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Malta’s experience of promoting emotional literacy through PSD

During Personal and Social Development activities, students learn how to express emotions, use verbal and non-verbal communication skills and practise effective listening and negotiation strategies.During Personal and Social Development activities, students learn how to express emotions, use verbal and non-verbal communication skills and practise effective listening and negotiation strategies.

Self-empowerment, emotional literacy (EL), and the freedom to make informed decisions contribute to a better quality of life for oneself and others. These are fostered through Personal and Social Development (PSD), a subject which, in Malta, nests in an academic and exam-oriented educational system and culture.

Emotional literacy should be given an equal priority with literacy and numeracy for all students

PSD has locally been a timetabled school subject for more than 30 years. PSD is different from other school subjects in its birth, development, ethos, design, structure, pedagogy, methodology and implementation. It emerged from the psychological rather than the educational arena.

According to the 2002 PSD syllabus, it “aims at empowering students to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes which will enable them to live and participate fruitfully and effectively in their environment”.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a relatively recent model and was initially defined by Daniel Goleman, Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey as the ability to perceive accurately, to appraise and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings which facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; the ability to regulate emotions, to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

Claude Steiner, together with Paul Perry then coined the term Emotional Literacy (EL) and identified a number of differences from EI. They considered EL as made up of the ability to understand one’s own emotions, to listen to and empathise with others and to express emotions effectively and appropriately.

They argued that “emotional literacy improves relationships, creates loving possibilities between people, makes co-operative work possible, and facilitates the feeling of community”.

EL develops within a social context, in this case the classroom. Therefore, importance must be given to pupil-pupil and teacher-pupil interaction, and the social process taking place during PSD sessions. Self-knowledge and self-metacognition develop when people interact and work with each other.

EL reflects the Maltese PSD model as it refers to the development of competencies, rather than a finite product; it embodies the concept of a continuous dynamic process leading to the development of competencies, automaticities and metacognitive awareness; it precludes a context as it is developed between people and in settings; this implies that when students are empowered to communicate their feelings, they begin to become more in touch with their inner feelings and thus will also be able to understand other students’ feelings.

Maud Muscat’s national evaluation of the Maltese PSD programme in 2006 indicated that all stakeholders found PSD effective and relevant to improving their EL and quality of life. Muscat noted that the Maltese PSD model empowers students to take control of their lives and increase their internal locus of control.

In Muscat’s research notes a Form 3 student is recorded saying: “I hope we can do it next year and the year after. It is a very useful subject. It helps people get in touch with themselves and with others.”

Emotional literacy should be given an equal priority with literacy and numeracy for all students.

The Maltese PSD model addresses EL in schools because of the methodology adopted in class – experiential learning and processing, classroom formation and group sizes of not more than 16 students.

PSD specialists are trained in helping skills and are therefore more predisposed to offer emotional support and to deal with different emotions that come out during PSD sessions.

Research indicates that students identify PSD specialists as the most significant teachers in their secondary school experience and describe their PSD specialists as calm, understanding, owning good communication skills, caring for their emotional well-being, trustworthy and value confidentiality.

Emotionally literate teachers are more open, friendly and sincere, more successful at work, enjoy a sense of worth about managing their lives and are generally happier.

As one students noted: “PSD teachers are always ready to listen to my problems… He understands what’s troubling you… I am used to talking with him. I know the PSD teacher won’t tell others about my personal problems.”

During processing of activities, PSD specialists provide opportunities and time so that students learn negotiation strategies, express emotions, use verbal and non-verbal communication skills and practise effective listening.

In processing, PSD specialists allow participants to express themselves, to understand others, to challenge ideas and attitudes and interpret their own and others’ feelings.

The literature is clear on the benefits of EL on the person and within the community. Without ever using the term EL, both the 1999 National Minimum Curriculum and the 2011 National Curriculum Framework consultative document embrace the concept of going beyond cognitive intelligence.

An open and positive atmosphere in the classroom is important because, within the teaching and learning process, there is both cognitive and emotional work: What we know is directly associated with emotions, and feelings become part of the internal experience that guides new learning.

The process of learning itself can generate new feelings or emotions that arise as a result of the dynamics and resulting changes between the internal and external experiences. This is integral to the methodology adopted in the Maltese PSD model.

Emotions are an integral part of human nature as they influence our thoughts and actions, affect our bodies and impact on our relationships. EL acknowledges that emotional expression, self-esteem and cognitive development are being constantly influenced by the social context we are in.

The Maltese PSD model adopts a student-centred approach, where students work collaboratively on different tasks and activities. Through processing, students are helped by PSD specialists to reflect, talk and discuss about these interactions so that they develop their meta-social and meta-emotional skills.

This is an excerpt of a paper published by the authors in the journal Pastoral Care in Education: An International Journal of Personal, Social and Emotional Development. (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 2012, pp. 19-37. Readers interested in academic references related to this article may contact [email protected].

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