Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Teaching Organizational Skills to Adolescents: Bringing Clinical Practices into Schools

Organizing, planning, and managing time influence student achievement and become increasingly important as adolescents enter middle school. Clinical research offers promising practices for improving these skills in students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but the key is getting these practices into schools. That’s where IES-funded researchers come in.

In 2009, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University used an IES grant to develop Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS)—a program that teaches middle school students with ADHD to use checklists to organize, plan, and manage their schoolwork.

In 2013, IES funded an initial efficacy study to test HOPS in public middle schools, comparing HOPS with more traditional homework support. Researchers found that parents of students using HOPS and traditional homework support reported fewer homework problems and better organizational skills at home. In contrast, teachers reported improved organization and management skills in the classroom only for their students who used HOPS, not the homework support. HOPS also provided greater benefits overall for students with higher levels of hyperactivity and oppositional behavior and greater deficits in organizational skills.

In June, IES awarded a grant to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to conduct a five-year effectiveness study that will test whether HOPS is beneficial for all students who have organizational skill deficits, rather than just students with a formal ADHD diagnosis. This is important because organizational deficits affect student achievement regardless of whether a student has been diagnosed with a learning disorder. This study will determine whether schools can implement HOPS effectively and inexpensively in a school environment.

Written by Greg Shanahan, IES Presidential Management Fellow, and Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

IES Expands Research in Social Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a key ingredient of high-quality education care, is important for both educators and children, and has been associated with children’s concurrent and later academic and social success.

Over a decade ago, Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence developed and began testing RULER, an SEL program geared toward children and educators (i.e., school leaders, teachers, and staff). RULER stands for five key social and emotional skills: Recognizing emotions in self and others, Understanding the causes of emotions in self and others, Labeling and talking about emotions, Expressing emotions across situations, and Regulating emotions effectively. For children and the key adults in their lives, RULER combines a whole-school professional development approach with a skill-building curriculum targeting educator and student social and emotional skills, school and classroom climate, and educator and student well-being. RULER is currently offered for pre-k–12 and out-of-school-time settings.

IES has supported the development and testing of RULER programs since 2012. The first IES award supported the modification of existing components of the RULER K-8th grade intervention and creation of new developmentally appropriate content for preschool settings. RULER is currently implemented in over 200 early childhood school- and home-based programs across the country and nearly 2,000 K-12 schools nationwide. Although RULER’s evidence-base has been growing over the years, RULER has not been systematically studied in large-scale, randomized controlled trials in preschool settings nor has it undergone an external evaluation in the later grades.

That is about to change: this year, IES awarded two grants to study the effects of the RULER programs. One will study the efficacy of whole-school RULER implementation for preschool students (under the Early Learning Programs and Policies program), and the other will do so for grades K-6 (under the Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning program).

The Preschool RULER grant (PI: Craig Bailey, PhD) will assess school readiness in children aged 3-5, as well as outcomes at the teacher/classroom and school leader/school levels. The researchers will study 72 early childhood centers, including public, private, and Head Start programs from urban areas in Connecticut, using a multisite, cluster-randomized control trial design. Altogether, approximately 216 classrooms, 1,800 staff, and 2,160 children will participate. Children, educators, and school leaders will be assessed for social and emotional skills, and educators/leaders will be assessed for emotionally intelligent pedagogy and leadership. Children will also be assessed for their approaches to learning, pre-literacy, and pre-math skills. This study will provide evidence about the efficacy of RULER in preschool settings and contribute to our understanding of high quality early childhood interventions that promote social emotional learning.

 

The other grant, for RULER in grades K-6 (PI: Jason Downer, PhD), will be the first large-scale external evaluation of RULER. The study will take place in 60 urban and suburban public elementary schools, including 420 teachers and 2,520 K-6 students in Virginia. Key outcomes for this study will include school climate assessments (assessed by teacher and principal reports), teacher well-being (assessed by self-report), and four student outcomes: social-emotional skills, behavior, academic engagement and academic achievement (assessed by standardized assessments, tests, and attendance records). Ultimately, this study will describe RULER’s effects on school climate, teacher well-being, classroom climate, and student outcomes.

By Amanda M. Dettmer, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Sponsored by the American Psychological Association Executive Branch Science Fellowship

Photo credits: Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

A Growing Body of Research on Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is the belief that we can grow our intelligence by working hard at it and the idea has attracted a lot of interest in the education world in recent years. There have been best-selling books and many magazine and newspaper articles written about the power of a growth mindset.

In a recent national survey*, nearly all (98 percent) of 600 K-12 teachers said they think that a growth mindset improves their own teaching and helps their students learn. However, only 20% reported confidence in actually being able to help their students develop a growth mindset. This disparity highlights a need for additional research and development of growth-mindset based interventions, as well as research to understand how to best optimize implementation and outcomes.

For more than a decade, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has supported research on growth mindset. This includes a set of basic research studies to test a theory about growth mindset, an R&D project to build a technology-based growth mindset intervention, and an efficacy study to evaluate the impact of that intervention.

With a 2002 award from the IES Cognition and Student Learning Program (as well as grants from private foundations), researchers at Columbia and Stanford Universities conducted basic research to test and grow the growth mindset theory. This research provided a foundation for future R&D to develop school-based interventions focusing on applying growth mindset to student learning.

With a 2010 award from the ED/IES SBIR program, small business firm Mindset Works developed a web-based intervention to support teachers and grade 5 to 9 students in applying a growth mindset to teaching and learning. The Brainology intervention (pictured below) includes 20 animated interactive lessons and classroom activities for students on how the brain works and how it can become smarter and stronger through practice and learning. The intervention also teaches students specific neuroscience-based strategies to enhance attention, engagement, learning, and memory, and to manage negative emotions.

Brainology includes support materials for teachers to help them integrate the program and growth mindset concepts more generally into their daily activities at school. It is currently being used in hundreds of schools around the country.

And through a 2015 award from the Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning Program, researchers are now studying the efficacy of Brainology to improve students’ growth mindset and academic learning. In this four-year study, sixth- and seventh-grade science teachers are randomly assigned to either implement the program along with their school’s regular science curriculum or  continue with the regular science curriculum alone. Impacts of the growth mindset program on student mindsets and achievement (grades and test scores) are being measured in the early spring of the implementation year and in the fall of the following school year.
 
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or stay tuned to this blog, for more information about these and other research projects related to growth mindset.
 

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER’s team lead for Social and Behavioral Research, and Ed Metz, ED/IES SBIR Program Manager

* - The survey indicates that growth mindset is of high interest to the general public and the education community. However, the Institute of Education Sciences was not involved in this survey and has not reviewed the methodology or results. 

Addressing Mental Health Needs in Schools, Pre-K to Grade 12

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and for educators, mental health is a serious issue. Students who are suffering with mental health issues will have a harder time learning and thriving in school.  

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has funded and supported work that seeks to identify how schools can support the 1 in 5 students in the United States who experience a mental health disorder such as disruptive behavior, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Below is a snapshot of some of that work.

Preschool

  • Jason Downer (University of Virginia) is developing the Learning to Objectively Observe Kids (LOOK) protocol to help prekindergarten teachers identify and understand children’s engagement in preschool and choose appropriate techniques to supports children’s self-regulation skills.

Elementary School

  • Golda Ginsburg (University of Connecticut) and Kelly Drake (Johns Hopkins University) are developing the CALM (Child Anxiety Learning Modules) protocol for elementary school nurses to work with children who have excessive anxiety.
  • Desiree Murray (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) is testing the Incredible Years Dina Dinosaur Treatment Program (IY-child) for helping early elementary school students with social-emotional and behavioral difficulties. IY-child is a small-group, mixed-age pullout program co-led by a clinical therapist and a school-based counselor. Students view brief video vignettes of same-age children in different situations where social-emotional skills and self-regulation are modeled. Students also participate in discussions facilitated by life-sized puppets, and engage in role-play practices and small group activities. Group leaders also provide individual consultation to teachers of participating students.
  • Gregory Fabiano (SUNY-Buffalo) is adapting the Coaching Our Acting Out Children: Heightening Essential Skills (COACHES) program for implementation in schools. This is a clinic-based program to help fathers of children with or at risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get more involved and engaged in their child's school performance. 
  • Aaron Thompson (University of Missouri) is testing the Self-Monitoring Training and Regulation Strategy (STARS) intervention to see if it can improve behavior, social emotional learning skills, and academic performance for fifth grade students who engage in disruptive or otherwise challenging classroom behaviors.
  • Karen Bierman (Pennsylvania State University) is testing whether an intensive, individualized social skills training program, the Friendship Connections Program (FCP), can remediate the serious and chronic peer difficulties that 10–15 percent of elementary school students experience. Most of these students have or are at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders and exhibit social skill deficits (e.g., poor communication skills, inability to resolve conflict) that alienate peers. 

Middle School

High School

Policy

  • Sandra Chafouleas (University of Connecticut) is identifying current policies and national practice related to school-based behavioral assessment to determine whether current practice follows recommended best practice, and to develop policy recommendations for behavioral screening in schools. 

Written by Emily Doolittle, Team Lead for Social and Behavioral Research at IES, National Center for Education Research

Developing School-Wide Approaches for Bullying Prevention: The Value of Partnerships

By Katherine Taylor (NCSER Program Officer) and Emily Doolittle (NCER Program Officer)

About 22% of 12 to 18 year olds report being bullied at school. Bullying behavior can be obvious (pushing, name calling, destroying property) or more subtle (rumor spreading, purposeful excluding). In whatever form it takes, bullying involves acts of physical, verbal, or relational aggression that are repeated over time and involve a power imbalance. Bullying has a variety of harmful effects, including the potential for a negative impact on student academic achievement. This leads to the question, what can schools do to prevent bullying? In support of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we want to highlight two IES projects that have tackled this issue by developing programs that support social and problem-solving skills for students and a positive school climate.

In one project, Drs. Terri Sullivan and Kevin Sutherland at Virginia Commonwealth University developed and tested a school-wide violence prevention model for middle school students, with a special focus on youth with disabilities. The resulting model incorporates elements of a social-emotional skill-building program, Second Step, and a comprehensive bullying prevention program, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

In a second project, Dr. Stephen Leff at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed and is currently testing the Partner for Prevention (P4P) program to address aggression and bullying in elementary schools. P4P includes a classroom program, consultation for teachers and playground and lunchroom staff, and community outreach to engage parents in efforts to address bullying.

In both projects, the initial development work was accomplished using a community-based participatory research framework. Both projects used community stakeholder input to develop programs that support social and problem solving skill development for students as well as a positive school climate. Drs. Sullivan, Sutherland, and Leff shared their insights from doing this type of work and collectively emphasized the importance of creating partnerships with schools and attending to the unique strengths and needs of each school.

What are some key elements of developing school-wide bullying prevention programs?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key element is to work with administrators, teachers, and other school staff to understand school dynamics that foster prosocial behavior and those that may place students at risk for exposure to bullying behaviors (e.g., places in the school such as stairwells or bathrooms). Another is to have a strong school committee to assist with developing the program in order to maximize the relevance and meaningfulness of the interventions for students and school staff.

Dr. Leff: It is important to understand how the school has tried to address problems such as bullying in the past, as this provides important information about how to work best with formal and informal school leaders, and how your program can complement successful efforts already in place or support in areas that have been challenging. 

What are some keys to successful implementation?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key to successful implementation is to monitor implementation progress via the collection of fidelity data, including data on student engagement (which schools are very interested in) and share these data with teachers and other staff, both to reinforce strong aspects of implementation as well as to highlight areas that need improvement. Another is to successfully engage with administrators; the more involved and supportive they are, the more successful implementation will be.

Dr. Leff:

  1. Establishing buy in from the principal, teachers, lunch-recess supervisors, and students.
  2. Developing internal champions within schools to help promote the program and speak to other teachers about the importance of the work.
  3. Discussing how to make programs sustainable is a conversation that needs to occur from day one.

What are the challenges to doing these types of school-wide interventions?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: School-wide interventions are complex and ensuring that each component (individual, classroom, and school) is working well takes considerable effort.

Dr. Leff: These programs can be difficult to implement due to competing demands such as scores on state-wide and national testing. One of the main strategies is to help teachers understand how programs such as ours are able to improve the classroom teaching climate and thereby support academic and social-emotional functioning of the students. 

What have you learned from doing this type of work?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: It’s a two-way street - we as researchers need to work hard to develop trust with the teachers, administrators and school staff, supporting them at every turn which can result in the long-term in a win-win for all parties.

Dr. Leff: One of the biggest lessons learned during the P4P has been how much the partnership between a school and team impacts the success of the program.

These two research studies are ongoing. As study results become available, we will learn whether these innovative interventions show promise for reducing incidents of bullying and improving students' achievement in school. Stay tuned!

Comments? Questions? Please send to IESResearch@ed.gov.