Leveraging Literacy and the ALM to address Social Emotional Learning

FIND MORE ABOUT > academic dialogue | ALM | literacy | SEL
Within the context of what students are reading, writing and discussing, teachers can create community spaces where students feel connected, safe and engaged in the learning process.

Written By Jenni Aberli

On August 25, 2021

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As we begin this new school year, we have much to consider given the past 18 months of trauma and disruptions to education due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. As a result, districts and schools are trying to determine how to best meet both the educational and social emotional needs of all students. Should the focus be on academics or should it be on Social Emotional Learning? The answer to the question is yes. It should be both, and doing both does not mean they have to exist exclusively of one another. According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), “Social and emotional competencies serve as a foundation for achieving academic goals, while academic instruction also provides a ripe opportunity for teaching and practicing SEL . . . SEL is woven throughout academic instructional time to support and deepen learning.”  

We know that now, more than ever, SEL is an integral part of education and human development. CASEL states, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults develop healthy identities, manage emotions, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. It advances educational equity and excellence to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, and rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction.” 

Integration of both content and SEL opportunities within the classroom should be a natural fit. Within the context of what students are reading, writing and discussing, teachers can create community spaces where students feel connected, safe and engaged in the learning process. Using the Adolescent Literacy Model (ALM) developed by the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is an excellent approach to the blending of teaching both academics and SEL.  

An approach used to actively engage learners and deepen their understanding of content is the ALM model; a cross disciplinary literacy model that focuses on application of strategies within five core subdomains of adolescent literacy. The model strands are consistent with current research-based recommendations for adolescent literacy and provide a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction across all disciplines. Research to date suggests that the more exposure students have to teachers who are trained in the CTL model, the better they perform on achievement measures. The model focus on five core subdomains of literacy: 

  • Vocabulary Development
  • Writing to Demonstrate Learning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Writing to Learn
  • Academic Dialogue

Within each post of this blog series on leveraging literacy to address SEL, we’ll focus on one of the literacy subdomains and how teachers can implement strategies within those subdomains to meet both the educational and social emotional needs of students. 

Building an Inclusive Classroom using Academic Dialogue:

Students are social. They love to talk to each other and will find opportunities to engage in dialogue with one another in class whether we want them to or not. Rather than limit the non-academic dialogue that takes place between students, instead teachers can provide structured opportunities for them to engage in dialogical experiences around what they are learning. Adolescent learning research shows that when teachers support content learning with the innate social nature of the adolescent, the results can have a consistently positive impact on the learning culture and on student engagement. When done well, dialogical experiences address SEL by establishing learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, paired with rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction.

While the notion of engaging students in academic conversation sounds easy enough, it is important that teachers strategically think about and plan how the academic dialogue opportunities will impact both student learning of the content and the social emotional aspect.  Things to consider when planning Academic Dialogue:

  • When will you use Academic Dialogue?  Before the lesson to introduce a new topic and activate schema? During the lesson, to allow students to share ideas, evidence and ask questions?  After the lesson, to synthesize learning and verify understanding?
  • What structured strategies will you use to engage students in Academic Dialogue?
  • How will you teach and scaffold the process of engaging in Academic Dialogue?
  • How will you allow the content and standards to influence the Academic Dialogue?
  • How will you determine norms and clear expectations for student behavior to engage in safe and inclusive Academic Dialogue? 
  • How will you interact with students, monitor discussions, hold students accountable, provide feedback, and leverage Academic Dialogue as a formative assessment of student learning ?  

Strategies to Consider:  

Success starts with intention, strategy and scaffolding. You should have a clear purpose for using any particular strategy you choose to use. When deciding on strategies, consider questions like: What do you need your students to learn or get out of the activity? Is it to activate prior knowledge? Analyze the text? Demonstrate understanding? Make connections? The answer to questions like these will be key to determining the best strategy. Below are two Academic Dialogue strategies you might want to try paired with the things to consider above.

It Says/I Say – Students select a significant portion of a text (quote, sentence, passage) from an assigned reading and identify a connection about that section of text in the right hand column of the graphic organizer. Allow time for pairs or small groups to share selected text and discuss their “I Say.”This is a great strategy for giving students an opportunity to connect to parts of the text. 

Think, Ink, Pair, Share – In response to a prompt, students first think about, then write about, and finally share their ideas with a partner. This is a great strategy for giving students the opportunity to put their thoughts together and formulate a response prior to sharing.  

Note: in addition to Academic Dialogue, both strategies also integrate reading comprehension and writing to learn strategies.

What It Looks Like:

When introducing a new strategy, it’s always best to use it with high-interest, low-risk content – something that all students can engage with and have a clear purpose for using it. Early in the school year, I strategically choose engaging texts that provide opportunities for connection, reflection and conversations that give students the opportunity to get to know one another. The texts I choose are relatively short, worthy of reading and allow me to build classroom community and address aspects of SEL, such as identity, empathy and establishing a learning environment with experiences that build trusting and collaborative relationships. One such text is Orientation Day by Jennifer Wang, in which she explores the relationship between her name and her identity. This text, found on the Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) website, is accompanied by three connection questions that engage students with the text. I like these questions because they all fulfill my purpose of the lesson. Not only are the first two questions text dependent, but they also address standards (word choice and textual analysis), as well as address the SEL aspect of identity. Question three, on the other hand, really gets at giving students the opportunity to make connections by asking them to reflect on their own name and identity, and when paired with Academic Dialogue, provides a great opportunity for building community and relationships in the classroom.    

Before reading, I use the contracting lesson from FHAO to develop a classroom contract that creates a community of mutual respect and inclusion. Doing so helps establish norms and expectations for students to engage in safe and inclusive Academic Dialogue. Once our norms are established, we engage with the text, strategy and each other. I have tried both strategies using Orientation Day. When I used the It Says/I Say strategy, I had students select a portion of the text that resonated with them or that they wondered about and then they shared/discussed that with a partner. When I used the Think, Ink, Pair, Share strategy, after reading, I gave students one question one at a time to think, ink, pair, share. For each share opportunity, they had to find a different partner. If you teach younger students, you can still apply the strategies, you would simply find an engaging text more age and grade-level appropriate. 

I love these two strategies for connecting academics to SEL and building a safe and inclusive classroom community. I also love that they provide a more balanced approach to literacy and can be used at any grade level and for any content. I also love how these structures support all students in participating. So, if you’re looking for solid, vertical, whole-school academic dialogue learning strategies, these will work. Your students NEED to have dialogical opportunities not just to get to know each other and build community, but discussions that allow them to process and share what they’re learning. As they engage in Academic Dialogue, listen to them. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn about your students and what they know!  :

photo attribution:  <a href=”https://depositphotos.com/category/transport-auto.html”>Multiracial students having discussion while doing homework together – null</a>