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New study shows importance of social and emotional learning in schools

12/06/2017 Joanna

Social and emotional learning programmes in schools can deliver a wide range of benefits for adolescents, according to new research.

Conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, the research also offered evidence that this form of teaching needs to go further than many current applications, moving beyond simply teaching skills and towards making environments more respectful, and helping students to identify the values that matter most to them.

In an experiment, 400 students were asked to reflect on the issues or people of greatest personal importance to them, before being presented with stories and data about other students who had a desire to learn in order to make a difference. The teenagers were then asked to write a persuasive letter to future students to adopt a purpose for learning.

Overall, students who took part in the programme saw their academic performance improve, with low-scoring students shown to experience particularly pronounced benefits.

The study also cited evidence from previous research showing that reducing the role of authoritarian structures in teaching can help to foster a better educational climate, characterised by more authentic relationships with adults and positive, democratic group dynamics.

Additionally, it was shown that taking time to teach adolescents that social traits are malleable and not fixed can make them feel better equipped to face social challenges, rather than viewing them as threats or as realities that cannot be changed. Teenagers who internalised this idea were shown to cope better on days when they were more stressed, and ultimately achieved better grades.

David Yeager, a psychology assistant professor at the university, said: "Improving adolescents' interior social and emotional lives can spill over into other areas of functioning, because social and emotional life matters so much at this age."

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