U. FLORIDA (US) — A new curriculum could help at-risk students with significant behavioral problems learn to calm aggressive tendencies and solve social conflicts.
The curriculum, Tools for Getting Along, known as TFGA, gives upper elementary students processes for approaching social problems rationally.
“A lot of times when kids are having a social conflict with another person, it can be emotion-laden,” says Stephen Smith, professor at the University of Florida. “Because of that, they can end up with an irrational approach to solving their problems, often through physical or verbal aggression, or some other inappropriate behavior that doesn’t really achieve what they want to achieve.”
As reported in the Journal of School Psychology, Smith and associate scholar Ann Daunic randomly assigned the curriculum to about half of the 87 fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms observed in 14 schools in North Central Florida with the other half receiving no intervention. Almost 1,300 students participated in the study.
Between 70 and 87 percent of the students in both groups studied received free and reduced price lunch, an attribute of socioeconomic status that can contribute to risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties. The researchers also considered gender and race, which can also be associated with this risk.
“While the target of Tools for Getting Along is children who have difficulties, it’s also a preventive curriculum because it is implemented classwide with the idea that peers will help at-risk children see that there are other ways to solve problems that are more productive,” Daunic says.
The curriculum contains instructional lessons, role-play scenarios, small-group activities, and practice opportunities. Then, the effects of tool kit’s 27 lessons were evaluated through teacher and student self-reports, observations, and other measures.
The most significant findings of the recent study measuring the curriculum’s effects were the improvements in teacher ratings of students’ “executive functions”—a psychological term describing a set of mental processes, including attention flexibility, working memory for temporarily storing and organizing information, and inhibitory control—that help regulate emotions and behaviors in new situations.
With better attention flexibility, students are able to shift their attention from being on the aggressive offense in a social conflict to thinking through alternative strategies. Improvement in working memory and inhibitory control enhances students’ ability to stop and think before acting upon emotions.
“I think this shows a good example of what teachers can do for kids to allow them to equip themselves with a way to handle their own behavior,” Smith says. “It’s an opportunity for students to learn how to control behavior when teachers aren’t there to manage it for them, like at recess, in the cafeteria, on the school bus, and at home.”
The study’s results are particularly important in light of current research in neuropsychology and neuroscience that ties children’s emotional well-being with their behavior in school and academic success, Daunic says.
“As more research comes out about the brain and how we learn, there’s more support for interventions that help young people regulate their emotions and regulate their thought processes socially and academically. What makes me feel good about this kind of work is that there’s more and more evidence about its importance.”
According to Daunic, positive effects of Tools for Getting Along have endured even a year after the study took place. The researchers are now writing a paper about the curriculum’s longer-term effects and analyzing more data. Their findings will then be reviewed by national educational review panels, or clearinghouses, and considered for designation as a preferred, “evidence-based practice” in education.
Source: University of Florida