I have been thinking a lot of about the idea of transfer in Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  I first came across the idea of transfer as a part of education when I started by Master’s in Education at Hamline University.  We read a book titled How People Learn and it talked about transfer and that “Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school and home, and from school to workplace” (attribution).  However, hope isn’t enough for me and I believe the concept of transfer in SEL is an under researched area.

What I do know is that there is a difference between games designed for team-building and activities designed to teach SEL concepts.  One major difference is in the goal.  Team-building activities have the goal of bringing a group together so that they may collectively do more than what they could do individually (I subscribe to the 4 stage process of forming, storming, norming, and performing, but there are others you can adopt as well).  The literature for team-building is vast, so I won’t go into too much detail now as I want to contrast it with SEL activities.

I’ve quoted a colleague before who said “An activity without a debrief is just a game.”  If you’re looking to move past a game into a lesson then the debrief is key.  In order for a debrief to work, it should come as no surprise that “The role of facilitator is crucial to the success of this approach, both in modeling appropriate skills and making the learning connections for students” (attribution).  The role of the facilitator is to help students take the lessons from the activity and help the participants see how the lessons can be used in contexts outside of those presented; to help the participants with transfer.

The role of facilitator comes naturally for some, but not all.  If you are interested in training to be a facilitator, we at the Homeroom Institute have found Developmental Designs to be an excellent program.  From my perspective, the most important thing the facilitator needs to do during the debrief is keep the students on task but not steer them toward a “pat” answer.  If students aren’t allowed to really process the activity and apply it to their lives in ways that are meaningful to them, then it was a wasted opportunity.  Avoid platitudes or an unintentional group norm will be to not think so hard!

This brings me back to team-building.  Debriefs that are meaningful and hard are difficult, but a team that has formed, stormed, and normed, will perform when it comes to doing the hard work of making sure that SEL is taking place in their lives.

Thoughts?  Please comment below.

Transfer in Social Emotional Learning

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