Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Initial Look into Exploring Emotional Intelligence with Teenagers

A teacher friend posted a link to this PBS Frontline clip about the teenage brain earlier this week, and I can't stop thinking about it. The most important point, in my opinion, was how, when shown images of adult faces expressing emotion, teenagers saw anger and shock where the adults saw fear. Further exploration of the interview with researcher Deborah Yurgelun-Todd finds that about half of the teenagers studied, slightly more boys than girls, incorrectly identified emotions that a full 100 percent of adults were able to identify.

What does this mean? I kept asking myself all morning. Is this usable information?

I definitely feel like I'd been presented with this information before, perhaps in college in my teacher training courses, or perhaps in my own high school psychology classes when I was a teenager. Whenever it was, the information must not have been pertinent to me at the time, and so I didn't retain it (a point I'm finding more and more interesting as time goes along--personal pertinence in regards to information retention). But here it is again, and, faced with teaching teenagers for the first time, it is pertinent to me now. So what can I do with it?

My natural response is to say, "These students need more emotional intelligence practice," and then, almost as a reflex, I reply, "But is that even a possibility? Can I teach emotional intelligence to teenagers without coming across as condescending or patronizing? Even if I attempt to do so respectfully, what if they misinterpret my intentions? Oh, the irony!"

And then I remember that I went to a SECD (social, emotional, and character development) presentation specifically geared towards secondary English teachers during the recent professional development workshops I attended. So yes, not only is it possible, but it's certainly recommended.

(Come on, now. Obviously I have enough faith in my students and their comprehension skills, regardless of human development and psychology. Sure, there will always be hiccups in teaching, but my philosophy is to respect my students enough to teach them items of importance and to trust that if they will retain it if they truly benefit from it--and if I introduce it properly! Must remember. Don't get confused again.)

I didn't type up my notes from the presentation, so I'll just relay some of them now.

The first point I made in regards to SECD is stressing the importance of creating a safe environment where one feels free to share their honest opinions. This is a given, but it's important enough to have a reminder. How does one create such an environment, though? I had this question during the seminar and here's what I came up with: start slow. Use the same style of discussion (Socratic circle, debate, etc.) that you will use throughout the year, but start with easier topics that students are already aware they have opposing opinions on, such as "Do cats or dogs make better pets?" or "Is ice cream or cake a better dessert?" Develop the skills of the discussion style first, and talk to the students about how to respectfully handle speaking with someone that has a different opinion than you. And when someone forgets and makes a disrespectful comment? First let them know that what they said was disrespectful, since they might not know or they might have fallen into an old habit of speaking that way. Help them find a better way to say what they meant, and do so gently. Getting indignant or shaming them would be counter-productive here, as it would model inappropriate behavior. After an initial testing period of getting comfortable sharing their opinions, it should encourage students to share deeper, more honest feelings. (This is definitely an area I want to explore at greater length soon.)

I also noted the importance of role playing, which is another activity I imagine I'll have to ease my students into. One way to do so is with a writing activity called R.A.F.T., which stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. The topics, and/or any of the other criteria, may be chosen by the teacher, but it's an easy way to start students off thinking from another person's point of view. For instance, in the seminar, I was in a group given the assignment, supposing we were in a unit on To Kill a Mockingbird, of writing a newspaper editorial about the trial from Boo Radley's point of view. Once students are in the mindset of thinking from a literary character's point of view, it may be easier to see things from a peer's point of view.

Interestingly, non-assessed standards for SECD already exist. Like most standards, they are very dry and somewhat wordy. I had thought to post the high school specific standards here, but I lost the motivation to do so when I opened the pdf. Last year, I tried to share standards with the third graders by having them pick through pdfs. It was not our most successful lesson. Maybe high school students would be more capable of doing it? It certainly wouldn't be a fun lesson, considering how exhausted I got just by opening the file, but maybe we could use it for some sort of technical reading activity. I'll have to gauge my students when I meet them to see if I would actually want to attempt that. Maybe only the seniors? We'll see.

At any rate, I think I've been able to skim the surface on this topic. At least I know that this is something I want to play with further and that it's worth my time. Is there anything on my Pledge about SECD? If not, I need to put it on soon.