How to Differentiate Social and Emotional Learning

Every student has a unique learning style. For example, Charlie is a visual learner and relies on images and cues to help him process information, while Maria learns best with linguistic instruction and needs to read content out loud to understand it. To make things even more complicated, students’ feelings and emotions affect their ability to learn in unique ways.

With so many differences, how can teachers possibly meet the unique learning needs of every student?

More and more educators are turning to differentiated instruction to support their students. Differentiated instruction, sometimes referred to as individualized learning, is the teaching practice of tailoring instruction to students’ unique learning styles and readiness levels. When differentiating instruction, teachers may incorporate a variety of teaching strategies to accommodate the different ways students learn and deliver lessons of varying difficulty to meet the needs of advanced learners and those who need extra help.

Differentiated Learning and SEL

Differentiated instruction can be applied to both core instruction and social and emotional learning (SEL). Just as educators can differentiate math or reading instruction, they can also differentiate SEL to each student’s social and emotional readiness levels.

Here is an example of how differentiated learning and SEL can work together. This particular process can be used when a student disrupts class or becomes overly frustrated during a classroom exercise.

Step 1: Stop and assess.

Before you react, stop, take a deep breath, and assess your own feelings toward the student. Keep in mind that you may not know everything that is going on with the student at home. Also, assess your own feelings about the situation. Is the disruptive behavior triggering negative feelings in yourself, such as the need to be respected as an authority figure? While these feelings are certainly natural, keep in mind that they have nothing to do with the student’s behavior or struggles.

Step 2: Help the student identify her feelings and emotions toward the situation.

Helping the student identify her feelings and emotions can be an effective first step toward resolving the situation or negative behavior. Talk to the student alone and help her understand what is causing her feelings and emotions.

Step 3: Redirect negative behavior or frustration.

It is important that the student takes responsibility for directing her emotions. You can be there to help. Teach the student how to identify triggers that lead to distractive behavior or high levels of frustration. Talk through ways she can control or redirect negative feelings. For example, if the student doesn’t understand the material, instead of distracting others she can raise her hand to ask for help.

Applying this example to five different students would result in five unique conversations and solution strategies. Through this process, you are differentiating SEL instruction for the unique needs of your students. Students receive individualized support and gain problem-solving skills,  confidence, and self-efficacy — all important social and emotional skills.

Each student has a unique learning style and level of social and emotional readiness. Differentiated learning and SEL can help educators meet the needs of every student. Interested in learning more? Contact our experts through the form below, and let’s have a conversation about how to better meet the needs of your students with differentiated instruction and SEL.

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