After just a few years of teaching, I realized the academic skills we were expected to teach students were not enough to ensure students were prepared to be productive participants in society. Over time, my students’ social emotional development became as important to me as the academic skills designated by New York state. So when my administrators decided to add an advisory class to student schedules, I jumped on the chance to plan its curriculum. Despite my best efforts to create meaningful social emotional learning experiences, the class was often treated by both staff and students as an aside, with the skills not transferring well to other classes or “real life.” I found a solution to this problem when I tried a new classroom model with self-paced blended learning instruction. A self-paced classroom is able to provide personalized instruction via blended learning, with the right balance of autonomy and support to develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The students in my pilot program outperformed their peers on credit accumulation every trimester, but the real success came from the social emotional growth I was able to facilitate and observe.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL), as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”1 This is comprised of five SEL competencies, all of which I was able to address in the self-paced academic setting.
Self-paced instruction is “any kind of instruction that proceeds based on learner response.”2 There are two models: outside of the school setting and within the school. I used a self-paced classroom design as a pilot within the alternative high school where I taught to support a variety of struggling learners. We selected a target group of students and scheduled them for a three hour block of class. Within this block, we offered thirteen different blended learning classes. The students chose which courses they wanted to work on for the trimester (based on graduation requirement needs) and they also got to decide how to structure their time during the block. Some students opted to spend all three hours on one class and then move on, whereas others would work on things from three or more different courses during the block. I became a true learning facilitator, supporting all subjects, but responsible for one. Content experts would push in on a staggered schedule to provide support and feedback to students. The advantage of the self-paced, blended learning model in relation to SEL is that it allows for the integration of these skills as a part of the systems and structures of the academic class instead of as a separate initiative.
Competency 1: Self-awareness--the ability to recognize one's emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one's strengths and limitations and possessing a well grounded sense of confidence and optimism....