IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Improving Academic Achievement through Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategy Development: The Science Behind the Practice

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is an evidence-based instructional approach characterized by active, discussion-based, scaffolded, and explicit learning of knowledge of the writing process; general and genre-specific knowledge; academic vocabulary; and validated strategies for teaching reading and writing. IES has supported multiple research studies on SRSD for students with learning disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary general education settings. SRSD is used in as many as 10,000 classrooms across the United States and in 12 other countries. In this interview blog, we spoke with Dr. Karen Harris, the developer of SRSD, to learn more about this effective instructional strategy, the IES research behind it, and next steps for further scaling of SRSD so that more students can benefit.

What led you to develop the Self-Regulated Strategy Development model?

Photo of Karen Harris

I began developing what became the SRSD model of instruction in the 1980s, based on my experiences tutoring and teaching. No one theory could address all of what I needed to do as a teacher, or all that my students needed as learners. SRSD instruction pulls together what has been learned from research across theories of learning and teaching. It is a multicomponent instructional model that addresses affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning. Further, SRSD instruction is intended to take place in inclusive classrooms, is discourse-driven, integrates social-emotional supports, and involves learning in whole class and group settings with peer collaboration. SRSD research started in writing because Steve Graham (my husband and colleague) was deeply interested in writing, and we co-designed the initial studies. Today, SRSD instruction research exists across a wide variety of areas, such as reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, fractions, social studies, and science.

What are some of the key findings about this instructional strategy?

SRSD has been recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as an evidence-based practice with  consistently positive effects on writing outcomes.  A 2013 meta-analysis of SRSD for writing found that SRSD was effective across different research teams, different methodologies, differing genres of writing (such as narrative or persuasive), and students with diverse needs including students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. Effect sizes in SRSD research are typically large, exceeding .85 in meta-analyses and commonly ranging from 1.0 to 2.55 across writing and affective outcome measures.

Over the years, IES has supported a number of studies on SRSD, which has led to some key findings that have practical implications for instruction from elementary school through college.

Do you know how many teachers use SRSD in their classrooms?

It is hard to be sure how prevalent SRSD instruction is in practice, but there are two groups dedicated to scaling up SRSD in schools— thinkSRSD and SRSD Online—both of which I voluntarily advise. Together, they have reached over 300,000 students and their teachers in the United States. In addition, I am following or in touch with researchers or teachers in 12 countries across Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What’s next for research on SRSD?  

Many students have difficulty writing by the time they get to upper elementary school. Currently, there is an ongoing development project that is adapting and testing SRSD for children in the lower elementary grades to support their oral language skills, transcription, and writing strategy skills. The research team is in the process of conducting a small-scale randomized controlled study and will have findings soon.

Beyond this study, there are many future directions for SRSD research, including further work in different genres of writing, different grades, and involving families in the SRSD process. More work on how to integrate SRSD strategies into instruction across content areas, such as social studies or science is also needed. Despite the evidence base for and interest in SRSD, a major challenge is scaling up SRSD in schools. We and other researchers have identified numerous barriers to this goal. We also need research on working with administrators, schools, and teachers to use writing more effectively as a tool for self-expression, self-advocacy, and social and political engagement. Writing can also be an important and effective means of addressing issues of equity and identity, and little SRSD research has been done in these areas.

Dr. Karen Harris is Regents Professor and the Mary Emily Warner Professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her current research focuses on refining a web-based intelligent tutor to augment SRSD instruction with elementary students in persuasive writing, integrating SRSD with reading to learn and writing to inform, developing a Universal Design for Learning Science Notebook, and developing practice-based professional development for SRSD.

This blog was produced by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service intern at IES and graduate student in education policy & leadership at American University.

Gender-Sexuality Alliances as a School Resource for LGBTQ+ Students

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, we interviewed Dr. Paul Poteat, professor at Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, about his IES-funded research on Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs)—his motivation, what he’s learned so far, and future work that needs to be done.

What led you to focus on GSAs as a school resource for LGBTQ+ students?

Many LGBTQ+ students continue to experience discrimination at school, but schools are also a place where they can access support and resources from trusted adults and their peers. Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) have formed as clubs in an estimated 37% of U.S. secondary schools. GSAs aspire to be youth led with advisor support and meet for up to an hour during or after school on a weekly or biweekly basis. They provide a space for LGBTQ+ students and their heterosexual and cisgender peer allies to socialize, support one another, discuss and learn about LGBTQ+ topics, and engage in advocacy and awareness raising to promote more welcoming schools. In these ways, GSAs are in a promising position to reach and support LGBTQ+ students at a large scale.

What do we know about GSAs and student wellbeing? What do we still need to know?

Most GSA research has considered student wellbeing in relation to GSA presence at their school. Students in schools with GSAs report greater perceptions of safety and less victimization than students in schools without GSAs. Among students who are GSA members, many report feeling a sense of empowerment from their involvement.

Although these findings have been encouraging, there are some important limitations to what we know about student experiences in GSAs and how GSAs may promote wellbeing. For instance, GSAs vary to some extent in what they do—they are not standardized programs—and even members in the same GSA can report different experiences. We have less of an understanding of what specific GSA experiences are associated with any beneficial outcomes, especially because most GSA research has relied on cross-sectional data. We still need to identify specific mechanisms by which GSAs may promote wellbeing. It is also unclear whether some members benefit more from their GSA involvement than others.

How is your project adding to our understanding of GSAs?

Our project aims to identify specific practices and experiences in GSAs that predict social-emotional outcomes and academic performance for GSA members over time. We plan to—

  • Focus on perceived support from peers and advisors, leadership roles, involvement in advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and perceived climate of the GSA. We are looking at these processes in two ways: on a week-to-week basis over an intensive 8-week period of the school year and more broadly at three time points spanning the school year.
  • Identify whether GSA experiences—from meeting to meeting or over the school year—go on to predict greater school belonging, hope, positive affect, and self-worth, which in turn could predict better academic outcomes, such as greater class engagement and lower absenteeism.
  • Consider whether GSA experiences buffer the negative effects of victimization on these outcomes. We have been working with a diverse group of GSAs across the state of Massachusetts, in New York City, and in San Diego.

How could the data from your project be useful for GSAs and inform ongoing research? 

As an Exploration grant, the data from our project could provide a foundation to develop and evaluate programs tailored for GSAs. To do this, we first need a deeper understanding of GSAs and any naturally occurring processes within them that may predict various social-emotional and academic outcomes among members. We can then develop programs GSAs would be interested in adopting that target and enhance these processes with greater precision. On a practical level, our findings could be useful to GSA advisors and student leaders by identifying the types of conversations, activities, and structures to their meetings that could benefit their members. Ultimately, more research in this area could support GSAs as they seek to identify and meet the range of needs and interests of their members, capitalize on the strengths that members bring, and promote their thriving and academic success.


Paul Poteat is a professor in the Counseling, Developmental & Education Psychology Department at Boston College. He conducts research on the school-based experiences of sexual and gender minority youth.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research.

 

Checking Up: School Transition Support for Students at Risk for Behavioral Problems and Their Families

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Stormshak (University of Oregon) about her intervention, the Family Check-Up (FCU), which addresses emotional and behavioral challenges during times of transition for students with or at risk for disability. Dr. Stormshak has been testing the efficacy of FCU during different student transitions, from its initial iteration focused on the middle to high school transition, to implementation during the transition to kindergarten, to a “booster” intervention to support in the transition to middle school. The FCU intervention now includes an online version for middle school students, which is especially suited to the transition from virtual to in-person learning.

Let’s start off with the transition for young children. What are some challenges facing children at risk for behavioral problems and their families as children transition into kindergarten?

Photo of Elizabeth Stormshak

Our work has focused on family challenges and contextual stressors that impact the successful transition to schools, such as parent mental health, stress, and parenting skills. Our approach to intervention has focused on providing support to families as they transition with their children to elementary school through brief, strength-based, adaptive interventions to reduce problem behavior and enhance academic outcomes.

How does Family Check-Up address these challenges?

First, the FCU helps parents assess their own strengths and their child’s strengths, building on “what is going well” as they consider ways to focus on areas that need support. This strength-based approach to intervention helps motivate caretakers to consider different ways to manage child behavior and emotional problems in the home, which has implications for the transition to school.

Second, the FCU is a brief intervention that is adapted to the needs of families. No family receives the exact same intervention content because the focus is always derived from an individualized assessment that is norm-referenced and guides intervention delivery.

Why was it important to build the FCU to support the transition to middle school?

Middle school is a difficult time for youth and families. Caretakers tend to “disengage” during this time, which can lead to mental health and behavioral problems for youth. The FCU focuses on “re-engaging” parents during this critical transition. The intervention was originally focused on reducing risk during the transition from middle to high school. Interestingly, the FCU is an ideal intervention for all transitions that a child and family might experience (school entry, middle school, and high school). Therefore, extending FCU to help families with the transition from elementary to middle school seemed like a natural and critical extension of our work using FCU to support school adjustment during the other periods of transition. 

What have you found so far? Has FCU been found to improve student outcomes?

Our work at kindergarten entry has clearly linked the FCU intervention with a variety of important school-based outcomes, including reduced problem behavior and enhanced parenting skills and home–school engagement. In our primary outcome paper from this research, we found that engagement in the intervention led to improvements in parenting skills—including limit setting, parent self-efficacy, and parental warmth—which then led to reductions in child behavior problems from kindergarten to second grade.

Our work supports the FCU model as an effective intervention for children and families during the transition to school. We continue to follow this sample of children and families into the middle school years. Our data collection for this project will end during the 2022-2023 school year. At that time, we will be able to examine the impact of the kindergarten and middle school intervention combined and compare this group of children to a control condition with no FCU as well as groups that received intervention only during kindergarten entry and only during middle school entry.

Your latest project is part of a new competition, Research to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery in Special Education. How has the FCU been adapted to address the needs of students following the disruptions of COVID-19?

I am excited to pursue this work and apply my interest in child and family mental health to the pandemic recovery. My whole career has been focused on the mental and behavioral health of children and families, and I hope to make a difference during this stressful time in society where mental health challenges for youth and their families have escalated.

We are eager to provide the FCU Online to schools in our area (Portland, Oregon) to address the recovery of students and families after the pandemic. Our work on the FCU Online began in 2015, well before the pandemic. Initial results of a randomized trial (supported by postdoctoral fellows funded through a postdoctoral training grant) supported the online approach for reduction of child emotional problems and improvement of parenting skills, especially for at-risk youth and parents. We expanded the model during COVID-19 in multiple ways, including adaptations that make the online model more accessible to families from a variety of backgrounds. The FCU Online can be delivered in both Spanish and English, is available on smartphones, and is easily delivered by schools because it can be supported by a range of providers, such as school counselors or behavioral health specialists.

The FCU Online has also been adapted with new content since the COVID-19 pandemic, including a module on Healthy Behaviors for Stressful Times that provides support to caretakers focused on healthy routines, coping, listening skills with youth, and management of depression and anxiety. We are excited to partner with schools in Oregon to implement this online approach to service delivery.

What are the next steps for your research?

The next steps in our work involve a focus on implementation and dissemination of the FCU Online model in schools. We have conducted focus groups and data collection with school providers over multiple grants and projects and have integrated this feedback into the FCU Online content and process. We look forward to continuing to build on this work in our new grant and to adapt the FCU Online to our changing times. We know that mental health and behavioral problems are going to persist for children and families, and evidence-based solutions that can be disseminated widely are going to be critical for helping us recover from the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic. 

Dr. Elizabeth Stormshak is the Knight Chair and Professor of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the College of Education at the University of Oregon, 

This interview was produced and edited by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

Assessing Social Emotional Strengths in Schools to Protect Youth Mental Health

The transition into high school is characterized by growing academic demands, more diverse and complex social interactions, and increasing pressure associated with the looming transition into adult life and responsibilities. As part of an IES-funded measurement project, Drs. Michael Furlong, Erin Dowdy, and Karen Nylund-Gibson refined and validated the Social Emotional Health Survey-Secondary (SEHS-S-2020). The SEHS-S-2020 assesses the social-emotional assets of high school students and fits within multi-tiered systems of support and response-to-intervention frameworks schools regularly employ for the identification and care of students with learning or social-emotional needs. We asked the research team that developed the SEHS-S-2020 to tell us more about the development of the measure and how it is being used in schools.

Photos of the authors of the blog (Top to Bottom: Karen Nylund-Gibson; Michael Furlong; Erin Dowdy)What inspired you to develop the Social Emotional Health Survey-Secondary?

We were motivated by two events between 2008 and 2013. First, while we were serving as local evaluators of two Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SSHS) projects in Santa Barbara County, our project school administrators and mental health professionals challenged us to consider alternative ways to assess social-emotional health and the impacts of these projects. Second, around the same time, Michael Furlong was editing the first edition of the Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools. Examining various positive psychological mindsets for the SSHS projects, we recognized that many of these constructs—such as hope, self-efficacy, and grit—had overlapping content. Based on this, we wanted to see if we could develop an efficient measure of positive psychology mindsets in adolescents.

The traditional mental health disorder literature uses comorbidity to describe the poor psychosocial outcomes for individuals experiencing more than one psychological disorder. We wondered whether students who report multiple social and psychological assets have enhanced developmental outcomes. The term we use for this "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" construct is covitality. Building on this concept, a significant effort of our work at the University of California, Santa Barbara has been to develop measures for schools to monitor social-emotional wellness. We created measures for primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions because fostering social-emotional health is ongoing and responsive to emerging developmental tasks.

How does the Social Emotional Health Survey-Secondary measure covitality?

Through an IES Measurement grant, we refined and validated the SEHS-Secondary form, which measures psychosocial strengths derived from the social emotional learning (SEL) and positive youth development (PYD) literature. SEHS-S-2020 assesses four related general positive social and emotional health domains that contribute to covitality. 

  • Belief in Self consists of three subscales grounded in constructs from self-determination theory literature: self-efficacy, self-awareness, and persistence. 
  • Belief in Others comprises three subscales derived from constructs found in childhood resilience literature: school support, peer support, and family support. 
  • Emotional Competence consists of three subscales: emotion regulation, empathy, and behavioral self-control. 
  • Engaged Living comprises three subscales grounded in constructs derived from the positive youth psychology literature: gratitude, zest, and optimism.

What did you find during the validation study?

The validation project involved a cross-sectional sample of more than 100,000 California secondary school students in partnership with the California State Department of Education and WestEd. We also collected three years of longitudinal data with two collaborating school districts. Our goal was to develop a valid measure to support educator efforts to foster positive development. We wanted to document how the number of developmental assets was associated with mental well-being. This chart shows that students reporting many SEHS-S-2020 assets were substantially more likely to report flourishing well-being. Adolescents with more SEHS-S-2020 assets were less likely to report chronic sadness or past-year suicidal ideation (see the covitality advantage).

Bar chart showing associations between student reports on the SEHS-S-2020 and their mental wellness

Did you have any unanticipated project outcomes?

Data collection immediately predated the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided a baseline to assess the effects of the pandemic and broader social divisiveness in the United States on student well-being. An important unanticipated outcome is that pre-pandemic social well-being declined substantially during and after remote learning.

Our project began collecting longitudinal data from middle and high school students in October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. One participating school district asked us to administer the survey in October 2020 during remote learning and in October 2021 after the students returned to school, in order to understand remote learning's impacts on students' well-being. They also provided support for specific students who were not coping well. Our preliminary findings (paper in progress) showed that the students reported some diminished emotional well-being and global life satisfaction, but their social well-being decreased substantially from 2019 to 2021, about one-half of a standard deviation. Two macro-social items in particular declined markedly. One asks the students to express how often (in the past month) "they felt that society was a good place or becoming a better place for all people." A second asks them, "if the way that society works makes sense." Students reporting the steepest social well-being declines also reported substantial increases in chronic sadness and diminished global life satisfaction. These declines suggest that the broader impacts of the pandemic took a toll on the students.

How are schools using the resources your project developed?

There is a greater emphasis on evaluating social and emotional health and well-being than before. The SEHS-S-2020 is now a core component of the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), a biennial survey used by most California schools. It provides information about student wellness and risk-related behaviors. In addition, several California school districts have adopted the SEHS-S-2020 and other project-developed measures for their Tier 1 universal wellness screening, following up and providing counseling services and supports.

We are eager to see more schools using the resources from our project. For example, researchers in more than 20 countries have adapted the SEHS-S-2020 to explore cross-cultural aspects of well-being. An app to administer, score, report, and track  social and emotional wellness with the SEHS-S-2020 now supports Tier 1 wellness monitoring.


Michael Furlong, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of School Psychology and holds a 2021-2022 Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professorship at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Erin Dowdy, PhD., is a Professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California Santa Barbara. She is a licensed psychologist and a nationally certified school psychologist.

Karen Nylund-Gibson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Quantitative Methods in the Department of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This blog was produced by NCER Program Officer, Corinne Alfeld. Please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov for more information.

Powering Our Future: How Service-Learning Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards Can Promote Science Learning, Social and Emotional Skills, and Civic Engagement

Each generation faces its own societal challenges. Two prominent issues—the climate crisis and America’s political divide—are heavy burdens for today’s youth. Without explicit focus in schools, it is hard to imagine how children will learn to work across differences and collaborate with others to solve complex environmental problems. Youth are very capable people, and school comes alive when they feel agency and see how their efforts matter in the community. Service-learning can help teachers make instruction feel relevant and teach skills that lead to civic engagement as youth learn to design, implement, and evaluate solutions to problems that are important to them. In this interview blog, the Connect Science project team explains how they developed curriculum and professional development to support teachers to engage their students in service-learning experiences.

Can you tell us about Connect Science and what it looks like in action?

Fueled by an IES Development and Innovation grant, our team developed and evaluated a science-based service-learning approach for the upper-elementary school years. In doing so, we answered a need that teachers and schools face as they strive to create engaging experiences aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Connect Science is a 12-week project-based learning unit for upper elementary students. Early on, teachers and students explore topics of energy and natural resources using lessons aligned with the NGSS. Teachers guide student learning on what it means to be an engaged citizen and on the social and collaborative skills needed to take action in the community. To prepare, teachers receive five days of professional development and follow-up coaching. Teachers also receive a Connect Science manual, related books, and science materials.

But what does Connect Science actually look like in action? Imagine fourth graders engaged in a science unit on renewable and non-renewable resources. The students learn about different energy sources and then discuss pros and cons of each source. They become aware that non-renewable energy resources are rapidly diminishing and would not always be available to generate electricity. The awareness of this problem energizes them to promote energy conservation. Toward that goal, the students decide to educate other students and families at their school about energy use. At the next open house night, they turn their cafeteria into an energy fair where they share important information. For example, one group of students teaches about what types of energy sources were used in their state to produce electricity and another group teaches ways that people can save energy in their home. Before and after the energy fair, the students administer a pre- and post-survey on energy facts to size up what their visitors learned.

How did the IES grant support the development and pilot testing of Connect Science?

In the first two years of this grant, we developed and tested materials with teachers. In the third year, we conducted a randomized controlled trial of Connect Science involving 41 classrooms with 20 in Connect Science and 21 in a waitlist comparison group, resulting in a student sample of 868 students (423 students participated in the intervention).

We found that Connect Science impacted teacher practices and student outcomes. Teachers in the Connect Science group were more effective at engaging in the two NGSS practices that we measured: eliciting and building on prior knowledge and creating opportunities for student critique, explanation, and argument. Further, we saw higher science achievement and energy attitudes and behaviors in the intervention than control condition. The social skill results hinged on the fidelity of implementation. When teachers used more Connect Science practices, students showed improved communication and social competence. As a result of these findings, Connect Science is designated as a Promising Program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

What are the implications of your findings?

Too few projects integrate academic and social learning in schools. Often, high-quality NGSS materials are developed with little thought about the social skills students need to engage in that instruction. Likewise, social and emotional learning is often taught separately from academic content. Service-learning is a framework that bridges these two areas and allows students to engage in authentic, science-based work. Given our experiences, we have a few recommendations for educators eager to use service-learning.

  • Teach social, emotional, and collaborative skills with intention before launching into group work. In the elementary schools, children thrive from being in supportive caring classrooms and they respond well to lessons on active listening, respectful communication, and understanding people with multiple perspectives.
  • Leverage the existing curriculum and build in service-learning experiences. Rather than adding one more new topic, look at existing curricular topics and use service-learning to facilitate deep learning on content areas that already part of the curriculum.
  • Amplify youth voice. Teachers need to work with students to identify a relevant community problem and generate solutions to that problem. We carefully developed the Connect Science materials to be more teacher-directed toward the beginning of the unit and more student-directed toward the end. This approach was based both on theoretical and empirical work supporting the importance of student autonomy.

 


Sara Rimm-Kaufman is the Commonwealth Professor of Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Her recent book for teachers, SEL from the Start, is based on the Connect Science work.

Eileen Merritt is a Research Scientist in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching focus on environmental and sustainability education.

Tracy Harkins is the owner of Harkins Consulting, LLC in Maine. Her focus is providing professional development and resources to engage and motivate student learners through service-learning. She will be offering an upcoming Connect Science Institute in Summer 2022.

For questions about this project, please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov, NCER program officer.