By Dr. Tara Laughlin, Director of Readiness Curriculum at PAIRIN
Last week’s blog introduced an SEL integration framework, offering educators a systematic way to integrate social-emotional skills into any grade level and content area. Because this framework synthesizes several well-known and widely used practices in a novel way, it may be helpful to “see” it in action. Here’s a vignette to illustrate how it works, from the perspective of a team of teachers.
Brett, Maya, and Jerrod make up the 8th grade science team at a local middle school. At one of their team meetings, the three sit down to plan their next unit of instruction.
Step 01: Identify
As they normally would, the team begins by identifying which science standard(s) their upcoming unit will address. Once they’ve decided on teaching the scientific method, they then consider which SEL skills they will incorporate into their unit. To make this decision, they consider a number of factors: (1) Which skills lend themselves naturally to integration with the scientific method? (2) Which skills have they noticed their students are lacking? (3) Which skills have been prioritized by the administrative team at their school? Based on these considerations, the team decides they will integrate two skills into this unit: problem solving and self-control.
Step 02: Pre-Assess
Brett, Maya, and Jerrod then consider how they will pre-assess their students on the scientific method, problem solving, and self-control. Fortunately, they are able to use their existing scientific method pre-assessment from the previous year. To assess the skills, they design a simple task which will elicit students’ problem solving and self-control skills, or lack thereof.
Step 03: Plan
Armed with data from these two pre-assessments, the team uses backwards design to plan their unit. They break all three topics (the scientific method, problem solving, and self-control) down into a series of smaller concepts, and then pause to take three things into consideration: (1) How should these concepts be sequenced? Should they teach all about the scientific method first, followed by the skills? Should self-control come first, before students are given access to the equipment? (2) How can the skills be leveraged to enhance understanding of the content? In other words, how do strong problem solving skills and self-control strengthen a scientist’s ability to carry out the scientific method? (3) At what points should formative assessment occur? They finally come to consensus and create their unit plan, designed strategically around both the content and the skills.
Step 04: Teach
Now that the unit plan has been created, Brett, Maya, and Jerrod begin carrying it out in their own individual classrooms, instructing students on both the content and skills. Following the integration framework, they teach the content and skills separately. Let’s zoom into Jerrod’s classroom for a closer look.
On the second day of the unit, Jerrod follows the team’s unit plan, introducing the concept of self-control. He starts with an overview of the skill, making sure to ask his students why self-control might be important in a science classroom. His students wisely observe all the breakable equipment around the room. Jerrod agrees, and then piques their interest with descriptions of all the fun experiments they will get to do during the unit, so long as they have self-control. He then teaches students a few self-control strategies. The next day, Jerrod introduces the steps in the scientific method, using a lesson he had designed the year before.
Step 05: Practice
Periodically, after teaching a few smaller concepts within the scientific method and the SEL skills, the team facilitates practice activities which allow students to practice recent concepts in both the content and skills in tandem. The teachers observe these practice activities to gain insights and to provide students with additional time and support. To illustrate, let’s travel back into Jerrod’s classroom.
Jerrod’s students have now learned a few self-control techniques as well as the steps in the scientific method – they are ready for a practice activity. Jerrod has his students complete a small experiment: Using a rubber ball, students must determine if the height from which a ball is dropped affects the height to which the ball bounces. He knows that, in the past, his 8th graders have had a difficult time using the bouncy ball only for the experiment, often preferring to throw it around the classroom. Therefore, this is the perfect activity for students to practice both their understanding of the scientific method as well as their self-control.
After Jerrod has reviewed the self-restraint strategies and the scientific method, he gives thorough instructions, and students begin. Jerrod walks around the room, observing students and giving real time feedback on both the content and the skills. He can very easily tell which students have mastered all of it, which students are demonstrating self-control but seem confused by the scientific method, and which students appear to need more work with both.
Step 06: Assess
At predetermined intervals, Brett, Maya, and Jerrod formatively assess their students’ understanding of recently taught concepts relating to both the content and skills. They do this through performance assessment tasks which require students to use all learned concepts to complete the task successfully. Using rubrics, they determine student levels of proficiency on the skills. They score the content portion of the assessment according to their school’s established grading practices. Let’s take a look at how this goes in Jerrod’s classroom.
It’s now time for the first formative assessment – one which will assess students’ current levels of mastery in both self-control as well as the scientific method. Jerrod assigns all students a performance task to complete – determining how many droplets of water will fit on top of a penny. He provides students with the scoring criteria for both the content and the skills, answering any questions they have, and they begin. As they work, Jerrod walks around, scoring rubrics in hand, making notes and observations on students’ progress.
(+1): Repeat/Adjust as Needed
Student performance on these formative assessments provides valuable insights into where each teacher needs to offer targeted intervention or enrichment prior to the end of the unit, just as they normally would have done when teaching only their content. The unit ends with a summative performance assessment, a complex task in which students are required to design and conduct a new experiment independently, demonstrating mastery of all learned concepts related to the scientific method, problem solving, and self-control in the process.
After all students have completed this summative task, Brett, Maya, and Jerrod sit back down for a team meeting to discuss the results. They realize that, through integrating problem solving and self-control skills, their students have not only learned important skills which can be carried forward; this group of students has also out-performed any previous class in their deep mastery of the scientific method.
That final statement is true. Research has shown that one side effect of focusing on social-emotional skills with students is an increase in academic achievement. This brief vignette, while based on fictional teachers, illustrates a powerful instructional approach educators can use to truly prepare their students for long-term success.
Laughlin, T. (2014). Twenty-first century pedagogy: Integrating 21st century skills Into literacy content in a sixth grade English classroom (Doctoral dissertation).
Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.