After a few years of teaching, I realized the academic skills we were expected to teach 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 the state. When my administrators decided to add an advisory class, 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 afterthought, with the skills not transferring to other classes or “real life.” I found a solution to this when I tried a new classroom model: self-paced blended learning. 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 was the social emotional growth I observed.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning as, "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 There are five SEL competencies, which I was able to address in the self-paced class.
Self-paced instruction is “any kind of instruction that proceeds based on learner response.” We used a self-paced design as a pilot to support a variety of struggling learners. We selected a group 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 to focus on. I became a true learning facilitator, supporting all subjects, but responsible for one. The advantage of the self-paced, blended learning model is that it allows for the integration of SEL skills as part of the structures of the academic class instead of a separate initiative.