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Using Paired Fiction To Teach Social Emotional Skills To Tweens

Saddleback Educational Publishing conducts a Webinar Series to spread information and resources for online learning programs. The following article is an enhanced summary based on webinar Using Paired Fiction To Teach Social Emotional Skill To Tweens hosted by Jill Haney on July 16th

It is a delight to be with you today to share this launch of our new Go SEL Social Emotional Stories. We worked hard on these to really make them a great opportunity for comparative text. And that’s something that I’m really excited to talk to you about today. Because that’s something that is new really for a saddleback series. We’ve had lots of fiction non-fiction pairs. But this particular group actually has fiction pairs and are set up to be comparative texts.

Social Emotional Development Starting In Middle School

Let’s start, really, with discussion about our tweens. When we look at this age group, this can be upper elementary and middle school, in terms of the range, that are tweens, that we see them, in our schools. We know has, as Liz mentioned, I started in seventh grade, Middle school has always had a special place in my heart. It’s really taught me a great deal as a teacher. And one of the things I just love about this age group is the passion that they can really have when they get behind a cause, or a topic, and the kinds of thought processes, as they really begin to realize, hey, I’m not just a kid anymore. I’m starting to grow up.I have my own ideas. I’m making some of my own friends, and this whole time is such an important piece in self identity.

We know that, as with all of our students, that tweens are very diverse, not only in terms of their backgrounds, but, in terms of their family structures, in terms of their experiences and what they are bringing to the classroom. And they also are very adept with technology. So when we talk about the fact we’ve just gone to the last few months of remote learning across the country with our different districts. These are students who probably were more adept with a lot of the platforms than we ourselves were as educators. But it’s still also a group that really thrives on peer interactions.

So not being able to have that day-to-day contact with peers at school has created some issues for this group as well.

One of the things that the research shows is one of our issues with this group is that engagement with school can decline as students enter adolescence. They may have, as I mentioned, and I’ve seen this many, many times, that passion for a particular topic or a cause. But they may also have this feeling of, what does all of this school matter? What am I learning? Why? Why do I need to give my time to this?

Because of that, we see significant declines in school participation, interest, and enjoyment, as well as kind of this issue with a decline in the sense of belonging across the middle school years. And that really brings us right to today’s topic, which is social emotional learning. And why it’s so critical is it is for all our students, but when we’re talking about tweens, it is of a particular importance.

What Is Social Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning, as I’m sure many of you already are very well aware of is growing in terms of something that we’re addressing in schools. And when we talk about SEL at saddleback, we’re really talking about this process of looking both within yourself and looking beyond yourself.

So it’s these kinds of skills of self-awareness, moods and attitudes, the kinds of things that we do to manage ourselves and our own emotions. As well as our social skills. And our ability to reach out to others, and to really form positive and important relationships.

We’ve seen many, many groups promote social emotional learning. But the number one group is definitely the collaborative for Academic, social, and emotional learning. They’ve been leading the charge for years now, And they have also invested a great deal of time and energy into promoting research in this area.

Research On Social Emotional Learning

And, I have found it absolutely fascinating, if you go on their website, you’ll see all sorts of research studies, but some of the, the best are those that have shown that, wow, we might instinctively think that doing social emotional learning in schools helps with behaviors, helps with overall attitudes. It also, the research shows, helps directly with academics. So when we talk about this group of tweens and how the research shows that ation tends to decline, this is the kind of thing that can then help that participation, that engagement, to really begin to increase, again, which obviously is going to have an important role in academic success.

This is something I think is very important for us to understand when we’re talking about tweens and Social Emotional Learning, the Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation talk about how the successful programs for this age group need to really leverage the unique developmental needs of this group of students.

We know that they are finding themselves, tending to have a search for purpose and identity. The importance of peers and friendships is just growing with this group. Their attitudes toward themselves and others are really beginning to form, and their idea of meta cognitive, and thinking through things is also really forming. So we want SEL programs that really promote positive development in all of these areas.

Why We Love The Go SEL Social Emotional Stories

Go SEL Social Emotional Stories

And that’s one of the reasons that we really wanted to create this new product that is available. And it is shipping. It is brand new. Called our Go SEL Social Emotional Stories.

This is a series of books that approaches SEL through its topics. Both the topics that look internally, and the topics that look out of Word in terms of social skills, and it does it through fiction pairs. So if we take a closer look at some of these topics, you can see something like social awareness, and you’ve got two different fiction books. one is going to show a Tween who really successfully manages that topic, and the other is going to show a tween. That really has some challenges with that topic.

1. Promotes Communication and Healthy Peer Relationships

So, when we take a closer look, you’ll see here, in this particular book, which is from our communicating effectively, care that you’ve got two tweens who figure out how to communicate well. And they ended up being able to resolve a misunderstanding that was happening between them. And really look at it in a very positive role. And then you have tweens who really have some challenges with communicating and don’t quite navigate correctly, how to effectively work through that. And there are consequences, then, that they have to deal with.

One of the things that I absolutely love about the fact that these are comparative texts is that they spur discussion.

So when we talk about tweens and we’ve talked about some of the things that make them really unique, we know that peers and peer relationships are really critical to this group.

So being able to have something that is a kind of a great, not only discussion starter, but gets you into some deep thought, and that can be really debated back and forth, is a wonderful thing for these students. And of course, right now, we are in a remote learning situation. So when we talk about discussion, that can look very different than what we might have in a classroom in terms of our discussion.

2. Comparative Texts and Sparking Conversation

When we talk about comparative texts, in particular, one of the things that I really like about this is that the comparison itself is a key element in helping students grasp what that SEL topic is, and how it can be navigated successfully. But also what the obstacles can be in terms of mastering that particular topic. And so, having that model of the successful and the challenge with the same topic, really helps students to kind of zero in on what are the critical elements that lead to success with this particular topic, whether it be self-awareness, or social awareness, or any of the other topics in this set.

Comparative texts also are great for sparking conversations, because there are some very specific things that students can zoom in on and say, Hey, this is where it went well with this particular Tween character, and here is where it kind of went off the track with another particular character and began to cause trouble. It also is great for reflection, and I think we want our reading whenever possible, to also spur writing, and spur reflection. And these are great. For not only journaling and reflecting, but also for doing just comparative or comparative contrast kinds of responses. Or using graphic organizers like Venn diagrams to organize our thoughts to organize thoughts about what is similar and what is different in a particular situation.

3. Accessible Texts For Tweens

The other great element of these books is really how accessible they are. So, you all know, if you’d been coming to the webinars to saddleback, we are big on accessible texts because we are a high low publisher, high interest, low readability. So, while these texts are absolutely aimed at upper elementary and middle school students, there, readability is going to be between the middle of first grade, in the middle of second Grade, Lexile between 2 3300. And you’re gonna see that while the word count is just over a thousand words at 1100, 1300 words, the page count really allows for great flexibility in terms of how much text is on the page, because they’re 48 pages each.

So we can have less text on a page and use most of the page for full color photos that support the comprehension.

These were definitely designed for tweens. So you’re gonna see main characters who are tweens? We got some questions. from some of you. As you registered for this webinar about how appropriate with these B for high school, absolutely, they would still be good for high school classes to discuss. The characters are all going to be middle school age, so there is definitely crossover both up into middle school as well as in that upper elementary. But you’re also going to see in here a real focus on some of those things that middle schoolers have to face the first time that they’re going. For example to multiple classes instead of having one main homeroom teacher or the fact that they’re now having to juggle things like clubs and sports along with their school.

4. Great For Newcomers and English Language Learners

You’re also going to see that these are great for our newcomers and English language learners, who oftentimes are trying to figure out how to navigate the culture and how to figure out what, How other people are feeling when there might be a communication barrier because of the language barrier. There is still this need to understand things like non-verbal cues and other pieces, so this is a great series for our newcomers and English learners. It’s also a great series, those of you who know me, know I have a son who has autism and is non-verbal.

I’m very active in the special education world in terms of promoting books and high quality materials for our students who have autism or other disabilities. And who may benefit from life skills, content, but still need to have quality stories to really talk about, and think about. These are also great for that middle school career, or health class that is focused on helping students kind of explore and better understand themselves, as we often see in these classes, and they’re also great in counseling groups.

5. Creating Self-Awareness

So, I’ve mentioned already that these topics are both from looking within yourself and looking beyond yourself kind of Zoom lens. And, and, look, but you’ll see here the specific topics. So, looking within yourself, we look at self-awareness.

Then self management, moods and attitudes, decision making. And I love the decision making. Because this is a group of students who, again, as they are coming into this age, where they are feeling more and more a sense of their own identity, They’re also starting to understand that they have more control in terms of making their own decisions.

Physical health, and finding purpose, Or also within this, looking within yourself-lens. And then looking beyond yourself. We have social awareness, Relationship management, communicating effectively, obviously, all three of those are an important element in terms of social skills, kindness and respect, problem solving, and finding help resources. There are two books for each topic, so you have 24 books total in this particular series.

As we look, take just a quick closer look at what these pairs sort of look like, You’ll see here, those six topics that, looking within yourself, you, are going to have again, With each pair one, that is us, some a tween that’s really successfully navigating that topic. And then, with the other fiction book, a tween who is struggling in some respect and the consequences that result because of that.

Here is a close look inside self-awareness. This happens to be the book that is focused on successful navigation, even though it’s successful navigation, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges within this book, You’re still going to see that the main character makes some early kinds of missteps in terms of being a self aware of how her actions are impacting others, and how there may be looked at by others, and then she make some adjustments. And we see a real success by the end. Each of these books is going to do that, exploring the topic through a realistic scenario, and the characters are going to be diverse.

6. Diverse Characters and Diverse Experiences

And this, When I’m say diverse, I’m always talking not just about race or ethnicity, but also about family structures, about experiences, all of those things that make the diverse student bodies that we work with every day.

Looking beyond yourself, you’ll see, again, a closer look at these six topics. And, another quick look inside, here, You have got one of our books that is Looking Beyond Themselves, the Communicating Effectively book. And you’ll see here bolded emotion, vocabulary words as well as the fact that in all of our books, you’re gonna see an equal representation of male and female main characters in this series. So, you’ve got 24 books, 12 of those folks are going to feature a main character. Who is malan, 12? We’re going to feature female main characters.

All of the books have all of these elements. So the diverse characters and the realistic scenarios that we mentioned with the Looking within Yourself book as well as these bolden emotion vocabulary words and that equal representation is really going to be across this whole series.

7. Teaches The Language Of Emotions

Let’s take just a quick, closer look at the emotion vocabulary. Here you’re gonna see, each of the pairs is gonna feature five emotion vocabulary words. Not only are they going to be bold it in the text but they are also going to be featured in glossaries at the end of the book with their definitions. And those of you who are familiar with a another SEL product that we have that’s more aimed at high school, which is our SEL literacy library, may already be familiar with the fact that we have these … cards available. These feature, those same 60 emotions.

And one of the things I love about these is that they show through illustrations the facial cues and the gestures that can really help our students begin to recognize and figure out what someone may be feeling, Which, of course, is going to then improve social awareness. But it’s also going to improve self-awareness because we’re looking at a range of emotions, here. So students really get a sense of what’s the difference between angry and furious? And how might that look different? How might that feel different? So it also helps our students increase their vocabulary and be better able to pinpoint really, how they are feeling.

I always like to kind of come back to, OK, what does this maybe look like? And, of course, we are right now, in a situation where we’re not necessarily in class face-to-face, so I wanted to just kind of share some different ideas, and also how that might look differently, depending on if we are face-to-face versus remote.

So, the independent reading that can be done with these books is obviously something that could happen from a classroom library, a school library. And it could be something that is obviously in a classroom, or if students are able to check out books. Also from home, we also see some really because of the comparative texts, some real benefit here, in being able to have students approach these book pairs in a small group.

Now, this can happen, in a remote situation, with some of the things that are offered by some of the remote, like, for example, I’ve heard some of our teachers who are using Zoom, who are able to use breakout rooms. Where the students can actually go in as a group, and talk together, and work together. In a classroom, obviously, they could work together as a small group. But the key here is having them read both books and the pair, and having that then time in their small group to discuss what they notice as some of those key elements about that social emotional learning topic, And then present what they’ve learned. It is so important, and it’s so hard now, in our, in many cases, with our remote learning to have our students do the presenting.

But, when we can figure out ways for them to be able to present back. And, I have seen different things that teachers have done. Things where students have submitted to the teacher. And then, when the teacher has class, if they have the students permission, they helped at present the ideas and show their screen. I’ve seen that work well. Obviously, if students are comfortable and their parents have given permission, and the schools are OK with a kind of an interactive presentation platform, that can work well as well, in a remote situation. But we really do want to be turning this over to our students as much as possible.

Because when they do the presenting of what they have learned, they have so much better retention, as well as really kind of comprehension of what they have figured out with that particular topic or, or whatever we may be assigning them.

These are also excellent books as a shared reading.

So, because they are relatively short, 1100 to 1500 words, this is a fairly easy shared reading that you could do in 10 to 15 minutes, either remotely with a class, and then having discussion, or in a classroom situation. And these are also great prompts for responsive writing, where the students can really look at, OK, here is the topic.

This particular Tween successfully navigated it, this Twain did not. How might I have dealt with that, so I can kind of make that personal connection? How, how might I have approached that same issue, for example, in my life? And that’s something that can really lead to some great, responsive writing from students.

Using Paired Fiction Q + A

What led you to write two texts, and is it from your own teaching experience?

OK, so, first of all, a great question, I appreciate that very much. I, while I edited and shapes all of these texts, I did not, I was not the author of any of these, because we’d like to use a team of authors. So, really, what happened is our, our brain trust, kind of hear it saddleback. That likes to, you know, interact and figure out, what is it that we want to do next for our products. Really had this thought of, you know, when we talk about social emotional learning, the modeling that you really want to be able to do for these kinds of topics.

And that helping students really navigate that through a positive kind of modeling, as well as seeing the challenge, and kind of, kind of what can go wrong, would be really helpful. And so, then, we turned to our authors, and ask them, you know, what would you do? And they submitted Synopses, and that’s really how these pairs came together. And then, I spent, with my other editors really working to really make these exactly as we wanted them to be, in terms of that comparative text. So, I love that question, because, yeah, that kind of gets to the heart of where all of this kind of thought process came from.

How can students translate empathy and other SEL skills into their daily lives? It’s one thing to read about it in spark discussions, but is there an extra step or something we need to do to make sure that they start living this stuff?

Wow, so, you know, that is a deep question. It’s very deep, very deep. It is, it’s something that we all aspire to write as educators. one is, our biggest aims, is to make sure that what we’re presenting and teaching, then translates into the students, just everyday behaviors. And I think, I think this is how you start with that, when you make the topic. Explicit in terms of saying, Hey, we’re going to talk about social awareness, or room talk about kindness and respect. We’re going to look at this comparative text example of, you know, what are some of the benefits of being kind and respectful, versus what are some of the challenges that happen.

And when that doesn’t occur, that kind of discussion is going to cause some reflection that students have.

And we obviously are not going to be able to transform a student all on our own. It is a process that happens over time. It evolves, and it involves experiences. It involves multiple role models and relationships. But the fact that we addressed it in school and we really have given students a chance to talk about it, means that there is an opportunity, then for reflection. And, we all know that when students begin to reflect that. Is when they can then have that opportunity to be aware of their own behaviors, to be aware of the effects of their behaviors. And to then look at making positive changes. So, it’s not, there’s no simple answer to this. It’s not a simple question, but, I do think that, that’s one of the reasons it is so valuable.