Social Emotional Learning

The Definition of Social Emotional Learning

In the short version, social emotional learning (SEL) is the development of skills that support the whole learner: mental wellbeing, a growth mindset, healthy relationship building, and responsible decision making. The definition has changed over time and by different organizations. One of the most referenced definitions is the one from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

By incorporating an SEL-infused curriculum in everyday instruction, students can practice managing these experiences while showing kindness and empathy to their peers.

5 Core Competencies in SEL

Within the SEL framework, there are five key areas that support the development of these skills:


1 Self-awareness - including growth mindset, self beliefs, self-efficacy.
2 Self-management - including regulating emotions and behaviors, showing perseverance, employing delayed gratification.
3 Social awareness - including experiencing empathy for others, recognition of others.
4 Relationship skills - including communication skills, employing active listening, seeking help from others when needed.
5 Responsible decision making - including open-mindedness, critical thinking and self-reflection

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Research on Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom

CASEL SEL FrameworkThe value of teaching social emotional learning (SEL) skills is indisputable. Decades of SEL research and its effect on academic performance have linked the development of these skills to “higher student achievement, more positive student motivation and more socially acceptable classroom behaviors.” 

Incorporating SEL into class instruction improves not only social and emotional skills but also academic achievement. Results from a meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that:

  • SEL interventions that address the five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate.
  • These are not short-lived effects: follow-up studies completed an average of three to four years after SEL implementation show that gains not only last, but many grow.
  • Achievement scores for K-12 students who received SEL instruction were an average of 13 percentile points higher three and a half years later, in comparison to similar students with no SEL instruction.
  • Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
  • Additional meta-analyses echoed these findings. Consistency across independent research teams offers strong support that well-implemented SEL programs are beneficial.

Read the 2011 meta-analysis (Durlak et al., 2011). Research around the impact of SEL is primarily focused on programs that explicitly teach those skills. More recent SEL research suggests integrating academics with social emotional learning.

SEL in ST Math Gameplay


Video games can provide powerful learning experiences that reinforce critical SEL skills such as self-management, self-awareness, and relationship building. In a recent article published by the Education Development Center, mathematics researcher and psychologist Jessica Young explains, “Games [not only] help children identify and learn about patterns, number sense and spatial sense, but they also promote self-regulation, turn-taking, fair play, and learning from mistakes.”

ST Math helps redefine how students see themselves in relation to their ability to do math. While building academic success, at the same time, ST Math also increases students’ confidence, understanding, and motivation. Students who play ST Math have higher mathematics self-beliefs than non-ST Math students and ST Math’s impact on students’ self beliefs was strongest for students who started with low mathematics scores (Rutherford, et al).


Video games in particular are a great tool for honing SEL skills. Video games can:

  • Provide informative feedback, teaching students how to give and receive information
  • Create goals, intrinsically motivating students to persevere
  • Nurture meaningful growth, giving students a feeling of accomplishment
  • Establish a safe learning environment, allowing students to comfortably fail and learn from their mistakes
  • Require cooperation and collaboration, encouraging students to engage in discourse

Building SEL Skills Through Productive Struggle

Let’s face it, math is emotional. When things click for students in math, it’s that much for rewarding…and when they don’t, it can be tough. An interesting thought is: is it possible the source of the frustration students feel stems from not being emotionally equipped to keep trying when their way of thinking isn’t validated?

The ST Math user experience incorporates several video games elements that are familiar to most students, the first being JiJi - the ST Math penguin. With each new puzzle, students form a personal connection with JiJi as a trusted, patient partner as they progress through the game.

By emphasizing strategy use, feedback, and collaboration students build confidence in achieving the objective. It is through the process of trial and error that the visual component begins to make all the difference. Our educators love knowing their students are not only further developing the mathematical skills needed for success in the classroom, but also impact how they FEEL in the classroom.