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Kate's Blog: Following Social Emotional Learning in the Elementary School

Somehow it is the middle of March already and the year is flying by.  I have been visiting the “Harmonization” time in each grade recently, and seen our Social-Emotional Learning efforts really come to life.  Not only are our students becoming very articulate in both languages about emotions and social situations, but they are also demonstrating the use of the tools and insights they are learning on the playground and in their interactions and studies outside of this Harmonization time.

Each week, each class has half an hour in which both teachers (English and French or English and Chinese) are present and do an activity with the class.  We call this time “Harmonization” time as it is one aspect of an overall effort to harmonize between the languages – to find what is shared and what is different and therefore make learning connected and efficient for the students.  Within this time, teachers may do academic projects together, but they are also asked to spend time explicitly working with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) concepts, and building up the toolbox of SEL skills we’d like to help our students learn how to use.

Many of the classes started the year spending this time establishing classroom community expectations, getting to know each other, and then moving into the vocabulary of emotions.  Students and teachers have been exploring the wide range of vocabulary in both languages for various emptions, and then working on identifying them – in others’ faces and body language, in art, music, and literature, and within themselves.  Some of the first grade classes have recently been relating emotion to weather – it was refreshing to see how many of them are “excited” or “happy” when it rains- mostly because they love to stomp in puddles!  Other classes have created “Emotion Thermometers” along with descriptions of what keeps them cool and what makes them burning hot angry.  They have also been working on identifying and describing positive qualities about themselves as well as learning relaxation techniques – all of the 1st grade Chinese class sings “Take a deep breath, count to five, until you feel all calm inside” perfectly.

Second grade is one example of how teachers have combined the academic and SEL aspects of learning.  In the French classes, they’ve shared a book both in French and English in which the author and illustrator captured various emotions in the illustrations and words.  Students have become very adept at discerning the emotions and are now working on creating their own illustrations of particular emotions.  In Fourth grade, similar discussions happened at a higher level, and students took the understanding of their own emotions into their discussion of the novel they are reading, and were able to gain more depth in their analysis of various characters because of their understanding of emotions and how they motivate people.  The fourth grade also has regular “check-ins” in which students can share a bit about how they are feeling at that moment, allowing them to leave some of the worries behind and focus on the tasks at hand.

In third grade, students have explored art, music, literature, and other media to discern emotions and discuss how they themselves feel, but they have also been focusing on being active listeners, and truly making the person who is talking feel heard.  This also establishes more connections amongst the students, beyond just groups of “best friends”.

Many classes have discussed issues of inclusion and exclusion, or managed certain issues that have come up between classmates in or out of the classroom.  The 5th grade recently did an activity in which students (not “best friends”) were paired up to complete a drawing together and make a cohesive scene out of a squiggle, half circle, and short zig-zag line – without talking at all.  Collaboration and non-verbal communication allowed students who don’t normally connect with each other to create imaginative illustrations.  In another vein, the 5th grade spent much of the winter sessions exploring the UNICEF Rights of the Child, thus taking the social emotional learning to a global level.

Each week, I see more and more examples of the creativity and thoughtfulness of our teachers in their lesson planning, and in the students in their work on these activities.  For a first year of making SEL a specific aspect of the curriculum, it is going very well, and being integrated beyond the half hour a week.  I am excited by the enthusiasm and can see that we are making big steps towards our goals.

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