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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Social and Emotional Learning Research Review: Annotated Bibliography

Dig deeper into the specific articles, studies, and reports included in our social emotional research review.
Vanessa Vega
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research

Aber, J. L., Jones, S. M. Brown, J. L. Chaudry, N. & Samples, F. (1998). Resolving Conflict Creatively: Evaluating the Developmental Effects of a School-Based Violence Prevention Program in the Neighborhood and Classroom Context (abstract). Development and Psychopathology, 10, 187-213. Two waves of developmental data (fall and spring) were analyzed from the first year of the evaluation of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), which includes 5053 children from grades 2-6 from 11 elementary schools in New York City. Children whose teachers had a moderate amount of training and coaching from RCCP and who taught many lessons showed significantly slower growth in aggression-related processes and less of a decrease in competence-related processes, compared to children whose teachers taught few or no lessons. An unexpected finding was that children of teachers who received a lot of training but taught few lessons showed accelerated growth in aggression-related processes. The authors speculate that this group of teachers did not implement the lessons with fidelity. Read a chapter about RCCP, written by Joshua Brown, Tom Roderick, Linda Lantieri, and J. Lawrence Aber, from Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning (2004), edited by Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissberg, Margaret C. Wang and Herbert J. Walberg. (PDF).

Aber, J. L, Brown, J. L., & Jones, S. M. (2003). Developmental Trajectories Toward Violence in Middle Childhood: Course, Demographic Differences, and Response to School-Based Intervention (abstract). Developmental Psychology, 39(2), 324-348. Four waves of data on features of children's social-emotional development known to predict aggression/violence were collected in the fall and spring over two years for a highly representative sample of children in grades 1-6 from New York City public elementary schools (N = 11,160). Children whose teachers taught a high number of lessons in the conflict resolution curriculum demonstrated positive changes in their social-emotional developmental trajectories and deflections from a path toward future aggression and violence. Higher levels of classroom instruction in Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) were associated with lower levels of hostile attribution bias, aggressive strategies, depression, and conduct problems, and with higher levels of competent interpersonal strategies.

Barnes, V. A., Bauza, L.B., & Treiber, F.A. (2003). Impact of Stress Reduction on Negative School Behavior in Adolescents. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 1(10). Transcendental Meditation program conducted in the school setting had a beneficial impact on absenteeism, rule infractions, and suspension days in African American adolescents ages 15-18 in comparison with the control school.

Billig, S. (2002). Support for K-12 Service-Learning Practice: A Brief Review of Research (PDF). Educational Horizons 80(4), 184-189. In this review, Billig describes the body of research supporting service-learning effects on K12 students.

Black, D. S., Milam, J., & Sussman, S. Sitting-Meditation Interventions Among Youth: A Review of Treatment Efficacy. Pediatrics 124 (2009): 532-541. A review of 16 empirical studies, from 1982 to 2008, found that sitting meditation, including mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation practices seems to be an effective intervention in the treatment of physiologic, psychosocial, and behavioral conditions among youths ages 6-18. Further research is needed to advance our understanding of sitting meditation and its use as an effective treatment modality among younger populations.

Brock, L. L., Nishida, T. K., Chiong, C., Grimm, K. J., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. E. (2008). Children's perceptions of the classroom environment and social and academic performance: A longitudinal analysis of the contribution of the Responsive Classroom Approach (abstract). Journal of School Psychology, 46, 129-149. The Responsive Classroom (RC) approach is a set of teaching practices designed to integrate social and academic learning. Standardized test scores and self-reports from teachers and students were collected over three years from a sample of 520 children in grades 3-5. Cross-lagged autoregressive structural equation results indicated a significant positive relation between RC teacher practices and child perceptions and outcomes over time. Children's perceptions partially mediated the relation between RC teacher practices and social competence but not achievement outcomes. Read more about Responsive Classroom in this report by Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman from 2006 (PDF).

Cain, G. & Carnellor, Y. (2008). 'Roots of Empathy': A research study on its impact on teachers in Western Australia. Journal of Student Wellbeing, 2(1), 52-73. The authors found the Roots of Empathy (ROE) program to be highly effective in developing emotional literacy. The program improved the teachers' awareness of the emotional competencies of the children they teach. Children in the ROE classes showed increased prosocial behavior and decreased bullying and aggression, as reported by teacher observations.

Cooke, M.B., Ford, J., Levine, J., Bourke, C., Newell, L. & Lapidus, G. (2007). The effects of city-wide implementation of 'Second Step' on elementary school students' pro-social and aggressive behaviors. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 28(2), 93-115. Second Step was provided to 741 students in grades 3-5 in six schools. All school staff received training, and parent workshops were also provided. The program was implemented with high fidelity and engaged a wide range of participants from the community. Student surveys, behavioral observations, and discipline referrals were used to assess aggressive-antisocial and prosocial behaviors. Students showed significant improvements in positive approach-coping, caring-cooperative behavior, suppression of aggression, and consideration of others but no changes in aggressive-antisocial behaviors. Behavioral observations and disciplinary referrals showed no significant changes. The Second Step curriculum emphasizes impulse control (the ability to control and manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, including listening, focusing attention, following directions, using self-talk, being assertive, identifying and understanding feelings, respecting similarities and differences), empathy (conversation skills, joining groups, making friends), anger and emotional management (calming down strong feelings, managing anger, managing accusations, disappointment, anxious and hurt feelings, handling put downs, managing test anxiety, resisting revenge, and avoiding jumping to conclusions), and problem-solving (playing fairly, taking responsibility, solving classroom problems, solving peer exclusion problems, handling name calling, dealing with peer pressure, dealing with gossip, seeking help when you need it).

Durlak, J., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students' Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions (PDF). Child Development, 82(1), 405-432. This meta-analysis of social and emotional learning interventions (including 213 school-based SEL programs and 270,000 students from rural, suburban and urban areas) showed that social and emotional learning interventions had the following effects on students ages 5-18: decreased emotional distress such as anxiety and depression, improved social and emotional skills (e.g., self-awareness, self-management, etc.), improved attitudes about self, others, and school (including higher academic motivation, stronger bonding with school and teachers, and more positive attitudes about school), improvement in prosocial school and classroom behavior (e.g., following classroom rules), decreased classroom misbehavior and aggression, and improved academic performance (e.g. standardized achievement test scores). Students showed gains in these outcomes when social and emotional learning programs were implemented with fidelity. Teachers were the primary program deliverers. The effective programs tended to use sequenced learning activities, teaching skills in a systematic way, using active-learning techniques (e.g. role-play). In addition, effective SEL programs had learning objectives that explicitly related to specific social and emotional skills. In other words, SEL skills were explicitly described and implicit in the context of other learning activities.

Elias, M. J. (2003). Academic and social-emotional learning (PDF). International Academy of Education, International Bureau of Education (Educational Practices Series-11). This article discusses many of the features necessary for social and emotional learning (SEL) programs to be effective in promoting social skills and academic achievement. SEL teachers must show interest, caring, and empathy. SEL lessons should also be linked to existing school services, such as professional development, clear and consistent discipline procedures, and counseling services. Skills such as goal setting, visualization, and problem solving can transfer quite directly to academic achievement and most transparently to enhanced learning and performance and should not be neglected. Teachers should also employ instructional procedures that require students to apply SEL and receive feedback (such as exhibitions, public presentations, or report cards which include listings of SEL skills/indicators). Evaluation is critical to checking whether SEL practices are being implemented as intended with expected impacts. Several tools exist to evaluate implementation, which is an evolving process. Implementation improvements should be organic, authentic, collectively defined, acceptable to the community. Finally, schools should construct an academic policy that describes how SEL and academics fit together.

Frey, K. S., Nolen, S. B., Van Schoiack Edstrom, L., & Hirschstein, M. K. (2005). Effects of a school-based social-emotional competence program: Linking children's goals, attributions, and behavior (Abstract). Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 171-200. Fifteen elementary schools and more than 1200 children in second and fourth grades in urban and suburban districts in Washington were assigned to participate in the Second Step program, versus as control, using a quasi-experimental design. Participating schools, regardless of group assignment, received program materials, teacher training, and substitute teachers to fill in for teachers during regular teacher training; control schools received these benefits for classrooms that did not participate in the study. Teachers in the treatment group taught one or two program lessons per week. Second Step participants showed reduced antisocial behaviors reported by teachers; other studies cited report that Second Step participants showed reduced negative behaviors in the classroom, lunchroom, and playground, as reported by observers.

Gordon, R., Ji, P., Mulhall, P., Shaw, B., & Weissberg, R. P. (2011). Social and Emotional Learning for Illinois Students: Policy, Practice and Progress (PDF). The Illinois Report 2011, Institute of Government & Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. The Illinois SEL Standards have been in place since 2004 and the implementation of SEL has progressed across the state. From the development of the Illinois Children's Mental Health Act of 2003, to the adoption of SEL goals, standards, benchmarks, and performance descriptors, to the implementation across schools and districts, the progress made in Illinois is a valuable example to all who are taking on this work across the country.

Grossman, D. C., Neckerman, H. J., Koepsell, T. D., Liu, P-Y., Asher, K. N., Beland, K., Frey, K., & Rivara, F. P. (1997). Effectiveness of a Violence Prevention Curriculum Among Children in Elementary School: A Randomized Controlled Trial (abstract). The Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(20), 1605-1611. Grossman and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 790 [NOTE: 1100 were eligible] students in six pairs of matched schools from King County, Washington, including 49 second- and third-grade classrooms. Implementation took place over a six-month period. Parent and teacher reported data did not reveal any significant differences between the intervention and control groups in instances of negative verbal behavior. However other findings showed that schools in the Second Step program had less physical aggression, and professional observation showed an increase in neutral, prosocial behavior. Instances of negative physical behavior in the cafeteria or playground decreased from 2.2 to 1.6 episodes per child-observation hour, whereas the control group rates increased from 1.8 to 2.6 episodes per child-observation hour. At six-month follow-up, a modest decrease in physical aggression and increase in prosocial behavior persisted in the intervention schools as opposed to control schools. More information about Second Step on the Child Trends website.

Jones, S. M., Brown, J. L., & Aber J. L. (2011). Two-Year Impacts of a Universal School-Based Social-Emotional and Literacy Intervention: An Experiment in Translational Developmental Research (PDF) Child Development 82(2), 533-554. The study examined the two-year experimental impacts of an integrated school-based intervention in social-emotional learning and literacy development on children's social-emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning. Eighteen elementary schools (N = 1,184) were randomly assigned to receive the 4Rs program, based on the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), or no program. Children in the intervention schools showed improvements across several domains: self-reports of hostile attribution bias, aggressive interpersonal negotiation strategies, and depression, and teacher reports of attention skills and aggressive and socially competent behavior. The intervention also improved math and reading achievement among children identified by teachers at baseline at highest behavioral risk.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Marzano reviews methods of instruction that have been shown to increase student achievement in three key areas: school-Level factors, teacher-level factors, and student-level factors.

McCarney, S.B. & Wunderlich, K.C. (2006). Pre-Referral Intervention Manual (PRIM), Third Edition (PDF Sample) Columbia, MO: Hawthorne Educational Services. Many teachers and administrators engaged in district-wide social and emotional learning programs cite the PRIM as an invaluable resource for classroom management. Some teachers suggested allowing the student to read the interventions suggested by the PRIM in response to their behavior, and then decide upon the intervention that they agreed would work best for them.

Napoli, M., Krech, P.R. & Holley, L.C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students: The Attention Academy (Abstract). Journal of Applied School Psychology 21(1), 99-125. A 24-week program of breath work, bodyscan awareness, movement, and sensorimotor awareness activities (12 sessions, delivered bimonthly) to first, second, and third graders found improvements in children's attention and social skills and decreased test anxiety in children who received training, as compared with randomly assigned controls.

Raikes Foundation. Social-Emotional Learning Assessment Measures for Middle School Youth (PDF). Social Development Research Group, University of Washington, 2011. Identifies and reviews ten assessment tools for evaluating intended impacts of SEL programs, providing reasons why some tools may work better for some schools than others. Some tools require that teachers aggregate data while others require that teachers complete the surveys for each student (as opposed to students self-reporting). Both can be quite time-consuming for teachers. Randomly sampling students from each classroom may provide a way to obtain sufficient reliability in the measurement of SEL outcomes while reducing the time necessary for teachers to survey students.

Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Fan, X., Chiu, Y-J., & You, W. (2007). The contribution of the Responsive Classroom approach on children's academic achievement: Results from a three-year longitudinal study (PDF). Journal of School Psychology, 45, 401-421. Children enrolled in six schools (three intervention and three control schools in a single district) were the participants in the study. After controlling for poverty and test scores from previous years, the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach contributed to the gains in both reading and math, with a greater difference between the intervention and control schools seen in math. The contribution of the RC approach appeared to be greater over a three-year period than over a one- or two-year period. These findings provide early evidence for the positive contribution of the RC approach to gains in academic achievement. Information on this approach can be found on the Responsive Classroom YouTube channel and the Responsive Classroom website.

Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Chiu, Y-J. (2007). Promoting social and academic competence in the classroom: An intervention study examining the contribution of the Responsive Classroom approach (abstract). Psychology in the Schools, 44(4), 397-413. The RC approach was implemented and evaluated over a two-year period based on data from 62 teachers and 157 children at six schools in the same district. Teachers' use of RC practices was associated with students' improved reading achievement, improved closeness between teachers and children, prosocial skills, more assertiveness, and less fearfulness, even after controlling for family risk and children's previous years' performance.

Santos R. G., Chartier M. J., Whalen, J. C., Chateau D., & Boyd, L. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: Cluster randomized controlled field trial of the Roots of Empathy program with replication and three-year follow-up. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91. A randomized experiment to evaluate the real-world effectiveness of Roots of Empathy (ROE) in preventing violence (reducing aggression and increasing prosocial behavior) in children and youth, immediately after the program and up to three years afterwards. Youth who participated in ROE showed reduced aggression and improved prosocial behavior up to three years after the intervention, suggesting that ROE is as effective as or more effective than similar programs that have targeted at-risk youth. If an estimated 15 percent of schoolchildren get into a fight in a school year, then such a reduction in aggression would translate into 8 percent, approximately half of the baseline rate. More information on this poster describing the results of the study (PDF).

Sawyer, L. B. E. & Rimm-Kaufman, S. E. (2007). Teacher collaboration in the context of the Responsive Classroom approach (PDF). Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 13 (3), 211-245. Surveys were completed by 118 elementary school teachers in six schools in a northeast urban school district. Three schools were in their second year implementing the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach, and three schools were comparison schools. Teachers who used RC practices and/or resources reported collaborating more, valuing collaboration to a higher degree, and perceiving greater involvement in school decision-making, controlling for whether they taught at a RC school.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents' well-being and social and emotional competence (PDF). Mindfulness, 1, 137-151. Students in grades 4-7 in 12 schools in western Canada were instructed in mindfulness education (ME, now called MindUP) and given mindful attention training designed to foster positive emotion, self-regulation, and goal-setting, three times daily. Children who received the ME program had improved social behavior and better self-control, were less aggressive and more attentive in class, and showed significant increases in optimism compared to children in the wait-listed control classrooms.

Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2012). Promoting Children's Prosocial Behaviors in School: Impact of the "Roots of Empathy" Program on the Social and Emotional Competence of School-Aged Children (abstract). School Mental Health, 4, 1-21. A classroom-based intervention, Roots of Empathy (ROE) is relatively easy to implement. It originated from classroom training involving monthly visits by an infant and his/her parent(s), and includes lessons on develop perspective-taking skills; it does not focus on disturbed or atypical children. The quasi-experimental study included a control-group, pretest-posttest design with 585 children in grades 4-7 from 28 classrooms. Children in the ROE intervention classrooms showed increased prosocial behaviors and decreased aggression. They also showed significant self-reported improvement in their understanding of causes for an infant crying.

Semple, R.J., Reid, E.F.G. & Miller, L. Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children (PDF). Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 19(4), 379-392. Teachers reported a trend toward fewer problem behaviors, an improvement in academic functioning, and a decrease in symptoms of anxiety among anxious children after six weeks of mindfulness training.

Scales, P. C., Blyth, D. A., Berkas, T. H., & Kielsmeier, J. C. (2000). The effects of service-learning on middle school students' social responsibility and academic success (abstract). The Journal of Early Adolescence, 20 (3), 332-358. The effects of service learning on social responsibility and academic success were investigated among a large, racially and socioeconomically diverse sample of students in grades 6-8 in three middle schools. Over the school year, service-learning students maintained their concern for others' social welfare, whereas control students declined on those concerns. Compared with other students, students with substantial hours of service learning, a lot of reflection, and a high degree of motivation attributed to service learning significantly increased their belief in the efficacy of their helping behaviors, maintained their pursuit of better grades and their perception that school provided personal development opportunities, and decreased less in their commitment to classwork.

Solomon, B. G., Klein, S. A., Hintze, J. M., Cressey, J. M., & Peller, S. L. (2012) A Meta-Analysis of School-Wide Positive Behavior Support: An Exploratory Study Using Single-Case Synthesis (abstract). Psychology in the Schools, 49(2). A meta-analysis of 20 studies found that school-wide positive-behavior support (SWPBS) reduces misbehavior and improves school culture among elementary schools and middle schools, particularly in urban settings, with low to average or moderate effects. Further research is needed on the exact components of these interventions that best explain effects, and on the efficacy of the SWPBS in high schools, middle schools, and non-urban settings. It is worth noting that successful results of SWPBS depend on "buy-in," support, and collaboration among teachers.

Stukas, A. A., Clary, E.G., & Snyder, M. (1999). Service learning: Who benefits and why. Social Policy Report, Society for Research in Child Development, XIII (4), 1-22. An extensive review of service-learning research literature documented benefits for students, institutions, and communities. Service learning has been shown to impact students' personal development in areas such as personal efficacy, self-esteem, and confidence. In addition, service learning has been shown to improve students' moral reasoning, problem-solving, perspective-taking skills, and understanding of attitudes toward diverse groups in society. Students who engage in service learning have frequently been demonstrated to show increases in personal and social responsibility (e.g., Conrad & Hedin, 1981; 1982; Hamilton & Fenzel, 1988; Markus et al., 1993; Sax & Astin, 1997) and altruistic motivation (Yogev & Ronen, 1982).

U.S. Department of Education. (2007). What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Intervention Report: Positive Action (PDF). The WWC reviewed 12 studies including one study that met the criteria for rigorous experimental design and one that met the criteria "with reservations," as determined by the WWC commission. The Positive Action program was found to reduce aggressive behaviors, and improve academic test results.

Zylowska, L., Auckerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., Pataki, C., & Smalley, S. L. (2008). Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents with ADHD: A Feasibility Study (PDF). Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 737-746. Mindfulness training reduced symptoms associated with anxiety.

Additional SEL Research Resources

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is an excellent resource for all kinds of information about social and emotional learning, including a database of research on SEL.

Go to the first section of the SEL research review, Introduction and Learning Outcomes.

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