Early Childhood

Guide Highlights Effective Social-Emotional Programs for PreK, Beyond

By Nirvi Shah — September 20, 2012 3 min read
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A new review of social and emotional learning programs for schools looked at dozens of programs for pre-K and elementary students, highlighting 23 that promote students’ self-control, relationship building, and problem solving, among other skills.

The review, by the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, rated programs based on whether they provide opportunities for students to practice their social and emotional skills, the contexts in which those skills are promoted and reinforced, and whether there is evidence of the programs’ effectiveness. However the report notes that the outcomes of each program—which have been studied by researchers—varied. Most demonstrated an effect on students’ behavior, with outcomes such as positive social behavior and a reduction in behavior problems, but only some showed an effect on emotional distress and academic performance.

This is the first review of social and emotional learning programs by CASEL in almost 10 years. The update was needed in part because of advances in research and policy since then, the group said. Research links social and emotional skills to improved attitudes about school, behavior that benefits others, and academic achievement, and a reduction in aggression, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol use. (The project was supported by the NoVo Foundation, which also supports Education Week’s coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement.)

Recognition that schools should teach social and emotional skills has grown in recent years and some members of Congress even introduced a bill last year that would allow federal Title II grants, generally used for class-size reduction and teacher professional development, to be used to support elementary and secondary social and emotional learning programs, too.

To meet CASEL’s standards, programs had to be well-designed, classroom-based programs that systematically promote students’ social and emotional competence, provide opportunities for practice, and offer multiyear programming. They also had to provide high-quality training and other implementation support and be evidence-based, with at least one carefully conducted evaluation that documents positive impacts on student behavior and/or academic performance.

Here’s a sample of some of the programs that made the cut:

  • PATHS, or Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies Program, for students in pre-K through 6th grade, provides 40 to 52 lessons a year and was found to have an extensive number of opportunities for students to practice their emotional and social skills, and it provides for opportunities to be worked into the classroom setting beyond time set aside for it. It also promotes collaboration among different classrooms and provides activities to involve families. PATHS works on peaceful conflict-resolution skills, emotion regulation, empathy, and responsible decision making.
  • Peaceworks: Peacemaking Skills for Little Kids, for children in kindergarten through 2nd grade, was similar to PATHS. It had many opportunities for students to practice their skills and those skills can be honed during other times in class, at school, and with family. There are scripted lessons and activities cover topics such as listening skills and cooperation, understanding and managing emotions, and taking responsibility.
  • Competent Kids, Caring Communities, for children in kindergarten through 5th grade, offers about 35 lessons for each grade. One component promotes family-school collaboration, including sessions for families designed to be led by school or district leaders, CASEL’s report says.
  • Responsive Classroom, for kindergarten through 6th grade, incorporates 10 essential teaching practices and strategies including morning meetings, rule creation, interactive modeling, positive teacher language, logical consequences, guided academic discovery, academic choice, classroom organization, collaborative problem solving, and guidelines for working with families. Teachers are encouraged to connect with parents one-on-one regularly to share updates and expectations about a child’s development or to work together to address a child’s difficulties. Read this piece on Responsive Classrooms by my colleague Jaclyn Zubrzycki here.

CASEL plans to publish a guide about high-quality social and emotional learning programs for middle and high schools in 2013.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.