Researchers at New York University have found that a Social and Emotional Learning Program aimed at decreasing behavioural problems in order to increase academic competencies has improved the reading and mathematic skills among low income kindergärtners and first graders.
The importance of SEL programs in the curriculum has always been met with contention due to the often conflicting demands of the education system: academic intelligence is often held in higher regard than emotional and social intelligence as universities and employers make offers based on students’ academic performance rather than their wellbeing and social skills. With so many time constraints dictating the content of the curriculum, educators are often forced to prioritise their time teaching the material that will ultimately lead to positive academic outcomes for students and reaching their appropriate level as opposed to their optimal social and emotional wellbeing. Researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt Department have conducted a study that finally illuminates the correlation between increased social and emotional skills and improved academic performance, concluding that the implementation of an SEL program to curb behavioural issues and promote self-regulatory practices ALSO benefits students reading and math skills as students utilise the SEL strategies to improve their focus and engagement in daily classroom activities.
In their study, researchers at New York University selected 22 schools from low-income neighbourhoods and randomly assigned 11 of them to the SEL program INSIGHTS and the other 11 to a supplemental reading program. All in all, 435 children across 122 classrooms participated in 10 weekly sessions, with parents also receiving training concerning child management strategies throughout the 10 week period to provide consistency in the approaches being adopted inside and outside the classroom.
The results of the study provided convincing evidence of the benefits of a universal SEL program, not just on self-regulation, but for improving children’s academic development. Children who took part in the INSIGHTS program demonstrated:
INCREASED math achievement;
INCREASED reading achievement;
INCREASED sustained attention;
DECREASED behavioural problems.
A NEW APPROACH TO BOOST LITERACY AND NUMERACY
The findings suggest that schools would benefit from implementing a SEL program to boost literacy in young students rather than the common low-dose supplementary reading programs, as SEL programs enable students to develop attention and behavioural skills that are required to engage and focus in daily classroom activities. Additionally, this research reinforces the link between focus and function as the study concluded that SEL programs help students develop and practice the self-regulatory skills that they need to engage in daily numeracy activities in the classroom. This evidence has never been more necessary in our early years education; with research after research telling us that children who fail to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills by an early age are much more likely to drop out of school (Hernadez 2011; Duncan 2011), early childhood intervention could dramatically impact upon the education outcomes of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The findings from the study once again highlight the many benefits of implementing a Social and Emotional Learning program that works with students, educators and families within schools and communities.
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