Dale Basye

Putting Inclusivity to the Test

Blog Post created by Dale Basye on May 18, 2018

Person A: “I’m worried about a student of mine.”


Person B: “Yeah? What’s the issue?”


Person A: “He’s smart: like, really smart, but he just isn’t following through. He seems…distracted. He always seems to be alone. I’ve tried to get him into games with the other kids, but it never seems to work.”


Person B: “I’ve got a student with a similar issue. She always has to be right. And, of course, this makes it hard for her to work with the other kids…”


So many different students. So many different backgrounds. So many different learning styles. But the same goal: academic and personal success.


Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a way of helping children navigate their lives by giving them the tools they need to manage emotions, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.


SEL consists of five principal competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)). Together, these competencies have been known to improve academic achievement and make a positive impact on students that can last a lifetime.


Not surprisingly, SEL skills are vital to the formative assessment process as well. But it’s not that formative assessment—such as quizzes, exit slips and KWL charts—merely imply SEL skills. The formative assessment process actually helps to develop these principle SEL skills.


Process Makes Perfect


In terms of self-awareness, formative assessment requires students to evaluate their work, their strengths, and their weaknesses. In short: themselves. For example, a teacher can ask a student to highlight a section of their work that they are most pleased with and explain why. The teacher could also provide some prompts to get students thinking about their learning and identify opportunities for improvement.


Similarly, formative assessment requires a great deal of self-management to push students past merely doing what a teacher tells them to. In this way, they can not only lay out their own goals, but also meet them.

Then there’s social awareness—respecting their peers—which is crucial to setting the stage for student-to-student feedback, as well as relationship skills that help build a culture of collaborative learning in the classroom.

Lastly, there’s the competency of decision-making. Obviously, it’s important for students to make the best choices for their academic progress, and these choices are key to the formative assessment process as they contribute to the positive momentum of learning. For example, let students propose different ways of demonstrating what they’ve learned through presentations and multimedia, as opposed to the traditional essay. Or work with students to come up with relevant activities that better connect lessons with their unique goals and interests.


Be the Change


Modeling inclusivity is a great place to start when merging SEL skills with formative assessment. When you show that you honor everyone’s background and viewpoint enough to make these perspectives part of the learning experience, students observe the SEL principal competencies at work. This could be a simple as framing questions in a way where there are no right or wrong answers. For example, try not asking “what” and “when” so much as “why” and “what if?” Have students think about their answers before sharing them to instill more confidence and ownership in their responses. Or ask students to draw parallels to other events, literary selections, or—better yet— their own lives. 


Recording student responses without judgment is another useful strategy, as a teacher’s initial reactions to these responses can have a powerful impact on a student. When receiving an incorrect response, it can be hard to be patient, but try asking a follow up question or encouraging a student to try again. When you meet students where they are, it shows a dedication to equity that can draw out students who typically are either too shy or frustrated to participate. It’s the simple things that can really change the tone of a classroom, things like:


  • Building on the background of your students;


  • Asking questions that relate to learning targets and take the time after asking questions to allow for more student interaction;


  • Having students elaborate on their responses to deepen the discussion;


  • Systematically sampling these responses to further increase participation, and;


  • Recording student responses and share how students with different needs approach learning.


A Cycle of Success


Social-emotional learning can be a powerful tool for creating a culture of success in the classroom, and formative assessment only increases its strength. Together, they create a self-perpetuating cycle of critical thinking, conflict-resolution, and collaboration: skills that often can’t be conventionally measured but which are vital to a student’s education and emotional well-being.


And sure: it can’t be achieved in a day. But simply having the intention of supporting your students to develop social and emotional resilience will help them to forge better relationships with other students as well as with themselves.


Have you tried merging social and emotional learning with formative assessment in your class or school? If so, how? What techniques did you use (if any)?


Join the conversation and comment below.