Yet another reason for the proliferation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs appears in last week’s Education Week. Besides making students nicer and preparing them for the 21st century, there’s a more mundane goal: basic classroom management.
This latest article, entitled “Teachers Use Social-Emotional Programs to Manage Classes,” focuses on a program called the 4R's (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution) as it plays out in 3 classrooms led, respectively, by a Ms. Schmidt, a Ms. Mendez, and a Ms. Diaz. Its key elements, apparently, are:
1. Obvious tactics--like giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings:
SEL programs also tend to focus on having students repair the damage when they misbehave, rather than simply receive a punishment. For instance, said Ms. Schmidt, if one child in her classroom does not let another play at recess, instead of just having to sit out, the offender will have to find a way to "fix" the problem.
"He could make a card or write a note to the kid," she explained. "Often this 'apology of action' or 'fixing' is a lot harder than just losing recess."2. Low-level vocabulary exercises:
Students learn vocabulary words related to feelings and practice identifying their emotions.Somehow I doubt these exercises include more sophisticated terms like “nostalgic,” “resolute”, and “resigned”.
3. Dorky acting exercises:
One morning early this fall, 1st graders in Nydia Mendez's class at Public School 24 in Brooklyn were working on identifying feelings.
"It's your birthday. Make a face and show me how you feel," Ms. Mendez said to students, who instantly became all smiles and flapping arms. "You lost your favorite pencil." Their puppy-dog eyes hit the ground. "Your body's showing me that you're disappointed," she said to one boy.4. Lots of time consumption:
Rebecca Schmidt… uses a variety of social-emotional-focused methods to manage her students. "It's tough, and a messy process, and takes a lot longer than a typical external-incentive/rewards classroom management [approach]," she wrote in an email.5. Embarrassing, privacy-violating activities:
Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.6. Intrusion into private family affairs by the “class family”:
Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their "class family." In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.
Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what's going on at home. This kind of emotionally fraught work "does take a toll on me," Ms. Diaz admitted. "I become so engulfed in [the students'] lives that I sometimes forget to take care of me."
At times, classroom meetings and other discussions can churn up feelings students are having about serious problems at home, which can be difficult for a teacher to navigate.7. Last but not least, emotional abuse of children by teachers:
Maria Diaz's 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they'd done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a "put-down," or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.
The "put-downs" activity … brought much of the class to tears.This sounds to me like the kind of information a “mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect” should be passing on to “counselors and administrators.” But would they listen?
The goals of all these exercises, ironically, are actually “more than just compliance,” but also making kids “more responsible and empathetic”—two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.
Education Week, though, has been taken in by the “evidence”—the one reported source of which is a rather self-interested institution:
In a meta-analysis of 213 research-based social-emotional-learning programs, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning found that such programs boost student achievement, as measured by standardized tests and school grades, by an average of 11 percentile points. The study said SEL programs also reduced problems with student conduct and emotional distress, and improved their attitudes "about themselves, others, and school."Edweek’s claims are at odds with what the New York Times Magazine reported just last month in its article on Social Emotional Learning:
So far, however, few studies have been done on which skills are actually acquired through S.E.L., and even fewer have included the kind of rigorous, controlled trials needed to prove that acquiring a specific skill produces a specific outcome over the long term.
In 2010, a report from the U.S. Department of Education that evaluated seven different S.E.L. programs found no increase in academic achievement and no decline in behavioral problems.Nor does Edweek mention a recent study rigorous enough to have been published in the journal Science that supports a much more promising to learning empathy: reading literary fiction.
The Edweek article concludes with one baffling caveat:
SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child. Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.OK, so in other words SEL programs are for students *without* behavioral issues. But then why, for the sake of classroom management, are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?