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Teaching Social-Emotional Skills

Results of a meta-analytic study in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Child Development underscore the effectiveness of universal school based social-emotional learning programs targeted towards enhancing children’s social and emotional development. Investigators looked at the cumulative results of 213 school-based programs offered to 270,000 K-12 students.

These school based learning programs were focused on helping students recognize and manage emotions, establish and maintain positive relationships, set and achieve positive goals, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations effectively and constructively. Investigators found that compared to students in the studies’ control groups, students in the social-emotional learning programs demonstrated: 1) significantly improved social and emotional skills, caring attitudes, and positive social behaviors 2) decreased disruptive behavior and emotional distress and 3) an 11-percentile-point gain on academic achievement tests.

These results are consistent with several core tenets here at Think:Kids–social-emotional skills can be learned and enhanced–it is not the
case that students either have social-emotional skills or they don’t. The links which these results establish between helping students enhance their social-emotional skills and a decrease in disruptive behavior also resonates with our thinking that disruptive behavior is very often the product of underlying skill challenges. Interesting too, in light of the frequent discussion in schools these days about limited resources is  the fact that ALL students were shown to benefit positively from these programs, not just students from selected groups. What would our schools and society look like if well-designed social and emotional learning programs were routinely incorporated for all students into standard educational practice? That being said, we know based on the RtI (response to intervention) model, that not all students respond equally well to universal teaching, and not all students respond equally well to explicit skill training. Some students will need more intensive support for skill-building and will respond to more of an implicit skills training approach. That more intensive support and implicit training is one of the things that the Think:Kids model provides!

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