June 8th, 2020

Defining and Measuring SEL

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) maybe doesn’t need a clear definition. I say this because when breaking it down, many would imagine different conclusions for what a proper definition would be. For example, does it just mean building a relationship with the student(s), does it mean engaging with the sphere outside of school and to what extent, and/or does it mean promoting their emotional control through Mindfulness training or other means of behavioral control. So maybe simple guidance for encouraging districts to define their own SEL would be a strategy. But regardless of definition, the outcome is to produce people of skill, intelligence, and compassion. However, our culture seems to have strayed from the latter and focused on the first two.
If SEL is the action, or something similar, to that of teaching compassion, it is controlling who to feel compassion for that will be impacted by both cultural differences and a pupil’s previous life experience. In some cases, students don’t want to be told who to have compassion for, but need to realize it through learning experiences, which vary widely. For example, many cultures around the world have some form of social strata and teach this to the youth. It is intended to propagate the social order of things and maintain stability in the country. Which leads to inherent inequities that need to be rectified, through educational reform, in order to create a society that is able to adapt and be better positioned for future challenges. SEL would appear then as the necessary reform to move our society forward.
So instead of discussing a definition for SEL further, I would like to put forth a discussion of SEL goals. What do we want the outcome to be and how will we measure it? Measuring skills and content knowledge is relatively straight forward. Assessment of short response, multiple choice, presentation, or other forms are necessary to showcase those results. But measuring compassion will be a tricky topic, especially if we start talking about high stakes tests for this. That type of policy will lead to institutions teaching to perform well on exams, which is a backwards approach, especially in current times when the outlook of the future and future occupations will look very different from what we currently have.
But without assessment, how do we know what is working? Which leads me to measuring SEL. Organizations are attempting to quantify the effectiveness of their SEL programs. Measures of student satisfaction, teacher evaluations, and test scores, but I am wondering if someone has first hand experience or can shed more light on the topic of measuring SEL?
Or more simply, is there a method of measuring compassion?

Tags: definition, SEL Policy

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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Hi Morgan - To your point, middle school students are overwhelmed transitioning from primary school increasing from 1-2 teachers to 4-5. On top of being in the midst of now 700 students as opposed to 200. When Dr. Hugo suggests Consistency, Predictability, I like to add Frequency.

Thus, addressing risk factors i.e.
Poor Social Support - Antisocial Behavior & Alliennation - Low Academic Achievement.

In terms of addressing the whole-child measuring SEL across grade levels should determine academic readiness:

3rd Graders – Increase reading and writing proficiency.
5th Graders - Middle school motivation via increased resilience.

6th Graders – Enhance self-efficacy of middle school student transition.
8th Graders – High school motivation – student leadership.

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I was a part of a group that developed recommendations around assessment for SEL. Here is a link to the document: https://www.air.org/system/files/downloads/report/NPAG-Consensus-Statement-Nov-2019.pdf
In it, we discuss one lens through which to look at assessing SEL

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