Social and Emotional Skills Lead to Academic Achievement

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A recent study has found that social and emotional skills lead to academic achievement.

In a randomized, controlled trial that examined the technique known as Responsive Classroom, researchers found that children in classrooms where the technique was fully used scored significantly higher in math and reading tests than students in classrooms where it wasn’t applied.

Sara Rimm-Kaufman, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, said the results are important during a period of increased emphasis on academic results.

At a time when teacher evaluations and school performance are increasingly judged by student test scores, many educators may feel that limited classroom time is better spent on academics and not “softer” social skills, Rimm-Kaufman said. The study shows that teaching social skills in the elementary years can translate into higher test scores, she said.

“Our research shows that time spent supporting children’s social and emotional abilities can be a very wise investment,” said Rimm-Kaufman, who was joined by researchers from Virginia, George Mason and Arizona State universities. “When teachers receive adequate levels of training and support, using practices that support students’ social and emotional growth actually boosts achievement.”

The practices that form the backbone of the technique are designed to create positive classroom relationships — between teachers and students and among students. They aim to teach young children to cooperate with each other and feel that they are part of a “community” that cares about them. Teachers set expectations for behavior and learning so that children will internalize those goals over time and learn how to regulate their own behavior. The practices are based on well-known child-development theories of Jean Piaget and others.

“This is about teachers teaching in a way that’s really respectful, that opens up the process of learning and provides students with some autonomy,” Rimm-Kaufman said.

Social and Emotional Skills Lead to Academic Achievement

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The Responsive Classroom method also appears to dovetail with the new Common Core academic standards in math and reading, which are now rolling out across 45 states and the District of Columbia, she said. The new standards assume students possess a range of social skills that are taught through the Responsive Classroom and other similar techniques.

“The standards assume all these social skills that kids can take turns, listen to each other talk in front of a group, have the courage to make mistakes in front of their peers,” Rimm-Kaufman said. “There is a real synergy between these new standards and social and emotional learning practices.”

One of the hallmarks of the Responsive Classroom is the morning meeting, where teachers and students begin the school day by gathering to share about themselves and talk about the learning expected during the day ahead.

Since 1995, more than 120,000 teachers in 41 states and the District have been trained in the Responsive Classroom, according to the Northeast Foundation for Children, a nonprofit group that developed the trademarked technique and runs workshops for teachers around the country.

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