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IES Grant

Title: Promoting Self-Regulation to Enhance Social, Behavioral, and Academic Adjustment in Middle School
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Murray, Desiree Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2017 - 06/30/2020) Award Amount: $1,398,567
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A170172

Co-Principal Investigators: Hamm, Jill; Babinski, Leslie

Purpose: The purpose of this project was to develop and test an intervention to support the development of adolescents' self-regulation skills during the middle school years. The need for intervention during this time period can be seen in a decline in achievement and an increase in discipline problems and truancy. Middle school classroom peer cultures also tend to discourage academically engaged and prosocial behaviors, favoring aggression and defiance. As such, there is reason to provide universal supports so that all students can be equipped with skills for navigating the increasingly complex social and academic demands they face. The Be CALM (Cool, Attentive, Logical, and Mature) intervention is guided by a theory of change that intentionally targets self-regulatory processes in need of support and development during early adolescence: immature cognitive controls, increased emotionality and stress reactivity, and responsivity to peers.

Project Activities: In Year 1, the research team used an iterative process informed by input from a literature review, interviews and focus groups with health educators and school counselors, consultation with content experts, and observations of health education classes to develop the intervention. In Year 2, they field tested the intervention in 24 classrooms with 6th-8th grade students in 3 schools to determine usability, feasibility, and fidelity. In the final year, they evaluated the promise of the intervention for enhancing targeted student outcomes (self-regulation skills, stress, social-behavioral and academic competence) by comparing students in classrooms whose teachers were randomly assigned to implement the Be CALM intervention to those whose teachers implemented the standard health curriculum in 4 middle schools.

Key Outcomes: Information about key outcomes and study findings will be reported when peer reviewed publications are available.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in suburban and rural school districts in North Carolina.

Sample: The participants in this study included a total of 29 health education teachers (16 participated in development activities and 13 participated in field and pilot testing). A total of 20 student support staff (primarily counselors) also participated (11 in development activities and 9 in field and pilot testing. A total of 877 students in grades 6–8 participated (405 in field testing and 472 participated in pilot testing). For the pilot test, 55 percent were female; 10 percent of the student sample identified as African-American, 10 percent identified as Hispanic, and 12 percent as Asian.  Twenty-two percent were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Intervention: The research team designed the Be CALM program to support self-regulation in middle school students using mindfulness integrated with cognitive-behavioral strategies to promote inhibitory control, healthy decision-making, and kindness towards self and others. Middle school health education teachers received 3 days of professional development (PD) in personal mindfulness, curriculum delivery, and "co-regulation", that is, creating a positive classroom climate, understanding and managing classroom social dynamics to promote a supportive peer culture, and interacting with students in a manner that supports their self-regulation development. School counselors or other student support staff participated in PD activities and were encouraged to support students and teachers in the program. Teachers also received ongoing classroom coaching to support curriculum delivery and mindful teaching.

The 12-session student curriculum is delivered by teachers in health education classes with support from school counselors and addresses required health curricula objectives. Topics include understanding self-regulation; clarifying values and setting personal goals; goal commitment and overcoming obstacles; mindfulness of sensations, thoughts, and emotions; identifying and coping with stress; perspective taking and social problem-solving.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team used an iterative process informed by input from a literature review and analysis of key components from existing evidence-based mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral programs (Learning to Breathe and Coping Power). They conducted interviews and focus groups with health educators and school counselors and coded these data by themes. They also observed health education classes and PE. In Year 2, they field tested the intervention in 24 classrooms with 6th-8th grade students in 3 schools to determine usability and feasibility and developed a classroom observation tool to assess the quality of teachers' delivery of the curriculum, including facilitating mindfulness practices, and the extent to which they interacted with students using co-regulation strategies. In the final year, they conducted a randomized controlled trial(RCT) evaluating the promise of the intervention for enhancing targeted student outcomes (self-regulation skills, stress, social-behavioral and academic competence).

Control Condition: For the pilot study RCT, students whose teachers were randomized to the control condition received the standard course of study in health education.

Key Measures: The research team collected exploratory data assessing teachers' stress and mindfulness (Maslach Burnout Inventory, Mindfulness in Teaching). Teacher adherence/dosage was collected on session checklists completed by teachers and classroom observational data were collected 6 times per teacher. Outcome data were collected from students through surveys and interviews, by teacher report, and through school records. Given several related measures (Affective Efficacy Self-Regulation Scale, Self-Compassion Scale for Children, Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale, Cognitive Emotion Regulation Scale), they created summary scores of adaptive and ineffective self-regulation as a primary outcome. Additional outcomes included goal commitment (Self-Control Self-Monitoring Scale), stress (Perceived Stress Scale), social responsibility (Social Goals Questionnaire), sense of belonging (Class Belonging and Support Scale), social- behavioral competence (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), and academic competence (Academic Competence Evaluation Scale, motivation subscale and grades).

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team coded and analyzed qualitative data using software to identify themes and subthemes. They calculated descriptive statistics to determine how usable and feasible the program is in middle school health classrooms. They used multi-level modelling to determine impact of the program on student outcomes, with student gender, grade, and parent education as covariates. They also conducted exploratory moderator analyses to assess differences in students with high and low levels of stress and social-behavioral difficulties.

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