The Christian Science Monitor

Reading, writing and empathy: How Denmark is a leader in teaching social skills

Fifth-year students in Roskilde, Denmark, take part in ‘klassenstime,’ during which students talk through problems with teachers. Source: Sara Llana/The Christian Science Monitor

Jennifer Larsen, a soft-spoken Danish teacher, strides into the classroom undeterred. She tells the 12- and 13-year-old students to put away their cellphones and fidget spinners. Some continue to goof off. But as she starts her weekly lesson in “social learning,” which begins with a “check-in” to gauge how each child is feeling, they quiet down.

Ms. Larsen’s main lesson of the day involves taping two signs to different ends of the classroom with the words “I agree” and “I disagree.” She then reads a series of personal statements: “I want to be better at solving problems with my friend.” “When I get angry I want to hit someone.”

The students in the sixth-year class at the Møllevang school in Faxe, a municipality in rural Denmark southwest of Copenhagen, have answered these questions before. But that exercise was done anonymously: Their heads were down and they responded by raising their hands. This time they are told to move to a side of the room that best characterizes their answer, publicly staking positions that even some adults might find hard to be candid about.

“I have friends who help me when I’m sad or mad,” Larsen continues. The children shuffle around the room, but, in the end, only one boy stands at the “I disagree” wall. With a nervous laugh, he notes his solitary position. “But you are very honest – that is very good,” Larsen says. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have any friends.”

As rudimentary as it is, the lesson in this kinetic classroom of students in hoodies and track pants is designed to teach social awareness and instill empathy – and in

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