Social and Emotional Learning Research Review: Evidence-Based Programs | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Social and Emotional Learning Research Review: Evidence-Based Programs

Choosing the best program to implement social and emotional learning in your school can be daunting. Edutopia's research analyst recommends these research-proven programs.
Vanessa Vega
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research
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Given the strong evidence that social and emotional learning can contribute to academic success, how do educators choose the right SEL programs? We've compiled a chart with our recommendations for some of the most effective research-proven SEL programs available.

Schools That Work:

In North Charleston, South Carolina, elementary school girls build strong relationships as part of the WINGS for Kids afterschool program. Learn more about this program.

Credit: Grace Rubenstein
Evidence-Based SEL Programs*
  Practices Outcomes & Evidence
Roots of Empathy
  • Classroom sessions over a twenty-seven-week program involve nine family visits with a baby (ages 6-12 months). The trainer facilitates the curriculum, and can be anyone except the teacher who participates in a training program with Roots of Empathy.
  • Decreased aggression (approximately half as many youth getting into fights each year)
  • Increased prosocial behavior
  • Immediate and long-term effects, lasting up to three years after intervention

(Schonert-Reichl, Smith, Zaidman-Zait & Hertzman, 2012; Santos, Chartier, Whalen, Chateau & Boyd, 2011; Cain & Carnellor, 2008)

Positive Action
  • Thinking and doing positive actions
  • Based on the premise that you feel good about yourself when you think and do positive actions, and that there is always a positive way to do things.
  • Academic achievement gains, averaging 14 percentile points
  • Decreased violent behaviors, averaging 19 percentile points

(U.S. Department of Education, 2007)

Responsive Classroom Approach
  • Morning meetings
  • Three to five positively stated school rules (developmentally and individually relevant to the child) for the whole school or classroom
  • Responding to misbehavior with positive redirecting language and logical consequences
  • Problem-solving strategies in class or small-groups; written agreements with individual students
  • Modeling, role-playing and positive teacher language to teach expected behaviors
  • Continuous evaluation of implementation and impact
  • Increased math and reading test scores
  • Improved student attitudes about schools, teachers, and peers
  • Decreased misbehavior and improved social skills
  • Teachers felt more effective and positive about teaching, offered higher-quality instruction, and collaborated more frequently with other teachers

(Brock, Nishida, Chiong, Grimm & Rimm-Kaufman, 2008; Sawyer & Rimm-Kaufman, 2007; Rimm-Kauffman & Chiu, 2007; Rimm-Kaufman, Fan, Chiu & You, 2007)

Second Step
  • Skills in impulse control, (e.g. using self-talk), showing empathy, anger and emotional management, and problem-solving
  • Brain Builder Games to develop self-regulation skills
  • Increased cooperative behavior
  • Reduced aggression in the classroom, lasting up to six months.

(Cooke, Ford, Levin, Bourke, Newell & Lapidus, 2007; Grossman, Neckerman, Koepsell, Liu, Asher, Beland, Frey & Rivara, 1997; Frey, Nolen, Van Schioack, Edstrom & Hirschstein, 2005)

4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution)
Resolving Conflict Creatively Program
  • Continual training of teachers
  • Problem solving by using perspective-taking, decision-making, and negotiation techniques
  • Peer mediation
  • Parent training and coaching
  • Decreased hostility and aggression
  • Increased reading and math test scores among high-risk students

(Jones, Brown & Aber, 2011; Aber, Brown & Jones, 2003; Aber, Jones, Brown, Cahudry & Samples, 1998)

  • Mindfulness, or open-monitoring meditation, involves observing thoughts and emotions without reacting to them.
  • Focused-attention meditation involves focusing on a single object.
  • School-based meditation practices ranged from 10 to 40 minutes, daily to bi-weekly, over three to six months.
  • Decreased aggression and rule infractions
  • Improved academic functioning on attention-skills tests
  • Decreased anxiety

(Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor, 2010; Black, Milam & Sussman, 2009; Barnes, Bauza & Treiber, 2003; Napoli, Krech, & Holley, 2005; Zylowska, Auckerman, Yang, Futrell, Horton, Hale, Pataki & Smalley, 2008; Semple, Reid & Miller, 2005)

Service Learning
  • Involving students in designing, implementing, and evaluating service projects
  • Community partnerships that provide real-world context for service, communication, and interaction
  • Projects have clear educational goals and meet genuine community needs
  • Can protect from negative life stresses
  • Can improve relationships with peers and adults
  • Can increase civic engagement

(Hamilton & Fenzel, 1988; Yates & Youniss, 1996; Markus et al, 1993; cited in Stukas, Clary & Snyder, 1999; Scales et al., 2000; Billig, 2002)

Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support
  • Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS), also known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS or PBS), is an approach to preventing problem behaviors and promoting positive behaviors.
  • Three to five positive expectations are chosen and reinforced for the entire school.
  • Moderately effective in reducing misbehavior, particularly in urban settings

(Solomon, Klein, Hintze, et al., 2012)

(*) Programs and practices listed here received support from at least three studies by independent evaluators and/or peer-reviewed publications, using controlled experimental designs and independent outcome measures. Please leave a comment to alert us to additional programs that have strong evidence of success.

Continue to the next section of the SEL research review, Avoiding Pitfalls.

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