As the pandemic enters its third year, more schools are returning to in-person instruction and making masks optional. However, teachers are finding that the return to normal is anything but normal, as student anxiety, behavior problems and learning problems increase. This is why we hear so much about social and emotional learning.
Student anxiety and attention problems are not new. In fact, in 2018, a year before Covid-19 entered our vocabulary, a Pew Research study found that 70% of teens identified anxiety and depression as major issues among their peers. When schools closed, those numbers increased. Aaccording to the American Psychological Association (APA), 81% of teens said more intense stress due to a loss of structure and opportunities for socialization caused by youit pandemic.
When Technology Hurts Students
In addition to the pandemic, numerous studies have shown that social media is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety in adolescents. According to Pew, 45% of teens report being online almost constantly, 97% of which surf social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Despite all this time online, social media can make students feel even more isolatedexperience a greater fear of missing out and create self-esteem issues.
Ironically, the very technology that can foster feelings of isolation can also be leveraged to keep history students engaged in learning, foster independent thinkers and promote the essential social and emotional learning skills of self-awarenessself-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, many of which alleviate behavior problems.
Put digital storytelling to work for you
Social studies teachers can leverage digital tools and storytelling to get their students back on track in several ways.
Use digital learning tools to take students away from social media and actively engage them. Students browsing social media can disrupt both class work and homework. Reagan Metcalf, a history teacher at Gilbert High School in Iowa, says it’s a challenge to keep students actively engaged without social media, so he’s emulating it by using a digital curriculum that includes clips from digital storytelling to illustrate concepts. For example, teachers could use an excerpt from “Family Guy” to illustrate the concept of federalism in an interesting way for digital native students.
Enable students to learn the way they learn best. Metcalf begins each semester with a survey to determine how students learn, then gives them “voice and choice” on how to demonstrate their mastery. Since not everyone does well on a written test, it allows students to show off their proficiency using digital tools like PowerPoint and Powtoon presentations, and other mediums like poetry.
Keep learning visually and interesting. Using multimedia to illustrate the lessons reaches students and can result in better learning. According to a recent study conducted in collaboration with Project Tomorrow, 90% of teachers say that using digital storytelling in lessons increases their effectiveness in the classroom. Eighty-four percent of students say pop culture media helps them learn. When classes went live, Metcalf used YouTube to reach his students, creating and posting videos to explain homework and just to stay in touch. The students loved it so much that he continued the practice when they returned to in-person learning.
Make lessons more interactive. Many teachers find that traditional lecture is not as effective as experiential learning and self-directed learning. keep students engaged. To avoid class fatigue, Metcalf gives students time to read the material and watch a media clip, then he divides the students into small groups to discuss the lesson. Then, these groups morph into larger discussion groups, allowing teams to pitch ideas, civilly debate, and learn from each other. It also strives to update lessons by encouraging students to compare events that happened in the past with what is happening today, such as the current invasion of Ukraine and World War I.
Promoting health and well-being through examples. Social and Emotional Learning Skills are often taught as part of a health studies curriculum, but social studies can play an important role in promoting social and emotional learning. History is full of examples of heroes who show positive examples of how to face and overcome challenges, and many of them have been brought to life in movies and other multimedia. From the approach of Abraham Lincoln to Reconstructionto how John F. Kennedy handled Cuban Missile Crisis and Ronald Reagan’s use of humor and optimism to fight communismdigital storytelling is a powerful tool for modeling good habits.
Digital tools are also great for student communication
Finally, digital tools allow teachers to stay in contact with students and identify students in difficulty earlier. Metcalf makes herself available via email and Google Classroom message to students with assignment questions and tries to respond within five to 10 minutes. He makes it clear when students can reach him (usually until about 10 p.m. on school nights) and sets limits for weekends. These interactions provide insight into students who may be struggling, so he can meet with them and their parents early to get them back on track.
Fred Fransen, Ph.D., is CEO of Certell Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster independent thinkers. Certell is the creator of the Poptential family of free social studies lesson packages. Read the company survey with Project Tomorrow.