L. Pincham

Roosevelt University (UNITED STATES)
Establishing a student-centered classroom environment where learning puts students’ interest first is essential for a sound academic as well as emotional setting for young adolescents in order for students to learn and thrive. Young adolescents are at a turning point where the need for love, belonging, and acceptance is heightened. The young adolescent in grades 6 – 8 have a need to explore and sometimes test limits. They have an innate need to discover their identity. They possess a “thirst” for autonomy. Much too often, young adolescents tend to experiment with risky behaviors that can affect academic performance and behavior in and out of school.

A research study from the National School Climate Council (2007) reported the following findings:
• During the 2009–10 school year, the rate of violent incidents per 1,000 students was higher in middle schools (40 incidents) than in primary schools or high schools (21 incidents each)
• A higher percentage of middle schools reported that student bullying occurred at school daily or at least once a week (39 percent) than did high schools or primary schools (20 percent each)

Moreover, research from Benson et al (1999) documented large percentages of students lack social-emotional competence, believe their teachers do not care about them, and disrupt the educational experiences of classmates.

Recognizing that social and emotional development in children and youth are essential to school readiness and academic success, the Illinois State Board of Education (USA) drafted socio-emotional standards, along with the following goals:
• Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
• Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
• Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.
These three socio-emotional goals improve students’ social/emotional development, readiness to learn, classroom behavior, and academic performance. There is a strong research base to support it. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social emotional learning as “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”.

In addition, CASEL identified five groups of inter-related core social and emotional competencies that SEL programs should address (CASEL, 2005):
• Self-awareness: maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence
• Self-management: controlling impulses
• Social awareness: being able to take the perspective of and empathize with others
• Relationship skills: resisting inappropriate social pressure
• Responsible decision making: applying decision-making skills to academic and social situations

This paper will describe how developing a student-centered classroom is essential to meeting the needs of the young adolescent, as well as address practices and techniques that promote the five competences in young adolescents as described by CASEL.