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Professor links positive-behavior programs to good grades

May 20, 2004

A new book co-edited by a University of Cincinnati professor is credited with "groundbreaking" research from the nation's leading experts on social and emotional learning (SEL). The book - titled Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say? - finds research that links programs to enhance a child's social-emotional development and character with building better grades and school performance. Co-editor Joseph E. Zins, a University of Cincinnati psychologist and professor of education and a nationally recognized expert in SEL and prevention research, says these findings are crucial in an era of school accountability, shrinking budgets and limited resources. He adds that the earlier children are exposed to these programs, the better for their future report cards as they continue to receive SEL instruction.

"SEL programs teach children to manage their emotions, care about others, make good decisions and behave ethically and responsibly," Zins explains. "Many programs are prevention-oriented - such as programs to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and school violence."

Zins says the book pins down three specific categories where social and emotional learning is tied to school success: School performance, student attitudes and student behavior.

School Performance
The research found that SEL programs generated:
    Higher achievements test scores and/or grades
    Improved math, English and social studies skills
    Improved academic performance from elementary to middle school
    Better problem solving and planning
Student Attitudes
The researchers reported that SEL programs built:
    Higher academic motivation and aspiration
    More positive attitudes toward school and learning
    Stronger connections to the school
    An ability to better cope with stress
School Behavior
The book credits SEL programs with:
    Fewer dropouts, suspensions and absences
    Fewer incidents of aggression and classroom disruption
    More classroom participation and more effort to achieve
    A better transition from elementary to middle school - a key time of stress for schoolchildren
"We advocate teaching these skills and competencies starting with preschool," Zins adds. "If it starts at the adolescent level, it may be too late."

The forward of the book is written by psychologist Daniel Goleman, whose New York Times' best-seller, Emotional Intelligence set off an international debate. About the new research collaboration published in Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say? Goleman writes, "The emotional centers of the brain are intricately interwoven with the neocortical areas involved in cognitive learning. When a child trying to learn is caught up in a distressing emotion, the centers for learning are temporarily hampered. The child's attention becomes preoccupied with whatever may be the source of the trouble. Because attention is of itself a limited capacity, the child has that much less ability to hear, to understand, or remember what a teacher or book is saying. In short, there is a direct link between emotions and learning."

The book ($27.95 paperback), released in April, is published by Teachers College Press. Among groups to whom Zins has presented the findings are the U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools National Technical Conference in Washington, D.C.; the Educational Testing Service; U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences and the Human Resources Research Organization in Princeton, N.J.; the National Conference on Conflict Resolution Education in Columbus; and he will be presenting May 18 at the Connecticut Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Conference in Cromwell, Conn.

University of Cincinnati

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