Mindfulness-based interventions in schools

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behaviour, socio-emotional outcomes and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioural strategies, or relaxation-skills training.

A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomised or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 pupil participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the US (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%) and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4–28 weeks), number of sessions (6–125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).

The findings show that MBIs in schools have a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional outcomes, but do not improve behaviour or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioural outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues find a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behaviour and academic achievement.

Source: Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students (March 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:5

What is the research on screen time for children?

There continue to be conflicting views about the recommendations to give to children on screen time (the use of “screen” media including television, smart phones and computer games). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended two hours or less screen time per day for most children. Two recently published studies investigate this recommendation and whether the amount of screen time has any impact on children’s behaviour and school readiness.

The first study, published  in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, examines whether screen time that exceeds the AAP recommendations affects children’s school readiness, and specifically whether this varies according to family income.

Andrew Ribner and colleagues looked at data from 807 kindergarten (Year 1) children of diverse backgrounds. Their parents reported family income, as well as the number of hours of television their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet and smartphone use were not included. The children were assessed using measures of maths, knowledge of letters and words and executive function. Results showed that watching more television than recommended by the AAP is negatively associated with maths and executive function, but not with letter and word knowledge. This association was found to increase as family income decreased.

For older children, screen time may not be strongly associated with any behaviour problems. Research published in Psychiatric Quarterly investigated the links between the amount of screen time and risky behavioural outcomes for 6,089 young people aged 12–18 from Florida.

The sample was divided into four groups: abstainers (those who reported spending no time watching television or using other media); low users (no more than two hours of screen time per day, in line with AAP guidance); moderate users (three to six hours per day); and excessive users (six or more hours per day). Christopher J Fergusson, who conducted the study, found that moderate screen use was not associated with any risky behaviour. Even excessive screen use was only weakly associated with negative outcomes related to delinquency, reduced grades and depression only and at levels unlikely to be significant.

Source: Family socioeconomic status moderates associations between television viewing and school readiness skills (April 2017), Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (38:3)

Everything in moderation: moderate use of screens unassociated with child behavior problems (February 2017), Psychiatric Quarterly.

Turning around maladaptive behaviour

Pupils with significant behaviour problems typically have lower grades, higher dropout rates, and lower rates of employment when they leave school. To head off these problems, many schools use social problem-solving programmes within the classroom, yet no large research review has been done on social problem-solving programmes since 1993. To update these findings, Kristin Merrill and colleagues at the University of Florida performed a literature review of social problem-solving (SPS) programme studies in grades K-12 (Years 1-13) spanning 1993-2015.

From a group of 380 studies that the authors found, 18 met inclusion criteria, which included that studies must have been from peer-reviewed journals, been quantitative and addressed a specific programme implemented during school hours.

Results found positive outcomes related to SPS skills acquisition and to peer acceptance. The greatest evidence was found for older pupils, at-risk pupils, and programmes specifically targeting aggressive behaviours. In the studies that followed pupils after they were no longer in SPS programmes, some maintained improved behaviours for up to a year. The key features of an effective SPS programme were that pupils be taught step-by-step techniques to think through tough situations, having them rehearse and reflect on their desired behaviours; that emotional regulation skills be taught early; and that in order to maintain these gains, pupils actively think about how they use these new skills in real-life situations.

Source: A review of social problem-solving interventions: Past findings, current status, and future directions (February 2017), Review of Educational Research , Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 71–102

Link between positive teacher-student relationships and good behaviour in teens

A new study has found that having a positive relationship with a teacher when a child is 10 to 11 years old can be linked to “prosocial” behaviours such as cooperation and altruism, as well as reducing problem classroom behaviours such as aggression and oppositional behaviour.

The study used data from a major longitudinal study of Swiss children among a culturally diverse sample of 7 to 15 year olds, and involved 1,067 students randomly sampled across 56 of the city’s schools. Only students who experienced a change of teacher when the student was 9 or 10 were used for the study, with data gathered from teachers, students, and their parents on an annual and later biannual basis.

Using this data, Ingrid Obsuth and her team were able to “score” the children on over 100 different characteristics or experiences that could potentially account for good or bad behaviour. They then matched students in pairs with similar scores in all respects except for how they felt about their teacher, and how the teacher felt about them.

Students who had a more positive relationship with their teacher displayed more prosocial behaviour towards peers (on average 18%, and 10% more up to two years later), and up to 38% less aggressive behaviour (and 9% less up to four years later), over students who felt ambivalent or negative towards their teacher.

Source: A Non-bipartite Propensity Score Analysis of the Effects of Teacher–Student Relationships on Adolescent Problem and Prosocial Behavior (2016), Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Which schools abandon interventions?

A new study published in Prevention Science looks at which schools persevere with interventions and which abandon them.

Led by Kent McIntosh from the University of Oregon, the researchers looked at 5,331 schools during five years of implementing schoolwide positive behavioural interventions and supports (SWPBIS) – a school-wide behaviour management program. The extent to which a school was implementing the program was measured using three surveys completed by the schools each year. Analysing this data, the researchers identified four different kinds of schools:

  • Sustainers (29% of schools) had a high likelihood of meeting the fidelity criterion across all years of implementation.
  • Slow Starters (13%) had an inconsistent pattern of reaching the fidelity criterion across the first three years of implementation that then increased to nearly the level of the Sustainers in the fourth and fifth years.
  • Late Abandoners (24%) were more likely than not to reach the fidelity criterion in the first three years of implementation, but then were very unlikely to reach the criterion in the fourth and fifth years.
  • Rapid Abandoners (34%) had a high probability of reaching the fidelity criterion in the first year, but dropped off rapidly and remained low in subsequent years.

Schools were more likely to abandon if they were middle or high schools, smaller, and had fewer schools locally that were already using SWPBIS. The researchers suggest that their results highlight the importance of supporting those schools implementing programs, particularly in Year 1 (when Rapid Abandoners are already struggling) and Year 3 (when Late Abandoners are more likely to quit).

Source: Identifying and Predicting Distinct Patterns of Implementation in a School-Wide Behavior Support Framework (2016), Prevention Science

Keep up the good work

In his Huffington Post blog, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, discusses a study that evaluated a behaviour management programme, First Step to Success, for students with behaviour problems. The programme has been evaluated successfully many times. In this latest study, 200 children in grades 1 to 3 (Years 2 to 4) with serious behaviour problems were randomly assigned to experimental or control groups. On behaviour and achievement measures, students in the experimental group scored much higher, with effect sizes of +0.44 to +0.87.

The researchers came back a year later to see if the outcomes had been maintained. Despite the substantial impacts seen previously, none of three prosocial/adaptive behaviour measures, only one of three problem/maladaptive behaviours, and none of four academic achievement measures now showed positive outcomes. However, the students had passed from teachers who had been trained in the First Step method to teachers who had not.

Dr Slavin says, “Imagine that all teachers in the school learned the program and all continued to implement it for many years. In this circumstance, it would be highly likely that the first-year positive impacts would be sustained and most likely improved over time.” He discusses the implications of the research, and the importance of continuing with successful interventions.

Source: Keep Up the Good Work (To Keep Up the Good Outcomes) (2016), Huffington Post