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Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning; What Does the Research Say?

reviewed by Jeanne Galbraith - 2005

coverTitle: Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning; What Does the Research Say?
Author(s): Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissberg, Margaret C. Wang, and Herbert J. Walberg (Editors)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807744395, Pages: 244, Year: 2004
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“Groundbreaking” is the term used by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1997), to describe Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning, and I have to agree. In the wake of the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and its requirement for “scientifically based research,” this compilation of research on social, emotional, and academic learning is especially timely, because it provides sound evidence of the benefits of integrating social and emotional learning into the curriculum. In general, schools tend to emphasize academic or cognitive readiness as isolated from other areas of development, including social and emotional. The research within this book counters this tendency, as the overall book emphasizes “a growing body of scientifically based research supporting the strong impact that enhanced social and emotional behaviors can have on success in school and ultimately in life” (p. 19).

The book is divided into three parts. Part I: “The Foundations of Social and Emotional Learning,” presents chapters that provide readers with essential knowledge about social and emotional learning. Part II: “Effective Strategies for Enhancing Academic, Social, and Emotional Outcomes,” focuses on research studies and results from specific programs and projects that have incorporated and examined social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Part III, “Recommendations and Conclusions: Implications for Practice, Training, Research, and Policy,” summarizes the book and presents directions for future research.

Part I, containing Chapters 1-6, lays the foundation for connecting social, emotional, and academic learning. Chapter 1, “The Scientific Base Linking Social and Emotional Learning to School Success,” offers a solid overview while establishing the importance of focusing on social and emotional learning in education settings. The authors, who represent most of the editors of the book, argue that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is marginalized as a form of learning, and tends to be addressed sporadically within the curriculum. They present a strong case for integrating SEL into the curriculum of a classroom, a school, and even throughout an entire school district for the promotion of long-term and coordinated programming. To further establish the foundation of the book, they include a table that illustrates how the research programs described in Part II of the book connect to specific academic outcomes under the categories, “School Attitudes,” “School Behavior,” and “School Performance.” They also introduce their new term SEAL, which represents the integration of Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Other highlights of Part I include a framework for understanding social emotional learning and academic achievement, found in Chapter 2, “The Learner-Centered Psychological Principles: A Framework for Balancing Academic Achievement and Social-Emotional Learning,” and Chapter 6, “Social and Emotional Learning in Teacher Preparation Standards,” which connects social and emotional learning to teacher education standards.

Part II, “Effective Strategies for Enhancing Academic, Social, and Emotional Outcomes,” is the core of the book. The five chapters of Part II portray research studies on programs linking social, emotional, and academic learning, many of which have been operating for over twenty years. For instance, Chapter 7, “Strategies to Infuse Social and Emotional Learning into Academics,” describes the curriculum and successful results of a twenty-year collaborative project, the Social Decision Making and Social Problem Solving Program (SDM/SPS). The chapter also provides initial results of implementing the curriculum into an entire school district (PreK - grade 12). The Seattle Social Development Project is the focus of Chapter 8, “Social Development and Social and Emotional Learning.” This chapter situates the project within relevant theoretical foundations and describes positive results of several research studies connected to the project linking social and emotional learning to academic learning and success. Also included is a longitudinal study of students at age 18. Within Chapter 9, readers will find a description of The Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), which is “one of the oldest and largest conflict resolution programs in the United States ” (p. 151). Over fifteen elementary schools within the New York City public school district are using RCCP. The chapter also contains information on the results of several research studies connected to RCCP together with important suggestions for practitioners to use to support the inclusion of social and emotional learning in their classrooms and schools.  

The concluding portion of Part II includes two chapters detailing projects that have been active for over two decades. Chapter 10, “The PATHS Curriculum: Theory and Research on Neurocognitive Development and School Success,” describes the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) program, which is “a comprehensive prevention program for elementary school-aged children that is intended primarily to improve both social-emotional functioning and specific neurocognitive functioning, as well as to secondarily affect academic functioning” (p. 170). The chapter strongly links their curriculum program to multiple theoretical perspectives, including the ABCD model (Affective-Behavioral-Cognitive-Dynamic), the eco-behavioral systems model, neurobiology and brain organization, and psychoanalytic theory. Chapter 11, “Community in School as Key to Student Growth: Findings from the Child Development Project,” highlights research from another long-term project. The Child Development Project represents a comprehensive elementary school program integrating all aspects of development with an emphasis on “academic, ethical, emotional, and social learning” (p.189). The primary goal of the project was to create a “caring community of learners” (p.189). The research project was longitudinal, and the authors succinctly describe the positive effects and results of their program, including a follow-up study of the students in middle school.

Part III consists of one concluding chapter, “Recommendations and Conclusions: Implications for Practice, Training, Research, and Policy.” Here, the editors synthesize the findings of the research studies presented in Part II with the foundational knowledge presented in Part I. The result is a compelling message of how researchers, schools, and policymakers should use this information to make SEL or SEAL an integral part of

schooling and not a “reform du jour” (p. 215).

Readers interested in practical applications will particularly gain from “SEL Instructional Approaches that Enable Academic Achievement,” found in Chapter 1, which describes core components of SEL that have been found to be effective and connected to academic success. However, readers will not find a prescriptive program of “how-to” steps to integrate SEL/SEAL into their classrooms and schools. As the examples found throughout this book illustrate, a series of prescriptive steps would not be appropriate, since each classroom, school, and community context differs based upon its own sociocultural contexts. Thus, programming and curriculum will vary in different contexts as illustrated throughout Part II.

Overall, this book synthesizes a wealth of scientifically based research on social, emotional, and academic learning, which can be used to support the integration SEL/SEAL into schools, districts, and communities. The entire volume, including the research studies in Part II, emphasizes the importance of SEL/SEAL, not just in its own right, but also in its strong connections to academic learning. Researchers, educators, students, and policy-makers will find the book useful for their own purposes. For example, teachers will find the overview of components of SEL, presented in Part I, interesting and informative. Additionally, teachers will benefit from having a solid base of research to justify their emphasis on social and emotional development. The examples of different programs presented in Part II will help teachers get a sense of different ways SEL can be integrated at various levels, including the classroom, district, and into community-based programming. Principals and other administrators will also benefit from descriptions and examples of comprehensive school-wide and district-wide programs, particularly if interested in implementing similar research-based programs in their own schools. Policy-makers need to read this book to understand how integrating social and emotional learning is not counter to academic learning; rather it supports its development. Significantly, the implications of this book’s research cross into various disciplines beyond education, including psychology, sociology, and neuroscience. In short, the book is a rich collection of “groundbreaking” research that all educators interested in supporting children and adolescents’ social, emotional, and academic development need to read.


Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 7, 2005, p. 1540-1544
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11415, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 3:54:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Jeanne Galbraith
    The Ohio State University
    E-mail Author
    JEANNE GALBRAITH is a doctoral candidate in the School of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include child development, particularly, social and emotional development, play, and issues of diversity and equity. Currently, she is a graduate teaching associate working with preservice Masters of Education students in the early childhood program at OSU. She is also working on her dissertation, an ethnographic study of superhero play in an early childhood classroom. She received her M.A. degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and taught as a special education teacher, working primarily with children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges.
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