A study of 20 elementary schools in Hawaii has found that a program to build social, emotional and character skills resulted in significantly improved quality of education.
The program, which is centered on activities to build character, only takes about an hour a week away from traditional education, but has led to fewer suspensions, lower absenteeism, and better reading and math scores on standardized tests, researchers say.
A new study from researchers at Oregon State University in the Journal of School Health found that teachers believe this approach improved “overall school quality” by 21 percent, with parents and students agreeing in slightly smaller numbers.
“Improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach, and students to learn and be more motivated,” said Brian Flay, an OSU professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. “What we’re finding now is that we can really address some of the concerns in our schools by focusing more on character in the classroom.
“These are not new concepts — they’re the kind of things that have always been discussed in families, church and social groups,” he continued. “A third-grade lesson, for instance, might be helping kids to understand how other people feel, to learn about empathy. That may seem simple, but in terms of educational performance, it’s important.”
Past policies to curtail substance abuse, violent behavior and other problems have shown only limited results, researchers said in the study, in part because they don’t address underlying issues such as a student’s sense of self and social attachment.
The new trend, called social-emotional and character development, involves teacher and staff training, parent and community involvement, and continued positive reinforcement. Lessons include topics related to self-concept, physical and intellectual actions, managing oneself responsibly, getting along with others, being honest, and self-improvement.
The results have been impressive, the OSU researchers say. Previously published results showed 72 percent fewer suspensions, 15 percent less absenteeism, and much better reading and math skills based on state tests, they note. National tests showed a 9 percent improvement in these academic subjects.
The findings suggest that schools should consider policies and funding directed toward social and character programs of this type, the researchers concluded.
Source: Oregon State University