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Empathizing with Others: Assessment of a Program for Improving Academic and Personal Growth

30 April 2015


At this point in cultural-historical time the educational community is stressed and national dialogue on bullying is widespread. Included in this dialogue is the need to attend to youths’ social-emotional (SEL; aka, non-cognitive) learning skills. Research shows that enhanced SEL boosts prosocial behavior and academic achievement. Whereas teachers know this, they find themselves torn: How can they do it all?

Some schools cope by treating academic and personal-growth separately: teachers teach academics and counselors handle personal growth. In our district, the elementary school-counselor runs the “Positive Behavioral Intervention Support” Program; a token economy system. Whereas token economies can modify behavior to an extent, there is little evidence for generalization across contexts. The prospect of earning points for good behavior in the cafeteria can lead to self-control in the cafeteria, but what about the classroom?

Our program stems from a different clinical tradition: Selman & Yeates’s (1989) “Interpersonal Negotiation Strategies” and emphasizes internal growth within learning contexts. Activities are teacher-directed; content centers on emotion understanding, self-regulation, social perspective taking, and pro-social problem solving. Participation should enable skill growth to generalize.

The program has three parts; this presentation represents an initial assessment of the classroom activities. One classroom (3rd/4th-split, 21 students) completed activities 3 times; another classroom (3rd-grade, 38 students), participated 6 times. In the latter classroom, the teacher completed a semi-structured evaluation form as well. Results indicate that the activities were usable, challenging, and fun. Importantly, as youth-participation increased, so too did their ability to take the perspective of their peers.

Program evaluation


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