Socio-Emotional Development of English Language Learners and Teacher Education
by Youb Kim - October 24, 2011
This commentary focuses on the gap between Common Core State Standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010) and Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation Institutions (The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2007) in addressing socio-emotional development of English language learners (ELLs). Using a writing sample from Yonsu (pseudonym), a female student whose home language is Korean, I will make a case for the importance of supporting socio-emotional development of growing ELL student population in U.S. schools and their school success. I will then discuss an important challenge this gap imposes on teacher education programs in the United States.
Yonsus Jump Rope
Yonsu was an English language learner who spoke Korean at home and learned English at school. She was a second grader when she participated in a research project of which I was a graduate student researcher. She came to the United States with her family accompanying her father who came to a Midwestern university as a visiting scholar. She loved to read and write in both Korean and English.
Yonsus writing example comes from one of her home journal entries. She kept daily home journals where she wrote about her experiences at home and school. On this specific day, she brought a jump rope to school, and she recorded her excitement of being in the center of attention among her peers. Her excitement is evident in the way she remembered her peers utterances and recorded them verbatim in her journal entry (note figure 1 for an excerpt). She wrote:
[Today recess was so much fun. It was because when Emily, Boyoung, and I played with a jump rope, and everyone flocked around us and said], Can I try? Can I try? Can I? Can I? Can I try, too? Can we try? Can we two try? Can I try that? What about me? Can I play with you? Can we play?
In this journal entry, she mixed Korean (as noted in the italicized part) and English words. Interestingly, her English writing consists of utterances used by her friends who wanted to use the jump rope she brought for school recess. Through the use of repeated phrases (i.e., Can I try?), Yonsus writing clearly conveys her excitement of being accepted as a core member of her peer group due to a jump rope.
Figure 1. Yonsus journal entry on jump rope
This type of writing oral conversation verbatim was closely linked to the English literacy practice in her ESL classroom. An activity her English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher used was oral sharing of home activities during weekends or holidays. The teacher wrote what students stated during the oral sharing on the chalkboard, and she used these texts to help the students learn English language. During the oral sharing of weekend activities, the teacher used the same language form, What did you do during the weekend? Through these activities, the students learned how to use past tense forms in authentic communication contexts.
Having had opportunities to work with Yonsus school community as a researcher, parent, and community advocate for the school, I understand how Yonsus text describes the schools learning environment. As one of the Professional Development Schools of a local university, the school created a welcoming learning community for its students, parents, university teacher education students, and community members. The school also served as a hub of multicultural activities through which all school community members participated in meaningful ways. Because all students, including newly arrived English language learners, were valued, the school provided new English language learners with authentic opportunities to interact with one another as valuable and equal school community members. The school also provided an open and flexible learning environment where control was not the main tool for managing student behavior. If this school had a control-based behavior management system, and students were not allowed to do anything other than what was approved by the legal authorities (e.g., school board), bringing the jump rope to school could have led Yonsu to receive punishment by the school, and her opportunity to interact with her peers and write about her excitement from the experience could have been lost.
Extant Research on Socio-emotional Development
Psychological research studies highlight the importance of socio-emotional development in student learning. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, for example, displays research studies that examined the role of emotions in student learning and the importance of supporting social and emotional learning in school contexts (http://casel.org/why-it-matters/benefits-of-sel/). [A key emotion in school contexts documented in these research studies is acceptance by peers and teachers. A meta-analysis of research studies on student engagement suggests that, students who experience acceptance are more highly motivated and engaged in learning and more committed to school (Osterman, 2000, p. 359). I would like to point out that the connection between student emotions and school achievement is not limited to young children. In a study that involved 542 German high school students, Goetz, Frenzel, Pekrun, Hall, and Lüdtke (2007) articulate that any emotion related to academic achievement can be understood as a joint product of control and value appraisals, including students enjoyment, pride, anxiety, anger, and boredom (p. 716). These scholars investigated the relationship among these five emotions salient in academic settings, four subject areas (mathematics, physics, German, and English), two grade levels (grades 8 and 11), and academic success (i.e., mid-term grades). The results show pride is strongest, but the link between students emotional experiences and academic performances is extremely complex varying across subject areas, grade levels, and perhaps cultural contexts (Germany vs. United States), which warrant further investigations on this issue.
Emotional Development in Common Core Standards, and NCATE Standards
Despite the importance of emotions in student learning documented in decades of educational research including neuroscience (e.g., Immordino-Yang, 2011), there is a significant lack in addressing socio-emotional development in student learning within the U.S. A review of state learning standards suggests that Illinois is the only state that has comprehensive standards for socio-emotional development at the K-12 level (http://casel.org/research/sel-in-your-state/). Recently published Common Core Standards (CCSSI, 2010) also do not address the issue of emotional experiences for successful student learning. The standards do include a section on comprehension and collaboration for speaking and listening that describes the nature of social learning expected to facilitate student learning within language arts content. However, such a section is not apparent on social studies, science, and math standards. The lack of a section on comprehension and collaboration on social studies, science, and math standards may be in part because the standards are rather new, and more time is needed to fully articulate what should be considered as core common standards. What it may also mean is that there is an implicit assumption that socio-emotional development is not most essential in learning these subject areas, and learning to become college and career ready is individual cognitive work.
It is startling to notice a gap between Common Core Standards and standards for teachers in the area of social and emotional learning. For example, in the unit standards for teacher candidates articulated by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), successful teacher candidates should develop meaningful learning experiences to facilitate learning for all students. They reflect on their practice and make necessary adjustments to enhance student learning (NCATE, 2008). This is a statement that indicates the connection between socio-emotional learning and individual students meaningful learning experiences. And teacher education programs are accountable for preparing teacher education students to understand socio-emotional dimensions of student learning. In contrast, Common Core Standards do not address socio-emotional aspects of student learning. This gap seems to suggest that preparing teachers for supporting successful student learning is the responsibility of those involved in teaching future teachers in individual teacher education programs. This may also be another piece of evidence that policy on teacher education in the United States focuses more on control rather than creating a context of successful teacher education (Wilson, 2010). When teacher education is left to individuals involved in teacher preparation without sharing knowledge and experience among one another, it inevitably leads to divergence in teacher learning outcomes, depending upon the knowledge these individuals possess in understanding the importance of students emotional needs and addressing it effectively. Although the excitement Yonsu expressed in her writing is a clear example that English language learners need more meaningful socio-emotional learning environments, not all teacher education students will have access to this foundational knowledge.
Implications for Teacher Education
Yonsus writing on jump rope implies the important role teachers and school learning environments play in supporting socio-emotional development of English language learners and their successful learning. Because the aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified herein (CCCSI, 2010a, p. 6), the socio-emotional dimension of student learning is left up to teacher education programs, and the field of teacher education needs to share knowledge about how to successfully foster social emotional aspects of learning among K-12 students including English language learners.
What is often absent in teacher education policy documents is that many beginning teachers are young adults who are learning to cope with their own socio-emotional development. Considering that the school and classroom contexts in which beginning teachers teach are not always optimal for professional development, teacher education programs need to provide fundamentals for supporting student learning left out in Common Core State Standards. If teacher education is to accomplish the goal of preparing teachers adequately for the increasingly diverse student population in U.S. schools, educational scholars need to ask, What do we now know about how and when and under what conditions teachers at different stages of their careers learn? (Wilson, 2009, p. 17). Teacher education scholars need to engage in interdisciplinary research on socio-emotional development across age groups, instructional strategies that all beginning teachers could use while learning about K-12 students, and how to use students daily emotional experiences in promoting cognitive development.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://casel.org/why-it-matters/benefits-of-sel/
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010a). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://www.corestandards.org/
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010b). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://www.corestandards.org/
Goetz, T., Frenzel, A.C., Pekrun, R., Hall, N.C., & Lüdtke, O. (2007). Between- and within- domain relations of students academic emotions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 715733.
Osterman, K.F. (2000). Students need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323-367.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (2008). NCATE Unit Standards. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://www.ncate.org/Standards/NCATEUnitStandards/UnitStandardsinEffect2008/tabid/476/Default.aspx#stnd4.
Wilson, S. (2009, November). Assembling our knowledge of teacher learning: The state of our/my understanding and practices. Invited paper presented to the faculty at the Pennsylvania State University.