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




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9. WHAT MAKES PROGRAMMES WORK?


This section summarizes common themes found in the literature that characterize successful programmes, and which correspond to those found in the revised PD curriculum in Northern Ireland. There are aspects of teaching some topics (e.g., sexual education) which are not covered here, as they were specific only to that area. Topic-specific themes can be found in their respective sections of this review.
Teaching knowledge alone is not enough


Knowledge only programmes are much less effective than those which use other methods, such as role-play (Klepp, et al., 1994; Tobler, et al., 2000)

This is true for general SEL or character education programmes (Zins, Weissberg, Wang & Walberg, 2004), mental health promoting programmes (e.g., Clarke, Hawkins, Murphy & Sheeber, 1993; Browne, et al., 2004), sexual health and substance and violence prevention programmes (Thomas, et al., 1999; Browne et al., 2000; Moon, et al., 1999; Tobler, et al., 2000; Morgan, 2001) and eating issues (Stewart, 1998).

However, the important information and/or facts should also be present (Tobler & Stratton, 1997)
Involving interactive learning


Interactive learning helps engage students and allow them to practice newly acquired skills (Tobler, et al., 2000; Elias, 1990; Weare & Gray, 2003; Morgan, 2001)

Examples are group work and role-play (e.g., in sex education, Fullerton, 2004)

Practicing skills that are taught is crucial in some areas, such as conflict resolution programmes (Johnson & Johnson, 1996; Weare & Gray, 2003; Zins, Weissberg, Wang & Walberg, 2004)

A change in structure of classroom may be required, such as with Circle Time (Mosley, 1996)
Developing protective skills is often better than trying to reduce risky behaviours


Developing coping, social skills which help students to make healthy choices against peer pressure will be better than telling students to stop doing drugs (Morgan, 2001)

Most successful mental health promotion projects emphasized healthy behaviours, as opposed to preventing illness (Wells, et al., 2003)

This is true for sexual health programmes too: interventions that improve self-esteem, ability to communicate and develop social and emotional skills all help students make healthy sexual decisions (Cowie, et al., 2004)


Involving multiple domains


More successful substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, sexual health promoting, SEL, and mental health promoting programmes involve home and/or community as well as school (Morgan, 2001; Greenberg, et al., 2001; Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Zins, et. al, 2004; Dowswell, et al., 1996; Repucci, Woolard & Fried, 1999)

Although some programmes can be successful in one domain (e.g., Project ALERT).

Longer term programmes are more successful than short intensive ones


Multi-year programs are more likely to foster enduring benefits (Greenberg, et al., 2001; Wells, et al., 2003; Weare & Gray; Lantieri & Patti, 1996)

This is true for substance abuse prevention, mental health promotion, and others (Greenberg, Domitrovich & Bumbarger, 2001; Wells, et al., 2003)
Classroom and school environment is key (Weare & Gray, 2003)


A positive teacher-student relationship helps improve social emotional skills, academic performance, and classroom behaviour (Grossman & Tierney, 1998)

Classrooms where students feel safe to talk about sensitive issues will lead to more sharing and to more attachment to school (Greenberg, et al., 2003)

Attachment to school/family is important in predicting outcomes such as academic success (Zins, et al., 2004), and preventing risky behaviours (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992)


Use a holistic approach (Weare & Gray, 2003), provide teacher support and training, have good leadership


Focus should be not just on teachers, rather whole school should be integrated and have elements working together (Elias, et al., 1997; Cowie, et al., 2004)

Most successful mental health promotion programmes used a whole-school approach (Wells, et al., 2003)

Leadership of principal is crucial (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Greenberg, et al., 1995)
Quality of Implementation


Partially implemented programmes are less likely to have the desired effect (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Han & Weiss, 2005; Kam, Greenberg & Walls, 2003; Tobler, et al., 2000)

In order to be properly implemented, teachers should have good support and training (Berkowitz & Bier, 2004; Han & Weiss, 2005; Weare & Gray, 2003).

Programmes which were well-structured, with manuals, etc., were more successful (Catalano, et al., 2002; Elias, et al., 1997)

Carefully planned, theory and research-based lessons work better (Elias, et al., 1997; Farrell, Meyer, Kung, and Sullivan, 2001; Cowie, et al., 2004)

Lessons should target the age and experience of the audience (Cowie, et al., 2004)
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