The Connection Between SEL and Literacy Instruction: A Bridge Not Too Far

Classrooms that regularly integrate SEL (social-emotional learning) include supportive classroom climate, integration of SEL into academic instruction, and explicit SEL instruction. This blog will focus on the second: integration of SEL into literacy instruction. 

Integration of SEL into academic instruction

Integration of SEL with literacy instruction provides opportunities for students to practice and reflect on social and emotional competencies within literacy instruction. For example, teachers might purposely incorporate partner work that promotes cooperation, communication skills, and effective teamwork as part of the literacy lesson.

Explicit instruction with SEL is just as important as explicit instruction in any academic arena. SEL, when explicitly taught, provides consistent opportunities for students to cultivate, practice, and reflect on SEL competencies that are developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive.

SEL: The foundation for academics 

SEL competencies are the foundation for quality literacy instruction. Below are confirming statements to determine if you are on the bridge connecting literacy with SEL.  

  • SEL competencies and targets are clearly embedded in your literacy lessons.
  • Students regularly share their perspectives on how social and emotional competencies connect to what they’re learning in reading/writing/listening/speaking.
  • You actively engage students in making meaning of what they read and write through classroom collaborative discussions.
  • You use intentional strategies to foster student ownership over their learning, including connecting their perspectives and experiences to instruction.
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CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) suggests the integration of SEL with academics involve three interdependent components:

  • Fostering academic mindsets
  • Aligning SEL and academic objectives
  • Using interactive instructional practices and structures to promote SEL

Fostering academic mindsets

Academic mindsets are beliefs of how students perceive themselves as learners; they lay the groundwork for deep academic, social, and emotional learning. Whether they are aware, students enter school with beliefs about who they are as learners. Parents, peers, past classroom experiences, and culture influence these beliefs and can either support or undermine school success. 

Aligning SEL and literacy

Literacy has its own core standards, skills, and grade specific proficiencies. Teachers, schools, and districts consider what students should know and be able to do. Whether students are learning to read at first grade or analyzing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at eleventh, the emphasis is reflected in the standards for each literacy component and ties closely to SEL.

Using interactive instructional practices and structures to promote SEL

When teachers design instructional lessons that actively involve students in making meaning of content, meaningful opportunities to practice SEL skills naturally arise. Collaborative instructional practices put students’ thinking at the center of the learning. Collaborative practices can include the teacher facilitating classroom discussions. Communication skills to puzzle over ideas, respectfully compare thinking, and deepen understanding of content. Additionally, collaborative practices can include cooperative learning. When small groups of students work together to complete learning tasks collectively, literacy standards are met and SEL is enhanced: A bridge not too far, indeed.

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