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Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs generally yield positive outcomes for students, and can enhance academic performance and reduce conduct problems. Shi and Cheung conducted a comprehensive and rigorous meta-analysis to identify program components that significantly  impact SEL effectiveness across four domains: social-emotional skills, affect and attitudes, prosocial and antisocial behaviors, and academic performance.

The final sample included 12 high-quality SEL programs from 59 studies published between 1980 and 2020. The program components were classified into five categories: cognitive elements, pedagogical activities, teacher social-emotional skills, climate support, and family engagement. Each program could consist of more than one component, and each component was treated as an individual dichotomous moderator when included in the program.

Overall, SEL programs demonstrated significant improvements in youth social-emotional skills (ES=+0.17), affect and attitudes (ES=+0.09), academic performance (ES=+0.13), behaviors (ES=+0.14), and overall effectiveness (ES=+0.15). After controlling for methodological factors such as research design, duration, and dosage, the results of the meta-regression analysis are presented below:

  • Programs that included training for teachers’ social-emotional skills had a significantly higher effect on behaviors, academic performance, and overall effectiveness compared to programs without such training.
  • Programs with cognitive elements showed diminished effects on social-emotional skills and prosocial behavior, although these effects were not statistically significant.
  • Randomized controlled trials yielded smaller effect sizes compared to quasi-experiments, and low program dosages were less effective.

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