Academic journal article School Psychology Review

A Meta-Analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

A Meta-Analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?

Article excerpt

With all the challenges that children face in a progressively more complex society, it is increasingly important for school programs to support and assist the emotional and social development of students. However, it is unclear how effective school-based programs are at promoting the desired change in children's social skills. Previous research highlights the importance of social skills throughout childhood and adolescence. For instance, social skills were related to both academic performance and behavior problems (McLelland, Morrison & Holmes, 2000; Osofsky & Osofsky, 2001; Segrin & Flora, 2000; Wentzel, 1991), and social responsibility, peer relationships, and self-regulatory processes among adolescents were significantly related to grades (Wentzel, 1991). In addition, poor social skills can also have an adverse effect on children's behavior and relationships in school settings (Vitaro, Tremblay, & Gagnon, 1992). Stronger social skills independently predict fewer externalizing and internalizing problems in classrooms (Henricsson & Rydell, 2006).

Not only do poor social skills adversely affect performance in a classroom, but they are also a risk factor for other adverse outcomes related to general functioning. Social withdrawal, extreme feelings of isolation, and rejection can be precursors to aggressive and violent behavior (Osofsky & Osofsky, 2001). Poor social skills also increase vulnerability to mental health problems like depression, loneliness, and social anxiety (Segrin & Flora, 2000). It has been suggested that social skills training can be an effective approach to prevention and early intervention for various behavior problems (Lewis, Brock, & Lazarus, 2002).

From the research published thus far, the importance of developing strong social skills is clear. Consequently, school systems, educational researchers, and psychologists have created many types of interventions designed to improve students' social skills. These training programs typically target several components of behavior thought to be related to social skills including but not limited to the promotion of positive peer relations, emotional regulation, awareness of emotions in others, problem solving, and handling interpersonal conflict. Several classes of interventions have been created and administered in order to advance the growth of social skills. These approaches can range from broad interventions for all children in the school to individualized interventions for a select group of students.

Public health models have created a three-tier continuum that defines various levels of support (Gordon, 1983) and uses information on degree of risk to classify interventions into the categories of universal, selected, and indicated. Tier 1, universal prevention, is aimed at the entire population of interest (e.g., all school-aged children, all seniors, and so on). The goal is to enhance protective factors or diminish risk factors for the entire population. Typically in a school setting this would be a proactive prevention for all or a majority of students in a school. Tier 2, selected prevention, is aimed at individuals or groups considered at heightened risk for developing more serious problem behaviors. The goal is to implement an intervention to reduce the risk of a particular outcome. This is typically a more select group of the larger school population. Finally, tier three, indicated prevention, is designed to treat children who have already demonstrated problems or impairment in the area of interest. These programs are often administered to groups of students who carry specific diagnoses, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Generally, the goals of indicated preventions are to reverse problems that already exist, prevent their worsening, or prevent a relapse.

A number of quantitative reviews have already been performed on Tier 3 social skills intervention studies that exclusively involve populations of children and adolescents with behavioral and emotional disorders. …

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