Social and emotional learning can be broadly defined as learning aimed at improving pupils’ emotional awareness, decision-making skills, empathy skills, interaction with others and their self-management of emotions, enabling them to handle challenging situations and establish positive relationships with others. More robust SEL frameworks and recommendations are informed by neuroscientific understanding of the connection between emotional and cognitive development - a useful overview of which has recently been published by the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainability. We especially like the definition of SEL provided by Anantha K. Duraiappah, Director of UNESCO MGIEP, referenced in this link:
...learning that allows all learners to identify and navigate emotions, practise mindful engagement and exhibit prosocial behaviour for human flourishing towards a peaceful and sustainable planet.
CASEL’s frequently referenced framework identifies five core SEL competencies which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The model links with other conceptualisations such as the OECD’s ‘Skills for Social Progress’ which includes a three-point model of achieving goals, working with others, and managing emotions.
Key dimensions of SEL relate to building empathy skills, perspective taking and developing emotional literacy - the next section outlines how Lyfta is excellent for supporting these. Some SEL guidance focuses mostly on development of the self, but we think it is important to frame SEL in relation to the flourishing of others too (and there are many areas of overlap with character education and cultural capital in this regard, see our separate pieces on these focus areas). Social and emotional ‘competences’ are increasingly considered to be skills that can be learned and acquired, and the MGIEP UNESCO details these in a way that helpfully differentiates between the intrapersonal and interpersonal in order to outline the benefits for individuals and wider society of cultivating these (see below) via educational programmes.
The Education Policy Institute also conducted a recent review of SEL research and practice and, based on their findings, recommend that:
“SEL can play a central role in helping children to develop the skills for educational success and lifelong wellbeing…as well as supporting pupil re-engagement after school closures, SEL can contribute to reducing the long-standing attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers” (EPI 2021)
Research is also increasingly showing how the cognitive and emotional are profoundly interconnected in learning and development processes. In fact, our developing understanding of this relationship has informed how Lyfta has evolved over the years - this is what happens when filmmakers, educationalists and technologists get together! Neurobiological evidence suggests that ‘the aspects of cognition that we recruit most heavily in schools, namely learning, attention, memory, decision making, and social functioning, are both profoundly affected by and subsumed within the processes of emotion’ (Immordino Yang and Damasio 2007:3). From data that shows the importance of personal stories for supporting the development of empathy (Sylvan 2019) to recommendations for educational practice based on research revealing how inherently social and emotional brain development is (Immordino-Yang, Darling-Hammond and Krone 2019), we know that the emotional dimension of learning is vital.
Many of the sources referenced above define and advocate SEL in relation to a growing understanding of its benefits. Our understanding at Lyfta is that there is a growing evidence base showing that it can support human flourishing for all and that that, in turn, can also support our chances of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
How Lyfta can support
SEL is especially supported by Lyfta through empathy building and carefully composed educational resources that invite students to recognise feelings of others and connect with these.
Alongside the research, our understanding is also informed by what teachers have fed back to us – namely that experiencing real life human stories can help us connect to the storytellers, see a situation in a different way, build empathy and trigger an intrinsic motivation to take action. In fact, when discussing how emotion is essential to learning and not to be underestimated, Dr Mary Helen Immordino-Yang has said “it is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about’’ (NY Times, 2016).
To support this line of thinking, at Lyfta we help students make emotional connections to otherwise abstract concepts in order to better understand them. We have conducted enlightening qualitative research in Key Stage 1 settings (e.g. at Three Bridges Primary where teachers reported that regular Lyfta sessions had evidently the development of students’ emotional literacy) or SEND settings (e.g. at Rivermead EPR unit where students 16-18 year olds with autism were able to confidently talk about the emotions and feelings of the ‘real’ people they met in storyworlds and relate to these, such as Anna in Kids’ cup). One Year 6 teacher shared with us how he had also used Anna’s story (a 13-year-old Norwegian football captain who has to deal with the disappointment of losing a crucial game) just before he announced the results of the house captain elections - he felt strongly that the whole class dealt better emotionally than previous years because they had thought through their own reactions in this sort of situation. Our case studies also support wider international research that has also shown the added value of film and real-faces over cartoons or symbols for this purpose, and those with ASD can learn better/have greater retention accuracy with real over cartoon images.
In other words, our internal case studies further support the EPI’s and UNESCO MGIEP’s reviews and consequent recommendations for more SEL in schools. More than this, we are also discovering SEL supports engagement with sometimes complex world-wide challenges and issues like sustainability or human rights by bridging the gap between an abstract concept and a meaningful demonstration of that. For SEL we highly recommend storyworlds such as Erkan (often one of the most popular amongst primary school children), Muhammed, Anni, Iionka and Erzsebet, and Anna and Freddy whose stories have subtitles but, if you turn them off, you can gain a good sense of the story they’re telling by their facial and bodily expressions and the additional film content! For Key Stage 3 and 4 audiences, we also recommend Qwensley, Adhanom, Carlos and the Becoming Me series.