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SEL is not an elective course: Three tips you need to enhance SEL in instruction

The Newsela Team
Apr 15, 2022

Within the past two years, the urgency of social-emotional learning (SEL) became accelerated as students transitioned to virtual learning during the pandemic. However, SEL has long been a recognized need for students across the country.  As schools work to design educational instructional practices, they look for ways to prioritize the entirety of a child’s developmental needs, also known as whole child education.

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A gap in SEL or a consideration of the whole child, means that core resources don't consider the foundational social-emotional skills students need to be in the right mindset to learn and be academically successful. This gap can impact a student's learning across subjects. Research shows that when schools embed SEL within core subject areas, there are improvements in SEL skills and academic performance. It’s challenging for a student to collaborate with peers, show up for class with confidence, or engage in a thoughtful discussion if there are social-emotional factors impeding their learning. Isolation, uncertainty, gun violence, and systemic racism have all been spotlighted in students’ lives over the last two years, adding to the urgency to address whole child needs. That’s why, Newsela prioritizes SEL competencies and whole child learning within instructional materials.

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The Newsela SEL Collection is not only published at 5 reading levels but is also organized by the 5 Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) competencies; 1) self-awareness, 2) self-management, 3) social awareness, 4) relationship skills, and 5) responsible decision-making. This resource empowers teachers to integrate SEL into their core instruction across subjects and offers content that is relevant to the diverse needs of students. Below are 3 tips to enhance SEL in the instruction using Newsela.

Choose the CASEL competency that your class needs the most work on to be successful and incorporate related content

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Since there are 5 CASEL competencies it may be tricky to integrate them all at once. Teachers know their students the best so if they think there is a particular one the class needs to improve upon, teachers should incorporate related content to build that competency. For instance, do your students need to learn more about responsible decision-making? If so, we provide all grade levels with a unit on responsible decision-making, teaching students the decisions they may make throughout their lives and appropriate strategies/skills. When students lack skills in making decisions, no matter how big or small, those consequences may impact student well-being. 

At the elementary school level, students can learn about the meaning of integrity and how to make decisions that have integrity through articles such as being a better teammate in the NFL. Or they can learn about social media responsibility through an article on selfies and whether that’s an act of self-love or cry for attention.

Integrate anti-bias anti-racism resources and lessons into the instruction 

Anti-bias, anti-racism resources are important in instruction, as it encourages educators to address issues related to racism and bias that happen far too often. When students have questions related to race or experience racism themselves, educators should have the right content and resources to help students process those experiences, questions and/or feelings.

Our anti-bias, anti-racism resources and lessons, within The Newsela SEL Collection, offer materials that help teachers and students navigate topics related to race and racism. This collection is not only CASEL aligned but also aligned with the Social, Emotional and Ethical (SEE) Learning Framework.

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The topic on Our Present Matters helps students examine where the nation is currently and how they can make a change. Students can explore a lesson on Black Excellence Around the World, which consists of texts for middle and high schoolers on people, such as Beyonce and Tabitha Brown, who make contributions to society despite the continued injustices against Black people. The associated Lesson Spark allows students to dig deeper into the concept of Black excellence but also notes for teachers to be mindful of the potential triggers that may arise with this topic.

Making space for students to feel comfortable discussing cultures that society often marginalizes is important. Whole child learning includes culturally-responsive education, acknowledging that students enter the classroom with diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Draw connections between content areas and SEL

SEL can make lessons more relatable to students when it’s integrated into other content areas, such as social studies or science. Students become more engaged and find the relevancy to lessons, when teachers draw connections to SEL. 

Our Brain Science Collection covers the brain science behind 4 essential SEL topics. For instance, the topic on Brain Science: Stress and the Brain, explores how our brains and bodies respond to stress. Corresponding lessons are available for elementary, middle and high school. Students not only will explore the impact of stress on the brain but also learn ways to manage their own stress, such as cooling-down strategies.

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The SEL strategies within the science content are effective outside the classroom as well. If students experience stressful moments at home, they can refer to the learnings from the content to mitigate their stress in a healthy manner. After all, even if you have the strongest science content, understanding the student as a whole, is key in the development of SEL skills.  

The world is constantly changing, but with Newsela, you can navigate these transitions by integrating SEL within your core instruction and prioritizing whole child learning. Our content serves as a complement to your core materials to promote key SEL competencies that students need for successful learning. 

Teachers know their students best, so we encourage them to do what is best when selecting content for students. We all want to ensure that students are in the right mindset, so what better way than to close the gap with SEL and make sure lessons go beyond academics to consider students’ needs holistically? 

Thank you for tuning into the last blog in the 7 part series on gaps in core materials and tips to fill them.

To learn more about tactical and practical ways to implement SEL into your classrooms, check out this webinar

If you missed a blog in the series, please read them here.

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