These ‘Academic Enablers’ Lead to Better Relationships & Achievement

Kwick/ June 24, 2013/ Special Features

By: Jaclyn Russo, M.A.

A 2005 article in the New York Times entitled No Emotion Left Behind highlighted the importance of bridging academic and social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculums in schools. SEL skills can be thought of as “academic enablers,” leading to better relationships with peers and teachers and thus, more learning and achievement. At that time, many schools had not yet adopted SEL curriculums. However, Illinois was considered to be a trailblazer, having already incorporated SEL into the Illinois State Learning Standards. Many states have now incorporated SEL goals or benchmarks into their academic standards (CASEL webpage). But currently, Illinois is the only state to have free-standing, comprehensive standards for SEL at the K‑12 level. There are few tools available to educators to measure SEL for benchmarking, screening, program evaluation, and progress monitoring, making the development of these tools crucial for improving the identification and assessment of SEL deficits. So, where do we go from here to continue to improve this important dimension of learning?

Here at RNBC, research focused on improving the assessment of SEL skills is well underway, along with the development of novel SEL treatment programs. Currently the RNBC research team is developing two SEL assessment tools. One is a web-based, comprehensive SEL assessment for children in grades K‑3, aptly named, SELweb™. The other is an interactive and targeted assessment, called the Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing (VESIP™), for children ages 8–12 years old with an autism spectrum disorder.

What makes SELweb™ and the VESIP™ unique? The research team at RNBC believes that there are several aspects of these tools that improve upon the current methods of SEL assessment. SELweb™ is designed to measure several dimensions of SEL. This includes peer acceptance, nonverbal accuracy, perspective taking, social problem solving, and self regulation. SELweb™ contains separate assessment modules corresponding to each of these dimensions of SEL. It is uniquely designed to require very little administrator involvement. In fact, a teacher can administer SELweb™ to an entire class at the one time. This is a tremendous improvement upon current SEL assessments that usually require a one-on-one assessment from a highly-trained professional. This method of assessment will allow for schools to assess all children’s SEL skills quickly and easily. Armed with this information, teachers will have more information and knowledge about the children in their classrooms.

The VESIP™ is slightly different from SELweb™ and contains its own unique advantages to SEL skill assessment and is geared toward older children. The VESIP™ is an interactive, computer-based tool that utilizes 3D game technology to immerse children in a real-time social decision-making task. Children create an avatar to look like his or herself and then navigate through challenging social situations, such as joining a group of peers or being bumped by another child in the hallway. Children make responses about what they would do in these situations, how they want it turn out, and how these situations would make them feel. Like SELweb™, the VESIP™ requires little administrator involvement, making it ideal for administration. In addition, many children enjoy the interactive activities and are able to have fun while completing an ecologically-valid assessment, something that is not typical with the current assessments available.

Studies are underway now to collect crucial data. Once these assessments are validated and tested in larger representative samples, they will greatly improve upon current methods of SEL assessment. As these tools become available to both educational and clinical providers, more personalized and effective intervention strategies can be implemented, giving children a greater opportunity for social success. With SEL at the forefront of many discussions around the education system, the RNBC research team is dedicated to remaining at the cutting edge of assessment development.

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