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character education, classroom management, instruction, social emotional learning

The Push for Authenticity

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is being touted as a panacea for the emergence of emotional and behavioral issues that are abundant in schools across the country.  This push to develop students’ awareness of themselves, their goals and emotions, as well as the feelings of others, often comes prepackaged in a curriculum box with a range of pictures, videos and puppets for the teacher to connect.

But after spending a weekend in the woods with a group of squirrelly first and second graders who are a “pack” in the Boy’s Scouts of America it made me realizing developing social emotional skills must be an authentic experience that emerges from free play, exploration, and group norms.  This sentiment is echoed in research about how children learn SEL best, with too much emphasis on academic and direct instruction resulting in an upsurge of deviant behavior in the adult years.

As we drove to the campsite located at Pico Blanco in the mountains of Big Sur, words like “courteous”, “kind”, and “brave” were posted along the road to our campsite.  This began the conversation about what it means to be a boy scout and how these values can be demonstrated in our choices and actions toward others.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional learning (CASEL) identifies five social and emotional learning core competencies: (1) self-management, (2) social awareness, (3) relationship skills, (4) self-awareness, and (5) responsible-decision making.

These skills should not be developed in isolation, that is learning how to control your impulses (self-management) is connected to your awareness of yourself and limitations (self-awareness) and how your choices impacts yourself and others (responsible decision making).  To think that a scripted curriculum with “typical” scenarios could promote a shift in students thinking in a way that alters the core of who they are is a big stretch for me.  Rather this shift seems much more apparent in the lives of children who experience novel events outside of the classroom, in a connected community with shared values and common beliefs.

The Boy’s Scout of America is a perfect exemplar for those who are looking to connect to youth in a way that is meaningful, engaging, and rooted in core principals and values that are socially connected and impacts a child’s self-esteem and efficacy to thrive in a ever-changing and complex world.

When designing instruction to support students social emotional learning consider authentic experiences that will alter the way students think and perceive the world, not just what they are able to recite back to you and record in a fill-in-the blank worksheet.

Real learning is disruptive and creates a state of disequilibrium.  Consider planting a school garden and selling proceeds to support families in need, or spend the day at a elderly home/food shelter or children’s hospital where kids can demonstrate kindness and empathy toward others. Reading about such core beliefs is an empty experience that may reinforce reading skills but fail to awaken the self.


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


One thought on “The Push for Authenticity

  1. I agree that authentic learning should become a priority. While I was growing up I was immersed in many social activities and groups like girl scouts, athletic teams, and even groups within my church this is really where I learned how to interact with others. These kinds of authentic experiences teach an individual about the importance of working well with others to complete a task, being aware that your words and actions affect others, and the importance of keeping your word. I believe that authentic learning is not just for younger children I think that it plays a role in everyone’s ability to learn. The teaching credential program is a perfect example of this. There are some teacher candidates who have never spent time in a classroom and so when they are learning all the theories they can only imagine how its going to turn out or they get a little practice through the program but its not enough to really give them a good idea of what its like running a classroom for a whole school year and being the one solely in charge of the room. Then you have the teacher candidates who have lots of experiences in the classroom who are able to imagine exactly how this would work in a classroom. They are able to pull from previous experience because they have spent the time in a classroom really getting to experience what it is like to be the teacher. This does not determine the success or failure of a teacher candidate but I think having that authentic experience of being in a classroom is extremely beneficial. After reading this post I started to think and wonder how I would incorporate authentic learning more into a classroom and I enjoyed your suggestions but I wanted to give some of mine. I think classrooms can incorporate more stem like activities into the classroom. You can also have more interactive type reports like having students make a commercial or play about a book. These activities also include a collaborative element, which teaches students about working together toward a common goal, and it gives them time to practice their teamwork skills. They will not always get it right but the more exposure they have to these kinds of activities the more practice they get working with others which will in turn help them when they are in the real world.


    Posted by Katherine | July 18, 2016, 5:49 am

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