In honor of School Library Month, this E-Hint is inspired by a new book: The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development by Maurice Elias, Joseph Ferrito and Dominic Moceri (2016). As curriculum developers, we know that academic learning should be thoughtfully planned, and that instruction and assessment should be carefully aligned to standards. However, we may occasionally ask ourselves, “What about the other aspects of development, for example, self-management and social awareness? Shouldn’t we be planning for personal growth too?” These other areas of growth are a primary concern for the “whole child” education movement, which attempts to include a child’s physiological needs, safety needs, and belonging needs.
One of the most prominent education news stories recently was teacher Kyle Schwartz’s rise to “viral fame” simply because she asked her students, “What do you wish your teacher knew about you?” and Tweeted their responses. Many of Kyle’s students revealed that relational, emotional, and physical challenges were creating learning hurdles in their lives that they needed to overcome, and they appeared to be relieved to share these challenges. Through empathy and the sharing process, a social bridge was built between her and her students. We might go so far as to conjecture that Kyle’s empathy earned her social capital within her class, which could lead to an increase in motivation and learning.
The Other Side of the Report Card provides evidence (Chapter 8: Literature Review and Resources) that distinctively human characteristics such as communication and listening skills, empathy, and evaluating possible outcomes, may be taught, however the primary focus for the authors is the documentation of such learning. Perhaps given growing awareness of bullying and student suicide, districts might want to consider building a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Education (CE) curriculum. This book is an excellent examination of how that process might be initiated and student growth assessed.
The authors begin with definitions of SEL and Character Education, referring often to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) which has defined key competencies and outcomes. A number of Likert rating systems and rubrics are provided demonstrating how skills may be quantified and evaluated. Case studies are provided as examples. (One is the Open Circle SEL Curriculum where students rate themselves using a three-point scale on skills such as cooperating with and encouraging others.) School Leadership Teams (SLTs), similar to the Subject Area Committees (SACs) within the CLI Model, are encouraged for the tasks of: specifying behaviors, creating a model for reporting skill development, report card design, and implementation. A key takeaway for implementation is that, “a deductive approach is needed in order to focus on the specific behaviors to be rated.”
In the meantime, even if a formal Social and Emotional Learning and Character Education curriculum has not been implemented, instructors could still apply a meaningful self-assessment of the quality of their own interactions within their classrooms. Simple questions might include these: “Am I demonstrating empathy to my students? How well am I building bridges and social capital in the classroom? Am I demonstrating character qualities that I’d like to see in my students?” Finding specific answers and examples to answer these questions may lead to personal growth and improved learning for everyone.
For more detailed information, see Austin Independent School District’s SEL curriculum based on the CASEL Core Social and Emotional Competencies and CASEL’s free online guides for Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs.