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

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.

Can a postcard reduce pupils’ absenteeism?

In an effort to improve parents’ and guardians’ awareness of absenteeism, and therefore reduce pupil absenteeism, the Philadelphia school district in the US together with the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance conducted a randomised controlled trial based on the principles of “nudge” theory. Nudge theory is an approach that involves unobtrusive intervention to promote desired behaviours.

In this study, the “nudge” was a single postcard sent to the homes of pupils in grades 1–12 (Years 2–13 in the UK) who had been absent the previous year to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and what impact, if any, different messages had. Two types of message were tested: one simply encouraging parents to improve their child’s attendance; the other included specific information about their child’s attendance history as well as encouraging them to improve their child’s attendance. A control group received no postcards from the school.

Todd Rogers and colleagues found that receiving a postcard reduced absences by around 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in pupils’ absence according to which message their parents received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between pupils in grades 1– 8 (Years 2–9) and pupils in grades 9–12 (Years 10–13).

Source: A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

New evidence on early childhood settings and children’s outcomes

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review by Matthew Manning and colleagues examines the evidence on the relationship between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC), and finds there is a positive association.

The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. Of those samples, 58 assessed the overall quality of ECEC as an outcome. The relationship between teacher qualifications and overall ECEC quality demonstrated a positive correlation (r = 0.198).

Meanwhile, research funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published as a Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper, looks at whether staff qualifications and Ofsted ratings of nursery schools impact on how well children do at school.

For this report, Jo Blanden and colleagues matched data on children’s outcomes at the end of Reception with information on nursery schools attended in the year before starting school for 1.6 million children born between September 2003 and August 2006. They found that children who attend a nursery school rated outstanding, or one employing one or more staff members who are graduates, do better at school, but the effects are very small. Having an employee at the nursery school who is a graduate, specifically a qualified teacher, raises children’s scores at age 5 and 7 by two percent of a standard deviation. Attending a nursery school rated outstanding is associated with a better performance in the Early Years Foundation Stage at age 5 of about four percent of a standard deviation.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood care and learning environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017:1.

Quality in early years settings and children’s school achievement (February 2017), The Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1468.

“Evidence for ESSA” website goes live

The Center for Research and Reform in Education in the US has released a new website called Evidence for ESSA, a free web-based resource that provides easy access to information on programmes that meet the evidence standards defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The website reviews maths and reading programmes for grades K to 12 (Years 1–13 in the UK) to determine which meet the strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence defined in ESSA (additional subject areas will be added later). The site provides a one-page summary of each programme, including a programme description, brief research review and practical information on costs, professional development and technology requirements. It is easily searchable and searches can be refined for particular groups (such as pupils with English as an Additional Language) and programme features (such as technology, co-operative learning, or tutoring). Evidence for ESSA directs users to the key studies that validate that a programme meets a particular ESSA standard.

The mission of Evidence for ESSA is to provide clear and authoritative information on programmes that meet the ESSA evidence standards and enable educators and communities to select effective educational tools to improve pupil success.

Source: Evidence for ESSA (www.evidenceforessa.org) The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) at Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Applied STEM improves outcomes for secondary pupils with learning disabilities

Studying an applied STEM course could help pupils with learning disabilities (LD) complete secondary school and transition successfully to higher education, according to a US study published in Educational Policy.

Pupils with learning disabilities face significant academic challenges in secondary school, as well as greater risks of dropping out altogether. Studying courses like applied STEM, which focus on applying maths and science skills more directly to practical job experiences, may help them to make the connection between learning and opportunities beyond secondary school, and to see the importance of continuing with their studies.

In order to examine the role applied STEM might have in improving outcomes for LD pupils, Jay Stratte Plasman and Michael A Gottfried analysed data from the US Department of Education to see if there was any link between studying applied STEM and dropout. While pupils generally appeared to benefit from studying applied STEM, the advantages were greater for those with learning disabilities. They calculated a two percent dropout rate for LD pupils who study applied STEM versus 12 percent for LD pupils who do not. Their analysis also demonstrated that LD pupils who study applied STEM are 2.35 times more likely to enrol in college immediately after secondary school, and 2.23 times more likely to go to college two years after completing secondary school, than LD pupils who did not study applied STEM.

Source: Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities (October 2016), Educational Policy