In the discussion, Dr. Goleman offers several ways to incorporate focus-related learning into the classroom:
Treat students and teachers as co-learners. Foster students learning with and from one another, and encourage them to develop responsibility for their own learning.
Use the real-life situations that students care about to foster reflection and growth, both emotionally and cognitively.
Choose teaching tools that are specific for these applications. The attention-training methods being tried in classrooms today offer a well-tested way to help children enhance their cognitive control, which is central to self-mastery. Adding a focus on enhancing empathy and concern for others adds a fresh emphasis that should lead to better relationships and teamwork. And systems learning offers constructs that can help SEL students better understand relationships, families, schools, and organizations. All three together offer an invaluable increase in the life skills learning that is part of SEL.
We’ve also put together a collection of resources for educators, school administrators, and parents to introduce the triple focus to students.
Daniel Goleman recently spoke with CASEL about the implications of Focus for educators. Below are some highlights from the conversation.
Educators role as facilitators of learning
One of the main concepts in Focus that every educator should know about is cognitive control. It’s the ability to focus on one thing and ignore distractions, to keep your mind from wandering. Cognitive control is the basis for delaying gratification and emotional self-regulation. The strongest evidence for the importance of cognitive control was a longitudinal study done with more than 1,000 kids born over the course of a year in one New Zealand city. The children were assessed for cognitive control between the ages of 4 and 8 using a sophisticated battery of measures as well as teacher and parent reports. Then they were tracked down in their thirties. Cognitive control turned out to be a better predictor of their financial success and their health, and also whether or not they had a prison record, than their IQ or the wealth of their family of origin.
Helping students pay attention
In terms of getting students to pay attention to the work at hand, sometimes the digital media are the enemy. If kids are sneaking peeks at their texts during their time in the classroom, the technology is undermining teaching. On the other hand, more and more schools are using media to engage students in the learning process. But if you let students roam on the Web, you’re opening them to distractions as they search. It’s a complex question, and it will only become more complex as time goes on. If you hold as fundamental the ability of students to pay attention, it sorts itself out pretty quickly.
Neuroscience’s contribution tp education, learning and the development of social-emotional competencies
When you see the different phases that children go through as they age and grow, what you’re observing are the external behavioral signs of the growth of the brain. The brain is very plastic. It doesn’t reach its final form and size until the mid-twenties. SEL helps children develop their brains in the best way because we’re paying attention to children’s social and emotional skills in addition to their cognitive skills. What’s often missing is attention skills. That’s an independent developmental line, one that schools need to do a better job of helping children with.