This is the literature review and discussion and implications sections of a research proposal I recently wrote. They may read a little disjointed, but that's because there are parts in between. Hopefully this gives you an outline of SEL and one model for making it work in the visual arts classroom. Feel free to use, make sure to cite your source - Mr. Allen is Cool!
Overview of SEL
Social and emotional Learning (SEL) is a relatively new field in education which attends to the individual and his or her relationship with others. There are different ways to understand SEL the most common approach is outlined by the CASEL which enumerates five SEL competencies: Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision making. Encouraging students to understand and manage their emotions will lead to self-regulation, an ability to empathise with others, and encourage positive goal setting so that when the students finish with school they are prepared to deal with the challenges of being an adult in a world populated by others (Brackett, Elbertson & Rivers, 2017; CASEL, 2019; Crowder, Brown, Gordon & Davidson, 2019; Weissberg & Cascarina, 2013). SEL has shown to play an important and positive role in education because learning itself is an emotional event. It not only leads to a productive academic experience it prepares students to be able to adjust to employment where learning new skills and working with others will be valuable. Attainment of SEL competencies result in better academic achievement, better bonding with peers, fewer destructive behaviors, and a reduction in depression and anxiety. (Balfonz & Whitehurst, 2019; Wang & Shen 2009; Weissberg & Cascarino 2013).
The interaction with the teachers and the environment is important to the effectiveness of developing SEL competencies. The amount of warmth and support the students feel from the teacher will predict its efficacy which is realized through students feeling validated and an ability to voice their opinions. Therefore, it is important for the teachers to set up this type of environment before attempting to include SEL in their classrooms (Bracket, Elbertson & Rivers 2017; Raggizzino 2003). Because the school is a social place, social skills are both a necessity of SEL as well as a result and teachers are in a position to encourage the above-mentioned attributes of a safe environment where the student perceives teacher support (Elliot, Frey & Davies 2017). Furthermore, students will be more receptive to classroom activities if they are seen as relevant to their lives both in and out of school, SEL fulfills an important aspect of this (Lin, Lee, Wang Tsai & Yi, 2018).
Adolescents are particularly well disposed to SEL for several reasons. Developmentally they are struggling with forming an identity and understanding how to be a part of a group. If their opinions are received, and they develop an awareness of those around them, then the SEL competency of self-management can be developed which in turn has a positive effect on acquisition of content knowledge (Bracket, Elbertson & Rivers, 2017). Additionally, high school students are entering a phase where the ability to conduct metacognition is just showing itself and SEL will both help the students acquire and employ it which also leads to stronger academic achievement (Crowder, Brown, Gordon & Davidson 2019). It is important to note that the SEL programs that the students may have encountered in primary and middle school are not effective in high school students, so a high school specific approach is necessary. This poses a particular problem because there is a lack of developed, high school SEL programs (Williamson, Modecki &Guerra 2017).
There is general agreement that not enough research has been done in SEL. There are no studies which test how well all five competencies are addressed in a single program nor have we collected sufficient, repeated results in any one program. Additionally, all researchers are not in agreement about a comprehensive definition of SEL (Williamson, Modecki & Guerra, 2017; Hetch & Shin, 2017). SEL can be implemented in three ways according to Torrente, Alimchandani, and Aber (2017); through discrete skills to be developed, a specific set of activities, and as a general approach to fostering school environment. The varied approaches also make it more difficult to understand how SEL can be most effectively applied. While a large majority of pre-service teachers have SEL as an aspect of their studies, many in-service teachers have less than ten years’ experience and feel insufficiently qualified to conduct SEL programs and activities (Schoner-Riechl, 2017; Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013).
The education environment for SEL
The current, school-aged students are digital natives who are optimistic about the future (Buckley, Doyle & Doyle, 2017; Pearson, 2017). As this proposal attends to high school students it is also important to note that high school students move from class to class. This will have an important effect on how SEL is presented and employed in the classroom and school settings (Williamson, Modecki & Guerra 2017). These students learn best when engaged in a moderate arousal state. Affective and cognitive brain functions work together, so engaging students where they are engaged, interested, and challenged is important. The teacher should not shy away from situations of frustration and confusion because this allows the students to overcome obstacles and construct their own knowledge (Shen, Wang & Shen, 2009). In fact, Shen, Wang, and Shen (2009) state that engagement and confusion are the most important, emotional states in education.
Another important factor to consider is that students want to see a connect between the work they do in the school and how it applies to the world outside of school. Billed as ‘authentic learning experiences’ pointing out to students, or allowing them to draw their own conclusions because the environment makes it relevant, teachers can increase student learning by providing opportunities to make these connections (Lin, Tseng, Lee, Wang, Tasi & Yi, 2018; Stern, Harding, Holzer & Elbertson, 2017). This will be explored further, below where the link between technology and education is discussed.
Cultural considerations for SEL
Because this proposal is intended for an international school in China, it is important to explore some of the cultural factors that go into implementing an SEL program. While it should be accepted that no, individual school or student is 100% one or the other, a continuum of collectivist versus individualistic should be adopted to understand how students will react to SEL. Children become self-aware at roughly the same time independent of culture and therefore it is important to adapt teaching practices to the development of this child keeping in mind that how the student conceptualizes their self-awareness will vary depending on the culture they are raised (Brecket, Elbertson & Rivers, 2017; Hetch & Shin, 2017). Collectivist cultures, predominately, although not exclusively East Asian, will see themselves in relationship to the group whereas individualistic cultures will see themselves as a person with attributes. Collectivist cultures will value perspectives that advance the whole as opposed to individualistic cultures will value achievement of goals and existence of rights. Because the more we stay within our culture, the lower our insistence of depression we need to ask ourselves, as educators, where is the student’s confidence originating? With the achievement of the individual or belonging to a group (Hetch & Shin, 2017). To add a level of complication to this matter, students who have been present in both collectivist and individualistic cultures, will adapt their behavior depending on environment (Hetch & Shin, 2017; Nisbett, 2004).
Here are some specific ways this will play out in classroom environments. In individualistic cultures, emotions are seen as a result of behavior and in collectivist cultures they are seen as a result of circumstance. Similar, responsible decision making, a tenant of SEL, will skew more towards the good of the whole in collectivist cultures and good of universal rights in individualistic ones. Eye contact varies widely from culture and depends mostly on whether or not confidence or peace-making is seen as the more valuable trait (Hetch & Shin, 2017). Consequently, as international school teachers we are presented with a conundrum, self-awareness and self-management will be easier for some and difficult for others and conversely, and social-awareness and relationship skills will be the opposite depending on how the student understands the environment. Responsible decision making will also be biased (Hetch & Shin, 2017).
Technology in education
The use of technology in education poses teachers with opportunities and challenges. Current, high-school aged students fall into the category of Generation Z. They are digital natives who will use up to five screens a day for educational, recreation, and communication purposes. Referred to above, students perform best when they see a connection between the world inside of school to the world outside of school. Perhaps it is better put to say that students do not see the distinction between the two which their previous generations have (Doucette, n.d.; E-Learning, 2017). Students are looking for ways to personalize their learning and the use of technology provides not only this opportunity, but also has been shown to provide moderate increases in academic achievement. Herein lies one strong source of connecting students to authentic, experiences (Doucette, n.d.; Lin, Tseng, Lee, Wang, Tsai & Yi, 2018; Stern, Harding, Holzer & Elbertson, 2017). Suggestions about using technology in the classroom include highlighting the mobile and social nature of how students use it today. The SoMoLo game-based application, for example, encourages students to explore the local environment and communicate with one another and work their way through learning activities that help them acquire content (Lin, Wang, Lee, Tsai & Yi, 2018). Social media can be used to provide students with reminders about work and indications about the potential for independent learning (E-Learning, 2017). Unfortunately, this area has not been fully explored and at present, there are some mobile, emotional apps for the cell phone, but these have not been adapted to SEL. Furthermore, the collection of data and geo-location, a part of SoLoMo, poses child protection and ethics questions that have not been addressed by explicit policies (Doucette, n.d.; Lin, Tseng, Lee, Wang, Tsai & Yi, 2018).
Consideration of incorporating SEL into classroom practices are fairly straightforward with many similarities at how we also incorporate content learning. Teaching of SEL competencies should be systematics, regular, and a multiyear part of classroom instructions. The skills they learn should be able to put to use right away and students need to be able to return to skills and competencies multiple times to increase acquisition. SEL should be provided by teachers, administration, and peers, and the school should have strong administrative support for the SEL program (Schonert-Riechl, 2017; Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013). When engaging with SEL activities the best approach is to discuss the benefits with students as well as their progress and connect what they have learned and discovered with past experiences (Bracket, Elbertson & Rivers, 2017; Timpson, 2009). When assessing SEL competencies, direct observation is the most effective method, albeit cumbersome for the teacher practitioner. However, using surveys with rating scales have also shown to be effective for both teacher understandings of individual student competency as well as student self-assessment about efficacy and individual advancements in the competencies. Furthermore, surveys help student acquire a level of ownership over what takes place in the classroom (Elliot, Frey & Davies, 2017; Timpson, 2009). The two important obstacles to overcome. First, to integrate SEL into the classroom activities. Some activities have shown to be disruptive to learning. Second, the cultural considerations should be taken into account because students from different cultures will be more or less adept at different competencies, and the ‘right’ things to do will depend on cultural background as well as the immediate environment (Hetch & Shin, 2017; Shen, Wang & Shen, 2009).
Discussion and Implications
Limitations of the study
There are several limitations to this study that should be taken into consideration while both evaluating its implementation and results. First, because the study is being implemented after the students have already had a full semester of course work, the students may be more familiar with classroom activities and expectations of the courses. As the students become more familiar with the requirements of the course, they may be more adept at functioning with the content learning goals. Therefore, some of the positive results that are seen in the reports could have causality for this reason. Second, the students are maturing. This is particularly poignant in the case of the early, visual arts classes. Young adolescents are progressing at fast rate and being in the environment of high school will be easier for them than it was at the beginning of the course. Second, this is a sample of convenience. The students are chosen because they are taking classes with the researcher. All classes are voluntary with the exception of the TOK class and what is found from this study may not be entirely relevant to other classes and teachers. Third, the demographics of this study are rather limited. As mentioned in methodologies, the students represent a largely East Asian heritage and what is understood from this study may not be completely relevant to demographics that are from South America, for example. Fourth, some content-oriented activities, in the design class in particular, and to a lesser extent, the TOK class employ the team-based learning model which may result in advances in relationship skills. Although it is the opinion of this researcher that they will work in conjunction with one another. Finally, the researcher is biased in the efficacy of explicit SEL and so may be pre-disposed to find causal relationships.
The researcher predicts that the findings of this study will yield three results. That there will be a moderate increase in achievement of content learning goals. Because the students are made more aware of how SEL as embodied by the SAL, SHOM, and IBLP these skills will show themselves in their study habits and result in better achievement in the courses. Second, there will be a stronger identification of the SEL competencies as described through the SAL, SHOM, and IBLP. Students should be able to pinpoint where they received feedback, took risks, and understood their perspective. Third, some students should be able to identify, at least obliquely how these skills have proved valuable in other classes.
This research project may provide a useful tool in the implementation of SEL into a class environment that is effective and non-intrusive. It can be employed by other teachers that do not feel completely comfortable with using SEL in their classes by providing a pre-packaged approach. In fact, in the development of this research project, the researcher has already shared two of the surveys with the Visual Arts and Media team and members of that team show interest in using it in their own classes. It will also provide the groundwork for a system that can evolve with the learning needs of students in the coming years. The use of technology in the form of the surveys that can be integrated with the learning management system kay open the door to more advanced technological systems like the use of social media to the same ends.
In discussion of this point, the study could also require ICT to consider the problem and solutions to working with student data in a safe way. This researcher has already discussed the potential for use of technology to develop SEL competencies with the school’s ICT director who is better disposed to developing systems that are effective and safe.
There is also the opportunity to use the data collected from this survey to serve the research needs of the SEL community. As referenced several times in this proposal, not nearly enough research has been completed and the data compiled here can be integrated into meta-analysis studies that help educators gain a more robust image of how SEL is integrated into the classroom experience.
There are several issues that have arisen because of the research that went into this proposal that are not included but warrant consideration. If there is little research about the implementation of SEL integration into the classroom, there is even less on variety of cultures that stand to benefit. Most of the research accessed for this proposal are from North America, Europe, and Asia which leaves out nearly half the world. It is difficult to find information about how this may apply to cultures in Africa and South America and little to guide development of programs that attend to a multicultural environment. Hopefully, this research proposal inspires others to consider this issue and develop more action research projects and information that can be applied to a wider variety of students across the globe.
Stern, Harding, Holzer, and Elbertson (2017) suggest other methods of delivery in SEL content, specifically collaborative technologies and graphic novels. It is beyond the scope of this project, although the researcher believes there is strong potential in both of these as well as others that have yet to be envisioned. Social media applications are also of great interest. The above-mentioned authors as well as E-Learning (2017) reveal that Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular mediums for this generation. While there is still the question of protecting underage students, the potential here is exciting to contemplate.
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