Social and Emotional Learning
Graduate Student and Professor Publish Social and Emotional Research
Education has seen a need for a reform in curriculum to incorporate social and emotional skills. Leslie Gunter, a school psychology graduate student, and Paul Caldarella, a Counseling Psychology and Special Education faculty member, recently published research in the Early Childhood Education Journal evaluating the effects of a social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum: Strong Start Pre-K. The program has been effective in helping preschool aged children understand and gain important social skills and emotional dispositions at a young age. MSE Dean K. Richard Young and early childhood faculty member Byran Korth also collaborated on this study.
Research has suggested that due to societal changes fewer young children are learning SEL skills in their homes and neighborhoods. Teachers have to model and instruct students how to manage their emotions, develop care and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively. Preschool educators can directly teach these SEL skills by implementing Strong Start Pre-K curriculum, which includes the following:
- Defining basic feelings: happy, sad, angry, worried, surprised, and scared
- Learning what feelings look like: showing those emotions and seeing them on others
- Describing physical reactions to emotion: tense body, hot face, queasy stomach, etc.
- Learning what to do when you feel certain emotions
- Learning how to respond to others
- Solving people problems
Gunter’s interest in preschool aged children and Caldarella’s previous research on the social and emotional functioning of elementary aged children led to the decision to evaluate the Strong Start Pre-K curriculum in a local preschool.
The study was conducted at a local preschool, where teachers taught two SEL lessons per week for five weeks and researchers investigated the effectiveness of the Strong Start Pre-K curriculum and results of teaching SEL skills in the classroom. Results showed that teachers who taught the curriculum were more effective in reducing internalizing behaviors (e.g., depression, anxiety, social withdrawal) in preschool children than were those in a control group. “Teachers responded positively regarding the goals, procedure, and outcomes of the program,” Gunter said. “They felt that social and emotional needs of children should be addressed, since these needs play such a critical role in academics and positive school behavior.” Teachers noticed both that children’s internalizing behavior improved and that the children seemed able to get along better with their peers. The children were more able to use words and actions to describe how they felt and to manage their emotions rather than acting them out in negative ways.
“Early intervention can and does make a difference! Intervention programs benefit all participants to some degree,” Gunter said.
Gunter concluded that students who have not learned these important social and emotional skills seem to be the ones that are impacted the most from the Strong Start curriculum.
May 8, 2012