This blog will continue to provide the crucial framework to maximize your students’ socially-emotionally intelligent choices, and fulfill the SEL standards. All the information and activities below can fulfill the same standards as listed in the last blog. These objectives, under the Responsible Decision-Making Competency, are to “Develop, implement and model effective decision and critical thinking skills”, and “Identify potential outcomes to help make constructive decisions.”
First students learned that we are always making choices, often unconsciously, and that we are able to choose consciously. They can then learn to make the most socially-emotionally intelligent choices by becoming aware of and editing the assumptions underlying their choices.
We can help students understand the nature of assumptions – what they are; where they come from; how they affect us, and how to edit them. They can then apply that information and those skills to specific SEL areas such as awareness and management of emotions, social awareness and building relational skills, fulfilling more and more of the SEL standards. This will be accomplished in subsequent blogs.
Students can first learn to define an assumption as a belief without proof or evidence. You can illustrate this by asking students if the world is flat or round. When they answer correctly, you can explain that if you asked the same question many years ago, they would have answered flat, because that was the assumption at the time. Now that we have proof, we know that the world is round.
You can help students learn that our assumptions were put together when we were much younger, based on our experiences and our attempts to make sense of them. These assumptions quickly and without our awareness inform our thoughts, lead to our feelings and motivate our actions. They do so in multiple areas in our lives from our emotions to our self-esteem to our relationships.
Since we were so young when our assumptions were formed, we had neither the maturity nor the information to develop a complete understanding. Therefore, most of our assumptions are filled with errors in logic.
These logic errors include “crystal-balling”- wrongly claiming that we can accurately predict the future versus seeing a range of possibilities; “awfulizing – claiming that something is far worse than it is, and “generalizing” – stretching the truth to fit more than is realistic by using all or nothing language. These errors in logic fill numerous assumptions that we hold.
You can illustrate this by helping students explore an assumption they may have held about their ability to succeed at a new endeavor, leading to their not trying it - “I will never do well at that and it’s going to be awful.” You can ask them to raise their hand if they have ever believed this to be true. You can then help them edit the illogic in that assumption, going from all or nothing thinking to being able to see shades of gray. They can learn that since they have no crystal ball, there is a very good possibility that they might do well, and even if they did not, while not preferable, it would likely be far less than awful.
You can further illustrate how we make assumptions, how they affect us and others, and how we can pause before they are acted upon through the “Bump” activity. You can ask a student to bump into you as you are crossing paths, and ask the rest of the students to watch and try to figure out what you are assuming. When the student bumps into you, you can respond by saying “Why did you do that? Who do you think you are, messing with me!” You can ask the observing students what you assumed. They may say that you were angry, but help them focus on the assumption and not the feeling.
You can help them see that you were assuming that the student bumped into you on purpose. You can help them see that there is no proof that this is true and ask them what other possibilities there might be about why he or she bumped into me. They can be helped to identify the possibility that it may have happened by accident. You can then redo the bump, asking them to “pause” you as you are bumped into and remind you that it might have happened by accident. They can press “play” and you can say both say you are sorry as you continue to walk past each other.
Assumptions can be explored further by pointing out those made by students in class. You can discuss and edit assumptions students might have about passing or failing a test or those made about classmates that may have led to a conflict. Assumptions can also be discussed through other subjects. In Language Arts, assumptions made by characters and how these assumptions affected the plot can be discussed. Assumptions made by historical figures and those made by scientists and then changed due to evidence found can add deeper understanding.
In this way we can lay the framework for students to be able to respond from a place of increased logic, using fewer generalizations, with an ability to see a range of future possibilities, and less catastrophic responses to situations.
In the next blog, students will explore emotions – the driving force behind our choices. They will be able to apply their understanding of assumptions and how to edit them to manage their emotions rather than being managed by them.