Gordana Kovacevic, Serbian Language and Literature Teacher, Primary School “Jovan Sterija Popovic", Vrsac, Srbija

Gordana Kovacevic is the author of scientific papers and professional lectures, but also an evaluator of textbooks for primary school. She is one of the teachers who participated in the online teaching project of the Ministry of Education with two lectures during the pandemic. As an associate of the Institute for Contemporary Education, she held an online lecture “Working with talented students: the application of a special individual plan in the teaching of Serbian language and literature.” A special feature of her teaching career is working with talented students, application of individualised and project teaching, application of the teaching concept “Flipped Classroom”, multidisciplinary approach to teaching language and literature, and development of social and emotional learning. She especially nurtures the work of the literary section, whose members have won numerous awards at domestic and international competitions, and their most successful fairy tales, songs and stories will be published in the magazine “Inspiration”, which especially motivates creativity in Slavic languages.

 

The role of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in contemporary education should be based on carefully conceived curricula developing student competencies in the direction of this kind of learning. Interdisciplinary competences are a key developmental factor of SEL. Project-based instruction and individualization should be the best teaching methods directly developing SEL competencies. Continuous monitoring of curricular and extracurricular student achievements, developing collaboration, mastering the techniques necessary for conducting negotiations, conflict resolution, opinion exchange and accepting the values of others different from our own are the main directions in the educational process.

From professional experience

I used SEL in my practice in civic education classes that I had been teaching for more than a decade. It is in these classes that students acquired social and emotional skills leading to a decrease in the levels of violence, aggression and conflicts in the classroom, as well as improved quality of interpersonal relationships and overcoming (social, national, peer…) differences and fostering tolerance and accepting every individual and all their differences. In the course of the numerous talks, debates and panel discussions, the students learned the basic principles of democracy applying them in other classes as well. By getting my students involved into Student Parliament activities, as a coordinator, I strove to provide them with connections to other legal, social and administrative institutions in the community, thus preparing them to take on their future civic responsibilities and social engagement via some future professional duties. The classroom has always been a place where trust and respect reigned and students felt safe, appreciated and equal, which was bound to lead to the development of empathy as a key element of the Social Emotional Learning process. The same principles and rules trickled down to native language and other classes alike, so everyone of us could reap the sweet fruits of our labour in the classes of civic education, an elective, but very important subject.

Native language and literature classes provide an environment for daily development of

  • application of multifunctional curricula of Serbian language and literature;
  • application of individualised teaching as a form of education that develops SEL in more far-reaching ways than any other methods and forms of teaching;
  • application of project-based teaching as a multidisciplinary social, emotional and learning platform in the contemporary teaching practice;
  • application id the Flipped Classroom teaching concept focusing on the individual and all his or her traits, skills and abilities.

The participation of my students in a project launched by the Ministry of Education marking International Day Against Peer Violence on 24th February, 2021 deserves a special mention. I have been working with gifted students for years now, following a special, individualised and expanded curriculum for talented students and that has become the hallmark of my career. My online lecture on that topic was published by the Institute for Contemporary Education in November 2021.

Creativity as an imperative of contemporary education

This is the world of prominent creatives: web designers, graphic designers, designers of flying cars, research scientists and inventors. Everything that we have ever read or learned about was conceived and patented by some creative individual. Everything that we touch is the fruit of someone’s genius and ingenuity. Milutin Milankovic and Nikola Tesla are the biggest 20th century thinkers and creatives. The books Through the Universe and the Ages (Kroz vasionu i vekove) by Milutin Milankovic and Tesla’s Autobiography are on the literature classes reading list. These are timeless sources of inspiration and trailblazers of motivation and science for young people.

Therefore, the work with talented students has left a particular professional mark on my career, especially with 14-year old Vuk Stanojevic, 8th grade student who is one of the most awarded and successful students in the region. The criteria for drawing up his individualised curriculum were developed based on the Social Emotional Learning principles with the aim of enhancing linguistic, stylistic and creative competencies. Creativity is simply multiplication of creative competencies combined with cognitive knowledge and the sensory sphere and comprehension. In the developmental intellectual and emotional process, talent emerges from the functional layers of knowledge, uniting critical thinking and a completely original experiential context. A careful analysis conducted a year ago revealed that this student had been developing photographic memory. He was able to conduct and memorise three cognitive activities at the same time. That was proof of highly developed personal intellectual resources along with creative competencies. Multidisciplinarity is the main feature of his character. He studies mathematics, chemistry, history, mythology, linguistics, as well as languages and literature. He focused his attention on folk art and national history and read the works of the most prominent Serbian and international authors acquiring information about the peculiarities of their literary and artistic styles. Research is the basis of his approach to study material. His regular activities in class include teamwork and the role of a mentor (offering support). This way, Social Emotional Learning is firmly rooted in the entire class by providing support for a gifted student. Individualization serves the purpose of improving the quality of work of the entire class and the relations I – I and I – others provide a solid foundation for social and emotional development. The talented student is included in scientific research and he is also the leader of the group of six students who will be competing in a scientific research contest to be held at the Regional Talent Centre. Moreover, Vuk Stanojevic writes short stories. He received multiple awards at literary competitions. He was one of the participants in the World Essay Writing Competition held in Tokyo in 2021. The topic of his essay was What is Life.

The story on the topic Smells and Sounds Conducting Conversations is an example to be analysed here. It was awarded at a literary competition held in January 2022.

By combining the sensations brought about by different experiences and different senses, a new archetypal space opens up where past experiences and the present moment being experienced are brought together. What is felt by the senses are just impulses opening visions dominated by the feelings of happiness and fullness of life, unlike the present moment where only emptiness and loneliness exist. A touch of hands committed to memory introduces a completely different perception of the past. An animistic view of the world stems from the subconscious, inherited context of experience and reality. In the story, every sensory manifestation speaks, lives, breathes, whispers and sings. Sufficiency is a totally new and different category incorporating unity of feeling, experience and temporal distinction: the beginning and end of the story, the feeling of a worn out life existing in some memories, the relation of the meaning of life to the meaning of death (spring, the awakening of a new life and autumn, a late season and the gradual dying out of life). Sufficiency as a philosophical constant is given a particular meaning here, quite new and different, previously unheard in literature. The choice of words gives the story a special multifaceted quality. It is directly related to the animistic experience of nature and the world. The names of the protagonists, Dragisa-drag (Dragisa-dear) and Dusanka-dusa (Dusanka-soul) featured in the combination of words draga dusa (dear soul) carry new meaning. In this story, every word brings a breath of fresh air and a new impulse of life into the surroundings and readers’ experience.

In view of its maturity and literary and artistic features, this is undoubtedly Vuk’s best story so far. The analysis of this story which is just one among other stories forming the broader body of his work reveals his linguistic and creative competencies. The richness of the selection of the books he read, combined with a continuous development of creative competences resulted in their multiplication and the development of metacognitive creativity (the term borrowed from Dr Svetlana Belic Malinic). This kind of knowledge provides the highest level of support to individuality and intellectual potential. Innovation has become but a facet of creativity. These are the two sides of the same coin.

Conclusion

This work stems from the need to explain and prove the views about the importance of active inclusion of all SEL resources into the general curricula of individual subjects in primary (and secondary) school and also in higher-level education. The power potential of SEL enriches the emotional, cognitive and intellectual development of every individual (student). Different subject-related and teaching resources, methods, kinds of work, scientific approaches and teaching concepts are easily added to and integrated with the most important features of SEL.

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