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Social-Emotional Learning in Kindergarten

By Gordon Eldridge, TIE Columnist

10/19/2017

Many children struggle in kindergarten due to their unpreparedness for the social demands of formal school classrooms. In one study, where more than 3,300 teachers were surveyed, researchers found that 46 percent of teachers reported that more than half of students entering kindergarten did not have the social and emotional skills deemed necessary for success in school (Lin, Lawrence, & Gorrell 2003).

Since poor performance in kindergarten predicts a variety of negative outcomes, this situation is of concern. Sabey, Charlton, Pyle, Lignugaris-Kraft, & Ross (2017) conducted a meta-analysis that investigated class-wide interventions in kindergarten classrooms to support students in developing necessary social skills.

The meta-analysis included 26 different studies, which used formal programs for class-wide interventions and included 6,245 participants. The interventions were grouped into four categories:

1. Social-emotional learning (SEL) – studies in this category were based on the teaching of specific social and emotional skills. The programs studied included: I Can Problem Solve, Second Step, Stop and Think, Strong Start, The Incredible Years, and You Can Do It.

2. Behavioral – studies in this category made use of the principles of behavior management, such as both positive and negative reinforcement of behavior.

3. Coping skills – studies in this category aimed to teach children the skills they would need when they come up against a challenge. The only program studied in this category was Zippy’s Friends.

4. Other – studies in this category fell outside of the principles used to create the other three categories.

What were the results?

• Behavioral interventions consistently produced larger effect sizes in both reducing antisocial behavior and increasing prosocial behavior. Five behavioral studies showed large effects in reducing antisocial behavior. Three of them also showed medium to large effects in increasing prosocial behavior.

• Studies with treatments of longer duration tended to have lower effect sizes.

• The researchers also rated the quality of evidence cited and noted that the behavioral studies consistently produced higher-quality evidence than studies of other intervention types.

• The only SEL study to be rated as having adequate quality evidence produced small to medium effects on antisocial behavior and zero to small effects on prosocial outcomes.

What might this mean for our classrooms?

According to Sabey et al., “these strong outcomes support a recommendation that kindergarten teachers consider employing a behavioral approach for decreasing antisocial behavior and increasing prosocial behavior among their students (2017). They do not attempt to explain why the behavioral approaches may have proven more successful, however. Does the age of the children play a role? Is it because all the studies included in the meta-analysis used class-wide interventions? Might SEL interventions be more effective if they were administered more on a needs basis with individuals or small groups? In any case, it certainly seems worthwhile to consider including behavioral methods in whatever mix of strategies kindergarten teachers use to support the social and emotional development of their students in this very formative year of schooling.




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