Ask anyone what subjects are taught in school. The list is predictable: some combination of reading, writing, math, social studies, and science, along with fine arts, physical education, and perhaps technology. It's rare for someone to mention social-emotional skills (SEL). But, if you ask a kindergarten teacher what skills their students need for school success, you'll hear answers like “listening,” “getting along with others,” and “having the ability to express themselves.” These same skills that a kindergarten teacher values in her students are necessary in almost any adult job. Unfortunately, in classrooms these skills are often treated as “extras” that would be good to teach if there is time after all the core subjects are addressed.
Research demonstrates that these so-called “soft skills” are foundational skills for success in school and in life. The same skills that a kindergarten teacher values in her students are necessary in almost any adult job. The challenge is introducing them into the classroom in meaningful ways. By offering opportunities to practice these skills beginning in preschool and continuing in K-12 classrooms, educators can help students prepare for their roles as productive global citizens.
One important question: does the current focus on digital learning come at the expense of SEL? Most edtech resources are designed for students to learn independently. They require little or no interaction with others. However, there are ways for teachers to integrate SEL and edtech. One resource that educators can use to embed SEL into lessons is Crio. This free, lesson-building tool from Curriculum Pathways allows teachers to create innovative, interactive lessons that meet the unique needs of their students. Lessons are hosted on Curriculum Pathways and can be published publicly for anyone to use.
Whether teaching preschoolers about making friends or high school students how to read political cartoons, educators can address academic learning standards and social-emotional skills in the same lesson. For example, in the Crio lesson, Making Friends, children learn about the importance of greeting others and introducing themselves through stories, songs, and activities. Another Crio lesson, What Constitutes Human Rights?, also embeds SEL goals related to social awareness and relationship skills. By asking middle school students to discuss current social issues related to human rights, the lesson makes connections between people and events across time and changing societal norms.
Any lesson that requires students to practice perspective taking, active listening, and problem solving can be embraced as an opportunity to support social-emotional skill development. It simply requires educators to be intentional in their approach.
Another tool for integrating SEL and curriculum is CodeSnaps, a free Curriculum Pathways app that allows users to print coding blocks that students can use to collaboratively create programs for a robot. Groups of students are encouraged to work cooperatively, taking on the roles of product manager, coder, and tester. They work in tandem to successfully complete activities such as an obstacle course, a map challenge, or math problems. Observing students as they tackle these tasks, one can immediately recognize the conflict-and-resolution process that takes place when learning occurs. Completing the task successfully requires all members of the team to work together.
Embracing digital tools and resources in the classroom without losing sight of the importance of student interactions is the key to integrating across all learning domains, including SEL. Innovative approaches to classroom instruction will be necessary to effectively meet student needs and promote the 4Cs. By combining the power of edtech and an understanding of the importance of social-emotional skill development, teachers can better prepare students for an unfamiliar future.