Evidence That It Works
When teaching SEL, Researcher David Yeager and his colleagues argue that it’s important to address teens’ needs for status (“How do others treat me?”) and respect (“Am I granted the rights I expect to be granted as a student?”). If teens feel competent, autonomous, and valued in their community—if they have a sense of high status and respect, in other words—they’re likely to be more motivated and engaged to learn SEL skills
In addition, while research on the effectiveness of culturally-responsive teaching (CRT) is limited, a study of 244 grades 3-5 Latino students and their teachers found that certain components of CRT were positively related to student reading outcomes: teachers’ positive beliefs about CRT, their reaching out to parents to better understand students’ prior knowledge, and their critical awareness of how the traditional classroom in the U.S. is set up to support the dominant culture.
Finally, a study of four high schools serving low-income students of color found that student-centered learning increased academic achievement, graduation rates, and college entrance eligibility, and lowered the attrition rate once students were in college. Examples of student-centered learning included “supportive relationships between students and teachers in academic environments that are challenging, relevant, collaborative, student-directed, and connected to real-life situations.”
Why Does It Matter?
Teaching SEL skills within the larger socio-political context is one of the most effective and developmentally-appropriate ways for teaching these skills to middle and high schoolers. Indeed, Yeager argues that stand-alone SEL lessons, such as the ones found in K-5 SEL curricula, do not work for teens because they do not meet teens’ developmental needs.
In addition, many of our students face significant obstacles in their lives due to factors beyond their control, like health challenges, poverty, and institutionalized racism. Using culturally-responsive teaching that is student-centered–prompting students to connect with their strengths, identify what matters most to them, and envision ways they might contribute to the world–may ultimately help them to feel more respected and empowered. And, they are more likely to develop into adults who not only can identify societal issues that need to be changed, but also have the agency to do so.