Where Storyworks Meets SEL

Kara Corridan

Want to meet a pioneering teacher who's taking Social/Emotional Learning to a whole new level? Introducing Anna Maria Montuori, a fourth-grade teacher in North Babylon, New York. This is her school's first year with a district-wide SEL program, and she's among the teachers who are embracing it wholeheartedly. She's been able to incorporate Storyworks into her initiatives, and we predict you'll be as inspired as we were when she described them to us. I was especially glad to speak to Anna, because Storyworks Jr. will be incorporating SEL into much of our content in the 2017-18 school year, and we'll have a fabulous contest to accompany it. In the meantime, here's what's happening with her class:

They've created Marvelous Me posters, highlighting students unique talents. Anna wasn't sure what kinds of talents her students would come up with, but she was pleased when they listed things like "I'm good at taking care of my baby brother," "I am good at getting a winning hit in baseball," and "I'm good at baking for my mom." 

Her students were also inspired by the play in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Storyworks, "Girl, Fighter, Hero." This play tells the story of Sybil Ludington, a teenager who acted as a messenger during the American Revolutionary War. By using the support materials that accompanied the play, Anna and her students talked about Sybil's best traits, which include bravery, cleverness, and resourcefulness. 

Those traits were added to the class' Character Tree, on display outside their classroom. It's adorned with construction-paper leaves with admirable qualities such as perseverance, honesty, and self-control. Check it out:

They've coined a new phrase: "put-ups," which are the opposite of put-downs. Students jot down kind things to say about a classmate and tuck it in a pocket on the wall. The put-ups are then shared with the class. It's been gratifying for Anna to see her students identify great qualities about one another, such as "She lets me borrow a pencil when the point on my pencil breaks" and "He cheers me up when I am sad."   

And speaking of qualities, every day in February, one of her students would broadcast over the loudspeaker, sharing a few sentences about their "Quality of the Day." Can you just imagine how excited they were to get that airtime?!

Lastly, here's an idea I especially love (particularly since I recently volunteered at my older daughter's middle school, selling half-day snacks, and saw the sometimes upsetting dynamics of lunch-table seating): "Mix It Up at Lunch." This is when students are randomly assigned to tables labeled with character traits, where conversation-starter sentence strips are waiting for them. Questions include "Who is your hero and why?" and "Talk about a time when someone was unkind to you. How did it make you feel?" The idea, of course, is to encourage students to sit with kids they'd not normally sit with and then engage in discussions about their feelings and the proper way to respond in social situations. The main goal is for these discussions to lead to improved behavior—and Anna is seeing firsthand that it's working. "There's been a decrease in problems in my class," she reports. 

It makes us so happy to know that teachers see in our resources not only stories that touch on key ELA skills, but strong characters that are easily woven into their SEL initiatives. We'd love to hear what you're doing in your class to foster tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. Please share in the comments!

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