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Supporting social and emotional skills in class

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2015 11:44 AM

Being able to focus in class requires life in general to be OK. When students don't have friends at school, are picked on or are upset about home life, their schoolwork can suffer. Teaching students to deal with strong emotions and how to have positive interactions may help them do better in class, too. At least, that's the logic researchers used. In an effort to see whether adding social-emotional learning to the curriculum improved math and literacy skills, researchers performed a study now published in the American Educational Research Journal. Much to the surprise of the team, the curriculum addition did not yield student improvements.

Giving SEL a try
Researchers studied 2,904 students from the time they were in second grade through fifth grade. One group of students used a normal educational curriculum while the other group got both the educational curriculum and the SEL one. On average, both groups performed the same on math and English assessments, showing that SEL education had no significant affect on student achievement. 

This can be interpreted in two ways: The results show that SEL doesn't impact educational success, so there's no use in having it. Or, because both groups got the same results, we know having SEL in school curriculum doesn't hurt achievement. Many people worry that by teaching SEL, teachers have less time to go over Common Core State Standards aligned content. However, the study showed that SEL doesn't interrupt learning.

Additionally, the study did not see whether SEL helped improve students' social-emotional health. 

The outliers
While on average, SEL curriculum did not boost student academic success, in a few cases, it did significantly. According to NPR, researchers believe this could have occurred for a number of reasons. First of all, only educators who followed SEL curriculum exactly produced math and English gains in their classes. That could mean that for SEL to be effective, it must be perfectly executed.

Or the outlier results could show that highly trained teachers capable of implementing curriculum perfectly are just generally better educators. However, researchers have no way of knowing which analysis is accurate.