SEL for ESL (Social and Emotional Learning for English as a Second Language AND English Language Teaching)
Social and Emotional Learning. Is this a new term? Maybe so, in terms of giving it a definition and offering practical ideas on how to implement it. But if teaching languages means anything, should it not be to empower students with skills for life? Skills to tackle difficult challenges and help them overcome challenges they simply would not be able to without foreign languages.
Let’s not forget that nothing we teach them has any value if the students themselves do not recognize it as such. As John C. Maxwell said, “people (and students) don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
Text by: Eftychis Kantarakis
In recent years, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a rapidly growing field in education. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning https://casel.org/) there are 5 five broad and interrelated areas of competence we need to address:
- Responsible Decision-Making
- Relationship Skills
- Social Awareness
SEL really refers to how students develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL is a crucial component of education, as it is essential for success in school, work, and life.
In the context of ELT, SEL plays a vital role in creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment that promotes student engagement, motivation, and well-being. SEL activities help students develop key skills and competencies that they can use throughout their lives. By incorporating SEL into ELT, teachers can help their students succeed both in and outside of the classroom. Many ELT coursebooks can have a claim to promoting SEL in their materials. It is our job to choose the most appropriate ones for that goal.
There are several key benefits of incorporating SEL into ELT. Firstly, SEL programs have been shown to improve students’ academic outcomes. Research has shown that SEL programs can increase students’ academic performance, attendance, and motivation. SEL activities can also reduce behavioural problems in the classroom, creating a more positive and supportive learning environment for students.
Additionally, SEL activities can provide opportunities for students to practice their English language skills in a supportive and authentic setting. For example, cooperative learning and role-playing activities can help students develop their listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills. SEL activities also provide opportunities for students to practice their problem-solving, decision-making, and communication skills, which are crucial for success in both academic and professional settings.
Furthermore, SEL can help students understand and appreciate cultural differences, foster mutual respect and empathy, and develop intercultural competence, a crucial skill in today’s interconnected world. In an ELT context, SEL activities can provide students with opportunities to learn about different cultures, traditions, and values, and to develop the skills and attitudes necessary to engage in respectful and productive intercultural communication.
SEL also promotes life skills, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and communication skills, which are essential for success in both academic and professional settings. By incorporating SEL into ELT, teachers can help their students develop these skills and competencies, which they can use throughout their lives.
Moreover, SEL activities can help create a positive school culture that promotes a sense of belonging and community among students, staff, and families. SEL activities can provide opportunities for students to connect with each other and build positive relationships, which can help to reduce bullying and other negative behaviours in the school environment.
Incorporating SEL into ELT requires careful planning and thoughtful implementation. Teachers should start by selecting SEL activities that align with their goals and objectives for their students. SEL activities should be relevant, engaging, and appropriate for students' developmental level and cultural background. Teachers should also ensure that SEL activities are integrated into their regular lesson plans and that they are provided with adequate time and resources to implement them effectively.
Incorporating SEL into ELT also requires a supportive school culture that values and prioritizes SEL. Teachers should work closely with school administrators, parents, and community organizations to promote SEL and to develop policies and programs that support SEL at all levels of the school system. Teachers should also collaborate with their colleagues to share best practices and to develop a collective commitment to SEL.
Practical Strategies for Promoting SEL in the ELT Classroom
Incorporating SEL into the ELT classroom requires a shift in teaching practices that prioritizes students' social and emotional development. Here are some practical strategies for promoting SEL in the ELT classroom:
- Create a positive classroom environment. A supportive and inclusive classroom environment is crucial for promoting SEL. Teachers can create a positive environment by setting clear expectations for behaviour, encouraging positive interactions, and creating opportunities for students to connect and build relationships.
- Use Cooperative learning activities, such as group projects and peer tutoring, provide opportunities for students to practice their English language skills, develop their interpersonal skills, and build positive relationships.
- Incorporate mindfulness and emotional regulation strategies, such as deep breathing and visualization which can help students manage their emotions and improve their well-being.
- Engage in role-playing activities. These can help students practice their English language skills, develop their interpersonal skills, and understand different perspectives and cultural norms.
- Foster a growth mindset. Encourage students to embrace challenges and view mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.
- Promote empathy and understanding. Encourage students to consider the feelings and perspectives of others, and to engage in respectful and productive discussions about controversial issues.
- Provide opportunities for self-reflection. Encourage students to reflect on their experiences, thoughts, and emotions, and to set personal goals and develop action plans for improvement.
- Celebrate students' strengths and successes! Acknowledge and celebrate students' strengths, accomplishments, and progress, and provide constructive feedback to help them continue to grow and develop.
Let me give some more examples:
Self-awareness (About Me) and Self-management (Taking Care of Myself)
In every Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, Songs and Projects, students should have opportunities to recognize and identify emotions, develop their sense of self, recognize their own strengths, and demonstrate their belief in their own ability and practice self-management skills such as self-discipline, goal setting, stress management, and impulse control in Song lessons (with partner and group activities including Projects), as well as Reading lessons and topic discussions exchanging ideas and coming to collective decisions.
Social-awareness (The World Around Me) and Relationship Skills
Student Book activities such as Songs, Readings, and Projects should support and creatively engage students as they develop and demonstrate the social-awareness skills of respecting others, perspective-taking, empathy, and appreciating diversity. Use or create Mission lessons, Projects, as well as academic strands such as Writings that explicitly support students as they learn to manage their own behaviour, build positive social relationships in and out of school, and cope with their feelings.
Making Decisions (Responsible Decision-Making)
In addition to academic strands such as Reading and Writing, add Value lessons which provide activities centred around identifying problems, analysing situations from multiple angles, solving problems, thinking about consequences (considering ethical responsibility), and evaluating and reflecting about their problem-solving abilities.
Applying Social Emotional Learning in Cross-curricular areas
Use materials that focus on issues of social significance, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) providing exceptional opportunities to incorporate Social & Emotional Learning Skills across curricular areas.
In conclusion, promoting SEL in the ELT classroom requires a commitment to fostering a positive and supportive learning environment that prioritizes students' social and emotional development. By using practical strategies, such as cooperative learning activities, role-playing, and self-reflection, teachers can help their students develop the skills and competencies they need to succeed in school, work, and life.