8 Ways to Embed SEL within Academic Content

Although the term social emotional learning has been around for over 25 years, SEL has recently gained momentum as more and more educators see the immense need for supporting it within both adults and students. My own knowledge has grown, too, after several collaborative conversations with colleagues, Carrie Edmond and Rebekah Kmieciak, and making time to create practice out of research. At a professional development that I led last year, I used an optimistic closure strategy from CASEL called “One Minute Accolade” to reflect on our time together. One teacher commented during our debrief that she used to think SEL was just fluffy stuff, but now knows it can enhance both the social-emotional and the academic learning. This powerful comment has stayed with me ever since and as I continue to research and apply, I find it inspiring to continue to develop ways to help teachers connect SEL to their content.

CASEL’s 5 Competencies

CASEL, a leader in SEL research and practice, defines social emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” These skills are developed through 5 competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. As I create strategies and resources for and with teachers, my goal has become to intentionally relate the competencies to our standards based curriculum.

Using Check-ins to Support Self-Awareness

I think check-ins are a great way to build students’ self-awareness as they help students identify their feelings and emotions coming into a lesson. Recognizing and honoring this is important for both teachers and students, and while these seem like simple, fun creations, they become a powerful entry point to a lesson. Below are a couple Jamboard templates I created that help students share their energy level and emotional state (click here to make a copy). Desmos and PearDeck are two of my other favorite platforms for check-ins.

Modeling Teacher Clarity and Discussions to Support Self-Management

Anytime we ask students to set goals and reflect on their learning, we are helping build self-management. I love using teacher clarity (learning targets and success criteria) in the form of a check-list to do this. Students can identify the goal of the lesson and check which of the success criteria they individually want to/need to get better at to achieve the goal. Reflecting on these as an optimistic closure brings the learning full circle and provides a formative assessment piece for both the student and teacher. Steve Ventura also blogged about ideas related to SEL and goal-setting (read the post here). Finally, self-management is also a skill to develop during small group or whole-class discussions. Protocols, such as CASEL’s One Minute Accolade, helps students understand how to balance their own air time and make space for all voices to be heard.

Designing Card Sorts to Support Social Awareness

Appreciating multiple perspectives is a large part of social awareness. Math naturally lends itself to this with the idea that problem-solving can approached from different view points and with different strategies. The more we verbalize this and allow time for unique reasonings, the more students will start to value practicing this aspect of social awareness. One way I like to embed this into content is doing card sorts with a different type of prompt. One typical way to do card sorts is by accuracy, but using the prompt, “sort these cards into any amount of piles that make sense to you” leaves the door open for multiple approaches and multiple perspectives. Two of my favorite platforms to build virtual card sorts are Jamboard and Desmos. In the Jamboard example below, one group showed 5 different groupings and the other showed 3, each with their own reflection as to why.

INCLUDING Self-Assessment to Support Responsible Decision Making

CASEL includes the terms “caring and constructive choices” in their description about responsible decision-making showing that choices affect both the individual and social interactions. I created a strategy with a teacher last year and adapted it to our virtual environment this year that highlighted the power of responsible decision making. The strategy, called Try it-Talk it-Color it-Check it (published in Edutopia here), cycles through independent practice, group collaboration and self-assessment, and then whole group formative assessment. In the “color it” phase students color code their confidence level on a problem (green-we got it, yellow-we’re a bit uncertain, and pink-our answer is probably wrong). In talking with groups about which color they were choosing, it was inspiring to hear them reason through their decision and responsibly choose the one that best fit their learning needs. No group put green just to move on, or a color that didn’t truly reflect their understanding. In fact, some groups asked to put more than one color, for example, green for one part of the problem but yellow for another. This responsible decision-making allowed the teacher to then pinpoint areas of need and gave those that were “green” the confidence to share with others.

Structuring Conversations, Cooperative Learning, and Partner Roles to Support Relationship Skills

Relationship skills are grounded in effective communication, collaboration, and respectful teamwork. Structured conversation routines, such as QSSSA, or cooperative learning strategies, such as Jigsaw and Kagan’s Numbered Heads Together (see my distance learning version here), provide safe, engaging ways to build student relationships. Furthermore, we designed the previous Try it-Talk it-Color it-Check it strategy with intentional relationship building in mind. We first asked students to discuss a SEL focused prompt in their breakout rooms, such as “if you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go” before diving into the content. This allowed students to get to know each other on a personal level, building trust and connections for safe conversations, and something we plan to continue to do when we put students in groups for other activities. Additionally, we asked students to take on speaker and scribe roles (thanks to my sister for inspiring this template) to communicate effectively, problem solve together, and balance the shared task.

When we intentionally embed SEL within academic practices, we give power to both. Doing so with the 5 competencies has framed a new purpose in my curriculum development and conversations with teachers. I want others to see it not as one more thing to add to our already full plates, but rather something that enhances the content and creates a safe and engaging learning environment for all.

Additional SEL Resources Designed by Ashley:

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