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October 30, 2015

Social and Emotional Learning

By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Should time in the classroom be devoted to social and emotional learning? This is a legitimate and important question considering all of the demands that are placed on classroom teachers. The truth is, many teachers instinctively respond to these types of needs of our students every day. We ask students how they are feeling, then genuinely listen to their responses. We constantly worry about students who might feel anxious or excluded at recess. We even hide special pencils or treats in our desks for a student that might need a little sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day.

    We do these things and more each and every day because we know our students’ social and emotional needs matter. We also understand the consequences of not responding to these needs. For many students, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything else, including academics, if they are feeling emotionally needy. I know I find it hard to concentrate at a meeting if my thoughts and concerns are elsewhere. As a result, it is important for us to teach students certain skills and strategies that promote their social and emotional well-being so they can focus more clearly on academics. 

    Circle Up

    Providing students with the opportunity to know they are valued members of a community is essential to promoting their social and emotional well-being. Regular class meetings are a great idea to build a community within a classroom. Class meetings can easily be incorporated into daily morning meeting routines or as a weekly 20-minute addition to an existing schedule.

    I meet with students twice a week for class meetings. Our meetings always begin by forming a Circle of Power and Respect. The circle formation encourages community building since it makes it possible for every student to be seen and heard by all members of the group.

    Before the meeting begins, the students think about and respond to a daily prompt on an index card. From "What is your favorite movie?" to "What is the hardest part of being a good friend?" these prompts are often personal, and they invite students to reveal various aspects of themselves to their classmates. 

    A moment laden with meaning and significance comes next. As an opening ceremony, each student in the circle is welcomed and greeted by name. Students say their names one at time and as a group we repeat each name back. As a result, every student is greeted into the circle by saying and hearing their own name. This is such a meaningful part of the meeting because it communicates to each student that they are welcomed and valued in the community. 

    After the opening ceremony, we pass a talking piece around the circle to facilitate rounds of sharing. The talking piece is an object, usually a soft ball, which is passed around the circle to signify the speaker. This is an effective way to balance the voices in the circle and to ensure only one student speaks at a time.

    The first round of sharing takes the temperature of the group as students share how they feel at that moment. This sharing provides students with the opportunity to name their own feelings to develop a sense of empathy as they listen to their classmates. Once the temperature is taken, we continue to pass the talking piece around the circle to share our responses to the daily prompt. Through this routine, students practice the social skills of listening and sharing.  

    Teaching Social and Emotional Skills

    After the greeting and rounds of sharing, our meetings continue with different activities that explore and develop various social and emotional skills. Tom Conklin’s collection of lessons, strategies and tips in the book Social & Emotional Learning: Essential Lessons for Student Success is an excellent resource.  

    Conklin described some of these ideas in a recent Scholastic article that even includes a number of printables you can use in your classroom. One of them, Brain Freezers, is a fun and engaging way to teach students about their thinking, problem solving and decision-making.

    Brain Freezers are a series of riddles that require different degrees of thinking. A few of the riddles appear to be very simple at first glance, and some students answer these riddles quickly without much thought. Once the answers are revealed, many students discover simple mistakes they made because they thought too quickly and jumped to a conclusion. Conversely, students also grapple with another set of seemingly unsolvable riddles included in the activity. Some students struggle with these riddles and overthink them when, in fact, the solutions are quite simple.

    This is a great way to explore with students the drawbacks of both jumping too quickly to conclusions and overthinking unreasonably when making decisions. Beyond just solving riddles, students can transfer this important skill to other social situations that require problem solving and decision-making. 

    Choices, Choices

    Choices magazine is another great resource I use during class meetings to promote social and emotional learning with students. Described as a health and life skills magazine for teens, Choices contains articles that can serve as an excellent springboard for discussing important issues with students. These enthralling articles hook my students because many students can personally relate to the articles since they usually include profiles and perspectives of young people that experience some of the life issues they deal with in their own lives.

    Issues of the magazine are supplemented with discussion questions and lessons related to the articles. The additional resources make it easy to introduce and discuss these articles with your students.     

     

    Should time in the classroom be devoted to social and emotional learning? This is a legitimate and important question considering all of the demands that are placed on classroom teachers. The truth is, many teachers instinctively respond to these types of needs of our students every day. We ask students how they are feeling, then genuinely listen to their responses. We constantly worry about students who might feel anxious or excluded at recess. We even hide special pencils or treats in our desks for a student that might need a little sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day.

    We do these things and more each and every day because we know our students’ social and emotional needs matter. We also understand the consequences of not responding to these needs. For many students, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything else, including academics, if they are feeling emotionally needy. I know I find it hard to concentrate at a meeting if my thoughts and concerns are elsewhere. As a result, it is important for us to teach students certain skills and strategies that promote their social and emotional well-being so they can focus more clearly on academics. 

    Circle Up

    Providing students with the opportunity to know they are valued members of a community is essential to promoting their social and emotional well-being. Regular class meetings are a great idea to build a community within a classroom. Class meetings can easily be incorporated into daily morning meeting routines or as a weekly 20-minute addition to an existing schedule.

    I meet with students twice a week for class meetings. Our meetings always begin by forming a Circle of Power and Respect. The circle formation encourages community building since it makes it possible for every student to be seen and heard by all members of the group.

    Before the meeting begins, the students think about and respond to a daily prompt on an index card. From "What is your favorite movie?" to "What is the hardest part of being a good friend?" these prompts are often personal, and they invite students to reveal various aspects of themselves to their classmates. 

    A moment laden with meaning and significance comes next. As an opening ceremony, each student in the circle is welcomed and greeted by name. Students say their names one at time and as a group we repeat each name back. As a result, every student is greeted into the circle by saying and hearing their own name. This is such a meaningful part of the meeting because it communicates to each student that they are welcomed and valued in the community. 

    After the opening ceremony, we pass a talking piece around the circle to facilitate rounds of sharing. The talking piece is an object, usually a soft ball, which is passed around the circle to signify the speaker. This is an effective way to balance the voices in the circle and to ensure only one student speaks at a time.

    The first round of sharing takes the temperature of the group as students share how they feel at that moment. This sharing provides students with the opportunity to name their own feelings to develop a sense of empathy as they listen to their classmates. Once the temperature is taken, we continue to pass the talking piece around the circle to share our responses to the daily prompt. Through this routine, students practice the social skills of listening and sharing.  

    Teaching Social and Emotional Skills

    After the greeting and rounds of sharing, our meetings continue with different activities that explore and develop various social and emotional skills. Tom Conklin’s collection of lessons, strategies and tips in the book Social & Emotional Learning: Essential Lessons for Student Success is an excellent resource.  

    Conklin described some of these ideas in a recent Scholastic article that even includes a number of printables you can use in your classroom. One of them, Brain Freezers, is a fun and engaging way to teach students about their thinking, problem solving and decision-making.

    Brain Freezers are a series of riddles that require different degrees of thinking. A few of the riddles appear to be very simple at first glance, and some students answer these riddles quickly without much thought. Once the answers are revealed, many students discover simple mistakes they made because they thought too quickly and jumped to a conclusion. Conversely, students also grapple with another set of seemingly unsolvable riddles included in the activity. Some students struggle with these riddles and overthink them when, in fact, the solutions are quite simple.

    This is a great way to explore with students the drawbacks of both jumping too quickly to conclusions and overthinking unreasonably when making decisions. Beyond just solving riddles, students can transfer this important skill to other social situations that require problem solving and decision-making. 

    Choices, Choices

    Choices magazine is another great resource I use during class meetings to promote social and emotional learning with students. Described as a health and life skills magazine for teens, Choices contains articles that can serve as an excellent springboard for discussing important issues with students. These enthralling articles hook my students because many students can personally relate to the articles since they usually include profiles and perspectives of young people that experience some of the life issues they deal with in their own lives.

    Issues of the magazine are supplemented with discussion questions and lessons related to the articles. The additional resources make it easy to introduce and discuss these articles with your students.     

     

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