How does Wit & Wisdom integrate social-emotional learning with English Language Arts instruction?
“My shyest girl brought in a huge collection of poetry she had written after school, proudly performing her work with more energy and expression that I could ever teach to a class that overwhelmed her with praise and acceptance. My boy with a writing IEP who had been afraid to scribe even a sentence in the beginning of the year projected his four- paragraph essay for his peers to critique, and not one student mentioned the spelling errors in nearly every word. Perhaps most inspiring, my students transitioned flawlessly from English to Spanish and back again in an hourlong Socratic Seminar that invited even my monolingual students to feel the sense of accomplishment and pride. For an hour I sat silently, admiring my students, their knowledge, and their growth, and it overwhelmed me with awe. This is what literacy should be. It’s what all kids deserve.”
—Mike Taglienti, Fort Logan Northgate School, Denver, Colorado
Students’ social and emotional wellbeing is intimately connected to their academic success. Like all humans, students have certain social and emotional needs that must be met for them to succeed at school. They need to feel a sense of belonging in the school community, a sense of competence or significance within it, and a measure of autonomy or control over their learning.1 Research has demonstrated that students succeed when these needs are met and struggle when they are not.2 Whether students succeed at school depends on their development of key social-emotional skills, such as how to communicate effectively with others, how to organize and manage tasks, and how to recover from setbacks or failure.3 Schools must accordingly foster students’ social-emotional development in seamless integration with academic learning.4
Wit & Wisdom, a K–8 English language arts curriculum, does just that. Wit & Wisdom was designed with the research-based understanding that social, emotional, and academic learning are interconnected multidirectionally: Not only do students perform better academically when their social and emotional needs are met, but engaging in academic learning with joyful rigor in a supportive, safe classroom environment helps them feel competent, significant, and successful.5
Wit & Wisdom fosters development of the five social-emotional competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:
- Self-awareness: Students explore topics and texts that help them recognize their emotions, thoughts, and values; cultivate a growth mindset through rigorous work; and learn to evaluate their own academic performance.
- Social awareness: Students examine topics and texts in which real and fictional people from diverse backgrounds and cultures respond to opportunities and challenges.
- Self-management: Students learn to organize their reading, thinking, writing, and speaking; make responsible choices about their learning; and deepen their innate sense of curiosity as they explore compelling questions.
- Relationship skills: Explicit instruction in speaking and listening, authentic opportunities to communicate with classmates, and collaborative learning structures help students work effectively with others to accomplish tasks.
- Responsible decision-making: Students learn to make responsible choices in their learning and in Socratic Seminars and as they explore topics and texts in which real or fictional characters face challenging decisions.6
Moreover, at each grade level, the curriculum is designed to cultivate a community of readers and writers. A brief opening unit—Module Zero—guides teachers to carefully introduce the curriculum, establish basic routines students will use all year, and foster students’ connections to each other and their learning. Students begin to feel safe enough to take the academic risks needed to learn. Each of the remaining four modules is organized around a compelling topic. All students read, discuss, and write about the same texts aligned with that topic; in the process, they develop a sense of community that deepens through a shared purpose and pursuit of knowledge.
The curriculum is also designed to expand students’ social-emotional development from grade to grade. Wit & Wisdom’s collaborative structures and learning frameworks evolve in age-appropriate complexity across the K–8 span.
Research has demonstrated the powerful and lasting effects of integrating social, emotional, and academic learning.7 Indeed, such integration is a key reason for Wit & Wisdom’s success. Students thrive because they have the social and emotional support and the skills needed for rigorous academic learning. Further, strong social, emotional, and academic competence prepares students to succeed outside school and in the future.
The following sections of this document describe Wit & Wisdom’s integration of social-emotional learning (SEL):
- Overview: How Wit & Wisdom Builds SEL: A graphic overview of SEL integration
- Elaboration: How Wit & Wisdom Builds SEL: A detailed table outlining the key ways Wit & Wisdom’s approach fosters students’ social-emotional development, describing how each of these elements builds SEL core competencies, and giving examples of how this integration of academics and social-emotional learning works in the curriculum
- Lesson Examples: How Wit & Wisdom Builds SEL: Sample lessons from each grade band, Grades K–2, 3–5, and 6–8, annotated to demonstrate SEL integration
Overview: How Wit & Wisdom Builds SEL
Students learn to accurately recognize their emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior and to accurately assess their strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset” by
- examining topics and texts that build self-knowledge,
- engaging in productive struggle through rigorous but supported academic work, and
- earning to accurately evaluate their own academic performance.
Students work on successfully regulating their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
in different situations—effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating themselves, as well as setting and working toward personal and academic goals, by
- developing habits of mind that they can use in both academic and work settings,
- making authentic choices about what or how to learn, and
- learning to value curiosity and inquiry.
Students learn to take the perspective
of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures; to understand social and ethical norms for behavior; and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports by
- examining topics and texts in which real and fictional people from diverse backgrounds and cultures respond to opportunities and challenges and
- collaborating with classmates on meaningful and authentic tasks.
Students learn to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups; communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed through
- explicit speaking and listening instruction,
- authentic opportunities to practice speaking and listening, and
- collaboration with classmates on meaningful and authentic tasks.
Students learn to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms; to realistically evaluate the consequences of various actions; and to consider their well-being and that of others by
- examining topics and texts in which real or fictional characters face challenging decisions,
- participating in Socratic Seminars, and
- learning to value evidence and logical reasoning.
Family and Community Partnerships
Wit & Wisdom helps strengthen these partnerships by offering
- Parent Tip Sheets that describe what students are learning and how families can support their learning;
- brief fluency homework that gives students a chance to practice their oral reading skills with directed support from family members; and
- periodic suggestions for family involvement throughout the curriculum.
Schoolwide Practices and Policies
Wit & Wisdom supports SEL development at the whole school level through its
- consistent approach to SEL and ELA integration in Grades K–8; and
- collaborative approach to professional development that shares the DNA of the student curriculum and fosters a strong community of adult learners.
1. Maslow, A. H. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
2. Adolphs, R. “Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Social Behaviour.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol. 4, no. 3, p. 165.
3. Payton, J., R. P. Weissberg, J. A. Durlak, A. B. Dymnicki, R. D. Taylor, K. B. Schellinger and M. Pachan. “The Positive Impact of Social and Emotional Learning for Kindergarten to Eighth-Grade Students: Findings from Three Scientific Reviews.” Chicago: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2008.
4. Jones, Stephanie M., and Jennifer Kahn. The Evidence Base for How We Learn: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional and Academic Development, National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, Aspen Institute, 13 September 13, 2017. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/2017/09/SEAD-Research- Brief-9.12_updated-web.pdf.
5. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., and Schellinger, K. B. “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” Child Development, vol. 82, no. 1, 2011, pp. 405–32; see also Jones et al.
6. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/. Accessed 16 Aug. 2018. See also Payton et al.
7. Durlak et al.; Jones et al.; Dusenbury, L., R. P. Weissberg, and D.C. Meyers. “Skills for Life: How Principals Can Promote Social and Emotional Learning in Schools.” Principal, Sept./Oct. 2016; Patrick, H., J. C. Turner, D. K. Meyer, and C. Midgley. “How Teachers Establish Psychological Environments During the First Days of School: Associations with Avoidance in Mathematics.” Teachers College Record, 105: 1521–58; Deming, D. J. “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 132, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1593–1640; Dodge, K. A., K. L. Bierman, J. D. Cole, M. T. Greenberg, J. E. Lochman, R. J. McMahon, and E. E. Pinderhughes. “Impact of Early Intervention on Psychopathology, Crime, and Well-Being at Age 25.” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 172, no. 1, 2014, pp. 59–70; Watson, M., and V. Battistich. “Building and Sustaining Caring Communities.” Handbook of Classroom Management: Research, Practice, and Contemporary Issues,” edited by C. M. Evertson and C. S. Weinstein, New York: Routledge, pp. 253–80, 2006.
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Topics: Wit & Wisdom