In this ever-changing world with jobs yet undetermined, a greater urgency exists to integrate social-emotional learning and academics to afford each student the opportunity to build the emotional stability and knowledge necessary to grapple with future experiences. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) identifies the most important skills required for 21st century education as: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. However, let’s also consider the addition of character and citizenship.
Intertwining social and emotional learning and academics advances the ability of our students to adapt to change with the essential skills to effectively manage new challenges. The Aspen Institute’s (2017) recent report states, “Social, emotional and cognitive competencies develop throughout our lives and are essential to success in our schools, workplaces, homes, and communities and allow individuals to contribute meaningfully to society.” Yet, how do educators add another program to their already time-constrained day?
Books, yes authentic literature, can serve as the vehicle to promote the seamless integration of social and emotional learning and academics. Authentic trade books written by masterful writers ultimately reveal universal truths of love, loss, joy, curiosity and celebration. They provide us a model for resilience and a way to talk about and reframe adverse circumstances. They help us understand the importance of a narrative arc—and provide a path for our own new beginnings, middles and ends. Thus, masterful teachers help children develop and deepen the five competencies outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making; all students benefit.
Teachers can capitalize on powerful narrative works to promote meaningful classroom conversations analyzing characters’ emotions, their reactions and their growth offering opportunities for students to relate to the many facets the characters present. Asking students questions connected to the emotions a character demonstrates offers structured occasions to discuss feelings in a safe environment. Questions such as “What motivated the character to do what he did?” or “Would you have done the same thing this character did?” or “Share with us your thoughts about the emotions the character displayed” help students understand and process both the character’s feelings as well as their own.
Stories allow students to see difficult issues unfold in a way that draws them into the experience through the character’s eyes. Encountering life’s challenges through a character’s series of events can foster hope, courage, kindness, confidence, friendship curiosity, and/or belonging; what Pam Allyn has identified as the seven strengths for reading success. Whether we use books as read alouds, in shared reading opportunities, interactive reading, or independent reading; discussions that ensue should combine building skills while helping children understand their emotions in order to build strong relationships. Our goal as educators is to ignite a passion within our students that will last them a lifetime. As Aristotle shared, “Educating the mind without education the heart is no education at all.”