Marusia Hutchinson

School PODs Contributing Educator

Soft Skills, Social/Emotional and Learning Skills Education for Today’s Learners

Feb 24, 2021

“Knock, knock, knock!” I heard on my portable door. I opened the door to see a concerned looking parent standing before me. That year I was teaching Grade 4/5 French Immersion, when school (and the world) was not yet distanced. 

“Henry loves your class, but there is a lot of information to digest. He’s not really interested in Social Studies, so he finds it hard to engage in the subject matter. He also gets frustrated easily when he doesn’t get answers right. He doesn’t know WHY he is learning all these subjects, and how they will benefit him. He doesn’t really take in the subject matter. He just wants a good mark. I know you have 25 students in the class, but can you help him? Teach him how to study and be prepared to learn? Help him with organization?  He also has a hard time working in groups where the other students aren’t his close friends. I think there needs to be time devoted in class on teaching students how to be prepared to learn and engage with the subject matter and with each other. ”

I stood there for a moment and replied, “I agree.”

From my perspective, the institutionalized model of education that exists in our publicly funded Canadian schools serves to dull students’ interest in subject matter and contributes to disenchantment of learning. Why? In my opinion, it is:

School PODs: Accredited Teacher

Teaches: Lower & Middle School

Location: Hamiltion, Ontario

¨teaching “soft skills” (e.g., attitude, flexibility, motivation, manners) outright, which should lend to social skills and learning skills (e.g., responsibility, organization, independent work, initiative, collaboration, self-regulation) would lay a solid foundation and prepare students to learn. They would learn how to learn.¨

 

1) Because the ratio of teacher to students is too low – typically 1:25. Students don’t get enough attention to support and enrich their learning. And even less so in split grades. A standard day for me involved constant reasonable questions after lessons, mostly just for clarification. The time constraint of the school day and the low ratio of teachers to students just did not allow for me to address all the questions needed and thereby serve each student properly.

2) There is so much curriculum to pack into the school year that those students who struggle to keep up have a tendency to fall behind and need extra help. And condensed lessons just to cram it all in usually cannot do a subject justice or provide for true learning. And, again, there is a time constraint. 

3) There are so many students in a class that it is difficult to have them maintain social mores  and routines, that is to say, learn how to work with each other and be prepared for learning. 

This is why I think that teaching “soft skills” (e.g., attitude, flexibility, motivation, manners) outright, which should lend to social skills and learning skills (e.g., responsibility, organization, independent work, initiative, collaboration, self-regulation) would lay a solid foundation and prepare students to learn. They would learn how to learn.

For example, because my students came in the morning still half asleep, in past years I would start the day on a light, engaging note and then lead into the lesson. Something to get their brains working on topic. Perhaps a riddle or a key opening question. After lunch, however, when students came in full of energy, and totally distracted, I incorporated a mindfulness/meditation component to the day for about 15 minutes to calm the students and the environment. But these precious, although necessary, minutes whittled time away from the curriculum overload, unanswered questions and practice of social and emotional regulation when interacting, and TRUE preparation to learn. They had a chance to calm down, but that was it, to get all curriculum delivered I had to launch into a lesson.

It was apparent to me that actual dedicated instruction in the realm of learning and study skills, and managing different personalities in class in the form of a type of “Learn how to Learn” period in the day, might benefit students greatly and lay a good foundation for content learning. But in our current publicly funded educational model, there is simply not enough time to devote to teach learners HOW to learn as fully as possible. Yes, teachers can come before or stay after school to provide students with this extra help, but those times come from their own personal minutes and hours that they are devoting to their job. Although it is not about the money, rather the principle, we are not remunerated for those extra minutes or hours. But students need them.

As I see it, without a fully formed foundation of learning, soft and social skills, much of the content delivered goes in and right out again as soon as the test is over and is just a function of rote memory. To get a good grade. To get it over with. To make their parents happy. And some students just don’t care.

Yes, there are many resources that provide strategies for parents and teachers to prompt students to consider their metacognition (e.g., how they have learned, and how well they have processed/synthesized the subject matter, what else they want to know about the subject). But what I am suggesting is that outright instruction in this realm would benefit students as well. Why not explain the learning process outright to students? Why not equip them with strategies to be open to learning, to prepare themselves to learn BEFORE pouring in content rather than weave it in surreptitiously as content is delivered? Why not help them understand WHY they are learning and the benefits of wider knowledge overtly and directly?

If we could devote time to teach these skills, as a learning block in itself, first in earlier years, and throughout elementary and secondary years, I think that the result would be that we would boost the number of learners who are open and prepared to learn, their chances of actually internalizing and integrating content, and thereby give them a better chance of more favourable outcomes once they enter society at large.

The innovative model of SchoolPods seamlessly fits all these needs. The ratio of  professionally trained teachers to students is more favourable with a ratio of 1:4  to 1:8. This ratio provides for more one-on-one attention, more focused learning, and an opportunity to work on soft/social/learning skills outright in a smaller, more comfortable pace and setting. There is space for students to truly explore subject matter and question and wonder as they progress.

This way not only would students gain knowledge, they would also be socially and emotionally better prepared to navigate their eventual work worlds and career paths more deftly. And that benefits us all.

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