This study took place in 51 elementary schools within 11 districts in a single southeastern state. The intervention was administered to the whole class, with individualized support for the top 3 to 4 students at risk of emotional and behavioral disorders, in general education kindergarten and first grade classrooms.
A total of 1,013 students in kindergarten and first grade were included in the study, which included 533 students from 25 schools in the intervention group and 480 students from 26 schools in the comparison group.
Approximately 38% of the students were female, 82% were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 4% were English learners, and 20% had an Individualized Education Program. Approximately 64% of the students were White, 20% were Black, 6% were classified as another or unknown race, and 10% were Hispanic. These demographic characteristics are based on approximately 92 percent of the randomized sample for whom the study was able to collect information.
The Social-Emotional Learning Foundations (SELF) intervention is a social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum designed to support students at risk of emotional and behavioral disorders. The curriculum is a product built on competencies identified by the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). The curriculum focuses on developing language-supported self-regulation and social-emotional competence. Lessons incorporate instructional strategies that promote children’s use of SEL-related vocabulary, self-talk, critical thinking, and application of learned concepts. The curriculum is administered to the whole classroom and then students most at risk of emotional and behavioral disorders are provided additional support in small group settings. The curriculum is broken up into 52 kindergarten and 54 first grade lessons centered around 16 story books.
Students in the comparison group received business-as-usual support. Approximately 16 percent of comparison group teachers reported using a formal SEL curriculum, although the study does not indicate the names of the curricula. Comparison group teachers read on average, 2 to 3 of the storybooks used in the intervention during their whole group instruction. In addition, 13 comparison group teachers reported using a storybook used in the intervention during small group instruction.
Support for implementation
All intervention teachers received two full days of training in the beginning of the school year before implementing the intervention curriculum. The first day of training covered (1) an explanation of the foundational concepts of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), (2) introduction to the different SEL competencies, and (3) review of how teachers could bridge the conceptual elements of SELF with their students' social-emotional growth and their ongoing SEL instruction. During the second day, the training focused on implementation of the curriculum. This included a review and presentation on (1) reading storybooks with corresponding prompts, (2) using the curriculum strategies and vocabulary, and (3) applying activities that connected to SEL objectives. During the study, graduate assistants visited the classrooms of intervention teachers, approximately once a week. While their primary purpose was to ensure the fidelity of implementation, graduate assistants also helped intervention teachers address any procedural challenges and offered support for dealing with those challenges.