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Building Social-Emotional Skills May Be Key to Classroom Management, Study Says

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By Ross Brenneman. Cross posted from Teaching Now.

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Classroom management can take any number of approaches, but a metastudy published in late January finds that some types of interventions tend to have higher success than others.

Parsing through 54 studies of classroom-management programs at the primary school level, researchers from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, grouped interventions based on where those initiatives focused:

  • Teacher behavior;
  • Student behavior;
  • Teacher-student relationships; or
  • Students' social-emotional development

Each of the programs was examined for its effect on a range of outcomes, including academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and motivational outcomes. While many of the interventions did show some effect, one of the more highly studied interventions, School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports, showed no effect in terms of improving all outcomes together.

Some intervention programs cover more than one type of focus area. Among other characteristics: Most interventions took 13 or more weeks. A vast majority emphasized interventions in student behavior or social-emotional development. Exactly half of students involved lived in low socioeconomic households. Three-fourths of the studies were of interventions conducted in the United States, and the analysis only included studies that were published from 2003-13.

All in all, the meta-analysis found that interventions that included components to address student social-emotional development had a better chance at being considered effective than interventions without that aspect.

None of the other three focus areas appeared to offer a significant advantage over each other. And social-emotional interventions did seem to live up to their premise, generating improvement in students' social-emotional outcomes. Meanwhile, interventions that focused on improving teachers' skills and behavior appeared to improve academic outcomes, as did interventions that targeted at least three of the four focus areas. Most other outcomes were not affected by various combinations of focus areas.

"Our findings clearly indicate that all students may benefit from these interventions," the authors write. "It is, however, essential that all stakeholders (policymakers, principals, teachers, and teacher educators) realize that the programs we investigated are often school-wide approaches in which a broad variety of strategies was used, indicating that there is no simple solution for classroom management problems."

The researchers caution repeatedly, too, that results of the meta-analysis are to be taken with caution; the number of studies that tracked combinations of classroom interventions was generally small. The authors say that the research could at least serve as a guide for future study, especially in terms of underexplored areas, generating more longitudinal studies, and investigating causal links between interventions and student outcomes. The authors also took issue with the level of description in many of the studies, which they said often lacked enough information about classroom settings.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Education/licensed under Flickr Creative Commons


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