Investors like to say a business is 1% idea, 99% execution.
Curriculum is not quite that extreme. I’d say it’s 33% curriculum quality, 67% execution. Invariably it’s up to teachers to take the “rough diamond” and polish it into something valuable.
I would say there are 4 common curriculum stories:
1. Bad. Teachers, kids don’t like it.
2. Medium. Teachers and kids like it, but it doesn’t accomplish its purpose.
3. Good. People like it, and it accomplishes its purpose in basic knowledge (pre-test versus post-test), but it doesn’t accomplish the bigger objective.
4. Amazing. Actually accomplishes the bigger objective.
Here is an experiment from Hong Kong. Social Emotional Learning curriculum, or SEL. The result was “Good.” But the larger goal – actually reducing kids’ problem behaviors – was not achieved.
This paper describes a pilot study of a reduced version of the PATHS Curriculum, a US-developed evidence-based SEL program, among schools in Hong Kong SAR (China). Three hundred and sixteen 12th grade students in three elementary schools participated in the study. A limited number of first grade PATHS lessons were adapted and translated into Chinese.
Twelve teachers learned and adopted these lessons in their teaching. Students in these classrooms learned about different emotions and practiced self-control. The intervention lasted four months.
After the intervention, students showed improvement in emotion understanding, emotion regulation and prosocial behavior. No change was observed in the level of children’s problem behaviors. Over 65% of the teachers reported a high degree of satisfaction and willingness to adopt the intervention.
The effects of the intervention varied among schools, with variations in the level of intervention and principal support, but not in the quality of implementation. Discussion is focused on the factors that could shape the adoption and implementation of SEL programs, especially the role of the difference in school systems between Hong Kong and the United States.
Here is a similar story from a Chinese preschool:
The purpose of this study is to examine the efficacy of using a technology-integrated Social Emotion Learning (SEL) program as a way of teaching emotion knowledge to young, Chinese children.
The study consisted of 58 preschoolers in Chengdu, China who were split into experimental (n = 26) and control (n = 32) groups. Children in the experimental group received a 5-day SEL program that integrated an iPad application specifically targetting emotion recognition and understanding.
Children in the control group received their regular curriculum. Children were measured on the Emotion Matching Task (EMT) before and after the iPad program. Results suggest that children in the experimental condition significantly improved more than the control condition in emotion knowledge as a result of the short SEL program.
The USA results have typically been similar. Gains in SEL knowledge are far easier to generate than changes in behavior. You need teachers who can skillfully interact with kids at the moment of problem behavior — “He took my snack and threw it.”