Saturday, August 23, 2014

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

One of our goals as CI teachers is to establish community in our classes; if students feel like they are a part of the class, their affective filters will lower, and as a result, they will be more apt to participate and to be more engaged in what is going on in the class. We try to do this through telling stories, doing PQAs, personalizing stories - anything which will get the message across to students "I see you, and I value you."

In many ways, those activities are just teacher-to-student. What about student-to-student? How can we make students feel comfortable with each other so that they will even want to participate in front of their peers?

Let me also say that by nature, I am not a touchy-feely emotions kind of guy. While I am incredibly social and gregarious, I am also not one who naturally dwells on feelings. I am your typical guy - if you were to ask me how I am feeling, I would probably respond either "Tired" or "Hungry".

When I was at NTPRS this summer, in my group's 5-hour session of learning Japanese with Betsy Paskvan, one of the activities was to do a paired translation of a story in Japanese. This was the first day of the conference, and quite honestly, I only knew one other person in the room (because we had shared an airport shuttle coming over). While we could have done a ping pong/volleyball translation activity, instead Betsy asked us questions in English such as "Between you and your partner, who has the longest hair? That person will read aloud the next two sentences in Japanese, and the other person will translate into English." Other questions included "Who has traveled to the most countries?" "Who has the darkest eyes?" "Who traveled the furthest to get to Chicago?" etc. It actually was a lot of fun, because I got to share and to learn information from others in my group that probably would not have come up in a conversation, and it certainly kept things from getting boring and repetitive.

What we did with Betsy was an example of Social Emotional Learning (thanks to Bess Hayles and her blog - Bess was in my group at NTPRS - for pointing out what we were doing and that Betsy was being intentional in doing this). Social Emotional Learning is the idea that students learn/acquire better and more quickly when they are emotionally engaged with each other in a low pressure atmosphere. Examples can be group projects, team-building exercises and even partner activities. Social Emotional Learning helps develop trust within the community of students. If students want to be in your class because of others there, then they will more likely to be engaged in your class.

Examples of CI-based SEL activities:
1) Circling with Balls
2) Word Chunk game
3) Running Dictation
4) Betsy's take on partner translation activity
5) PQAs

This year, I am teaching three Latin 1 classes and 2 AP classes. For the most part, my classes are pretty social: the AP classes know each other from having taken Latin together over the past few years, and two of my Latin 1 classes seem to enjoy each other and cannot get enough of each other and of me. THEN...I have another Latin 1 class which is very quiet. By no means is this a bad, disruptive class, but rather the opposite, I do not know if these students are just naturally quiet and are primarily introverts or if it is that they are not comfortable with each other enough to participate vocally or if it is the time of the day or if they are reacting to me or if it is a combination of all of the above. For these past three opening weeks of school, this is the class which has baffled me the most in using CI, because they seem so non-responsive. Doing Circling with Balls is almost painful to do with them! Quite honestly, they are the class which I dread teaching sometimes, because I cannot read them emotionally.

So three days ago, in doing a partner translation activity with my Latin 1 classes, instead of doing a ping pong/volleyball reading, I decided to do a SEL activity much like Betsy did with my group at NTPRS. During the activity, I asked five different questions in English - "Between you and your partner, ___________? That person will read the next 3 sentences in Latin, and your partner will translate into English.":
  1. who has the latest lunch period?
  2. whose locker is furthest away from my classroom?
  3. who ate dinner the latest last night?
  4. who has the longest hair?  
  5. who has the most siblings?
As I expected, the two social Latin 1 classes really enjoyed it, but what I did not expect was that this particular quiet Latin 1 class started to open up some! After each of the partners had completed their sentence translations, I asked the class to tell me some of the responses which they got from their partners. I was surprised both by how many students volunteered to tell what their partner had said and by how much the class actually wanted to hear what others had said. It was almost as if the actual partner translation was incidental, and the activity was more about community building than reading (and in some ways it was, because the class was actually re-reading something which they had chorally translated the day before). 

The next day, however, that class reverted back to its normal quiet self, but for 20 minutes the day before, I saw glimmers of community begin to develop among those group of students. This semester, I will continue to do more SEL activities with that class and to chip away slowly at whatever is impeding them from feeling comfortable with each other. 

Post Scriptum: Yesterday, because it was a Friday, I played the Word Chunk game with my Latin 1 students. As expected, my two social Latin 1 classes absolutely latched onto this activity, but I also had a HUGE gnawing feeling in my stomach that the other Latin 1 class would not "enjoy" it as much as the others. Wow, to my amazement, that class really got into it! Hopefully, I can continue to ride this wave of community which has started in that class.


  1. Do the students ask these questions in Latin or English?

    1. Thanks for the question - they ask the questions in English to each other in order to determine who will read the Latin sentences and who will translate them into English,

  2. Do you have a list anywhere of questions you use? Last year, I would always think of really lame questions in the moment.

    1. Unfortunately, like you, I usually think of the questions in the moment. But you can always do "Who is older?""Who woke up the earliest/latest this morning?" - anything which will get students to learn something about each other.