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Supporting the “Whole” Student: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the Flipped Classroom

By Tomeka Wilcher, Ed.D.

As the demographics and needs of college students change, the higher education community is working to meet these needs and ensure student success. One targeted area is social emotional learning (SEL), defined as an ability to manage emotions and relationships and solve problems. Research on social emotional learning frameworks is a growing field of study, and scholars have identified a strong link between SEL and student success.

SEL in Higher Education

As traditional-age college students transition from secondary to post-secondary education, they no longer have the parental control, structured school schedule, or constant monitoring that kept them on-task and motivated in high school. Many college students and first-generation college students are away from home for the first time. They must create new and healthy relationships, adapt to different environments, manage stress, and learn resiliency and discipline. As a result, key players and stakeholders within higher education have made social emotional learning a targeted topic to explore.

On June 7, 2018, scholars, policymakers, and various stakeholders from 12 countries attended the three-day "Springboard for Success: How Social and Emotional Learning Helps Students in Getting to, Through and Beyond College" conference at the Chauncey Conference Center on the Educational Testing Service's (ETS) campus in Princeton, N.J. The panel discussions focused on and promoted "cross-cultural collaboration in bringing SEL to the forefront of education as a transformative force for equity and social justice in higher ed" (Jones, 2018, para. 12). As stakeholders at this conference discussed SEL in higher education, they expressed how SEL is beneficial to the post-secondary student and the graduate student. Although universities have provided programs, opportunities, resources, and spaces where SEL can be embraced, there are still questions about how faculty can support SEL in their classes.

Faculty members diligently work to support students in becoming critical thinkers who have the knowledge and skills to be successful despite their circumstances or setbacks; however, some faculty members may ask how they can embed SEL within their classes without doing a complete overhaul of a course. One strategy is the flipped classroom, which supports the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills that are reflected in SEL.

Brief Overview: The Flipped Classroom

As active learning is becoming widely used in the college classroom, there has been an increased interest in the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom gives students an opportunity to play an active role in their learning process by replacing the traditional lecture with activities in which students become the producers of knowledge instead of the receivers of knowledge. Flipping the classroom involves two components. The first entails instructors providing students with resources and materials that build the essential knowledge needed to be successful in the upcoming class. Students interact with resources outside of class on their own time. The resources and materials usually consist of more than reading and can include a recorded lecture, focal texts or readings, videos, guided questions or activities, and/or opportunities to collaborate or discuss the topic with classmates. Within a set time frame, students are to interact with the resources and prepare themselves for class.

The second component occurs during class. Students come to class ready to engage in the planned instructional activities based upon the resources and materials that were previously provided. During the class and/or subsequent classes, the teacher creates interactive learning experiences that may include the whole class, small group interactions, discussions, technology-led activities, online discussions or interactions, labs, in-class projects, and/or written-response/synthesizing activities, to name some possibilities. The instructional time during class enhances the authentic learning experience.

SEL and the Flipped Classroom

As instructors flip their classrooms, they are embedding SEL within their instruction. Students are not only learning the content or the skills, but they are also given a space and platform to work on their personal and interpersonal awareness and competence (Conley, 2015). Casel's (2017) five competencies of SEL (listed below) are promoted in the flipped classroom in the following ways:

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize emotions, thoughts, values, strengths and limitations. Confident individuals have a "growth mindset." When students are presented with concepts and tasks that they must sift through and understand independent of their instructor, they can become frustrated; however, they also have the opportunity to push through and turn negative feelings into positive ones. Students may not initially get it right, but in time they will learn from the instructor and their peers and acquire a "growth mindset." This may be their first time experiencing a flipped classroom, but after several opportunities, they will learn how to regulate their emotions to finish an assignment.

Social awareness is the ability to empathize and appreciate the diverse cultures, backgrounds, voices, and perspectives of others. The flipped classroom model lends itself to collaboration. The instructor can create collaborative opportunities outside of the classroom during the preparation period and in the classroom during the active learning component. Students learn content, but they also learn to appreciate the diversity of their peers.

Responsible decision-making is the ability to make wise choices that will influence positive personal behavior and social interactions. Students analyze situations and evaluate the consequences. They realize they have an ethical responsibility and become reflective. In the flipped classroom, students' responsible decision-making is critical in and outside of the classroom. They must decide if they are going to be responsible and complete the preparatory work for the class or not. During class they must decide if they are going to engage in respectful and civil discourse during class discussion or small group collaborations. When participating in the flipped classroom experience, responsible decision-making is constantly occurring because it determines the outcome.

Self-management is the ability of students to manage their behavior in challenging situations. They manage stress, control impulses, set goals, and work on organizational skills. As students work through the resources and materials prior to class, they must discipline themselves so they can have assignments completed prior to each class. Although the instructor may organize the resources and materials, students must organize their thoughts, notes, and anything they may produce. Because there is a time frame in which everything must be covered, students must control any impulses that will deter them from staying focused and working within the time constraints.

Relationship skills involve building and maintaining healthy relationships with diverse individuals. Individuals must work on clear communication, active listening, teamwork, and knowing when to ask for help. As students work on building their knowledge outside of class, they learn how to reach out to their peers or instructor for guidance. When asking for help, they must respectfully articulate their thoughts. As they work with diverse individuals in the classroom, they build relationships within that collaborative space.

Final Thought

Teaching goes beyond concepts and skills; it is the daily imparting of lifelong lessons and tools that will influence students in every aspect of their lives.


References

Conley, C.S. (2015). SEL in higher education. In Handbook of social and emotional learning: Research and practice. (pp. 197 - 212). Retrieved from https://ecommons.luc.edu/psychology_facpubs

Cristóvã, A.M., Candeias, A.A., & Verdasca, J. (2017, November). Social and emotional learning and academic achievement in Portuguese schools: A bibliometric study. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01913/full.

Jones, L. (2018, June). Student social and emotional learning explored at gathering. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://diverseeducation.com/article/117770/

For more information on flipped classrooms, check out the following book:

Waldrop, J.B., & Bowdon, M.A. (Eds.). (2016). Best practices for flipping the college classroom. New York, New York: Routledge.