Social emotional learning (SEL) has been a growing conversation in the education sphere. In response to a shift away from “content is king,” SEL brings a more holistic view of learning, counting student behavior and interaction with others as skills that should be developed and evaluated. SEL is difficult to teach because it appears to be subjective, or too “warm and fuzzy” for some educators. But with the right strategies, it’s easy to integrate SEL into your content area and develop combined-assessment measures. Check out the following SEL skills that can be seamlessly woven into a project, unit, or subject area.
Students with strong self-awareness can use words other than “okay” and “I’m fine” when you ask them how they are doing. Self-aware students can articulate their emotions, not just grunt them out as they pass you by in the hallway. Students’ emotions are wrapped up in their aspirations for the future and can reveal their motivations and ideals; teaching students how to communicate their emotions will help you help them. To determine a student’s level of self-awareness, include opportunities for emotional reflection, including both high- and low-stakes situations. For example, students can simply circle 5 emotions they’re feeling from a list after completing a test, forgetting a homework assignment, or after a long-term project. Have these short sheets ready to staple onto anything and everything students turn in, and use them as a starting point for discussing assignments or conferencing with parents.
2) Managing Emotions
When you teach little humans who are trying to come to grips with a lot of change, whether in the daily schedule or in their own development, it’s easy to understand how their emotions can run amok. Students who find it difficult to manage their emotions may turn to unhealthy methods of numbing or hiding their feelings, including substance abuse or experience depression. As their guides in this ever-changing world, it’s up to you to help students navigate their emotions, especially during times of flux. As a class, create a list of possible ways to manage emotions, both positive and negative. Post the list in your classroom to use as a guide for classroom management and acknowledge students who utilize the strategies in everyday interactions.
Empathy is one of those feelings that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see—or feel—it. Empathy differs from sympathy in that it involves imagining what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes, and what feelings and sensory reactions that person may be feeling. Empathy engages students’ creativity and emotions, but also requires them to synthesize their knowledge of the person they are empathizing with and their understanding of emotional reactions generally. One simple way to assess your students’ degree of empathy is to be “in the shoes” of different figures, both real and imagined, in your content area. Ask students to write a diary entry from the perspective of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, or create fake Facebook statuses of famous scientists to document the discovery process.
4) Tapping the Support Network
A support network can be the deciding factor between a student becoming an independent learner or getting lost in the education system. A support network can consist of family, educators, and professional resources designed to encourage the growth and well-being of the student. While many people in a student’s circle—including you, the teacher—are probably willing to step up and help out a student in need, many young people don’t think to ask for help. This may be due to the fact that society praises independence and problem-solving instead of community building and collaboration. To take away the stigma of asking for help, create a scavenger hunt that highlights the resources and people in your community available to assist students. You can even offer extra points for students who can describe the support they got from one of these resources. If you’re techy or crafty, consider creating a physical or virtual “Yelp page” for students to list the resources, describe their experiences, and explain how to go about getting assistance.
5) Decision-Making Skills
Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books? If you bought into the premise, you dr0ve the book’s plot by choosing what happened next in the story (or if you were the kind who liked to know everything up front, you read the endings before you made your choices). These books were popular because they allowed the reader to be involved—to be a decision-maker, not just a passive observer. These are skills students will need in order to become fully-fledged innovative thinkers, not just bystanders. When the events are depersonalized, like in the books, students can be more objective about the decision-making process. Include in your assessments opportunities for your students to evaluate decision points in your content. Instead of having students regurgitate factoids, ask students to evaluate a decision or break down the pros and cons. Evaluate students’ responses based on their ability to outline the reasons for the decision, not just the decision itself.