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.

Disappointing findings for Responsive Classroom

A new article in the American Educational Research Journal describes a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to examine the efficacy of the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach on pupil achievement. The authors found that pupils taught using RC did not outperform those at schools assigned to the control condition in maths or reading.

RC is a widely used professional development intervention comprising practical teaching strategies designed to support children’s social, academic, and self-regulatory skills. More than 120,000 teachers have been trained in the approach. This trial involved 2,904 children from 24 US schools. They were randomised into intervention and control conditions, and studied from the end of second grade (Year 3) to fifth grade (Year 6).

Results showed that random assignment to RC did not have an impact on achievement outcomes. The authors say that other RCT results linking social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions to SEL outcomes are similarly lacklustre, and that there are several plausible explanations including the trial involving too few schools to detect a small effect. They also note that some outcomes (eg, motivation and engagement) may not adequately translate into outcomes measured by state standardised achievement tests, and that adopting interventions such as the RC approach involves a long process of teacher change ranging from three to five years. Data for this study was gathered during teachers’ first and second years of RC implementation, early in the process of adoption.

Source: Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results From a 3-Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial (2014), American Educational Research Journal, 51(3).

High hopes for good behaviour

A new review, published in the Review of Educational Research, analyses the evidence on The Good Behavior Game (GBG), a classroom management programme that has been used (and studied) for 40 years. Strategies in the programme include acknowledging appropriate behaviour, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behaviour, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement.

A total of 22 studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria. In these, the programme was mainly being used in mainstream primary schools with externalising, challenging behaviours (eg, disruptive behaviour, off-task behaviour, aggression, talking out, and out-of-seat behaviours).

The review aimed to describe and quantify the effect of the GBG on various challenging behaviours in school and classroom settings. The findings suggested that the GBG had moderate to large effects on a range of challenging behaviours, and that these effects were immediate. The correct use of rewards was found to be important for intervention effectiveness. Few studies considered the long-term impact of the GBG, but the authors conclude that the effects were largely stable, with only a very slight decrease over time.

The authors note that the GBG has been implemented by individuals in a variety of school roles (such as classroom teachers, student teachers, librarians, and lunchtime staff), and that this highlights the ease with which the GBG can be implemented under a variety of conditions. Additionally, the relatively brief training for practitioners in the studies suggests that the GBG can be used successfully without extensive training.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is currently funding a randomised controlled trial of the GBG in 74 schools in England.

Source: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings (2014), Review of Educational Research, online first June 2014.

Effective group work boosts critical thinking

A new article in the International Journal of Educational Research explores the use of a number of effective group work strategies, informed by the UK-based SPRinG project, and whether these strategies can facilitate students’ learning of critical thinking. The author concludes that they can.

The intervention was trialled with more than 200 children age 11-12 in General Studies lessons in two Hong Kong schools, both with little experience of conducting group work in classrooms. In each school, three classes were randomly chosen from five classes. One (class A) acted as a control group, using a mainly “whole-class teaching approach” (WCTA, N = 69), and classes B and C constituted the experimental group, with one adopting “group work with no specific strategies” (GWNS, N = 68), and the other “group work with effective strategies” (GWES, N = 68).

The strategies developed in the SPRinG project (particularly those for primary school) were employed in the GWES subgroups. This included students attending workshops in which they were taught how to ask questions, take turns, propose ideas, and give explanations; teachers being consistently reminded to provide their classes with regular briefing and debriefing; teachers being encouraged to provide hints and direction but not steer or dominate discussions; and, physically, the tables in the GWES condition were movable, allowing students to form groups relatively quickly and quietly. Group work activities included peer critiquing, collaborative graffiti, and group discussions. Ten interventional sessions took place over approximately five months.

Data collection comprised pre- and post-test scores obtained from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the Test of Critical Thinking Skills for Primary and Secondary School Students, the graffiti sheets submitted by the group work children in the intervention, and in-depth interviews with the four experimental teachers. The author concluded that the intervention was effective, and the strategies developed in the SPRinG project made a substantial difference both to students’ group work and their critical thinking abilities.

Source: Promoting Critical Thinking Through Effective Group Work: A Teaching Intervention for Hong Kong Primary School Students (2014), International Journal of Educational Research, 66.

What works for school discipline?

The US Department of Education has published a guidance document for improving school climate and discipline. In response, Child Trends has released a new research brief on school discipline that provides five “things to know” and links to research evidence on various supports and policies. The brief considers, among other issues, the evidence supporting the use of zero tolerance policies.

This 2011 research brief found that there was a lack of rigorous research, but existing case studies and analyses of suspension and expulsion data suggest that zero tolerance policies are not deterring misbehaviour. In contrast, non-punitive programs that take a largely preventive approach to school discipline have been found to keep students and schools safe by reducing the need for harsh discipline. These programs include targeted behavioural supports for students who are at-risk for violent behaviour, character education programs, or positive behavioural interventions and supports that are introduced across a school.

Preventing and addressing behaviour problems

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted a new tip sheet with five evidence-based strategies to help educators prevent and address behaviour problems. These strategies, which are based on reviews of research and recommendations from experts in the field, are as follows:

  1. Modify the classroom environment to alter or remove factors that trigger problem behaviours (eg, revisit and reinforce expectations, modify the learning space to motivate pupils, and vary teaching strategies to increase academic success).
  2. Identify, deliver, and reinforce explicit teaching in appropriate behaviour.
  3. Learn about interventions that can help support pupils with an emotional/behavioural problem in making good choices. The WWC has identified four effective interventions.
  4. Adapt teaching to maintain or increase pupil engagement in academics, preventing disruptive behaviour. The WWC offers strategies to engage pupils in reading, writing, maths, and out-of-school-time learning.
  5. Enlist adult advocates to help pupils at risk of dropping out address academic and social needs.

Better: Evidence-based Education magazine has addressed similar topics in classroom management and social-emotional learning.