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).

How ESSA supports social and emotional learning

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows US states to use federal funding to adopt research-proven programmes to improve pupil achievement. This includes social-emotional learning (SEL) programmes. To offer some guidance and inform decision makers, RAND has released a report, Social and emotional learning interventions under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reviews recent evidence on these programmes. The report discusses how ESSA supports SEL programmes and outlines the programmes that meet the ESSA evidence standards.

Specifically, authors found 60 SEL programmes that met strong, moderate, or promising evidence standards in grades K-12 (Years   1 to 13). Most were evaluated at the primary school level in urban communities with minority populations. A second report describes these programmes and the research that supports them in detail.

Source: Social and emotional learning interventions under the Every Student Succeeds Act: evidence review (2017), RAND Corporation, RR-2133-WF

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

What happens when school districts integrate social and emotional learning?

American Institutes for Research (AIR) has published findings from an ongoing evaluation of a districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL).

The Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) was launched in 2011 by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning to support school districts’ capacities to provide SEL for all students. AIR’s evaluation of the first four years of the CDI analysed, among other factors, its effect on student academic and behavioural outcomes at the school level in the eight participating districts. Academic outcomes included reading and mathematics standardised test scores and grade point average (GPA). Behavioural outcomes included attendance, suspensions, graduation, and dropout.

Overall, students’ academic performance improved in CDI implementation years relative to the years before the CDI. GPA was seen to improve in four of the districts and discipline in six. Attendance improved in four districts and declined in one.

Although the research demonstrated some positive trends in the academic and behavioural outcomes of students in the school districts where CDI was implemented, these improvements were not seen consistently for all students. The evaluation suggests that even modest investments in SEL can have benefits, but more research is needed to determine which SEL approaches work best at different grade levels and have the strongest long-term benefits.

Source: When districts support and integrate social and emotional learning (SEL): Findings from an ongoing evaluation of districtwide implementation of SEL (2016), Education Policy Center at American Institutes for Research

Countering the damage of growing up in a fractured community

Children and young people living in communities fractured by social, religious, and cultural intolerance and sectarianism are at risk of failing to develop the social-emotional competencies necessary for good emotional health, positive relationships, and personal and academic achievement. A new research paper outlines positive findings for a social-emotional learning (SEL) programme in Northern Ireland. PATHS NI was designed to foster pro-social behaviour and mutual respect and understanding among children of different cultural backgrounds. The authors conducted a randomised control evaluation of the programme between 2008 and 2011, involving 1,430 children.

Findings are reported in the Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences from data obtained through individual student assessments of social-emotional skills and from interviews with school principals, teachers, and students. The authors suggest the findings demonstrate the potential of SEL as a vehicle for children from fractured communities to achieve personal and academic success.

Source: Social-Emotional Learning Championing Freedom, Education and Development: A Vehicle for At-risk Students to Succeed (2013), Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences, 8(1).