Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success - Project SEALS
Co-Principal Investigators: Jill V. Hamm (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and David Lee (Pennsylvania State University)
Purpose: As students begin middle school they are vulnerable to a range of academic, behavioral, and social problems that may negatively impact their school adjustment. Many adolescents experience difficulties during this time due to a poor fit between their developmental needs and the demands of the school environment. Children develop as an integrated whole suggesting that difficulties in one domain (e.g., academic, behavioral, social) may have consequences for functioning in other domains. The Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS) model uses these concepts to address the unique needs of young adolescents during the transition to middle school. The SEALS program consists of professional development to prepare sixth-grade teachers to provide a social and instructional context that supports all students, including those who are at increased risk for school adjustment problems. Pilot randomized control trials and a cluster randomized trial have been conducted with SEALS in rural schools in nine states, and results suggest that SEALS effectively supports early adolescents during this period of vulnerability. In these studies, SEALS was found to increase teachers' understanding of social dynamics and their efficacy for working with at-risk students, promote a positive classroom context and at-risk students' affiliations with productive peers, increase students' sense of bonding and belonging in school, reduce students' feelings of emotional risk for academic effort and risk of being bullied, and increase at-risk students' grades and performance on standardized achievement tests. In this replication study, the SEALS program will be evaluated in urban schools to determine whether similar positive results are found for students transitioning to middle school in urban environments.
Project Activities: Using a cluster randomized trial design, 28 urban middle schools will be randomly assigned to implement the SEALS program or to continue with their typical practices to address academic, behavioral, and social issues. Using two cohorts of students, baseline data will be collected in feeder schools when participants are in the fifth grade to be used for covariate adjustment in subsequent data analyses. Teachers in the intervention schools will be trained in the SEALS program in the summer before students enter sixth grade. Teachers and students in the intervention and control schools will be assessed in the fall and spring of sixth and seventh grades with data collected from multiple informants (teachers, peers, and self) on academic, behavioral and social adjustment, classroom social networks, and perceptions of the school environment. Teacher practices will be documented through observation and teacher logs in both the intervention and control schools. The impact of the SEALS program on students' academic, behavioral, and social outcomes will be assessed using hierarchical linear modeling.
Products: The expected products include published reports on the effects of the Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS) professional development model on the academic, behavioral, and social adjustment of students in urban areas as they transition to middle school.
Setting: The research is being conducted in 28 urban middle schools in North Carolina.
Participants: For each participating school, a minimum of 10 teachers and 175 sixth-grade students will participate.
Intervention: The SEALS program is a universal intervention approach that involves training teachers in strategies to enhance students' (1) instructional preparation, organization, and engagement skills (Academic Engagement Enhancement); (2) productive classroom interpersonal behaviors (Competence Enhancement Behavior Management); and (3) engagement in productive and positive social relationships (Classroom Social Dynamics and Bullying Prevention Training). The SEALS training includes a 2-day summer institute, web-based self-guided modules, and directed-consultation via videoconferencing.
Research Design and Methods: In this efficacy and replication study, schools are randomly assigned to intervention and control conditions. Two cohorts of 14 schools each will participate in the study in adjacent years. In Year 1, baseline data on all outcome and process variables will be collected for the first cohort of students in feeder schools during the fifth grade year. In Year 2, the treatment teachers in the first cohort of schools will be trained in the intervention components immediately prior to the transition to sixth grade for participating students. Teachers and students in the intervention and control schools will be assessed in the fall and spring of sixth grade. Baseline assessments for the second cohort of students will be collected during their fifth-grade year. In Year 3, the first cohort of students will be assessed in the fall and spring of the seventh grade to assess the ongoing impact of the intervention. The teachers in the second cohort of intervention schools will be trained in the intervention components immediately prior to the transition to sixth grade for participating students. Teachers and students in the second cohort of intervention and control schools will be assessed in the fall and spring of sixth grade. In Year 4, the second cohort of students will be assessed in the fall and spring of the seventh grade to assess the long-term impact of the intervention. Classroom observations will occur in the sixth-grade intervention year for both cohorts of intervention and control schools at three distinct waves (fall, winter, spring).
Control Condition: In the control schools, teachers will continue to use typical practices to address academic, behavioral, and social issues.
Key Measures: Constructs to be measured include: (1) teacher mediators (e.g., teacher efficacy); (2) students' academic, behavioral, and social adjustment (e.g., emotional risk, peer behavioral assessment, end-of-course grades and the NC Standard Course of Study End-of Grade [EOG] Assessments); and (3) classroom social networks (Social Cognitive Maps) and perceptions of the school environment (e.g., sense of belonging). The Classroom Assessment Scoring System-Secondary (CLASS-S) and teacher logs will be used to document teacher practices in both intervention and control schools. In addition, school record data will be collected annually for each participating student.
Data Analytic Strategy: Hierarchical linear models and related multi-level models will be used to evaluate the impact of the intervention on student outcomes (e.g., grades, standardized achievement, social and behavior problems), student- and school-level mediators (e.g., peer group affiliations, perceptions of school context, student involvement in bullying), and teacher outcomes (e.g., instructional and classroom management practices, sense of efficacy). These models will also be used to assess how teacher and school variables are related to implementation fidelity.
Publications from this project:
Farmer, T.W., and Xie, H. (2013). Manufacturing Phenomena or Preserving Phenomena? Core Issues in the Identification of Peer Social Groups with Social Cognitive Mapping Procedures. Social Development, 22 (3): 595–603.
Farmer, T.W., Irvin, M.J., Motoca, L.M., Leung, M.C., Hutchins, B.C., Brooks, D.S., and Hall, C.M. (2013). Externalizing and Internalizing Behavior Problems, Peer Affiliations, and Bullying Involvement Across the Transition to Middle School. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Published online before print June 25, 2013, doi: 10.1177/1063426613491286.
Farmer, T.W., Hamm, J.V., Lane, K.L., Lee, D., Sutherland, K.S., Hall, C.M., and Murray, R.A. (2013). Conceptual foundations and components of a contextual intervention to promote student engagement during early adolescence: The Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS) Model. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 23 (2), 115–139.