Social and emotional learning gaining new focus under Common Core

“We sometimes get push back from teachers, who say that ‘right now, my top priority is Common Core’, and we tell them that social and emotional learning is not a distraction,” Gil said. “You’re not going to be able to achieve Common Core standards if kids aren’t working collaboratively and aren’t engaged.”

Definitions of social and emotional learning vary, but the teachers in a new national survey released Wednesday for CASEL explained the concept as “the ability to interact or get along with others”; “teamwork or cooperative learning”; “life skills or preparing for the real world”; and “self-control or managing one’s behaviors.” The survey, conducted by the public opinion firm Hart Research, polled a representative sample of 605 teachers and found that more than 75 percent believed that a greater focus on social and emotional learning would be a “major benefit” to students because of its positive impact on workforce readiness, school attendance and graduation, life success, college preparation and academic success.

Research has found that school-based social and emotional learning programs improve students’ classroom behavior, reduce bullying and other conduct problems, and deepen connections between students and teachers, according to a analysis published in the journal Child Development of 213 programs. Schools that incorporated social and emotional learning also showed gains in student academic achievement – on average, a gain of 11 percentile points, the study found.

Equally important, children are more likely to express their creativity, curiosity and empathy in environments where they feel included and safe.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that teaching self-control, perseverance and grit, a term made popular in Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed,” is particularly critical for children who live in violent environments. “We can systematically teach these skills and provide an inoculation to some of the toxic environment,” Duncan told reporters at the Education Writers Association conference at Stanford earlier this month.

In Flores’s third grade class on a recent Thursday morning, a math discussion proceeded using what students call “professional discourse” and “academic discourse,” statements designed to help students respond politely and articulate ideas thoughtfully. The technique is part of Flores’s social and emotional teaching, which also includes holding a Morning Meeting that combines academics and time for sharing; greeting each student by name; using eye contact; and having each student do a variety of classroom jobs, which builds a sense of community and ownership.

“Javon, why do you concur with my thinking?” asked Meranza, who stood beside a document camera and an overhead projector to explain her math results. “I concur with your thoughts because,” began Javon, launching into a math proof. “Could you please project your voice, Meranza?” asked Niema. “Absolutely,” replied Meranza. “It would be my pleasure to.”

“The goal is for them to be asking the questions of each other and to have those rigorous conversations,” Flores said. “These are skills that are going to help them with the Common Core and with everything. These will help them be better people.”

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