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




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3. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING (SEL)/ PERSONAL SOCIAL EDUCATION (PSE)

3.1 SEL/PSE: Literature Reviews

There are multiple and seemingly diverse aspects of the PD curriculum (e.g., substance abuse prevention, social and emotional health, sexual education, relationships, moral education). However, research has shown that teaching methods and aims which are most effective in one domain, tend to be applicable to other seemingly unrelated areas. The most effective drug abuse prevention programmes teach some of the same skills and abilities (social, emotional, mental health, relationship skills, etc.) as those promoting mental health or sexual health (Greenberg, Weissberg, O’Brien, Zins, Fredericks, Resnik & Elias, 2003; Morgan, 2001).


There is an abundance of evidence supporting various academic benefits of teaching Personal Development in schools. Research shows that students who engage in positive relationships and social interactions tend to achieve above average academically (Osterman, 2000). Emotional and social competence are widely recognised as important for educational achievement (e.g., Elias, et al., 1997). Zins, Weissberg, Wang and Walberg (2004) reviewed academic outcomes related to teaching social emotional health, and multiple outcomes are evident ranging from increased attachment to school to improved exam scores. Some programmes discussed in Zins, et al. (2004) are highlighted in this paper in Section 3.2 & 4.2.


School-based positive youth development programmes also have been shown to have positive academic and non-academic effects. Positive youth development programmes were characterized by Catalano, et al. (2004) as encouraging one or more of the following constructs: promoting social, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and moral competence, and school bonding; fostering self-efficacy, self-determination, spirituality, clear and positive identity, belief in the future, resilience and prosocial norms, provides recognition for positive behaviour and opportunities for prosocial involvement. Programmes reviewed by Catalano, et al. (2004) showed positive outcomes such as better health behaviours, greater assertiveness, problem solving, increased social skills, among others. Four of the school-based programmes highlighted in this review are detailed below: Growing Healthy (Section 7.2), Life Skills Training, PATHS project (Section 3.2), and Project ALERT (Section 5.2).


Elias, et al. (1997) described the following ‘essential characteristics of effective SEL programming’:


Carefully planned, theory- and research-based

Teach skills that are applicable to every day life

Address emotional and social dimensions of learning

Coordinated, integrated, unified programming linked to academic outcomes

Address key implementation issues, such as classroom environment

Include more than one domain, such as home and community

Design should include continuous improvement, evaluation and dissemination of findings.

Longer, multi-year programmes are more likely to be helpful than short-term lessons (Lantieri & Patti, 1996).
Moral Education

Research has shown that caring psychologically safe supportive and cooperative learning environments which promote sharing and social and emotional learning can result in benefits for students. These include improved social emotional skills, better academic outcomes (Schaps, Battistich & Solomon, 2004), improved cognitive problem-solving skills, more prosocial conflict resolution techniques, lower rates of drug use and delinquency (Solomon, Watson, Dellucchi, Schaps & Battistich, 1998), increased sense of community and commitment to school (Battistick, Solomon, Watson & Schaps, 1997), and increased student engagement and attachment to school (Osterman, 2000). Engagement and attachment to school have been identified as important in influencing academic performance (Osterman, 2000; Berkowitz & Bier, 2004) and in preventing risky behaviours (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992). Students who describe their classrooms as including a caring teacher and students who help each other were more likely to participate in class and to finish homework (Murdock, 1999). Some of these studies began with younger students, but most involved students up to at least age 12.


In a review of developing values, attitudes and personal qualities, Halstead & Taylor (2000) report that teaching caring in schools leads to longer-term caring of adolescents (Chaskin & Rauner, 1995), and that providing positive caring adult role models is important in children learning caring behaviours. A project designed specifically to help children become more caring by thinking about prosocial norms and values is The Child Development Project (Schaps, Battistich & Solomon, 2004). Details of this project can be found below in Section 3.2.


Research has shown that prosocial behaviour is linked to academic performance (e.g., Haynes, Ben-Avie, & Ensign, 2003; Pasi, 2001; Wentzel, 1993). Wentzel (1993) found that students’ GPAs (overall rating representing marks received from school exams) were predicted by prosocial and antisocial behaviour. That is, students that engaged more often in behaviours such as sharing, cooperation, helping others, are more likely to score higher on exams.


Solomon, Watson, and Battistich (2001) reviewed the research on teaching moral development in schools. Projects either focus on direct or indirect methods. Direct approaches teach morals and values directly, such as courage, respect, honesty, etc. Indirect approaches encourage students to become more active democrats, critically thinking about morality, in order to develop into principled and caring community members.


Both methods have shown benefits. For direct approaches, improvements for students in the target age range include teacher-reported improvements in ethical conduct and increased understanding of moral concepts (Leming, Henrick-Smith & Antis, 1997). For indirect approaches, benefits include improvements in moral reasoning (Higgins, 1980; Higgins, Power & Kohlberg, 1984), increase in school values, increases in norms for integrating people from different backgrounds and norms for attendance (Reimer & Power, 1980; Higgins, Power & Kohlberg, 1984), improved teacher-assessed sociability, teacher- and student-reported social skills (Trianes Torres, Munos Sanches, Sanchez Sanchez, 1995). Two programmes, a direct (Heartwood) and an indirect (Just Community) programme, are highlighted below in Section 3.2.


3.2 SEL/PSE: Selected Specific Programmes
Heartwood

This direct approach to moral education involves teaching 7 ‘universal’ ethical values: courage, loyalty, justice, respect, hope, honesty, and love. The programme uses multicultural stories to demonstrate the various values, and develop students understanding and commitment to each.

Outcomes for students in late elementary school (ages 9-12) included increased understanding of principles and improved teacher-rated ethical conduct, although no differences were found in ethical sensibility (Leming, Henrick-Smith & Antis, 1997).
Just Communities

The norms and moral atmosphere of a school, as well as moral discussions and active student involvement were the target of this programme. Teachers act as facilitators by encouraging role-taking, focussing on issues of fairness and morality and highlighting or discussing moral reasoning. This programme was developed based on theories of child moral development and has been implemented multiple countries, including the USA, Hungary and Germany.


The programme resulted in improvements in moral reasoning for participants (Higgins, 1980; Higgins, Power & Kohlberg, 1984), increases in school values, positive changes in norms for integrating people from different backgrounds and norms for attendance (Reimer & Power, 1980), increased likelihood of participants seeing their peers and themselves as making prosocial choices (Higgins, Power & Kohlberg, 1984).
PATHS

The PATHS curriculum was developed 20 years ago to provide a comprehensive curriculum to teach social and emotional development (Greenberg, Kusche & Riggs, 2004) and prevent disruptive acting out behaviours. While PATHS starts with younger pupils, the programme can be run with students up to age 12. Based on existing theories of child development, PATHS seeks to develop basic emotional literacy, peer relations and problem solving. The programme has been extensively evaluated on emotional, behavioural and academic outcomes.

Specific outcomes include increases in students’ scores on cognitive skills tests, ability to plan ahead and solve complex tasks, cognitive flexibility and low impulsivity with non-verbal tasks.
The Child Development Project in California

Although the CDP begins with younger children, it is implemented with students up to age 12. The programmes has been thoroughly developed and evaluated, including following students for years after the intervention. Caring psychologically safe learning environments which promote sharing and SEL can result in improvements to students’ social emotional skills and to academic outcomes. The programme was conceived to create a more caring learning environment to help students develop more prosocial, supportive and friendly behaviour and more caring attitudes and behaviours.


Results showed that students in the programme demonstrated more prosocial classroom behaviour, were more likely to take everyone’s needs into account when dealing with hypothetical conflicts, and showed increased problem solving and conflict resolution skills (Battistich, Solomon, Watson, Solomon & Schaps, 1989; Solomon, Watson, Dellucchi, Schaps & Battistich, 1998).
Seattle Social Development Project

Although aimed at younger children at the beginning of the intervention, the SSDP runs until age 12. This programme also has been designed based on sound developmental and evidence-based principals, and has been rigorously evaluated. Based in low-income areas with high rates of violence, the SSDP has components aimed at training teachers in classroom management, teaching parents about ways to recognize positive behaviour and look for opportunities for positive involvement of children in school and family, and teaching students social interaction skills. The developers assert that the training will lead to increased bonding to school and family and decrease in negative behaviours.


Abbott, O’Donnell, Hawkins, Hill, Kosterman and Catalano (1998) showed that students aged 10-12 involved in the project demonstrated stronger bonding to school, which is related to academic performance (Osterman, 2000; Berkowitz & Bier, 2004). Another study showed that compared to control students not in the programme, girls aged 11-12 showed more classroom participation and more commitment to school (O’Donnell, Hawkins, Catalano, Abbott & Day, 1995). Boys in this study reported improved social skills, school work, commitment to school, and had better achievement test scores and exam marks. Better academic performance of students in the SSDP project compared to controls was found to exist even at age 18 (Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott & Hill, 1999).

Life Skills for Health Promotion

An Ireland-based programme, Life Skills for Health Promotion, is aimed at promoting seven key skills: communication, relationship building, assertiveness, maintaining self-esteem, skills for maintaining physical well-being, stress management and time management. The programme is aimed at post-primary students.


Programme participants demonstrated more responsible behaviour in relation to alcohol, although there was no impact on smoking rates or use of illegal substances. Other improvements include improved adjustment to school. There was also a more marked effect for girls compared with boys in these areas (Nic Gabhainn & Kelleher, 2000; Nic Gabhainn & Kelleher, 1995), with girls in later years benefiting from exposure to the programme more than boys.


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