Improving Affective Learning

One of the district's improvement goals this year is to study and plan for a more systemic approach to improve student affective learning outcomes.  What we mean by this umbrella term is summarzed in the document below.  As a next step in our work in this area we invite parents and guardians to take a short survey, in which you can share your thoughts on establishing priorities for our work in this area.  The survey can be bound using this link:  We hope you will take five minutes to share your thinking in this imporant area.

This document was developed in early 2016 to provide a framework for the administration and school committee to discussion the district’s efforts to advance student learning in non-academic areas. It may continue to useful in providing a framework for dialogue among stakeholders interested in this work.

The Landscape of Affective Learning

Michael Sullivan, Ed.D.

January 2, 2016

Affective learning is learning having to do with a student’s self-management, understanding, and growth in the realm of emotions, feelings, attitudes, values, motivations, and relationships. For the purposes of our school district’s discourse we might categorize affective learning into

the following four major areas:

A. Social and Emotional Learning

B. Multicultural Education

C. Citizenship Education

D. Social Justice Education

Affective learning is dependent on the use of higher order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creativity, so it is important to note that affective and cognitive learning are, of course, highly integrated.


A. What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (See the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, CASEL).

Social and emotional skills are critical to being a good student, citizen, and worker. Many risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, violence, bullying, and dropping out) can be prevented or reduced when multiyear, integrated efforts are used to develop students' social and emotional skills. This is best done through effective classroom instruction, student engagement in positive activities in and out of the classroom, and broad parent and community involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. Effective SEL programming begins in preschool and continues through high school.


Five Core SEL Competencies or Outcomes (See CASEL):

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.


Two teaching methodologies (among several) that address SEL competencies:

1. Trauma Informed Teaching:

Teaching in ways to better manage traumatized students in the classroom. Schools are responding to an enormous body of research about how children’s brains adapt to complex trauma, defined as multiple traumas including physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and domestic and neighborhood violence. Research shows that in the brains of traumatized youth, neural pathways associated with fear and survival responses are strongly developed, leaving some children in a state of hyperarousal that causes them to overreact to incidents other children would find nonthreatening. Consumed by fear, they find it difficult to achieve a state of calmness that would allow them to process verbal instructions and learn.

Classroom strategies for managing traumatized students align with the evidence-based social and emotional programs that are part of a system known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Those interventions, which include curricula such as Best Behavior and Time to Teach, involve teaching students how to self-regulate and calm down by taking a break, taking a deep breath and becoming aware of their surroundings. The programs, and others like them, also instruct teachers to build rapport with students by praising progress and speaking kindly. All of the interventions, including trauma-informed teaching, are meant to improve school culture and provide a new approach to school discipline.

2. Restorative Practices:

A new field of study emerging from the field of restorative justice. In schools, it consists of the establishment of a set of practices intended to reduce the frequency of negative student behaviors. These include the use of informal and formal processes that precede wrongdoing and are intended to proactively build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing. Restorative justice is a process that focuses on responding to acts of wrongdoing in a manner intended to repair the harm done to all parties.


B. What is Multicultural Education?

Multicultural Education: Teaching and learning that will result in students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social class groups experiencing educational equality. The field has five dimensions according to James Banks, in Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (2006):

1. Knowledge construction process: Teaching students to critically examine the biases of subject area materials, to develop higher-level thinking skills and empathy, and to make their own meaning of what they learn.

A discipline of learning that promotes this process is Media Literacy. Media Literacy provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. Media literacy is a vehicle to teach the difference between fact/opinion/assumptions, and to identify bias and propaganda.

2. Content integration: the infusion of ethnic and cultural content into subject areas. This includes selecting texts written by a diverse range of authors, selecting themes from a diverse range of perspectives and selecting content from multiple sources.

3. Equity pedagogy: Modifying instruction to draw upon students’ cultural and language strengths. This facet of multicultural education has grown into an area called Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally responsive teaching is a

pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' own cultural references in all aspects of learning. Some of the characteristics of culturally responsive teaching include:

- Holding positive perspectives of parents and families

- Changing aspects of the school and curriculum to empower diverse learners

- Instruction that incorporates and integrates diverse ways of knowing

- Gaining knowledge of the cultures represented in one’s classrooms and adapting lessons so that they reflect ways of communicating and learning that are familiar to the students.

- Communication of high expectations

- Student-centered instruction with the teacher as facilitator

4. Prejudice reduction: Curriculum interventions intended to help students develop positive racial and ethical attitudes. This component of multicultural education is often called Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Education. Diversity education teaches students to understand and identify prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, bias and oppression. It also teaches to see the power and value of an inclusive society and to develop the skills for seeing and valuing multiple perspectives.

5. Empowering school culture and social structures: Attentiveness to the latent and manifest social and cultural systems of school, including grouping practices, gifted programs, teacher attitudes, sports participation, and ethnic self-segregation in social settings.


C. What is Citizenship Education?

Citizenship Education: The goal of citizenship education is to build students’ social and political participatory motivation and competence. Historically it has been taught through two approaches:

1. Citizenship Transmission – The teaching of “traditional” interpretations of history, geography, and civics in order to impart the dominant culture’s heritage to the next generation of citizens. Cultural cohesion is thereby bolstered.

2. Inquiry and Action – Instruction that emphasizes student inquiry into historical and contemporary social and political issues with student production of research or position papers or other demonstrations of learning and often done in conjunction with efforts at making change through community service learning projects.


D. What is Social Justice Education?

Social Justice Education (SJE) is where the ideas of multicultural education and the activism of citizenship education meet.

SJE teaches that there is injustice in our world caused by systems of oppression where some groups of people benefit from unearned or undeserved privilege while others are consistently disadvantaged. This unjust cycle is perpetuated around race, class, gender, ability, or sexuality groups that people are identified with.

Beyond teaching about this cycle of oppression, SJE involves understanding how people tend to deny that such injustice is occurring and it also involves taking action to interrupt this cycle and work towards ending it.


Diversity/Equity Definitions We Might Use

  1. Prejudice: An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. Any preconceived attitude, opinion or feeling towards a whole group of people, especially regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
  1. Stereotype: A simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group. A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or group of people.
  1. Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
  1. Racism: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

             Racist (noun): A person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

             Racist (adjective): Having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another.

  1. Bias: Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. When a point of view prevents impartial judgment on issues. Predisposition, preconception, predilection, partiality.
  1. Implicit bias: Unlike explicit bias, which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level, implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control. The underlying implicit attitudes and stereotypes responsible for implicit bias are those beliefs or simple associations that a person makes between an object and its evaluation that “...are automatically activated by the mere presence (actual or symbolic) of the attitude object” (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, & Hudson, 2002, p. 94; also Banaji & Heiphetz, 2010). Although automatic, implicit biases are not completely inflexible: They are malleable to some degree and manifest in ways that are responsive to the perceiver’s motives and environment (Blair, 2002).
  1. Oppression: The state of being subject to unjust treatment or control.
  1. Institutional Oppression: The condition occurring when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups. If oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, the institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive intentions.