Laurel Felt | Doctoral student at USC Annenberg

What is Sunukaddu?
August 4, 2010, 12:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sunukaddu is a multi-level training program that develops youths’ communication and critical thinking skills. Its overarching objective, to empower self-advocacy, is reflected in the program’s name, “sunu kaddu,” a Wolof phrase meaning “our words.” Through on-the-ground, local experiences and digital, global exchange, Sunukaddu participants appreciate first-hand the power of active community participation.

This summer, Sunukaddu is utilizing Social and Emotional Learning and New Media Literacies to enhance creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, self-directed learning and collaboration. It has also expanded its scope beyond specific technology platforms to encompass the holistic process of communication.

Participants start the day with team-building activities, then engage in self-directed discovery of new tools and technologies. Instructors offer insight into media creation strategies, utilizing concrete examples and drawing parallels between analog and digital processes. Next, participants tackle associated challenges. A daily guest-speaker, neighborhood excursion, or locally-produced short film provides participants with the opportunity to gather information and inspiration for charting their journeys towards realizing their ideal self.

Next, participants create a media project that synthesizes the day’s material. These projects’ messages – based on topics of the participants’ own choosing, but usually oriented towards Sunukaddu’s supplementary theme, reproductive health – exploit diverse communication strategies and forms, including storytelling, journalism, photography, audio/visual recording, and editing.

Finally, the group reflects on the day’s activities and individuals evaluate their own learning processes. On the final day, participants upload all of their projects to

This hands-on method of appropriation facilitates critical consumption of media messages, ethical creation, and strategic diffusion. Why is this meaningful? First, participants can apply their practical communication and technical skills to diverse contexts, including formal education, the workplace, and social life. Second, through digital distribution of their own content, Sunukaddu participants can engage in dialogue with far-flung youth in formats that both illuminate and transcend cultural differences. Finally, participants learn to produce content convincingly, effectively and responsibly, and to draw from their own interests, experiences, and opinions to maximize relevance. Thus, the Sunukaddu method should support nearly any community’s attempt to nurture its communication capacity.

Learn more about Sunukaddu or its sponsor, RAES!


Making Education (Double) Count : Boosting Student Learning via Social and Emotional Learning and New Media Literacy Skills
August 4, 2010, 12:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

by Laurel Felt

Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. —Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, and Robinson, 2006, p. 4.

Participatory, engagement-driven activities that tap and foster social and emotional learning (SEL) and new media literacies (NML) meaningfully enrich students’ learning of the basics as well as boost physical wellness and social functioning.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) comprises self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Notable programs such as Lions Quest Skills for Life, Paths (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), and School Connect offer lessons in: recognizing and managing stress; interpreting facial cues and body language; problem-solving; resisting bullying; identifying personal strengths and challenges; and setting goals.

Skeptics may dismiss such lessons as artifacts of a toothless, politically correct, “touchy-feely” era. But empirical research has found that pursuing competency in these areas allows one to build a solid base, to establish the intrapersonal and interpersonal support networks necessary for holistic health and achievement. Evaluators of SEL programs have found that “… social-emotional competence and academic achievement are interwoven and that integrated, coordinated instruction in both areas maximizes students’ potential to succeed in school and throughout their lives” (Zins and Elias, 2006, p. 1). In other words, SEL mastery facilitates and amplifies both book smarts and street smarts.

SEL Impacts
The impacts of SEL implementation are considerable. Compared to peers in a control group, SEL program participants tend to display more daily behaviors related to getting along and cooperating with others (Payton, Weissberg, Durlak, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger, and Pachan, 2008). Emotionally, SEL program participants reported “more positive attitudes toward self and others (e.g., self-concept, self-esteem, prosocial attitudes toward aggression, and liking and feeling connected to school)” than peers in a control group (Payton et al., 2008, p. 7). They also demonstrated increases in social-emotional skills (e.g., self-control, decision-making, communication, and problem-solving skills) in test situations, such that SEL programming produced an average gain on achievement test scores of 11 to 17 percentile points (Payton et al., 2008, pp. 6-7).

SEL programs also provide an impressive return on investment in terms of both dollars and sustained behavior change. Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller, and Pennucci (2004) found that the value of SEL programs exceeds their costs (cited in Zins and Elias, 2006, p. 6). This finding was replicated in several independent investigations, with benefits ranging from $3.14 to $28.42 for each dollar spent (Hawkins, Smith and Catalano, 2004; Schaps, Battistich, and Solomon, 2004; Botvin, 1998, 2002). Over time, SEL programs have also been shown to return value in terms of improved life outcomes. Fifteen years after a universal intervention for urban elementary school children ended, researchers recontacted 93 percent of the program’s participants to learn about their lives (Hawkins, Kosterman, Catalano, Hill and Abbott, 2008). This sex-balanced, multiracial/multiethnic sample of 598 individuals aged 24 to 27 years boasted significantly better educational and economic attainment, mental health, and sexual health than peers in a control group (Hawkins et al., 2008).

SEL programming is a primary component of several successful public health interventions. Project AIM (Adult Identity Mentoring; Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 2008), an evidence-based program to reduce HIV sexual risk behavior among youth, utilizes a SEL-based approach. Rather than directly providing instruction on sexually explicit topics, it encourages participants to envision possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986), and then helps them develop skills and resources in order to become the successful adults they envision—and avoid becoming the unsuccessful adults they equally foresee. Due to Project AIM’s documented success in affecting sexual intentions, motivating abstinence, and delaying sexual initiation (Clark, Miller, Nagy, Avery, Roth, Liddon, Mukherjee, 2004), it has been embraced as a national Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) project for HIV; Department of Health and Human Services-approved pregnancy prevention program; and officially designated Global AIDS Program for use in some African countries (L. Clark, personal communication, Apr. 6, 2010).

MY LA (Minority Leaders in Action; University of Southern California Childhood Obesity Research Center, 2009) uses SEL intervention to combat childhood obesity. While it does offer lessons in nutrition, MY LA’s primary means for turning the tide on this epidemic is individual- and community-level empowerment. Activities emphasize self-awareness and social awareness, among other SEL competencies; preliminary data from this nascent program seem promising.

New Media Literacies (NML) also inform this pedagogical approach. “The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom” (Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 4). NML skills include: play; performance; simulation; appropriation; multitasking; distributed cognition; collective intelligence; judgment; transmedia navigation; networking; negotiation; and visualization.

Many teachers decry new media, and rightly so. Some students are still struggling to balance their time between digital activities, such as gaming and social networking, and analog activities, such as exercise, face-to-face conversation, and sleep. In terms of educational software, many products’ “bells and whistles” fail to facilitate meaningful student learning and are neither worth teachers’ valuable prep time (especially because this may demand extra time and cause stress for those teachers who feel a lack of comfort, dexterity, or experience with negotiating new technology) nor students’ precious classroom time.

But the capacities, or literacies, that undergird successful negotiation of new media are resoundingly worthwhile. First, many of these literacy skills, such as play, performance, judgment, and negotiation, aren’t new at all. While they have become increasingly vital in the context of new technology, they have always been important because they support the essential development of critical thinking, creativity, and innovative problem-solving (Gee, 2008). Second, NML skills support participatory and self-guided modes of learning, both of which tend to better engage students’ interest and therefore deliver superior learning outcomes (Gee, 2007; Lyman, Ito, Thorne, and Carter, 2009; Lankshears and Knobel, 2003). Project New Media Literacies, via its innovative Learning Library and other useful tools, supports teachers’ explicit instruction of NML skills. Global Kids Online Leadership Program also offers valuable curricular resources.

According to Durlak and Weissberg (2007), “When it comes to enhancing personal and social skills, effective programs are S.A.F.E. —sequenced, active, focused and explicit” (p. 7). Therefore, if time and resources permit, implementing stand-alone SEL and NML programs—such as the aforementioned Lions Quest Skills for Life and Project New Media Literacies—is certainly worthwhile. But all too often, schools can’t afford even this modest investment. School days are already jammed with inflexible mandates and standardized testing, while budgets are already overdrawn on upkeep, salaries, and core curricular aids. If activities didn’t “double count,” or pursue multiple educational aims, some of these aims would never be realized. Surely a case can be made for something being better than nothing: better some SEL and NML than none at all.

Thus, activities that focus on an academic objective anddraw on SEL competencies and NML skills, that use SEL and NML as the how, or the means for teaching formal academic content, are key. According to Dr. Henry Jenkins (Dec. 1, 2009), “[This is] the heart of what I’ve been arguing about integrating the skills across the curriculum” (personal communication). The solution is “double-counting.”

Currently, this methodology is being piloted by the Dakar, Senegal-based African Health Education Network (Reseau Africain d’Education pour la Sante; RAES, Its program, Sunukaddu, aims “to improve the response to HIV/AIDS in school by voluntary counseling and testing [of health status], the promotion of human rights and communication” (, n.d.). Over the past two years of implementation, media experts have trained high-school students in storytelling, audio/visual recording, editing, and digital uploading. Participants were then encouraged to explore the community in order to collect and create authentic media pieces pertaining to HIV/AIDS. Finished pieces were added to Sunukaddu’s website, from which diverse individuals—young and old, Senegalese and foreign, those living with HIV/AIDS and those bearing witness—could stream the media clips, comment on message boards and blogs, and seek out additional information relating to various reproductive health issues, particularly HIV/AIDS.

Now in its third year, Sunukaddu is further enriching the program by adding the following objectives: improving students’ communication skills in message construction and storytelling (fiction, non-fiction, autobiographical), message dissemination, and working with diverse media (audio, photography, video, studio art, performance); emphasizing engagement with voluntary HIV/AIDS counseling and testing (VCT) and networks of peer support; and exploring methods of supporting the humane treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.

These activities represent some ways in which content-based objectives can be reached by tapping into SEL and NML (see Table 1).

NML skills seamlessly complement SEL competencies such that harnessing one supports the other. For example, the NML skill of collective intelligence requires and reinforces the SEL competencies of social awareness, self-awareness, and relationship skills. The SEL competency of self-management, meanwhile, could develop within the context of such NML skills as visualization, play, and performance. These synergistic activities are not only hands-on and enjoyable, but their execution supports academic, social, emotional, technological, and pedagogical growth. As they stand, the activities are ripe for adaptation—in fact, over the next few months, Sunukaddu will adapt them from their current form in order to better harmonize with the unique culture, time constraints, and experiences of the program and its participants.

In education, as in life, the most important thing is the process, or the journey. By understanding the importance of SEL competencies and NML skills, as well as how these elements might be utilized to enrich an academic lesson, we are all on our way to creating the learning opportunities that best meet our community’s needs, and best prepare the next generation for success.


Works Cited
Botvin, G. J. (1998). Preventing adolescent drug abuse through Life Skills Training: Theory, methods, and effectiveness. In J. Crane (Ed.), Social programs that work (pp. 225-257). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Botvin, G.J. (2002). Life skills training. White Plains, NY: Princeton Health Press.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. (2008). Project AIM: An evidence-based program to reduce HIV sexual risk behavior among youth. Los Angeles: Author.

Clark, L.F., Miller, K.S., Nagy, S.S., Avery, J., Roth, D.L., Liddon, N., and Mukherjee, S. (2004). Adult identity mentoring: Reducing sexual risk for African-American seventh grade students.Journal of Adolescent Health, 37, 337.e1-337.e310.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2010). Skills and Competencies. In What is SEL. Retrieved from

Durlak, J. A., and Weissberg, R. P. (2007). The impact of after-school programs that promote personal and social skills. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Gee, J.P. (2007). Affinity spaces. In J.P. Gee (Ed.), Good video games + good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning, and literacy, (pp. 87- 103). New York: Peter Lang.

Gee, J.P. (2008). Getting over the slump: Innovation strategies to promote student learning. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Hawkins, J.D., Kosterman, R., Catalano, R.F., Hill, K.G., and Abbott, R.D. (2008). Effects of social development intervention in childhood 15 years later. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 162 (12), 1133-1141.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., and A.J. Robinson. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Lyman, P., Ito, M., Thorne, B., and M. Carter. (2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, And Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning With New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press/MacArthur Foundation.

Lankshears, C. and Knobel, M. (2003). New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead, Berkshire: The Open University Press.

Payton, J., Weissberg, R.P., Durlak, J.A., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., Schellinger, K.B., and Pachan, M. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Chicago: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Schaps, E., Battistich, V. and Solomon, D. (2004). Community in school as key to student growth: Findings from the child development project. In J. Zins, R. Weissberg, M. Wang, and H. Walberg (Eds.), Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say?, (pp. 189- 205). New York: Teachers College Press.

University of Southern California Childhood Obesity Research Center. (2009). Minority Leaders in Action, MY LA Project 3, Summer Empowerment Camp Curricular Outline. Los Angeles: Author.

Zins, J.E. and Elias, M.J. (2006). Social and emotional learning. In G.G. Bear and K.M. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III, (pp. 1-13). National Association of School Psychologists.

Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., and Walberg, H. J. (Eds.). (2004). Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say? New York: Teachers College Press.