Young Adult Literature as a Means for Developing and Supporting Socio-Emotional Learning

Young Adult Literature as a Means for Developing and Supporting Socio-Emotional Learning

Rachelle S. Savitz (Clemson University, USA), Leslie Dawn Roberts (Georgia Southern University, USA), Kim Ferrari (Clemson University, USA), Steven Jernigan (Clemson University, USA) and Rachel Danielle Long (Clemson University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7464-5.ch021
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Abstract

Addressing the social and emotional needs of students is not only vital, but it should be a priority for all teachers. Teaching social and emotional skills directly influences students' academic ability. Yet, many schools and classrooms do not see the connection between their instruction and curriculum with SEL. Often, schools have set aside a portion of the school day, or a few minutes at the end of the class period, to check in with students or teach specific skills. One way that students can explore their own identities and build a sense of agency is through the use of young adult literature. There are many ways that teachers can incorporate YA in the classroom to build SEL. This chapter focuses on how three current in-service teachers use YAL to address SEL in their classrooms. They each provide a brief background of who they are, their beliefs about using YAL to address SEL in their classrooms, and authentic examples from their instruction. Using these descriptions, the authors hope this chapter will help promote using YAL to address SEL in classrooms.
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Introduction

Addressing students’ social and emotional needs is vital, and it should be a priority for all teachers (Frey et al., 2019). Teaching social and emotional skills directly influences students’ academic ability (Durlak et al., 2011). The benefits of socio-emotional learning (SEL) are wide-ranging, but ultimately, promoting student empowerment and agency and pushing back against any inequities students may face, have faced, or are still facing (Frey et al., 2019). Yet, many schools and classrooms do not see the connection between instruction, curriculum, and SEL. Often, schools have set aside a portion of the school day, or a few minutes at the end of the class period, to check in with students or teach specific skills (Jones et al., 2018). While this is not necessarily a harmful practice, especially if these activities require students to learn and grow, they may not be authentic and related to what is happening during the school day. To have a profound and sustained impact on students, SEL must be integrated throughout the school day and all classrooms (Jones et al., 2017).

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (2017) identified five interrelated cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies: a) self-awareness, b) social awareness, c) relationship skills, d) self-management, and e) responsible decision making. Upon further investigation of the various models and programs that identify SEL opportunities, five central tenets overlap that relate to students’ needs, ranging from personal experiences to experiences encountered at school: a) identity and agency; b) emotional regulation; c) cognitive regulation; d) social skills; and e) public spirit (Fisher et al., 2020). Fisher and colleagues (2020) state how students need to recognize their strengths and believe in themselves, or a higher sense of self-efficacy, to continue through obstacles or learning challenges. They must have the resiliency to work through moments of failure. Also, students must understand their own emotions and reactions while also recognizing and understanding others’. Students need to think critically as they work and identify ways to solve problems - personal or academic. In addition, one aspect that requires more than a program or isolated skills is the development of peer relationships and effective communication.

Rather than SEL being viewed as an isolated task through a program or specific time of day, teachers need to understand the importance of addressing and incorporating SEL within their classrooms through their instruction and throughout the school day. Through professional learning, collaboration with their peers, personal self-directed learning, or other school- or district-based resources, teachers can learn how to design tasks and assignments and consider ways to address social relationships, emotions, and identity with their students. Most importantly, teachers and other school faculty need to understand that “social and emotional learning is not simply about helping students stay out of trouble,” but rather “it’s about developing life skills that can be applied to a wide range of situations” (Frey et al., 2019, p. 8).

Related to SEL, culturally sustaining pedagogy and practices are another equally critical pedagogy that supports the inclusion of SEL (Fisher et al., 2020) as this type of teaching emphasizes valuing students’ cultures, backgrounds, and experiences matter and ensuring that instruction promotes students’ identities within the lesson and throughout the curriculum (Paris, 2012; Alim & Paris, 2017). Instruction then becomes authentic, relevant, and related to students’ interests, which align with the intent of SEL. This type of instruction also promotes students’ ability to advocate for their own community’s needs, which can be argued is the natural extension of empowering students (Gay, 2013).

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