The science of PUP Reading: Social & emotional skills for all ages
Awareness & Regulation refers to the social and emotional skills that are critical to reading and academic success. These skills are developed over time, and while there are different milestones along the way, this particular PUP category applies to children of all ages served by PUP Reading.
Awareness & Regulation skills include a child’s ability to be self aware, use empathy and understanding to see others’ points of view and perspectives, and regulate mind and body in order to stay engaged in reading or conversation, or, for example, on task with a project or game. While social and emotional skills encompass other topics as well, Awareness & Regulation are some of the most important sub-skills for strong reading and that makes it critical to grow and support these skills from birth.
While regularly helping a child develop social and emotional skills is surely part of everyday parenting, few families understand the link between these skills and strong reading and academic success. But the data confirms that when children can:
then they are set up to take in the learning opportunities around them, and to engage with even more challenging books and texts.
Ultimately, these skills are important for not just reading but overall academic success. When children are able to attend and engage physically, cognitively and emotionally, then they spend less time being distracted and more time learning. And those children who interact well with others, both peers and adults, are more likely to have positive relationships that support a commitment to school, allow for collaborative learning experiences with peers, and promote academic success. Likewise, children who feel good about themselves and their abilities to learn are more confident and therefore more inclined to be persistent when facing challenging academic tasks. Finally, children who are aware of their own needs and responsibilities and can problem solve and plan are set up to make the kind of decisions that include choosing to study even when they don’t really want to, and scheduling their time such that they can complete extended projects.
Awareness & Regulation are so key to academic success that educators across the country include formalized Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) opportunities into the school day. A pivotal meta analysis (Durkin et al., 2011) of SEL was for many districts the impetus for including these “softer” skills during school hours. That’s because the conclusion showed that children who took part in the social and emotional interventions had increased academic outcomes by 11 percentage points compared to children who were not part of these school programs. More recent research has confirmed these findings.
To see how these skills more specifically affect reading, there are a two things to think about. First, social and emotional skills affect how well children can take in and learn from all that they are read or exposed to, and all the conversations that they have as they grow. This is particularly important because these experiences and the talk that happens during them can help to build up background knowledge and vocabulary for children. And having well-developed vocabulary and background knowledge supports children as they read books independently all through their lives.
Second, when it comes to the reading experiences children have with the adults in their lives, strong Awareness & Regulation skills allow children to learn while being read to or reading on their own. Because when children have strong self-regulation skills, they can control their thoughts, feelings and behaviors as they attentively listen to a story read aloud and then engage in thoughtful conversation about what they’ve heard. These skills help them as they take in the information they are hearing and integrate it with what they already know, and then make sense of the text. Then, as they develop self and social awareness, they are able to empathize with the characters and animals in stories/non-fiction texts that they hear about in read-alouds. This perspective-taking is critical for deep understanding and analysis of characters in all the books they will read throughout the school years (and beyond).
It’s clear that the skills required to read well demand attention to task; disregard of distractions; persisting when challenged by complexity; as well as, the ability to take the characters’ perspectives and empathize with their plights; and of course, making the decision to read actively no matter what one might prefer to do. That means that taking the time to help build a child’s abilities with these softer skills, Awareness & Regulation, is not only going to help him relate to others and handle himself in public settings, but will also help him as he takes on all the challenging academic tasks that are in his future -- including, of course, learning to read.