The last post begs two questions: 1) how do socio-emotional skills impact learning; and 2) how can they be best acquired. An interesting article in the New York Times provides some insight.
One. School is an emotional pressure cooker for kids. Every minute of every class, kids must cope with a huge number of academic and social stresses. Everything from being angry, annoyed, ridiculed, to over-confident, etc. All of these emotions affect learning by affecting communication, attention, and memory. And they all need to be managed. Angry people act angry, and acting angry has any number of consequences, mostly bad, for learning. If a child is wound up or in a foul mood, it’s hard for her to calm down or snap out of it and focus on learning if she doesn’t know how to calm down or redirect her feelings.
Two. People aren’t born with pleasant or unpleasant temperaments. A child’s ability to cope is not innate. It is adaptive or trainable. At least in theory. Specific training in socio-emotional skills can establish neurological pathways that make kids less vulnerable to anxiety and enable them to recover more quickly from unhappy experiences. By developing a part in the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for important academic skills like impulse control, abstract reasoning, long-term planning, and working memory, such training may also make kids smarter.
Moving from theory to action is never straightforward. Few hard data exist to guide what such training should look like. Promising programs provide some insight. It seems that training needs to be intentional and age-appropriate. It needs to channel and regulate emotions, not nullify them. High quality interaction between adults and kids is key. Parents and schools play an important role. In issues of curriculum, teacher training and concrete classroom activities, variation is the norm. There is no recipe.
But recipes aren’t always needed. Start with a few basics, tweak them along the way to suit your tastes and needs, and offer up to others. If the end result doesn’t leave everyone wanting more, at the least it will tell what to change in a second phase.