A comprehensive analysis of 33 studies finds that teaching kids social and emotional skills leads to an average 11 percentile-point gain in their academic performance over six months compared to students who didn't receive the same instruction.
That's a big jump, equivalent to a student at the middle of a class's performance curve moving into the top 40 percent of his or her peers, Sarah Sparks at EdWeek notes. The study's authors, led by Joseph Durlak, suggest the dramatic gain could be rooted in the physiology of the brain; social-skill instruction "may affect central executive cognitive functions," he notes—and improvement there helps kids to gain greater control over their impulses and actions.
The classes emphasize self control, responsible decision-making, and how to form and keep positive relationships with friends and authority figures. One lesson plan from the "Caring School Community" program asks kids to think about "some things you can do if you're not included in a game"—or if you see someone else on the playground who is left out. Many of the programs have an anti-bullying focus.
The study found the programs help kids form bonds with their teachers and may make students feel more attached to their school—factors that correlate positively with student achievement. Teacher-led programs that encouraged student involvement and role-playing were most successful in these aims, the study found.
About 60 percent of public schools addressed their students' emotional and mental health with special programming. The study was published in the scientific journal Child Development.
(Elementary students in a Bensalem, PA school-wide anti-bullying program: AP)