SEL to Address Behavioral Deficits: 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL

By: Jennifer Wilkens M.A. SpEd, BCBA
Teacher talking to disobedient grade school student outside of classroom in empty hallway

Research supports the view that curricula should be designed to engage students, have the ability to connect to their lives, and positively influence their levels of motivation (Coleman, 2001; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Sizer, 1999; Strong et al., 2001). The most effective social and emotional learning (SEL) requires a collaborative approach that involves everyone from district leadership, to educators, to families working together to ensure students receive the support they need.

Creating a culture to implement SEL effectively in a strategic and systematic approach that involves all stakeholders is needed. Below are 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL:

1. Provide Practice:

  • Provide opportunities for the students to practice this skill in a safe environment (e.g. role playing with adults and peers, role playing with toys, role model or action hero as props, use of video modeling).

2. Provide visual cues:

  • Create a visual reminder of the behavior you want the student to self-monitor and use reminders.
  • Place the visual cue on the student’s desk, and draw his or her attention to it, before you begin the self-monitoring exercise

3. Teach in steps:

  • Teach the student to monitor another person’s behavior. For example, you can show the student how to record the number of times a peer makes nice comments to their peers.
  • After the peer makes a kind comment, ask the student whether the target behavior occurred and prompt the student to either record or not record it.
  • Provide several practice opportunities and fade prompts by no longer asking the student whether the target behavior occurred.
  • When the student can monitor another person’s behavior, teach him or her to monitor his or her own responses for the same activity.
  • Provide prompts as needed, until the student can self-monitor independently.
  • Teach the student to self-monitor a variety of behaviors. For example, if you are having the student self-monitor an attending behavior, you can ring a bell to remind the students to make a check mark, on the self-monitoring sheet, if they were looking at you when the bell rang.

4. Use Reward Systems:

  • Use a reward system to reinforce accurate self-monitoring of a target behavior.
  • Provide a reward when the student engages in and self-monitors a target behavior at a predetermined rate.
  • Attach rewards to a decrease in no desired behaviors.
  • Also, provide better rewards for increased occurrences of the target response.
  • The teacher should monitor and check the accuracy of the students’ self-monitoring.

5. Provide Tracking Sheets:

  • Provide the students with self-monitoring sheets, to track the number of times they engage in a target behavior. For example, you can provide a sheet with check boxes to track one behavior that you would like them to increase
  • Provide a self-monitoring sheet, where the students make tally marks every time they engage in multiple behaviors that you would like them to increase.
  • Provide a tracking sheet for the students to monitor both behaviors to increase, and decrease.

Example of two column self-monitoring behavior tracking sheet with smiley and frowning faces

6. Practice with Peers:

  • Have the student practice self-monitoring a target behavior with an adult.
  • When the student can self-monitor a behavior independently with an adult, have the student monitor the same behavior in the presence of one or two peers.
  • When the student demonstrates the target behavior, prompt him or her to record the response. For example, you can gesture to the check box on the self-monitoring sheet. Fade prompts by no longer gesturing to the check box.
  • Provide opportunities for the student to practice this skill in the presence of his or her peers, until he or she can self-monitor independently.

About the Author

Jennifer Wilkens M.A. SpEd, BCBA

Senior Director of Family and Clinical Services for RethinkCare, Former Director of Professional Services for RethinkEd

Jennifer is an educator with a masters in Special Education and she is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has worked in a variety of settings such as public schools and special day schools, as well as with healthcare service providers implementing home-based and community services. Jennifer has a passion for education and advocacy, and has dedicated her career to ensuring that all individuals are fully-included in society and receiving comprehensive, effective, research-based services.

She is responsible for strategic direction, leadership and management of Family and Clinical Services for RethinkCare, providing leadership and oversight to the development, implementation, and coordination of service and resource development to maximize impact on core outcomes for parents/caregivers.

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