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Introducing SEL with ALM

Posted by Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO on Jun 1, 2022 1:36:00 PM
Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO

What is a Socratic Seminar? How can you integrate SEL into ELA? Why is SEL considered a foundation for life-long success?

Learn the answers to all this and more in my new series of "SEL with ALM."

Hello, I'm Anna-Lisa Mackey, and I've been teaching and training educators on social emotional learning for more than 20 years. I'm the co-author of The Social Emotional Classroom: A New Way to Nurture Students and Understand the Brain (Wiley, 2022) and host of the Social Emotional Us podcast. 

I'll be reviewing popular young adult literature and providing questions for you to use in your middle and high school classrooms. Along the way, I'll also share SEL concepts, ideas, and a little humor. 

Why teach SEL in English language Arts?

Early adolescence is a critical developmental period in a person’s life. There are changes in social relationships, numerous changes in physical and cognitive development, students also deal with academic competition, and increased social comparison among peers.
This can potentially lead to decreased self-esteem and school connectedness, as well as anxiety and loneliness. Students during this developmental period are more likely to be prone to emotional and behavioral problems, become disengaged from school, and experience a decrease in positive peer influences.

Studies show that nearly one-half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses begin by mid-adolescence. Because of these issues, middle school is an ideal time for interventions such as social-emotional learning taught through the lens of the five CASEL competencies.

These competencies include Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making.

Social emotional competencies can be both protective and promotive. By learning, practicing, and performing SEL strategies, students develop healthy coping and problem-solving skills that can be used throughout their lives.

Studies show that a comprehensive SEL curriculum, reinforced with memorable strategies, can lead to increased academic success, improved behavior, greater attention in school, protection for at-risk youth, and improved achievement. This is where SEL in ELA comes into play.

Overcoming the Cool Factor

Most teachers will tell you that unlike students in the lower grades, middle school students won’t respond to emotions posters, puppets, or coloring activities — it’s just not cool. 

As all teachers know, this can be tricky. So we included the Socratic Seminar module in Emozi® Middle School in order to put students in charge of their learning using relevant young adult literature as a guide. Students lead the discussion with their peers. Teachers are still there to act as guardrails, provide structure, and intervene as needed. 

What is a Socratic Seminar?

The Socratic Seminar is named for the conversations the Greek philosopher Socrates (470–399 BC) had with his pupils (Scheneider, 2013). The Emozi® Socratic Seminars are student-led discussions (based on the reading of the novel out loud, during the class by either the project manager, the teacher, or another student), where students help each other interpret and understand a text. The discussions are driven by open-ended questions that encourage students to think critically, collaborate, and reflect. Socratic Seminars are not debates. They are a collaborative endeavor, meant to help you explore the text, dig deeper into it, and work toward a shared understanding.

The Socratic Seminar can help introduce students to social and emotional competencies. It’s also approachable for teachers since literature is used in nearly every classroom to teach various concepts. 

Rooted in Research

Researchers have long examined the power of centering and teaching young adult literature as “an effective strategy to address emotional issues in the lives of… teenagers” (Hébert & Kent, 2000), with some describing the literature as demonstrating a “natural affinity between ELA content and SEL objectives” (Storey, 2019)

In fact, a recent text in the field, “Handbook of Research on Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Literacy Education”, contains a chapter specifically on “Young Adult Literature as a Means for Developing and Supporting Socio-Emotional Learning” (Savitz et al., 2021), which “focuses on how three current in-service teachers use YAL to address SEL in their classrooms”. 

One recent special edition of the journal School Psychology International recently focused on this method, called, “bibliotherapy”, which is the use of “books and stories to support social emotional needs” (Heath et al., 2017), and the three authors from Brigham Young University who introduce this volume consider bibliotherapy to not only be “a professional’s therapeutic tool but also as a layman’s resource to address students’ basic social emotional needs.”

Relatable and Relevant

Teachers know that students in the middle grades are more likely to engage in learning when they find the subject relatable and relevant to their own lives. In Emozi® Middle School, we chose age-appropriate books from the popular young adult literature genre, each featuring a diverse range of protagonists and settings with whom young teens can relate. I'll explore these concepts and show you how to integrate SEL into SEL in the SEL with ALM series. 

Join me each week as I explore SEL concepts within YA literature!

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Topics: Social and emotional learning, Emozi® Middle School, SEL Resources, Emozi® High School, Socratic Seminar