The Power of Picture Books: Maximizing the SEL-Literacy Connection in Turbulent Times

By Nancy Boyles

Soon after the world shut down last March and students fled the classroom to stay safe at home, teachers recognized the heightened need to address children’s social emotional (SEL) needs. These were strange, scary times: Were the kids okay? How were they faring away from their friends and teachers and the familiar routines of school? It was a scramble to reimagine school overnight, but teachers quickly saw the value of using picture books with SEL themes as part of their online instruction. Excellent, I thought. What a great way to connect thinking and feeling.

But in practice, it’s easy to fall into a few pitfalls that can lessen the impact of reading SEL-related picture books with students. Here are three tips to maximize the power of picture books to connect SEL and literacy whether teaching online or face-to-face in a classroom.

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Teacher Appreciation Week: 20% OFF a Selection of Books from our Contributors

Just click on the book title and you’ll be brought to the special discount webpage for ordering. And check out our authors’ blog posts by clicking on the links below their names.

Meena Srinivasan, author of SEL Every Day: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning with Instruction in Secondary Classrooms (SEL Solution Series), $19.95 $15.96

“With Appreciation: For the Love Teachers Bring to Their Work”

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Thank You to Teachers for Social and Emotional Learning

By Future Cain

Humans are inherently social creatures, and for most children, school is their first and most important social experience. Few could argue the mental, physical, and emotional well-being that social connections promote, and for children, the relationships developed with peers and teachers at school help fill their need to belong, feel heard, and be seen, loved, and valued. COVID-19 has abruptly changed the nature of these relationships for students nationwide. My own children, like countless others, long to sit next to and talk with a friend, whether it be on the school bus, eating lunch in the cafeteria, or enjoying recess or study hall with their peers. 

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STEM: Leveraging SEL Skills to Improve Science Instruction

Let’s begin with a conversation among fourth graders. These students were sitting in a group of four and discussing structural and behavioral adaptations in plants and animals.

DeVon: Hawks have sharp claws that kill their prey.

Casey: What is this? (looking at a worksheet)

Reshma: Bear?

Diamond: A artic fox has…

Reshma: Insects are shaped like a leaf so predators think they are real leaves.

DeVon: A rosebush has thorns to…where’s this go [inferring the question: is this a structural or behavioral adaptation]?

Reshma: Frogs have long strong legs to hop really far.

At first glance, this sounds like a conversation. The students are talking about the science topic and they are facing one another around the table. But, unfortunately, this isn’t a conversation at all. To qualify as a real conversation, students need to talk to one another, listen carefully to each other, and take turns in the discussion so that one idea builds upon another. This scenario falls short. Although it is terrific to see students actively engaged in a science activity, there is so much more that is possible and necessary in a science classroom so that students get the most out of the instruction. High quality science discussions require students to use social and emotional skills (Hunt, Rimm-Kaufman, Merritt, & Bowers, in press). Without those skills in use, students remain focused on their own ideas. The quality of their answers reflect individual, not collective knowledge.

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Social Studies: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning

Teachers have always known that they have a duty to teach students, not just content. Most of the skills taught beyond the core curriculum fit under the umbrella of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). CASEL identifies five competencies of SEL: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making. While all of these competencies should be practiced in the social studies classroom, I want to focus on two: 

Social Awareness

  • Perspective-taking
  • Empathy
  • Appreciating diversity
  • Respect for others 

Responsible Decision-Making

  • Identifying problems
  • Analyzing situations
  • Solving problems
  • Evaluating
  • Reflecting
  • Ethical Responsibility 
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Summer Reading: An SEL Frame of Mind

Greetings Readers!

As the days grow shorter and Labor Day approaches, most of you are preparing your minds and classrooms for the start of the school year.  Increasingly, that means not only writing or revising academic goals and lesson plans but also considering how best to foster the emotional well-being and growth of a new group of learners.  What strengths and challenges will your students bring with them?  How will you cultivate the former and meet the latter?  We thought you might be interested, in this last gasp of summer reading time, to dip into some recent books about social emotional learning and mindfulness: what better way to get into a positive mindset about the fall semester?  The dozen titles below are recommendations from two of Norton’s authors whose own work and writing focus on the social and emotional aspects of educating the whole child.

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