Social Skills Intervention for Primary Students

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Table of contents

  1. Statement of the Problem
  2. Rationale
  3. References

Statement of the Problem

Social skills deficits in children have been linked to low long-term academic achievement and classroom inefficiency. However, the reality is that many children begin their school careers with significant deficiencies in social and behavioral skills (Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000; McClelland, Morrison, & Holmes, 2000). When children have not mastered basic school behaviors like cooperation, rule-following, and getting along with peers, they do not receive the maximum benefit from academic instruction (Gresham & Elliott, 2008; Walker et al., 1992). While stakeholders have expressed concerns that interventions focused on social behavior may result in a loss of academic instructional time and may shortchange academic outcomes (Malecki, 2002), research indicates that failing to address social issues in the classroom may have potentially life-altering effects. Additionally, eliminating the need to interrupt instruction to solve or mediate social issues among individual students or groups of students will net an overall gain in quality instructional time. The goal of this study is to identify a finite number of problem behaviors and tally their occurrences prior to, during, and after implementing a well-researched, reliable social skills intervention.

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School climate has been deemed an essential factor in students’ success, both academically and behaviorally (Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger, & Dumas, 2003). A social climate of acceptance results in increased student engagement, higher academic achievement, and positive peer interactions (Albrecht, Mathur, Jones, & Alazemi, 2015). As early as 1978, Vygotsky recognized that social functioning with peers is necessary for the development of new ideas and skills. School is one of our culture’s primary sources of socialization (Albrecht, et al, 2015), and it is crucial to establish supportive classroom environments that encourage social communication and social problem-solving strategies to optimize student success (Wentzel & Looney, 2007). Students acquire socially acceptable behaviors in climates where positive social networks support opportunities for learning (Albrecht et al., 2015). Conversely, social skills deficits characterize students who are at risk for both internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors (Gresham, 1998; Kavale, Mathur, & Mostert, 2006).

Researchers have documented a predictive relationship between positive social behaviors and high academic achievement (DiPerna & Elliott, 2002; Malecki & Elliott, 2002; Wentzel, 2009). In a 2016 longitudinal study, Rabiner, Godwin, and Dodge found that school grades in young adulthood were significantly lower for students who had experienced attention lower peer acceptance in early childhood. Many school districts across the United States are beginning to include social-emotional learning in state learning standards due to the positive links between prosocial behavior and positive psychosocial and academic outcomes (Gresham & Elliott, 2014). In 2002, Malecki & Elliott found that social skills were predictive of students’ concurrent levels of academic achievement, while problem behaviors were negatively predictive of students’ concurrent academic achievement. In addition, Malecki & Elliot’s (2002) research identified social skills as the only significant predictor of high academic functioning. Even as early as 1997, Bandura’s theory of social cognition suggested a causal path between social behavior and academic achievement.

Research documents numerous interventions to potentially increase students’ social competence. First, schools that develop school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) geared toward reducing inappropriate behaviors and teaching prosocial skills report fewer behavior problems (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, & Leaf, 2012; Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2004). Comparatively, Gresham (2015) defines academic enablers as the behaviors and attitudes that allow students to participate and receive maximum benefit from classroom academic instruction. Using the Academic Competence Evaluation Scales (ACES), Gresham (2015) identified social skills as one such academic enabler that can positively impact academic achievement. Albrecht et al. (2015) employed Social Skills Training and Aggression Reduction Techniques plus Time-Away (STARTplus) in three Midwestern U.S. elementary schools over a three-year period. Based on the Response to Intervention (RTI) model, the program includes social skills training at the universal primary level, small group instruction at the targeted level, and individualized, intensive intervention in conflict resolution and problem-solving at the tertiary level. A study conducted by Harpin, Rossi, Kim, & Swanson (2016) tested a 10-week Mindfulness program, an amalgam of MindUp (The Hawn Foundation, 2011) and Mindful Schools (Cowan, 2001) curricula, with a fourth-grade class and compared results to those from a matched comparison classroom. Instruction was delivered by a certified Mindfulness instructor. At the end of the study, teachers reported significant positive gains in prosocial behavior, emotional regulation, and academic performance. Qualitative student feedback indicated high satisfaction with the curriculum and examples of students’ ability to transfer Mindfulness skills to unique settings (Harpin et al., 2016). Merritt, Wanless, Rimm-Kaufman, and Peugh (2012) investigated children’s relations between emotionally supportive teacher-student interaction and children’s social behaviors and self-regulatory schools in first grade classrooms. Results indicated that higher emotional support in teacher-student interactions correlated with lower child aggression and behavioral self-control (Merritt et al., 2012). Finally, in a 2014 study, Muratori et al. examined the effects of the Coping Power Program on reducing behavioral problems and improving prosocial skills in nine first and second grade classes. Findings showed a significant reduction in problematic behaviors and an increase in prosocial behaviors (Muratori, 2014).

In my own setting, I have seen a drastic change in students’ awareness of others, empathy, coping skills, and prosocial behaviors. My goal is to explore possible social skills interventions appropriate for primary students, and to choose one that has had documented success. I realize that in doing action research, there will likely be a great deal of reflection and modifying or changing the intervention. My current task is to read as much as I can about social skills curricula and programs and to familiarize myself with what is available. In addition, I intend to narrow my focus to a finite number of frequently-occurring problem behaviors and to document the occurrence of those behaviors (unofficially, for now) when they occur.


  1. Albrecht, A.F., Mathur, S.R., Jones, R.E., & Alazemi, S. (2015). A School-Wide Three-Tiered Program of Social Skills Intervention: Results of a Three-Year Cohort Study. Education and Treatment of Children, 38(4). 565-586.
  2. Argyris, P., Kaiser, R., Storm, S., Swartz, E., & Voss, S. (1994). Improving Conflict Resolution Skills of Primary Students through Curriculum Adaptation and Teacher Interventions (master’s thesis). Saint Xavier University, Wheeling IL.
  3. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman
  4. Biegel, G. & Brown, K. (n.d.). Assessing the Efficacy of an Adapted In-Class Mindfulness-Based Training Program for School-Age Children: A Pilot Study. Unpublished manuscript, Retrieved from Schools Pilot Study Whitepaper.pdf.
  5. Bradshaw, C.P., Waasdorp, T.E., & Leaf, P.J. (2012). Effects of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on Child Behavior Problems. Pediatrics, 130(5). 1136-1145.
  6. Brand, S., Felner, R., Shim, M., Seitsinger, A., & Dumas, T. (2003). Middle School Improvement and Reform: Development and Validation of a School-Level Assessment of Climate, Cultural Pluralism, and School Safety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 570-588.
  7. Cowan, M. (2011). Mindfulness Curriculum Kindergarten-5th Grades. Oakland, CA: Mindful Schools.
  8. Crone, D.A., Horner, R.H., & Hawken, L.S. (2004). Responding to Problem Behavior in Schools: The behavior Education Program. New York, NY: Guilford.
  9. Greco, L., Baer, R.A., & Smith, G.T. (2011). Assessing Mindfulness in Children and Adolescents: Development and Validation of the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure (CAMM). Psychological Assessment, 23(3). 606-614.
  10. Gresham, F. (1998). Social Skills Training: Should We Raze, Remodel, or Rebuild? Behavioral Disorders, 24, 19-25.
  11. Gresham, F. (2015). Evidence-Based Social Skills Interventions for Students at Risk for EBD. Remedial and Special Education, 36(2). 100-104.
  12. Gresham, F.M., & Elliott, S.N. (2014). Social Skills Assessment and Training in Emotional Behavioral Disorders. In H.M. Walker & F.M. Gresham (Eds.), Handbook of evidence-based practices in emotional and behavioral disorders: Applications in schools (pp. 152-172). New York, NY, Guilford Press.
  13. Harpin, S.B., Rossi, A., Kim, A.K., & Swanson, L.M. (2016). Behavioral Impacts of a Mindfulness Pilot Intervention for Elementary School Students. Education, 137(2). 149-156.
  14. Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., & Anderson, C.M. (2010). Examining the Evidence Base for School-Wide Positive Behavior Support. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42, 1-14.
  15. Kavale, K., Mathur, S.R., & Mostert, M. (2006). Teaching Social Skills and Social Behavior. In R.B. Rutherford, M.M. Quinn, & S.R. Mathur (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Behavioral Disorders (pp. 446-461). New York, NY: Guilford.
  16. Malecki, C.K., & Elliott, S.N. (2002). Children’s Social Behaviors as Predictors of Academic Achievement: A Longitudinal Analysis. School Psychology Quarterly, 17(1), 1-23.
  17. McClelland, M.M., Morrison, F.J., & Holmes, D.L. (2000). Children at Risk for Early Academic Problems: The Role of Learning-Related Social Skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 307-329.
  18. Merritt, E.G., Wanless, S.B., Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., & Peugh, J. L. (2012). The Contribution of Teachers' Emotional Support to Children’s Social Behaviors and Self-Regulatory Skills in First Grade. School Psychology Review, 41(2). 141-159.
  19. Muratori, P., Bertacchi, I., Giuli, C., Lombardi, L., Bonetti, S., Nocentini, A., Manfredi, A., Polidori, L., Ruglioni, L., Milone, A., & Lochmann, J. (2014). First Adaptation of Coping Power Program as a Classroom-Based Prevention Intervention on Aggressive Behaviors among Elementary School Children. Prevention Science, 16(3). 432-439.
  20. Rabiner, D.L., Godwin, J., & Dodge, K.A. (2016). Predicting Academic Achievement and Attainment: The Contribution of Early Academic Skills, Attention Difficulties, and Social Competence. School Psychology Review, 45 (2). 250-267.
  21. Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Pianta, R.C., & Cox, M.J. (2000). Teachers’ Judgments of Problems in the Transition to Kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 147-166.
  22. Ross, S.W., Sabey, C.V. (2015). Check-in Check-out + Social Skills: Enhancing the Effects of Check-in Check-out for Students with Social Skill Deficits. Remedial and Special Education, 36(4). 246-257.
  23. Sotardi, V.A, (2016). Understanding Student Stress and Coping in Elementary School: A Mixed-Method, Longitudinal Study. Psychology in the Schools, 53(7). 705-721.
  24. The Hawn Foundation (2011). The MindUp Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning and Living (Grades 3-5). New York, NY: Scholastic.
  25. Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  26. Walker, H.M., Irwin, L., Noell, J., & Singer, G. (1992). A Construct Score Approach to the Assessment of Social Competence: Rational, Technological Considerations, and Anticipated Outcomes. Behavior Modification, 16, 448-474.
  27. Wentzel, K.R., & Looney, L. (2007). Socialization School Settings. In J. E. Grusec and P.D.H.
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