An Introduction to Emotional Literacy

by Sandra Clifton on April 29, 2010

What is “Emotional Literacy”? This term was first used in literary criticism in 1961 and has become an increasingly popular concept in education today. Dr. John Mayer at the University of New Hampshire and Dr. Peter Salovey at Yale University officially defined emotional literacy in 1997 as the ability to recognize emotions in order to better respond to our world, with the goals of perceiving, facilitating, understanding, and managing our emotions (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso).

In the 1990’s, Daniel Goleman became a leading voice in this field of study through his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, asserting that emotional literacy is twice as important as traditional IQ. Goleman advocates for schools to teach emotional literacy as part of the core curriculum, as his research found that social and emotional learning “not only improves children’s social and emotional abilities, but also lowers risks like violence, substance abuse, and unwanted teen pregnancies, while making kids better behaved and more positive about learning. Most impressively, academic achievement scores improve by an average 12 to 15%.”

Currently, elementary teachers in the Catholic schools of Brooklyn and Queens are learning a five-step process of teaching vocabulary through “Emotional Literacy in the Classroom,” a pilot program developed by Dr. Marc Brackett at the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Laboratory of Yale University. This curriculum defines emotional literacy as “the knowledge associated with Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions,” coined the RULER Model (Brackett & Rivers, 2008), which has been highlighted in the recent PBS special, This Emotional Life.

At the “heart” of emotional literacy is the idea that developing a fundamental awareness of human relationships and how they impact every angle of a situation can lead to improved academic outcomes. Learning more about the brain and its connections to emotions is a valuable tool for both educators and parents to help our children choose a brighter range of options as they fine-tune their awareness and response to our increasingly complex and global world.

Recommended Resources for further understanding:

Five Minds for the Future, by Howard Gardner

The Soul of Education, by Rachael Faye Kessler

A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink

The Developing Mind, by Daniel Siegel

The Ruler Model

About the Contributor: Sandra Clifton, Founder & Director of Clifton Corner: A Tutoring & Coaching Center, is a regular blog contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the areas of social intelligence & emotional literacy.

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