Promoting Self-Regulation to Enhance Social, Behavioral, and Academic Adjustment in Middle School
Co-Principal Investigators: Jill Hamm and Leslie Babinski (Duke University)
Purpose: The purpose of this project is 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 Self-Regulation Skills for Success (SRSS) intervention will adapt and integrate strategies from existing evidence-based programs 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. The intervention will be delivered by teachers in health education classes and address required health curricula objectives to enhance feasibility.
Project Activities: In Year 1, the research team will use an iterative process informed by input from health educators, content experts, and observations of health education classes to develop the intervention. In Year 2, they will field test individual components of the intervention in classrooms, followed by a field test of the full intervention to determine usability, feasibility, and fidelity. In the final year, they will evaluate the promise of the intervention for enhancing targeted student outcomes (cognitive and emotional self-regulation and stress management skills) by comparing students in classrooms randomly assigned to implement the SRSS intervention to those in classrooms implementing the standard health curriculum.
Products: The products of this project include the Self-Regulation Skills for Success (SRSS) intervention and all materials to support its implementation (e.g., manuals, fidelity of implementation measures) in middle school health education classes, along with peer reviewed publications.
Setting: This study will take place in suburban and rural school districts in North Carolina.
Sample: The participants in this study include approximately 49 health education teachers (29 will participate in development activities and 20 will participate in field and pilot testing), and approximately 850 students in grades 6–8 (250 will participate in field testing and 600 will participate in pilot testing). Approximately 25 percent of the student sample is expected to be African-American, 25 percent is expected to be Hispanic, and at least half are expected to be receiving free or reduced lunch.
Intervention: The research team will design the Self-Regulation Skills for Success (SRSS) intervention to support self-regulation in middle school students via three core intervention components: (1) professional development (PD) for middle school health education teachers that fosters positive peer dynamics and a responsive and nurturing classroom environment that supports self-regulation, using strategies from a validated middle school PD approach, the Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS) program; (2) an interactive classroom curriculum that provides direct instruction in both cognitive and emotion regulation skills in an integrated manner based on strategies from two existing evidence-based programs (Coping Power and Learning to BREATHE) and informed by translational neuroscience; and (3) skills practice and application integrated into other health and physical education activities, with reinforcement through home activities and parent education.
Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team will use an iterative development process informed by review of existing curricula (Coping Power and Learning to BREATHE) and input from middle school health educators, content experts, and observations of middle school health education classrooms. In the first half of Year 2, they will assess feasibility and utility of the intervention by manipulating and testing discrete components in health education classes. In the second half of Year 2, they will field test the full program and make revisions as necessary. In Year 3, they will conduct a pilot study by randomly assigning teachers within middle schools to deliver the SRSS intervention or to continue with their typical health education curriculum, with data collection before and after the intervention, to determine promise of the SRSS intervention for improving student cognitive and emotional self-regulation and stress management skills.
Control Condition: For the pilot study, students in classrooms randomized to the control condition will receive the standard course of study in health education.
Key Measures: The research team will develop an observational measure to assess implementation fidelity. They will assess student cognitive regulation (e.g., Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales – Goal Orientation) and emotional regulation (e.g., Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale), perceived stress and coping (e.g., Reaction to Challenge scale), support and engagement experiences (e.g., Positive Peer Interactions scale), social-emotional and behavioral competencies (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), and academic competence (Academic Competence Evaluation Scales – Enablers Scale, grades, and suspensions).
Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will analyze all qualitative data using software to identify themes and subthemes. They will calculate descriptive statistics to determine how usable and feasible the program is in middle school health classrooms. Researchers will use multi-level modelling to determine impact of the program on student outcomes.