More than a feeling

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Alec Webster explores resources on emotional intelligence and suggests the best available provide clear rationales and links to the wider curriculum

Managing the Difficult Emotions

By Bob Bellhouse, Andrew Fuller, Glenda Johnson, Neil Taylor

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;18.99

Game Time: Games to Promote Social and Emotional Resilience for Children Aged 4-14

By Robyn Hromek

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;36.99

Tooncards: A multi-purpose resource for developing communication skills

By Chris Terrell

Network Educational Press pound;39.95

Better Behaviour through Golden Time: Practical ideas for a calm school ethos

By Jenny Mosley and Helen Sonnet

LDA pound;19.99

Schools have a vitally important role in influencing young people's emotional development. Teaching the emotional curriculum, given the demands on teachers' time, is often implicit, rather than direct. There is growing consensus - propelled by DfES research, pilot projects and published policy guidelines - that at all phases of schooling children can benefit from an explicit, structured, whole-curriculum framework for teaching social, emotional and behavioural skills.

Managing the Difficult Emotions is a multi-media programme that focuses on selected components of emotional intelligence and resilience in young people aged 12 to 16. The authors have pitched their material at five areas: being calm, having energy, having courage, giving care and making plans. Nowhere is this selection justified, which is a pity since without a rationale, it is difficult for teachers to make connections with other resources and activities. (Most teachers will, however, recognise the five themes as the basis of a staff survival kit.) In each area, the programme works through a series of steps, defining, for example, what being calm means and what calm people are like. Pupils then rate themselves and identify areas they can and cannot influence.

Activities follow that explore impulse control, relaxation and the building of positive habits of mind, with opportunities for reflection and recording.

There are many creative suggestions, but the teacher is left with a lot of work to turn some of the ideas ("Try listing some of your dilemmas both large and small") into a practical activity that will recruit all pupils across the ability range. There are photocopiable worksheets for each session and a CD-Rom contains the same material.

This is by no means a whole-curriculum framework, but it does offer useful starting points for more able pupils. How to introduce the social and emotional curriculum to very young children - a central component of the foundation stage - is a key question.

Game Time capitalises on play and game formats, addressing social and friendship skills, anger management, coping with teasing, and the playground. The theory underlying "therapeutic games" is covered briefly and some complex issues are covered, such as oppositional behaviour and the factors that promote resilience. The idea of a "life-space interview" is introduced as a technique for helping children to understand their own behaviour and the responses of others, and for encouraging solution-focused thinking.

The games themselves - printable from a CD-Rom - provide the context for sharing, waiting, listening and positive feedback. Think Again, for example, is a board game where landing on a "what if?" square prompts various ways to solve the problem, including "hit, kick or threaten", which results in the player ending up in the square labelled "headteacher's office", unless a "calm card" is held.

Quite apart from the covert values being transmitted here, these games - mostly much simplified versions of Monopoly - look fun to play and are likely to appeal to older primary-aged children.

Tooncards are very simple cartoon illustrations of behaviours (moans, argues, makes useful suggestions), qualities (generous, quiet, shy), and feelings (indifferent, curious, left out). Despite their apparent simplicity, the combination of vocabulary, drawings and suggested activities enables some sophisticated reflection, commentary and group interaction to take place.

The manual demonstrates curriculum links across key stages for subject areas in citizenship, English and PSHE. There are also interesting appendices that reframe the resource in relation to neuro-linguistic programming, multiple intelligences and accelerated learning. The material can also be downloaded from the accompanying CD-Rom.

The level of detail provided for the sessions - physical space, preparation, ground rules, time, objectives, management - signal this as being the kind of material that has grown out of real engagement with young people.

In Better Behaviour through Golden Time, classes and whole schools earn the label "golden" when they follow the "golden rules" and when "golden time"

strategies are used to promote positive behaviour and relationships. Jenny Mosley is well-known for her enthusiastic pioneering of circle time in schools and this book is a natural follow-on, outlining how adults model good listening skills, caring and respect, honesty and trust, high aspirations and enjoyment to build a safe learning community.

Unlike resources designed to teach a specific set of social skills, it outlines a whole community ethos, a framework of values within which teaching and learning take place. The celebration of success built into circle time meetings is extended to the whole school so all children and adults adopt a system of rewards (and sanctions) for observing the rules. None of these notions are new, and the text drifts briefly into areas such as locus of control and emotional intelligence. Where it succeeds best is in outlining for key stage 1 and 2 teachers how to set up and make the most of golden time.

Emotional intelligence is something of a bandwagon at the moment, with many new publications and resources on offer. However, some authors are unclear about the rationale underlying their material. The best of the crop will be specific about the emotional spectrum addressed and show links with the wider curriculum. Given that, teachers can confidently sift for texts which support their own ideas and strategies in this important evolving area.

Alec Webster is emeritus professor of educational psychology at Bristol University

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