Teachers have long reported a positive correlation between a child's social/emotional development and academic success. The purpose of this paper is to review four articles that report on research examining this relationship.
Han, H.S., and Thomas, M.S. (2010). No child misunderstood: Enhancing early childhood teachers' multicultural responsiveness to the social competence of diverse children. Early Childhood Education Journal 37(6), pp. 469-476.
The majority of early childhood teachers are middle-class and of European descent. The demographics of early childhood classrooms, on the other hand, are reflective of changes in American society, and thus there are more children from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. Research supports the importance of cultural considerations in understanding and promoting social competence in a classroom of young, culturally diverse students. As in the previous study, Han and Thomas characterize social competence as an important marker of development and adjustment and correlated strongly with school readiness, academic achievement and lifelong relationships. Hall (1976, in Han and Thomas, 2010) proposed the concepts of high-context and low-context cultures. Examples of high-context cultures are Japan, China, Russia and Brazil, where social identity and group interests are more valued. Low-context cultures, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Italy, place greater value on individual identity and personal interests. The differences between these categories of culture are significant, since high-context cultures emphasize compliance and respectfulness, while in low-context cultures, assertiveness and leadership are more important. Early childhood teachers who do not understand and respond appropriately to these differences are doing their students a great disservice.
Critique: Han and Thomas presented a model with three themes, based on Sue and Sue (2003) that can be used as an overarching framework to enhance teachers' multicultural responsiveness. These include awareness of one's own biases and assumptions about human behavior, ability to acquire knowledge about the group of children with which one is working, and the ability to use culturally appropriate strategies in working with children from diverse cultural backgrounds. It is suggested, within the first theme, that teachers use "structured opportunities to take a close look at their cultural beliefs systems and recognize themselves as cultural beings." Guided discussions at staff meetings and workshops seem to be an appropriate way to do this; "encouraging teachers to write an autobiography as a self-assessment" has been used (Miller and Fuller, 2006; Schmidt, 1998; in Han and Thomas, 2010), but this seems like a time-consuming task that most busy teachers would not welcome. There are other ways to assess and reflect upon one's views.
The second theme concerns multicultural k knowledge, and this, too, is a perfect topic for discussion in meetings and workshops. Schools could bring in speakers that are knowledgeable about diversity in the early childhood classroom. Alternatively, or in addition, schools could add materials to their professional libraries. They could also fund, in whole or in part, training offered through local teacher education programs or commercial teacher development companies. This writer believes that most teachers want the best for their students and would willingly add to their knowledge bases in the interest of their students. Dovetailing with Theme 2 is Theme 3, the active development and practice of appropriate, relevant, and sensitive intervention strategies and skills. Again, discussions among staff, outside resources, and training can help teachers acquire these skills. It may also be very useful, as Han and Thomas suggest, for peers to observe each other in their classrooms to enable them to provide constructive feedback as well as learn strategies they can themselves apply.
Root, A.K., and Stifter, C. (2010). Temperament and maternal emotion socialization beliefs as predictors of early childhood social behavior in the laboratory and classroom. Parenting: Science and Practice 10(4), pp. 241-257.
Summary/Overview: Root and Stifter wanted to investigate the roles of children's approach behavior and maternal emotion socialization practice as it related to the development of social behavior in familiar and unfamiliar contexts from preschool to early childhood. The sample of children was observed and assessed at 4.5 years of age, at which time mothers reported about their emotion socialization beliefs. The children returned at age 6.5 to participate in a peer play paradigm. When the children were 7 years of age, their teachers completed a questionnaire about children's social behaviors in the classroom. Not surprisingly, the researchers found mothers' emotion socialization beliefs contributed to the developmental outcomes of approach behavior. Mothers with highly supported emotion socialization beliefs had children who were better able to socialize in unfamiliar settings. Since children's social behavior is an important predictor of school success, mothers' beliefs are critical to their children's social development.
Critique: The study by Root and Stifter was well designed because it followed the same group of children over a two and a half year period. Participants were selected from two completed longitudinal studies on infant development that were originally recruited from a local hospital and an area Women, Infants and Children program. A total of 124 families were contacted, with 72 agreeing to participate. The families thus had some experience with data collection procedures and research protocols; it is probably fair to conclude that the prior experience reduced any anxiety about participating in another study. It is also possible that families were eager to perform well and reflect themselves in the best light. To account for this, the children were observed and assessed by researchers, mothers and teachers, which helped to provide objectivity that mothers may have, consciously or unconsciously, be able to provide with regard to their children's behavior as well as their own. This writer believes that most mothers are doing the best they can and are providing the emotional and socialization modeling and instruction to the best of their abilities. Root and Han report on studies that have confirmed an association between high- and low-context behavior and later social development (consistent with the research of Han and Thomas, as reported in the previous article critique) but that parents can do alter social development and behaviors. Teachers' reports supported this finding. Mothers characterized as warm and sensitive bolstered their children's approach orientation in a positive way, evidenced by interactions in the classroom. Conversely, mothers who failed to teach children to regulate their negative emotions and behaviors, even punishing them for negative actions and feelings, tended to have children who experienced difficulty with social interactions in school. Not surprisingly, teachers reported correlations between negative social development and academic difficulties.
Porath, M. (2009). Fostering social expertise in early childhood. Early Child Development
and Care 179(1), pp. 93-106.
Summary/Overview: Numerous studies support the conclusion that social competence is essential to academic success. A child who is socially competent has the ability to analyze and reflect on his/her own activities and interactions and those of others in a social setting. Children as young as two begin to demonstrate insights into others' behavior. Between the ages of four and five, children understand that mental states are influenced by actions and events, although their explanations for mental states usually focus on actions. For example, a child might explain, "happy is having a birthday." As a child matures, he is able to view interactions through a "landscape of consciousness" (Bruner, 1986, in Porath, 2009), in which actions can be explained in terms of mental states such as thoughts, feelings and judgments. Now, a child might explain, "The boy is sad because the teacher got mad. She wants him to be a good boy." In Porath's research, the movement from "landscape of action" to "landscape of consciousness" was explored to determine whether children could be taught to understand others' actions in social settings. The researchers read selected stories to children, including Kevin Henkes' Chrysanthemum, Rosemary Wells' Yoko, and Leo Leonni's Swimmy. Each of the central characters had a problem to overcome that required effective interaction with peers. Children were encouraged to discuss the actions and feelings of the characters. Following the learning component of the experiment, children were asked to tell their own stories about a birthday party. Porath found the children included more detail about feelings than they had in stories told prior to the research. She concluded that some of the skills necessary for social competence can indeed by taught in the early childhood classroom.
Critique: One cannot argue that social competence is an important quality to bring to school. Children who start school able to interact effectively with peers and teachers, and able to adjust and adhere to school routines and procedures for conduct, are more likely to be successful learners (Eisenberg, 1992; Wentzel, 1993; in Porath, 2009). This writer's personal experience supports this conclusion. Some children come to school ready to learn, while others have a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the school routine. There are several reasons for this, none of which Porath discusses, or even accounts for, in her research. The first is chronological age. In a typical kindergarten classroom, there may be one or two students who do not even turn five until the first few weeks…