The ABCs of Social-Emotional Learning

The ABCs of Social-Emotional Learning

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4102-9.ch001
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Recent polls report a trend that school violence is steadily continuing in middle and high schools. Concurrently, schools are filled with students who cannot function academically and socially due to challenging home lives. Recognizing that social and emotional development in young adolescents is essential to academic success, educators are learning how to address these issues through social-emotional learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, outlines components of SEL that children and youth need to understand and manage their own emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy toward others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible life decisions. Findings note that schools that employ SEL have better academic performance as well as fewer disciplinary incidents.
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In today’s global society, one of the biggest challenges for teachers of young adolescents is to educate the whole child, i.e., teaching this unique age group to learn, work, collaborate, and contribute to their fullest potential. Young adolescents can be both a delight and a challenge for middle school teachers. Effective middle school teachers have a firsthand knowledge of how young adolescents develop, how to motivate them, and how to channel the energy and impulsivity of this age group into productive learning. The stage of young adolescence is where children, between the ages of 10 – 15, are rapidly maturing intellectually, physically, socially, morally, and emotionally. Educators of this age group understand how each of these areas of development influences learning. They recognize that it is crucial to create safe learning communities in their classrooms to help students maximize their potential in each area of development. All in all, they are responsive to their students’ unique needs.

Adolescence can be both a gradual and sudden transition from being dependent to independent youth. It is this time period where adolescents explore new identities for themselves and learn how to interact with others. However, transitioning from childhood to adolescence can often be challenging for many youth. Adolescence is also the period that has the reputation for “risk taking” behaviors, such as smoking and abusing alcohol and drugs, for example. There is a continuing increase in school violence with incidents of bullying and sexual harassment, especially at the middle and secondary levels. The 2017-18 National Center for Education Statistics reported the following findings statistics on school crime:

  • A higher percentage of middle schools reported that student bullying occurred at school daily or at least once a week (28 percent) than did high schools (16 percent) or primary schools (9 percent).

  • Higher percentages of middle and high schools reported that cyberbullying occurred at school or away from school at least once a week (33 and 30 percent, respectively) than did primary schools (5 percent).

  • Twenty-six percent of middle schools reported at least one incident of an unplanned fire alarm.

  • Eighty-eight percent of middle school principals recorded violent incidents.

  • In 2017, about 4 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they had been afraid of attack or harm at school during the school year.

These at-risk behaviors, coined “middle- level phenomena” by Maurice Elias (2001) can affect the young adolescent’s academic performance and behavior in and out of school and can have damaging effects on the young adolescent’s socio-emotional competence.

The transition from elementary to middle school is yet another major challenge for many young adolescents. As Elias (2001) asserts: “Among the many passages students experience during their school years, few are more difficult than their transition from element to middle level to high school.” Moving from the small, comfortable setting in an elementary school, young adolescents have to worry about issues that are personal and relevant to them: being able to open their locker and getting to class on time, bringing the correct books and materials to the right class, not being picked on by older students, and making new friends and fitting in the social norm. To the adult, these issues seem quite minor; to the young adolescent, they are numerous and never ending, significant and stressful.

The middle school years can often represent a developmental period with a high risk of disengagement with the learning process. For example, adolescent females, who were once comfortable with their identity and academic competence in elementary school, tend to suffer from self-esteem issues and lose interest and confidence in math and science-related subjects--mainly due to social pressures from their peers. They don’t want to be viewed as different or “special” by their male and female counterparts. Therefore, young adolescents need social and emotional help. They are in the developmental age group that are most at risk. The consequences of their behavior (bullying, school-discipline policies, school failure) can last into their adulthood (Yeager, 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Standards: Learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

21st Century Skills: Skills that are critically important to student success in today's global society; 21st century learning skills include communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Non-Cognitive Skills: Skills related to motivation, integrity, and interaction with others (interpersonal); also considered soft skills.

Soft Skills: Skills that enable one to work around others, particularly in a workplace or social setting. Soft skills include one's personality, attitude, motivation, manners, and flexibility; also considered non-cognitive skills.

Character Education: A learning process or strategy that enables students to understand and act on core ethical values such as respect for oneself and others, justices, citizenship, and responsibility for oneself and others.

Benchmarks: Academic benchmarks involve setting measurable and observable standards for evaluating one's learning; used to assess progress towards year-end goals.

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