Personal Development: a review of the School-Based Evidence for the Efficacy of Teaching Personal Development in Post-Primary Schools




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Personal Development:



A Review of the School-Based Evidence for the Efficacy of Teaching Personal Development in Post-Primary Schools




Alissa A. Lange

Queen’s University, Belfast




CCEA

29 Clarendon Road

Clarendon Dock

Belfast BT1 3BG

Telephone: (028) 9026 1200

Textphone: (028) 9024 2063

Fax: (028) 9026 1234

E-mail: info@ccea.org.uk

Contents


1. Executive Summary 4

2. Introduction 5

3. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) / Personal Social Education (PSE) 10

3.1 Literature reviews 10

3.2 Selected specific programmes 13

4. Mental Health Promotion 16

4.1 Literature reviews 16

4.2 Selected specific programmes 19

5. Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention 21

5.1 Literature reviews 21

5.2 Selected specific programmes 24

6. Sexual Health Promotion 27

6.1 Literature reviews 27

6.2 Selected specific programmes 28

7. Other Programmes Promoting Health 30

7.1 Literature reviews 30

7.2 Selected specific programmes 32

8. Benefits of Teaching Personal Development: Summary 34

8.1 School Outcomes 34

8.2 Social Emotional Outcomes 36

8.3 Health Related Outcomes 37

9. What Makes Programmes Work? 40

10. Conclusion 44

11. Further Information 46

12. References 49

Key Words Used in This Document


Below is a brief glossary of some specialized terms used in this review.


cognitive – the mental processes of perceiving, thinking, and remembering.

meta-analysis – the use of statistical techniques in a systematic review to integrate the results of included studies. A meta-analysis can show the strength of an effect of interventions. For example, for all studies on drug abuse prevention included a review, a meta-analysis would tell on average how effective they are on preventing drug use.


meta-cognitive skills – skills which involve thinking about thinking. The ability to self-monitor learning is well-developed in skilful learners (Shepard, 2001).


prosocial behaviour–behaviour intended to help or benefit another person, group or society. The underlying goal or motive that initiates and drives the behaviour rather than the actual outcome of the behaviour is what makes the behaviour prosocial.


SEL – Social Emotional Learning is the process of acquiring the skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively (http://www.casel.org).


school ecology - all concrete environmental aspects of a school, both in and outside of the classroom, which are closely connected to curriculum and instruction, and can influence teaching effectiveness and development of students.


universal approaches – universal approaches to interventions are those aimed at whole classes or groups. These can be contrasted with programmes which only target at-risk populations, or those who have existing problems or conditions.


1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


Research has shown multiple benefits of teaching Personal Development in post-primary schools. Positive outcomes for students have been identified for programmes aiming to teach moral development, social skills, caring, coping skills, personal health and safety, sexual health and conflict resolution skills, and prevent substance abuse, violence, and problem behaviour.

The benefits were either reported by students or staff (e.g., classroom participation), or observed or measured by researchers (e.g., attendance records, pre- and post-tests of sexual health knowledge). Some of the benefits found for students include the following:

School-based improvements in

Attendance

School commitment

School behaviour

Standardized test scores

Exam marks
Personal competency or social emotional improvements in

Self-esteem

Conflict resolution skills

Assertiveness

Coping skills

Social problem solving skills
Health outcomes including

Decreased depression

Decreases in substance abuse

Increase in knowledge about drugs

Decreased smoking

Decreases in risky sexual behaviours

Healthier eating habits


The positive changes in knowledge, behaviour and attitudes mentioned above are dependent upon a number of factors. The following factors all impact on the effectiveness of PD programmes:


Teaching style and classroom environment

The physical environment and the general atmosphere in the school

Quality and length of implementation

Resources and training

Organizational structure and leadership


Specific methodological themes emerged from the literature that characterized successful programmes. The following recommended strategies were reported for teaching topics corresponding to those found in the revised Northern Ireland curriculum:


Knowledge alone is not enough, although important information and facts must also be included

Participatory, interactive teaching methods should be used

Generally, developing positive skills and competencies is more effective than directly trying to reduce negative behaviours

Programmes involving multiple domains (school, home, community) are generally more successful than those involving the classroom alone

Longer term programmes tend to be more successful than short-term projects

The school and classroom environment are key

A holistic approach, involving the whole school is better than one limited to the classroom

The quality of implementation is crucial; fully implemented programmes are more likely to succeed than partially delivered programmes

Carefully planned, theory- and research-based programmes shown to be effective will be more likely to produce benefits than those not based on theory and research, or those without evidence of effectiveness


A broad review of relevant literature and practice would suggest that using appropriate teaching and learning approaches with sufficient support and training, teachers can productively implement the PD curriculum in Northern Ireland. Teachers have the opportunity to help students develop skills which can improve well-being, social interactions and school behaviour and performance while they are in school, and promote success in later life.

2. INTRODUCTION

New elements of the Personal Development curriculum will become statutory for Key Stage 3 in 2007 in Northern Ireland. To support the revised curriculum, CCEA commissioned this document to compile research-based evidence demonstrating the benefits of PD teaching to students between the ages of 11-16, focusing on ages 11-14.


Teaching Personal Development requires a different approach to classroom management, involving more interactive and conversational methods. These approaches might challenge existing power or authority structures within the classroom where active learning approaches are not so widely used. Some of the topics explored in PD may be controversial and sensitive to students and teachers alike, such as the consequences of early sexual activity. In addition, teachers may feel a tension between requirements in basic skills teaching and broader personal development goals (Stipek & Byler, 1997).


Although teaching Personal Development may require changes, there is an abundance of research showing that schools will be most successful in their educational goals when they include academic, social and emotional learning (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Elias, Zins, Weissberg, Frey, Greenberg, Haynes, Kessler, Schwab-Stone & Shriver, 1997; McCarthy, 1998; Wang, Haertel & Walberg, 1997), or character education (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004). In fact, social emotional or psychological aptitudes may be the most important factors influencing school performance (Wang, Haertel & Walberg, 1993).


In addition to academic outcomes, teaching the skills and information found in the Personal Development curriculum also can help both prevent risky behaviours and promote positive behaviours (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak & Hawkins, 2004). In other words, helping a child to develop positive social, emotional, critical thinking skills not only decreases the chances that they will engage in problem behaviours (e.g., cigarette smoking), but it also increases the chances they will engage in beneficial and healthy behaviours (e.g., healthier eating & improved exam scores).


This report summarizes existing research which illustrates positive outcomes of teaching aspects of the revised Personal Development curriculum to post-primary students. The curriculum encompasses a wide range of concepts and competencies. Programmes in this review include those aimed at improving social emotional skills and moral development (Section 3), promoting mental health (Section 4), decreasing rates of substance abuse and violent behaviours (Section 5), reducing risky sexual behaviours (Section 6), and improving other aspects of health (Section 7). Section 8 summarizes the benefits found in the review, while Section 9 details the recurring themes in the literature leading to effective instruction.


Each section begins by discussing existing literature reviews in an area relevant to the Personal Development strand. Reviews synthesize multiple programmes that have similar aims in order to determine best practice and common outcomes. The second part of each section highlights some specific programmes which have been properly evaluated and have shown to be effective in schools with the target population.
Inclusion Criteria

Studies included in this review were limited to those relevant to students aged 11-16, although some overlap with other age and year groups was common. Programmes were also limited to teacher-delivered programmes (except where noted), because this is and will be the primary method of delivery of the PD curriculum in Northern Ireland.


Only universal programmes - those taught to whole classes, not to specifically at-risk groups - were discussed. This requirement was used for a number of reasons. First, universal instruction is and will be the method of delivery in schools in Northern Ireland for the PD materials. Second, universal programmes focused on controversial behaviours (e.g., drug use), which target the general school population appear to be more successful than those aimed at at-risk youth because they are less stigmatising. Third, what works well with a few students appears to work well with most. Fourth, targeting specific individuals with arbitrary cut-offs (e.g., what categorizes someone as being at-risk for developing a drug problem?) can lead to students with problems not receiving adequate help, because they just miss a cut-off (Weare & Gray, 2003). Finally, studies which try to target risk groups are problematic because for some areas, such as drug use, the list of risk-factors is incredibly long (Morgan, 2001).


It should be noted that while there are some excellent studies included from the UK and Ireland, many well-documented, well-designed studies have been conducted in the United States. However, the convergence of evidence from multiple studies across countries is growing, and would suggest that programmes would be worth implementing or adapting for use in the UK (Weare & Gray, 2003).


While there are extensive case studies and anecdotal evidence supporting the teaching of social emotional development, this paper focused primarily on peer-reviewed research studies and critical reviews or meta-analyses of peer-reviewed studies. These are the most rigorously tested and reliable findings. There are most likely other well-evaluated studies that were not included, and excellent programmes which have not yet been evaluated. Non-inclusion does not necessarily mean that these programmes are weak or non-effective. Due to budget restrictions, this review could not be exhaustive or systematic in nature. Rather, the aim was to locate well-structured and evaluated programmes showing the effects of teaching elements covered in the PD curriculum in Northern Ireland.


Finally, it should be mentioned that research in teaching social emotional competencies, coping skills, drug refusal skills, etc., is referred to by many different names in the literature depending on the specific type of programme, the part of the world it is conducted, and on the researcher’s or school’s perspective. The Personal Development curriculum falls under the umbrella of Personal Social Education (PSE) in Northern Ireland, but other nomenclature includes Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Social Physical Health Education (SPHE), Sexual Health Education (SHE), Personal Social Health Education (PSHE), positive youth development, moral education, character education, etc.
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