Classroom Programmes for Social & Emotional Skills Lead to Academic Improvements

By Rebecca Lewis on March 11, 2014

Classroom programmes designed to boost students’ social and emotional skills may also help improve their academic performance, according to a new study.

“We find that, at the very least, supporting students’ social and emotional growth in the classroom does not interfere with academic learning,” said Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, a professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, one of the researchers.

“When teachers receive adequate levels of training and support, using practices that support students’ social and emotional growth actually boosts achievement.”

The study, funded by a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, looked at Responsive Classroom (RC), a widely used social and emotional learning programme.

The programme was designed to enhance teachers’ capability of creating caring, well-managed classrooms by providing practical teaching strategies designed to support social, academic, and self-regulatory skills, as well as bolstering respectful and productive classroom interactions.

For the study, the researchers followed a group of students and teachers at 24 elementary schools over three years, from the end of the students’ second-grade year until the end of their fifth-grade year. They compared math and reading achievement between 13 schools that adopted RC and 11 schools that did not.

Teachers trained in the RC approach attended week-long training sessions over two consecutive summers. Nevertheless, even though they went through the same initial RC training, schools varied in their use of RC practices.

Researchers found that in classrooms where RC practices were observed fully and in ways that were consistent with the programme goals, student achievement gains were evident. Meanwhile, teachers tended to use the RC practices well if they felt that the principals at their school supported them.

“Our findings raise important questions about the support of teachers in implementing social and emotional learning interventions such as RC,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “Because RC was most effective in classrooms where teachers were supported in implementation, thoughtful school leadership is important to success.”

The study was published in the American Educational Research Journal.

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