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

Out-of-school clubs linked with better outcomes

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies investigates whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end-of-primary-school achievement and social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes for all children, and specifically for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The analysis is based on the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national longitudinal study of more than 11,000 children born in the year 2000. This was linked with administrative data on the children’s attainment scores at ages 6-7 and 10-11. In addition to looking at achievement (total point score, English, and maths) at ages 10-11, researchers also investigated social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties and prosocial skills scores.

Results showed that sports clubs and “other” (unspecified) club participation was positively associated with achievement outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior achievement. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after school clubs emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher achievement  and prosocial skills at ages 10-11.

Source: Out of School Activities During Primary School and KS2 Attainment (2016) Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Promoting emotional health, well-being, and resilience in primary schools

A new report from the Public Policy Institute for Wales synthesises research and policy evaluations related to school-based strategies to promote emotional health, well-being, and resilience among primary school students aged 4 to 11 years.

The report argues that school-based work in this area can be very effective, and school systems need to be strongly connected with each other in order to translate the research evidence into sustained impact. While work on emotional health and well-being is relevant to all students, some children are likely to have additional needs. These children often come from high-risk groups that can be identified, for example, those who have socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report’s overarching recommendation is to develop a carefully planned and well-supported approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that is integrated with core pedagogical principles and situated within a connected school. It also calls for an independent evaluation of a Welsh initiative on SEL that is designed to support emotional health, well-being, and resilience. Importantly, the focus should not be on developing an entirely new SEL curriculum or new teaching resources, since many evidence-based programs with high-quality resources already exist. Rather, the emphasis should be on identifying specific strategies for integrating SEL work, engaging families, and broader schools systems and core pedagogical principles.

Source: Promoting Emotional Health, Well-being and Resilience in Primary Schools (2016), Public Policy Institute for Wales.

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.

Teachers who improve non-cognitive skills not always top of the class

A new working paper from Mathematica Policy Research looks at the role that teachers play in developing non-cognitive skills, the non-tested academic behaviours and mindsets that contribute to children’s long-term success. These behaviours and mindsets include emotional stability, motivation, persistence, and self-control.

Data came from 310 teachers in four US districts who had agreed to have their classes videotaped, complete a teacher questionnaire, and help collect a set of pupil outcomes. The study focused on Grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) maths classes, although all of the teachers involved were generalists.

The authors examined both “teacher effects” (the teacher themselves) and “teaching effects” (classroom practices) on a range of maths test scores and non-tested outcomes, specifically behaviour in class, happiness in class, and self-efficacy in maths.

They found that individual teachers have large effects on pupils’ self-reported behaviour in class, self-efficacy in maths, and happiness in class that are similar in magnitude to effects on test scores. However, teachers who are effective at improving these outcomes often are not the same as those who raise maths test scores.

The paper concludes that efforts to improve the quality of the teacher workforce should include teachers’ abilities to promote academic behaviours and mindsets.

Source: Teacher and teaching effects on students’ academic behaviors and mindsets (2015), Mathematica.