Social-Emotional Learning: Success Through Character

15 Jul Social-Emotional Learning: Success Through Character

This blog post summarizes the discussion surrounding Social-Emotional learning, how we measure it, why it’s important and how it impacts other aspects of the student experience. We are looking to initiate a constructive dialog by contributing our methods of measurement and evaluation to the conversation in order to develop more effective research strategies.

Social-Emotional learning (SEL) is broadly defined as the process in which students acquire knowledge and skills that help them positively manage their emotions and navigate difficult social situations. Educators and researchers are giving social-emotional learning more and more significance as a factor of influence on the holistic success of student development. This is due to the fact that social-emotional skills are proving useful in all aspects of student growth, academics included.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Emotionally competent children are skilled in five core areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Academic learning is an intrinsically social activity (isn’t that what Socrates taught us 2000 years ago?). Therefore, positive interactions with teachers, parents and other students impact their overall success and are necessary to create a healthy and productive learning environment. Beyond that, mastery of self-awareness and management skills allows them to process and understand the purpose of their education in a much more positive way. But academic improvement is just one of the potential outcomes effective social-emotional learning can have.

Chicago-based CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional learning) recognizes that social-emotional learning can significantly impact “important mental health variables that improve children’s social relationships, increase their attachment to school and motivation to learn, and reduce anti-social, violent, and drug-using behaviors.” CASEL is in the midst of a system-wide initiative to study social-emotional learning programs in eight school districts across the nation, each using different methods of research and evaluation. In the June 10th issue of Education Week, Evie Blad focuses in particular on the Cleveland school district initiative. Blad’s article calls attention to Cleveland’s unique commitment to its data driven approach to research and evaluation, relying on data received from a survey conducted three times a year across all 96 schools in the district. Blad claims that the “responses help educators size up whether students feel safe, supported and challenged and how students think their peers stack up socially and emotionally.” This approach seems to be effective.

The proof is in the pudding or in this case the data. Data collected by the American Institute of Research (AIR), a research organization that administers surveys similar to CASEL’s, shows a “strong correlation between growth in students’ responses on the conditions for learning and performance on state-administered tests.” They have also observed improvements in behavior and attendance rates in schools with higher implementation. That is why our team at EduMetrics is trying to apply an experience sampling strategy to SEL data collection in order to record the student experience as it happens, not how it is generally remembered.

While this may be a step in the right direction, it is not enough. The Raikes Foundation Social-Emotional Learning Assessment points out that some assessment tools “do not have standard procedures and software to create reports at the school level so some schools may need to have personnel who are capable of aggregating survey data and putting it in a report format.” In simpler terms: schools need feedback. That is why we are trying to take the guess work out of interpreting surveys by creating clear, concise reports that provide schools with useful, individualized feedback that can positively impact teacher practice, policy decisions, and overall student performance at each school we work with.

Part of the reason we are passionate about what we do is because while we understand the immense importance social-emotional learning has on student development, we also know how hard it is to measure. At EduMetrics, we have designed our data collection software iNoted to operate continuously and automatically translate the uninterrupted stream of data received through our unique modules into manageable reports containing precisely the information schools want. Our assessments are effective in measuring the complex indicators of social emotional teaching including compassion, cultural sensitivity, honesty, and bullying. When evaluating the effectiveness of SEL programming, CASEL suggests measuring “program impacts on school climate, student behavior and academic performance” as well, which are just some of the other areas we measure. The feedback we get from our modules and report to schools can be just what educators need to gauge the effectiveness of these new teaching strategies.


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