To prepare students with the skills that they need to be successful in the future, educators need to implement a variety of activities and digital tools. Students need to develop essential skills including communication, creativity, decision making, problem-solving, and teamwork, which are a few of the skills listed in the World Economic Forum’s job outlook. Research has shown that consistently addressing the five SEL competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, decision making, and relationship skills), it will lead to increased academic achievement and have a positive impact on student wellbeing.
Building these skills in our classrooms will not just be beneficial for the future, but will help students to navigate challenges and develop student agency in learning in our classrooms now. Over the past two years, we have experienced many challenges and changes in our schools which is why I believe it is important to offer a variety of options such as genius hour or project-based learning, activities like escape rooms or learning stations, or choosing some versatile digital tools that facilitate more interaction and that will help to foster the development of essential future-ready and SEL skills.
Where to begin
Finding ways to bring opportunities for students to develop SEL skills does not need to take a lot of time and it is not meant to be something extra added on top of the curriculum. There are a variety of methods and tools that enable educators to get started quickly and of course, there are some that do require more planning. The idea is to have a few ideas to explore and then continue to build and adapt as needed. There are tremendous benefits of bringing SEL into the classroom and to get started, here are a few methods and some tools to explore.
- Digital Breakouts: Whether digital or physical breakout boxes, these activities have become quite popular over the past few years. Creating breakouts is a great way to promote collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. When students work together to ”break out,” they have opportunities to develop SEL skills in the process. Check out some of the ready-to-use games or create your own with a Google Form or using a tool like Wakelet..
- Genius hour: Students have an opportunity to explore an interest or a passion and then share their genius with classmates or beyond their classroom and school community. Genius hour promotes inquiry-based and student-driven learning, which infuses student choice and student agency. Genius hour builds self-awareness as students become more confident as they share their knowledge and self-management skills as they set their goals. Checking out Tract is a good way to spark some curiosity for learning and participating in a genius hour.
- Project-based learning: Methods like project-based learning (PBL) lead students to become more independent in learning through authentic and meaningful opportunities. As they design their PBL experience, it helps them to develop self-management skills when setting goals and dealing with challenges that can arise with independent work like PBL. Giving students the chance to explore something of personal interest or a curiosity also promotes student agency in learning. It also connects students with real-world learning that develops their social awareness.
Choosing tools to support the methods
Technology enables educators to facilitate a variety of learning experiences in many different settings. My recommendation has been to choose a method and then explore some tools that will help to facilitate the method or to amplify the learning potential and build the students’ skills. These are also helpful to boost student engagement. For a start, find one or two multipurpose that promote student choice and voice move from consumers of content to creators.
Here are 3 ideas using digital tools
- Digital portfolios: Students can create a digital portfolio to develop SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management. Depending on the tool used, students sharing their portfolios with classmates is also helpful for building relationships and social awareness. A tool we use for collaboration, backchannel discussions, and sharing projects is Spaces, which offers a digital portfolio platform that assists teachers to better understand students, their interests, and needs in learning. Students can track their growth over time, identify strengths and areas where they can set new goals.
- Interactive lessons: Students have collaborated using some of the more interactive tools to create their own lessons for doing PBL or a regular project. Using tools like Formative or Nearpod is beneficial for connecting students in learning, whether in-person or remote, and which enables educators to have access to data or information about where students are in the learning process. These can be used for quick SEL check-ins or for students to build social awareness through some of the lessons created.
- Multimedia presentations: With choices in tools to create a presentation, students can respond using text, audio, images, and video. They have more choices in learning and educators can better meet student interests, specific needs, and definitely the comfort level. By creating multimedia representations of learning, they will also develop vital technology and digital citizenship skills. My students have enjoyed using Buncee, which has an SEL toolkit full of ready-to-use templates and activities for grades K-6 and 7-12 in addition to having thousands of ideas for classroom use and more than 38,000 items in their media library. With a tool like Wakelet students can include images, text, Flipgrid short videos, and even use it as a digital portfolio too. Book Creator is another option for having students collaborate on a book and include audio, video, text, images, and more and also build SEL skills too.
It's important that we consider the purpose of wanting to bring these different tools into our classroom and of course what are the benefits for our students. Will it enable our students to do something differently? Will it help them to build essential skills like social-emotional learning and other critical skills in learning? And, how does it amplify student voice and choice in learning?
When it comes to promoting the development of SEL, remember that there are some quick ways to bring activities to our classrooms each day. It is not something extra that is added to what we are doing. There are methods and tools to explore which promote collaboration, communication, creativity, and the development of essential SEL skills to best prepare students for the future.
Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant and Speaker and the Author of seven books about education and edtech. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915.