High School Students Learn Key Life Skills Through Social and Emotional Learning Technology
Founded on the belief that motivation is driven by meaningful experience and that all students deserve to be challenged with high expectations, Grundy Center Community Schools in Grundy Center, Iowa, has a mission to “create pathways to success by providing opportunities for growth for all learners.” This is also reflected in Grundy Center Secondary School’s status as a Capture Kids’ Hearts school, which focuses on social and emotional learning and school connectedness.
Grundy Center Student Achievement Coordinator Cara Doak’s days are spent preparing students for their futures, which includes teaching a popular Life Skills class for high school students. Her Life Skills classroom centers around leadership, flexibility, productivity, and social skills. Social and emotional learning is a natural fit. But she lacked a way to engage students in the measurement of their own social and emotional competency and growth. Additionally, she was seeking creative ways of introducing social and emotional content to her students, who often operate in the digital, image-oriented space. “Ninth graders don’t want to read a book or a paragraph,” said Doak.
Intrigued by how a student social and emotional self-report could fit into her classroom and curriculum, Cara Doak elected to participate in Aperture Education’s Student Portal Early Adopter Program. The program comprised educators from across the country who are interested in innovative ways to engage students in their own social and emotional development.
Keep reading to learn how Cara Doak of Grundy Center Community Schools:
Implemented a new SEL self-report with her students
Engaged students in their own growth
Used the results to connect with students in a deeper way
Is looking to the year ahead with a new tool under her belt
Implementing New SEL Technology
“I was really excited about this because I teach a Life Skills class where these competencies fit right in. Fifty-seven of my ninth-grade students took the assessment as part of that class,” said Doak. She introduced her class to the DESSA High School Edition Student Self-Report through the Aperture Student Portal. After a brief introduction on the importance of SEL for personal growth and college and career readiness, students took the assessment on their own devices and received immediate feedback on their results.
The results were delivered in a concise, easy-to-understand format, so students could quickly see how their results reflected their assessment answers. “After taking the assessment, I asked them to reflect on their top two strengths and their two areas of growth opportunity,” she said. “We also talked about connecting these strengths and growth opportunities to the life skills we cover in class every day.” This took place through both classroom discussion and a survey. “I asked the students how they felt about their ratings and their perceived accuracy. Once they took a deeper dive into exploring the competencies and their answers, they agreed. There was a strong connection between the questions, results, and how they viewed themselves.”
The written reflections Doak asked the students to provide went even deeper. “When I read their reflections, they were very authentic and honest about what they needed to work on,” she said. “I asked them to think about little things they could do to improve their areas of need. Students who struggled with social awareness or relationship building realized that they could make an effort to listen to other people or take action to show their appreciation for their friends and family members.” This was aided by the format in which the results content was delivered. “Having the answers listed by bullet point made it so easy for them to find simple quick wins to improve. Taking action didn’t seem like a daunting, monstrous concept.”
Doak was also able to use the results to connect with students in the days and weeks that followed. “As we reviewed their results, I was able to express to my students that these skills are at the heart of what we do at this class. And I was able to sharpen my focus to certain skills as we wrapped up that unit because I was able to identify trends in areas of struggle across all of my students.” The students also used these results to better understand their established short-term and long-term high school goals. “When students set goals, we discuss habits they might create and/or habits they may want to eliminate in order to stay on track with their goals. Additionally, we talk about what skills they have and what skills they want to grow in order to achieve these goals. Prior to this, it was centered mostly on Life Skills (FLIPS), but now I can add the competencies as well. Knowing how these competencies fit into this picture and their individual rating just gives them one more piece of information to help them progress,” she said.
As she looks ahead to future trimesters, Doak plans on using the assessment with each of her Life Skills classes. The school is also discussing adding the tool to its Advisory program. “Overall, I think the Aperture Student Portal provides a great dose of self-awareness,” she said. “We talk a lot about perception, self-concept, self-esteem, and growth mind-set. This is a great opportunity to use SEL in conjunction with those frameworks.”
About Aperture Education
Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 schools and out-of-school-time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social-emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The powerful data districts receive enables education leaders to take strategic action about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments which is lauded by researchers for its high standards for reliability and validity, and appreciated by educators for its ability to easily and quickly identify each student’s personal social-emotional strengths and areas of needed support. Aperture partners with industry curriculum leaders to deliver research-based, CASEL-informed intervention strategies to bolster specific areas of needed growth. Paired with robust reporting in one easy-to-use system, Aperture is often favored in districts nationwide. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.