School & District Management

Analysis, Congressional Bill Support Classroom Social Learning

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 11, 2011 2 min read
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Classroom-based programs can cause a small but noticeable improvement in students’ social skills, with the most effective programs targeting students in key transition periods entering elementary and high school, according to a new analysis of 28 peer-reviewed studies in the current issue of School Psychology Review.

The analysis comes as a group of House lawmakers announced plans late last week to expand social and emotional learning. The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act, H.R. 2437, would allow federal Title II grants, generally used for class size reduction and teacher professional development, also to be used to support elementary and secondary social and emotional learning programs.

“There are so many bright students struggling to reach their full potential because they don’t have the interpersonal and communication skills they need to excel, or they face daily struggles with bullying in school,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who sponsored the bill with Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Dale E. Kildee of Michigan. “This legislation will help teachers provide result-driven instruction in skills that keep children focused on learning and prepare them to succeed in the real world,” she said in a statement on the bill.

The bill also would define such learning as developing students’ “self-motivation, goal setting, conflict management, situational analysis, negotiation, stress management, and emotional recognition.”

Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit looked for such skills in their analysis, published as part of a special section in the Review on dealing with student behavior problems. They found that for the nearly 13,000 students studied, students who participated in classroom-based social-learning programs overall showed a small but significant improvement in social skills, as measured on several standard teacher observation scales.

They found the greatest effect for programs targeting students in preschool and kindergarten, but also found an “unexpected increase” for social-learning programs geared to students entering high school, leading the researchers to suggest “it is possible that early adolescence can provide a second smaller window to intervene” after early childhood. “The social skills needed for adolescence are different than the skills used in childhood,” they wrote. “Friendships and social relationships become more complex during this period ...[which] can make adolescents more receptive to programs attempting to improve social skills.”

I find this a more intriguing result than the effect for preschool and kindergarten social-learning programs, even though the latter had a stronger effect and fits with already-accepted practice. It’s accepted that many kids never really make it through the rough transition into high school, and perhaps a bit more social savvy could help smooth that road.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.