The overarching goal of the Social Development and Intervention Research Program (SDIRP) is to conduct basic research on behavioral development and to translate this work into effective services for youth. The efforts of the SDIRP focus on clarifying processes and patterns of adjustment across childhood and adolescence and creating innovative prevention and treatment programs for youth who are at-risk for maladaptive outcomes. Four complementary aims serve as a foundation for these efforts.
- To identify how information on natural developmental processes can be used to establish and refine effective interventions across the school-age years (i.e., from kindergarten through entry into post-secondary education or the workforce).
- To create dissemination structures and strategies that bridge basic science and practice.
- To develop innovative community-based interventions and service delivery structures that are guided by a developmental science framework.
- To evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions and structures in the “real world.”
The SDIRP currently houses several projects:
- Supporting Early Adolescents’ Learning and Social Success (2011 to present)
- Rural Early Adolescent Learning program (2004 – 2011)
- Whole-School Social Dynamics Training program (2005 – 2010)
Supporting Early Adolescents’ Learning and Social Success (SEALS) (2011 to present)
The SEALS program is a universal intervention that uses year-long professional development programming to help teachers improve their capacity to create supportive learning environments for early adolescents. Teachers learn evidenced-based approaches to enhance students’ academic engagement, promote students’ use of constructive classroom interpersonal behaviors, and foster students’ involvement in positive social relationships with peers who value and are productively engaged in school.
The SEALS Model builds from three complementary theoretical perspectives pertaining to youth adjustment and adaptation in school during the early adolescent years. Adapted from the stage-environment fit hypothesis, which centers on the developmental challenges that youth experience as they transition to middle school, teachers learn instructional and classroom management strategies responsive to the needs of struggling youth and that focus on structuring the classroom context in ways that teach early adolescents how to be successful students in their schools (i.e., autonomous, self-directed learners). The second framework, developmental science, focuses on how factors and processes in key domains of development coalesce to contribute to individual functioning, adaptation, and growth. The SEALS model recognizes the holistic nature of early adolescent development and coordinates intervention across the academic, behavioral, and social domains of adjustment. Teachers learn to promote the adjustment of early adolescent learners by fostering their competencies and growth across these three domains in an integrated and synchronized manner. These two frameworks come together in an ecological intervention framework, which emphasizes intervention strategies intended to organize and structure the environment to foster the development of new skills, opportunities, and social roles that help to sustain productive patterns of adaptation. From this perspective, the SEALS model focuses on the daily activities of learning, and helps teachers understand how to structure the classroom context to align with students’ characteristics and developmental needs.
The research study designed to evaluate the efficacy of the SEALS program is underway as a randomized controlled trial that involves students and teachers in 28 metropolitan middle schools.
Rural Early Adolescent Learning (REAL) program (2004 – 2011)
The Rural Early Adolescent Learning (REAL) program was part of a collection of studies associated with the National Research Center on Rural Education Support (NRCRES). The purpose of Project REAL was to develop and evaluate a professional development training program to help teachers in rural schools support students who are at-risk for school adjustment difficulties during the transition from fifth to sixth grade. The goals of the intervention program were to provide evidence-based professional development training to teachers to support youth who are at-risk for school difficulties, enhance achievement and school engagement of all participating youth, provide a system of supports to teachers with high concentrations of students who present a range of instructional needs, and to foster collaborative and supportive relationships among teachers.
The research study designed to evaluate the efficacy of the SEALS program was completed in 2011, as a randomized controlled trial that involved students and teachers in 36 rural schools located in 10 states across the United States. Results indicate that students in Project REAL schools, compared to students in matched control schools, evidenced higher academic achievement and more favorable perceptions of their classrooms and schools. Teachers in REAL schools, compared to teachers in matched control schools, evidenced teaching practices more supportive of early adolescent development and greater awareness of classroom social dynamics.
More information about project REAL and the other programs of the NRCRES, including more specific results and current dissemination activities, can be found at www.nrcres.org.
Whole-School Social Dynamics Training (WSDT) program (2005 – 2010)
The Whole-School Social Dynamics Training (WSDT) program was developed to promote the social integration and interpersonal adjustment of elementary students with disabilities. Based on two decades of research on social dynamics and peer relations in inclusive classrooms, we have found that teachers often have difficulty promoting classroom social contexts that are supportive of the behavioral and social needs of students with disabilities. In many classrooms, hierarchical social structures emerge in which some students and peer groups are highly prominent and influential while other students and groups are relegated to less favorable social positions. In such contexts, many students with disabilities are excluded from conventional peer groups, become socially isolated or associate with peers who have problematic characteristics, and are at increased risk for involvement in bullying and victimization. To help teachers promote classroom social contexts that enhance students’ positive social adjustment, we developed an inservice training and consultation model that teaches teachers how to use natural social dynamic processes to support students’ adjustment in the classroom, including the social adjustment of students with disabilities.
The research study designed to evaluate the efficacy of the WSDT program was completed in 2010, as a randomized controlled trial that involved students and teachers in four schools located in a North Carolina school district.