with setbacks in your own journey or when working with students.
1. Identify how you feel. When we are dealing with difficult situations, we might feel a mixture of emotions. Being able to name these emotions, without judging if they are good or bad, will help you decrease their intensity and develop self-awareness. According to Damasio (2005), “far from interfering with rationality, the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decisions making almost impossible”. Emotions contain information that can help us think, and when acknowledged, take a more objective stand in the situation we are facing so we can make better decisions.
2. Don’t be a victim. When we face setbacks and struggles, we might feel like we are victims (of discrimination, an unfair teacher, a bureaucratic system, etc.). When we feel this way, we tend to blame others for the difficulties we are facing. This mindset takes the individual’s power away, making it hard to change things and move forward. Moving away from a victim mentality starts with self-awareness, being able to connect with our emotions, so we can manage our behavior (instead of just reacting) and move into a position where we can identify new or alternative solutions. Another way to avoid a victim mentality is to take setbacks as part of learning. Embrace challenge as part of life and learning!
3. Identify the lesson that you can learn from it. There is always something that we can learn, even from difficult situations or when we think “everything is lost”. This means taking the time to analyze what happened, learn from mistakes and find ways to make them less likely to happen in the future. Although this can (often) be a hard process, the lessons learned when dealing with setbacks are generally the ones that stay with us the longest. When you are dealing with a challenge or helping students overcome a difficult situation, ask the question “what can I learn from it?”.
4. Remember your strengths and your goals. Experiencing setbacks can make you question your self-worth, your goals, and the things that keep you motivated to keep going. Being able to identify your strengths, and how you can use them to overcome the challenge and find new solutions, will be key to reframe the situation positively and open up space for alternatives. Learning from setbacks often means changing your behaviors in ways that will lead to success, but not giving up on your goals! Having clarity on your goals will help you persevere, even when you are faced with challenges.
5. Find social support. Numerous studies indicate that social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health, and may enhance individuals’ resilience to stress. Talk with a friend, coach or mentor about your experience. Others can give you emotional support (someone who can listen when you are upset or scared), remind you of your strengths or offer some strategies that have worked for them in the past. So don’t be shy about asking for help!
According to Carol Dweck, a growth mindset creates a love for learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments. Having a growth mindset means that we take on challenges wholeheartedly, learn from our setbacks and try again. We won’t be able to avoid difficult situations, but we can be prepared with strategies when they strike!