Book in a Bag: Blending Social Skills and Academics

Article excerpt

Seth could feel the color rise in his cheeks. His mind was racing. His hands tightened into a fist. "It's not FAIR!" he thought. "He can't get away with that!" Samuel, his teammate, had jumped in front of Seth and "stolen" the basketball during their recess pick-up game.

There are two possible endings to this scenario. Seth can follow through with words and fists to his perceived injustices, or with self-control taught and practiced. Seth can appropriately, even calmly, manage the situation. Situations such as Seth 's are commonly seen in classrooms, on playgrounds, in hallways, and in other places throughout schools. When students show they are missing academic skills through inadequate performance, they are taught. When students show they are missing behavioral skills through inadequate performance, are they likewise taught? Even with the best of academic instruction, if students do not know how to appropriately behave, they will not be able to perform to expectations. According to Zins, Blood worth, Weissberg, and Walberg (2007), "Addressing students' social and emotional development is not an additional duty charged to schools along with academic instruction, but rather is an integral and necessary aspect to help all students succeed" (p. 193). We believe that positive social-emotional development is critical for students to maximize their academic success, and therefore we looked for ways of integrating social and emotional learning into a typical school day. This article presents Book in a Bag, a model for infusing social-emotional development into academic scheduling.

The Book in a Bog Model

Book in a Bag (BIB) was conceived to address the needs of educators and students with a holistic approach. Specifically, developers streamlined the content through integration to more easily accommodate the competing goals and pressures educators face in addressing students' social and emotional as well as academic needs (Barth, 1993; Zins et al., 2007). Using an engaging piece of children's literature during a typically scheduled 20minute read-aloud session, teachers can fold in literacy, social studies, and social skills instruction using BIB. In the current No Child Left Behind climate in public education, "basic" subjects have become the focus of instructional time. Literacy and numeracy predominate students' daily school schedule in the elementary grades. Social studies is generally only cursorily addressed, and direct teaching of social skills is often seen as extra, if considered at all. BIB was designed to serve the literacy focus of educators, at the same time integrating social studies and social skills instruction. Its focus on core curriculum from local and state standards allows teachers to meet academic demands and address students' social and emotional needs.

Although the integration of the subject areas is not seamless in BIB, it centers instruction on a piece of children's literature. Each bag includes a children's book, a comprehensive lesson plan for literacy, another lesson plan for social studies, and a third plan for social skills instruction. All materials that are needed to carry out the three lesson plans are included in the bag.

The literacy lesson draws out specific literacy skills, running the gamut from comprehension to word study, as well as providing opportunity to revisit the social skill. Social studies concepts are developed in the story context and related to both the student and the characters in the story. Again the social skill being targeted is reviewed. The literature piece also forms the backdrop against which prosocial behaviors and skills may be explored, explicitly taught, and practiced. The social skills lesson draws on the characters and the plot to provide an anchor point for students, to give them concrete examples that are analogous to incidents in their own lives. This identification with characters and exploration of prosocial behaviors has its roots in bibliotherapy (Elksnin & Elksnin, 1995; Porgan, 2002). …