5 Ways to Nurture Self-Awareness in Students
Could nurturing students’ self-awareness be the key to unlocking academic potential?
Many researchers seem to think so. In a 2019 piece published by the online education news and resource site Education Dive, Sucheta Kamath shared thorough, informative tips for helping students embrace this important skill. According to an online profile of her work, Kamath is a professional speaker, consultant, and clinician with a background in speech-language pathology who specializes in ADHD and executive function disorder and also “trains people to learn to think.”
In the Education Dive piece, Kamath made this assertion: “Self-awareness is arguably the most crucial academic skill and a building block of self-regulation, which according to Eisenberg et. al (2010) is the balancing and management of one’s emotions in everyday life.”
Kamath went on to contend that having robust self-awareness can in turn can help students embrace a growth mindset, which may be best summed up as a belief in one’s own ability to learn, grow, and acquire new skills. A growth mindset is often connected to important behaviors and habits of mind, including asking for assistance, seeking clarification or further guidance, and stepping back to reflect upon and regulate one’s own actions.
Writing for the equity-focused site Teaching Tolerance, North Carolina-based kindergarten teacher Samantha Spezzano connected self-awareness to another key topic in education—social-emotional learning. Through her work, Spezzano assists young children in learning how to “recognize their feelings and to figure out ways to address them,” which she believes helps keep the classroom a safe and productive space and allows students on the verge of disrupting that space to practice self-awareness and self-regulation.
Here’s a look at some of the key strategies outlined by Kamath and Spezzano to foster self-awareness in students.
Cultivate emotional awareness
Kamath advised educators to guide students toward greater self-awareness by showing them what that looks like in real time, which can help address what she calls the “surprising gap between the science and the art of classroom practices” in implementing lessons about self-awareness. To assist students in learning to identify and express their own emotions as well as to pick up on the emotions of others, Kamath recommended having students engage in active listening sessions.
Use literacy as a tool
Spezzano advocated using literacy to facilitate greater self-awareness through bolstering vocabulary and self-expression. To illustrate this concept, she described working with a student whom she noticed was sitting idle during class when he was supposed to be completing a task. After she guided the student toward the classroom’s “literacy corner,” he was able to use written and verbal cues to identify and share his emotions.
Teacher resource site The Connecting Link offered more literacy-based strategies to encourage self-awareness in students—including using writing prompts to help students “identify, understand, and manage their emotions”—while a post on the Children’s Literacy Foundation website outlined how reading can boost students’ overall critical thinking and emotional intelligence skills, which results in improved self-awareness.
According to Kamath, taking purposeful breaks during the school day gives students the chance to pause and reflect on their actions, feelings, and outcomes. More specifically, she recommended putting students in the driver’s seat by having them brainstorm “strategies for working through challenges and ways to adjust negative affect and fixed mindset to attain goals.” As noted in a blog post from the Mindful Schools website, mindfulness is increasingly being seen as an effective self-management tool for students.
Combine break-taking with literacy development
Utilizing the literacy-corner and break-taking strategies mentioned above, Spezzano was able to find an entry point for connecting with an English learner (EL) student. In her Teaching Tolerance piece, Spezzano recalled an EL student who took a break in the corner, assessed his own feelings and frustrations, and was then allowed to read a book of his choosing. Although he selected a text that was “a bit easier” than those being read in class, the choice boosted his confidence when approaching more challenging texts. Ultimately, he gained independence and improved his recognition of sight words, all while taking a breath.
Emphasize flexible thinking
To encourage greater acceptance of other students' perspectives, Kamath urged teachers to continually uphold the respectful exchange of ideas, opinions, and questions. In the classroom, this may take the form of facilitating discussions built around multiple perspectives that allow students to hone their listening and thinking skills, along with assigning projects that stimulate open-mindedness by requiring students to consider opposing views. The end goal: to create an “environment that is patient, flexible, and tolerant” through the nurturing of self-awareness.
The bottom line
According to Kamath, strategies such as the ones outlined above can help guide students toward self-awareness, a growth mindset, and “self-devised strategic thinking.” Meanwhile, Spezzano noted that approaches such as allowing students to take a break while remaining in class amount to a “non-confrontational method of giving students space and keeping them engaged in school.” Ultimately, empowering students to embrace their strengths, accept their challenges, and take ownership of their actions and feelings through improved self-awareness may be an ideal way to nurture improved academic outcomes.
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