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Positive Thoughts Improve Academics

A new study supports the philosophy that social and emotional learning improves student achievement and social behavior.
Second graders learning life skills while engaging in a Positive Action lesson plan.

A new study conducted by Oregon State University and funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse supports the philosophy that social and emotional learning improves student achievement and social behavior. "The Impact of Positive Action on Academic Outcomes," published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, focuses on a program called Positive Action, a course founded on the belief that positive thoughts induce positive behavior. The results showed an improvement in standardized test scores and a decrease in suspensions and absent students.

The study followed 20 Hawaii schools from the 2002-2003 school year through 2005-2006. Ten schools incorporated the program into every K12 grade, while the other 10 schools served as a control group. The findings showed an improvement on national standardized math and reading tests by 10 percent, 70 percent fewer suspensions, and 15 percent less absenteeism. The state of Hawaii was chosen because it has a single school district, diverse ethnic groups, and a recognized need for improvement.

"Students are trained to focus on positive behaviors and less on negative behaviors," says Brian Flay, primary researcher of the study and professor of public health at Oregon State University.

The lesson plans are apportioned for 15 to 20 minutes daily. The program teaches students to recognize how they feel in certain situations and endorses positive behaviors such as setting goals, establishing healthy lifestyles, and solving problems.

"These are tools to cope with life, and that is priceless," says Howard Humphreys, field coordinator for the Positive Positive Thoughts Improve Academics Action program study and former principal of Pearl City Elementary School in Pearl City, Hawaii.

"Clearly the way these lessons are taught, demonstrating that adults care about these kids and teaching kids to care about each other, it reinforces social and emotional learning," says Flay. "It changes the role of the classroom."