SEL and ELA: The Perfect Connection for You and Your Students
by Kathryn Diskin, NJLA Board Member
Addressing students’ social and emotional needs has always been a focus of schools, and following the COVID pandemic, this focus becomes of paramount importance. Every human being needs to feel connected and safe, be kind, and know the value of such concepts as optimism and resilience and how these positive personal traits can positively impact their social, emotional, and physical health. The language arts classroom is the perfect place to integrate Social Emotional learning! Every language arts curriculum has specific skills and concepts that students must learn at each grade level. With that said, there is also the room and flexibility to infuse themes and topics into reading and writing that can enhance the overall content as well as bridge the connection between social emotional learning and language arts.
When choosing a read-aloud, an article, or a book club selection, why not select literature that focuses on concepts that will enhance the social, emotional literacy of the child. Look for book choices that focus on kindness, relationships, happiness, optimism, friendship, or resiliency. Students will learn through characters and plot the importance of these topics. Class discussions can focus on the story theme and how the concepts can be applied to the reader in their daily lives.
In your writing class, begin to explore topics in which students positively express themselves. We all like happy endings, and why not have students focus on the positive intentions in their writing. When students return to the classroom next September, two simple writing opportunities will increase their social, emotional literacy. At the beginning of each day or period, have the students write down three positive intentions. End the day with three things they are grateful for in their lives. Do it every day, as consistency is crucial, and you and your students will see the personal benefits of such simple yet powerful exercises.
Let’s forget about the excuses of, “I don’t have time” or “Where do I fit it in?” Let’s weave SEL concepts into our everyday instruction so that students can connect deeply with the topic and then apply it to their life. Think about a student who learns the importance of being optimistic, confident, or empathetic. Wouldn’t you want a classroom full of children that are optimistic, empathetic, and confident sitting in front of you? Think of the possibilities. The climate and culture of your classroom become a positive environment where children love to learn.
This year, think about teaching SEL through your language arts classroom and what it will do for you both personally and professionally. You will become more optimistic, patient, kind, empathetic, and confident. Teaching those concepts through your love and passion for reading and writing will positively enhance the social-emotional well-being of you and your students.
For both teachers and students, now is the most critical time to foster the SEL/ELA connection.