Examining a path to improved SEL skills

A study conducted by Neil Humphrey and colleagues, published in Public Health Research, reports on the findings of a randomised controlled trial of the social and emotional learning intervention, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS).

PATHS aims to promote children’s social skills via a taught curriculum, which is delivered by the class teacher. A total of 5,218 children in Years 3–5 (ages 7–9) from 45 primary schools in Greater Manchester participated in the trial. Schools were randomly allocated to deliver PATHS for two years or to continue as normal.

The findings of the study suggest that the impact of PATHS was modest and limited. Immediately after the intervention, there was tentative evidence that PATHS made a small improvement on children’s social skills (effect size = +0.09) as assessed by the Social Skills Improvement System. A small improvement in children’s psychological well-being (effect size = +0.07) was also found immediately after the intervention. However, there were no differences between children from PATHS and control schools for any outcomes at the 12- or 24-month post-intervention follow-ups.

Source: The PATHS curriculum for promoting social and emotional well-being among children aged 7–9 years: a cluster RCT. Public Health Research 6 (10).

Classroom management interventions made a difference

A meta-analysis of classroom management interventions has found that they improved academic, behavioural, and social-emotional outcomes.

Published in the Review of Educational Research, the study included 54 classroom management interventions in 47 studies published between 2003 and 2013. It included some interventions that had been evaluated several times (including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), the Good Behavior Game, and Zippy’s Friends). About three-quarters of the studies were carried out in the US, with the remainder in Europe and Canada.

Most interventions were focused on changing students’ behaviour (85%), improving students’ social-emotional development (74%), or changing teachers’ behaviour (54%). Only two interventions were specifically targeted at improving teacher–student relationships.

The analysis found an overall effect size of +0.22 for the interventions, with a slightly higher effect on behaviour (+0.24), and less on social-emotional (+0.21) and academic (+0.17) outcomes. There was no significant effect on motivational outcomes. The analysis also indicated that interventions focused on social-emotional development of the students were somewhat more effective than those without that component.

Source: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Classroom Management Strategies and Classroom Management Programs on Students’ Academic, Behavioral, Emotional, and Motivational Outcomes (2016), Review of Educational Research.

Interventions for four-year-olds help three-year-olds, too

A new report from MDRC presents the findings for three-year-old children from the Head Start CARES demonstration. This was a large randomised controlled trial in more than 100 Head Start centres across the US. It tested the effects of three different approaches for improving children’s social-emotional competencies: The Incredible Years, PATHS, and Tools of the Mind – Play. The main trial looked at the impact on four-year-old children and this further analysis examines the impact on three-year-olds who were in the same classes.

The results show:

  • Overall, the approaches increased teachers’ social-emotional instruction, but did not affect other aspects of practice or classroom climate in mixed-age classes. The approaches also improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • The Incredible Years did not produce a statistically significant improvement in teachers’ use of classroom and behaviour-management strategies, but it improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • PATHS improved teachers’ social-emotional instruction and Tools of the Mind – Play improved scaffolding of children’s play. However, there was little evidence that the approaches improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social-emotional outcomes.

The findings suggest that it is possible for the benefits of social-emotional interventions to extend to three-year-olds, even when the interventions are designed primarily for four-year-olds. In this study, these benefits were driven primarily by The Incredible Years.

Source: Impacts of Social-Emotional Curricula on Three-Year-Olds: Exploratory Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.

Evidence on improving preschool children’s social and emotional competence

MRDC has released findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration, an evaluation of the effects of three classroom-based approaches to enhancing children’s social-emotional development on a large scale. These programmes were The Incredible Years Teacher Training Programme (which focuses on teachers’ management of the classroom and of children’s behaviour); Preschool PATHS (which uses structured lessons to help children learn about emotions and interact with peers appropriately); and Tools of the Mind–Play (a one-year version of the Tools of the Mind curriculum that promotes children’s learning through structured “make-believe” play).

The demonstration was conducted in the US with 17 Head Start providers (similar in some ways to the UK’s Sure Start programme) that varied by geographic location, organisational setting, and size. Centres operated by these providers were randomly assigned to one of the three interventions or to a “business-as-usual” control group. Key findings included:

  • PATHS showed small to moderate improvements in children’s knowledge and understanding of emotion (emotion knowledge), social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours.
  • The Incredible Years improved children’s emotion knowledge, social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours. It did not produce expected impacts on children’s problem behaviour and executive function (except for highest-risk children).
  • Tools of the Mind–Play did not demonstrate expected impacts on executive function or self-regulation; it produced only positive impacts on emotion knowledge.

The authors note that the estimated impacts should be interpreted as the effects of the interventions beyond any effects of the existing Head Start programme in these classrooms. Overall, findings showed that evidence-based approaches can improve preschool children’s social-emotional competence when implemented at scale with appropriate supports.

Source: Impact Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.

Do evidence-based programmes work in every context?

Researchers from The Social Research Unit at Dartington, along with the Universities of Exeter and York, have analysed the impact of three evidence-based programmes implemented in Birmingham as part of the city’s “Brighter Futures” strategy. A new article describing their findings illustrates that context matters.

The three programmes evaluated were the Incredible Years BASIC parenting programme, PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), and the Triple-P parenting programme. In each case, a randomised controlled trial was conducted with validated standardised measures. The findings were as follows:

  • Incredible Years yielded reductions in negative parenting behaviours among parents, reductions in child behaviour problems, and improvements in children’s relationships.
  • In the PATHS trial, modest improvements in emotional health and behavioural development after one year disappeared by the end of year two.
  • There were no effects for Triple-P.

The authors suggest that much can be learned from the strengths and limitations of the Birmingham experience.

Source: The impact of three evidence-based programmes delivered in public systems in Birmingham, UK (2012), International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6(2).