An Evidence-based Approach for Fostering Positive Social Behaviors in SchoolsBy Maria Fusaro 07/28/2010 11:40 AM EST | 7 Comments
Assistant Professor Stephanie Jones and her colleagues Larry Aber and Joshua Brown from New York University and Fordham University are looking at how classrooms can be used as settings for positive youth development. One of the programs that they have examined closely is the Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution (4Rs) Program, developed by the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. This curriculum is based on a philosophy that the best ways to have students internalize positive social and emotional behaviors are to have them learn in settings where social and emotional skills are directly taught, and where teachers routinely model and explicitly demonstrate positive behavior themselves.
The 4Rs Program embeds direct instruction in conflict resolution within lessons that meet academic requirements in language arts. Educators use high-quality children’s books as a springboard for discussion, role play, and other interactive activities in seven areas: building community, feelings, listening, assertiveness, problem solving, diversity, and cooperation. In addition to a manualized curriculum, teachers receive training and ongoing coaching and support from program staff developers on implementing the 4Rs’ curriculum throughout the school year.
Recognizing the stress associated with being an educator, particularly in the New York City public school system, the 4Rs Program provides opportunities for teachers to learn and practice conflict resolution skills themselves. When teachers demonstrate positive social and emotional behaviors, students may adopt those behaviors as well. For example, when teachers make direct eye contact with students, and paraphrase and acknowledge comprehension of the students’ messages, students have a model of good listening skills. Further, by engaging in more positive interactions, stronger teacher-student relationships may develop, yielding positive effects in the broader classroom climate. These program features may contribute to its overall effectiveness.
Jones and her colleagues have begun to measure the effects of the 4Rs Program on children in eighteen New York City public elementary schools, nine that were randomly assigned to receive the school-wide program and nine randomly assigned to a comparison (“business as usual”) condition. The results are now available from the first two years of the study.
At the end of the first school year, independent observers — researchers not aware of whether the school was participating in 4Rs — rated the quality of classroom climate in all third-grade classrooms in the 18 schools using a research-based assessment called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). In previous research, higher levels on the CLASS — which measures emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support — have been linked to children’s positive social-emotional development and higher academic achievement. Compared with classrooms in control schools, classrooms using the 4Rs Program were rated as having significantly higher average levels of overall classroom quality and emotional and instructional support from their teachers.
Teachers also reported on students’ social and emotional skills. Over the program’s first two years, when compared with those in the control schools, children in 4Rs schools showed lower rates of depression; lower tendencies to assume hostile intent from others in ambiguous social conflict situations; declines in problems with attention; increases in social competence; and significantly slower growth in aggression.
The 4Rs Program also appears to be having a positive impact on the academic achievement of students who began with the highest levels of aggressive behavior. After one year of participation in the program, these children had better attendance than similar high-risk students in the control schools. After two years, these high-risk students exposed to the 4Rs scored significantly higher on standardized reading and math achievement tests compared with similarly high-risk peers in the control schools.
Taken together, the findings to date suggest that the 4Rs Program is an effective school-based approach to promoting social-emotional learning among elementary school students. Further, academic benefits are emerging, at least among students initially exhibiting the most aggressive behaviors. Jones and her colleagues will continue to track the impacts of the 4Rs Program through ninth grade. Their results will help to identify whether the approach that this program takes continues to facilitate students’ development of skills for positive social interaction and school success.
For more information, visit www.morningsidecenter.org.
The 4Rs Research Project was part of a national study of social and character development programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the federal Centers for Disease Control, and the William T. Grant Foundation. The follow-up study, through grade nine, is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Jill AndersonNews Officer