Teaching Social-Emotional Learning Elusive, But New Tools Can Help

Guest post by Katie Brohawn, Director of Research, ExpandED Schools by TASC

Social-emotional learning. Non-cognitive skills. Habits of mind. Grit. Persistence. Perseverance.

kids at computer

Licensed under Creative Commons from APO CC BY-NC 3.0 AU.

Anyone in the education sector today undoubtedly hears these words on a regular basis, and by now, has likely added them to his or her own vocabulary. As conversation about these skills comes to the forefront of the education landscape, many have begun to wonder if they can truly offer a solution to narrowing the achievement gap—or if they are simply the latest trend, an alternative to higher-stakes accountability metrics like test scores.

Research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania seems to confirm the idea that certain social-emotional skills, such as grit and self-control, are stronger predictors of success than intelligence. That raises the question (as noted in a recent NPR report), “Can we teach these skills?”

The jury’s still out, but one thing we know is that expanded learning programs are prime settings to test curriculum and practices designed to foster social-emotional development. And as research on the importance of social-emotional skill development evolves, it is critical that we look to these spaces to determine feasible, scalable models for social-emotional learning (SEL). For those wanting to develop a more focused approach in their own programs, TASC recently published a Social Emotional Learning Resource Guide that compiles a variety of tools practitioners can use to implement targeted SEL programming.

Expanded learning initiatives also provide an ideal setting to test and refine measures of such skills (which, in turn, will help us identify what to teach). This remains an exciting area of development as, at present, there is little consensus (though we are encouraged by recent new ventures in this field by organizations like the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, with support from the Raikes and Wallace foundations). Through such research, we will ultimately be able to identify practices and policies that result in the most positive outcomes for our students.

In response to this growing movement, Every Hour Counts has updated its Measurement Framework to highlight the value of measuring social-emotional skills, among other objectives. The document will provide a blueprint for measuring outcomes at the student, program, and system levels and a guideline for implementing quality practices. Stay tuned for the release of the Measurement Framework later this month.


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