Elementary Education Research Paper Topics

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This comprehensive guide to elementary education research paper topics is designed to assist students and researchers in the field of education. The guide provides a wide array of topics divided into ten categories, each with ten unique topics, offering a diverse range of areas to explore in the field of elementary education. Additionally, the guide offers expert advice on how to choose a research topic and how to write an elementary education research paper. The final sections of the guide introduce iResearchNet’s professional writing services and encourage students to take advantage of these services for their research needs.

100 Elementary Education Research Paper Topics

Elementary education is a broad field with numerous areas to explore. Whether you’re interested in teaching methods, curriculum development, educational technology, or the social aspects of elementary education, there’s a research topic for you. Here, we present a comprehensive list of elementary education research paper topics, divided into ten categories. Each category contains ten unique topics, offering a diverse range of areas to explore in your research.

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1. Teaching Methods and Strategies

  • The effectiveness of Montessori methods in elementary education.
  • The role of play in learning in the early years.
  • The impact of differentiated instruction on student achievement.
  • The benefits and challenges of cooperative learning in the elementary classroom.
  • The role of feedback in promoting student learning.
  • The impact of teaching strategies on students’ motivation.
  • The effectiveness of inquiry-based learning in science education.
  • The role of storytelling in teaching literacy skills.
  • The impact of technology on teaching and learning in the elementary classroom.
  • The role of creativity in teaching and learning.

2. Curriculum and Instruction

  • The impact of curriculum design on student learning.
  • The role of interdisciplinary teaching in elementary education.
  • The effectiveness of project-based learning in teaching science.
  • The role of cultural relevance in curriculum design.
  • The impact of standardized testing on curriculum and instruction.
  • The role of critical thinking in the elementary curriculum.
  • The effectiveness of integrating arts in the curriculum.
  • The impact of curriculum alignment on student achievement.
  • The role of experiential learning in the elementary curriculum.
  • The challenges of teaching social studies in the elementary classroom.

3. Educational Technology

  • The impact of digital technology on student learning.
  • The role of educational games in teaching math.
  • The effectiveness of using iPads in the classroom.
  • The role of virtual reality in teaching science.
  • The impact of technology on student engagement.
  • The challenges of integrating technology in the classroom.
  • The role of technology in promoting collaborative learning.
  • The effectiveness of using technology in teaching reading skills.
  • The impact of technology on teacher-student communication.
  • The role of technology in personalized learning.

4. Social Aspects of Elementary Education

  • The impact of classroom climate on student learning.
  • The role of social-emotional learning in elementary education.
  • The effectiveness of character education programs.
  • The role of peer relationships in student learning.
  • The impact of school culture on student achievement.
  • The challenges of teaching diversity and inclusion in the elementary classroom.
  • The role of student-teacher relationships in student learning.
  • The effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in elementary schools.
  • The impact of parental involvement on student achievement.
  • The role of community partnerships in promoting student learning.

5. Special Education

  • The effectiveness of inclusive education in the elementary classroom.
  • The role of individualized education programs in supporting students with special needs.
  • The impact of teacher training on the success of inclusive education.
  • The challenges of teaching students with learning disabilities.
  • The role of assistive technology in supporting students with special needs.
  • The effectiveness of earlyintervention programs for students with special needs.
  • The impact of classroom accommodations on the academic success of students with special needs.
  • The role of collaboration between general and special education teachers.
  • The effectiveness of behavior management strategies for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
  • The impact of special education policies on student outcomes.

6. Early Childhood Education

  • The impact of early childhood education on academic success.
  • The role of play in early childhood education.
  • The effectiveness of early literacy programs.
  • The role of parental involvement in early childhood education.
  • The impact of early childhood education on social skills development.
  • The challenges of teaching math in early childhood education.
  • The role of creativity in early childhood education.
  • The effectiveness of early intervention programs.
  • The impact of early childhood education on cognitive development.
  • The role of teacher-child relationships in early childhood education.

7. Educational Policies and Reforms

  • The impact of No Child Left Behind on elementary education.
  • The role of Common Core State Standards in curriculum development.
  • The effectiveness of school choice policies.
  • The role of educational policies in promoting equity in education.
  • The impact of teacher evaluation policies on teaching and learning.
  • The challenges of implementing educational reforms in elementary schools.
  • The role of educational policies in promoting teacher quality.
  • The effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing the achievement gap.
  • The impact of educational funding policies on student achievement.
  • The role of educational policies in promoting parental involvement.

8. Teacher Education and Professional Development

  • The impact of teacher education programs on teacher effectiveness.
  • The role of ongoing professional development in promoting teacher quality.
  • The effectiveness of mentorship programs for novice teachers.
  • The role of reflective practice in teacher professional development.
  • The impact of teacher beliefs on teaching practices.
  • The challenges of teaching in high-needs schools.
  • The role of teacher collaboration in professional development.
  • The effectiveness of teacher induction programs.
  • The impact of teacher leadership on school improvement.
  • The role of teacher autonomy in promoting job satisfaction.

9. Classroom Management

  • The impact of classroom management strategies on student behavior.
  • The role of positive reinforcement in promoting appropriate behavior.
  • The effectiveness of classroom rules and procedures.
  • The role of teacher-student relationships in classroom management.
  • The impact of classroom environment on student learning.
  • The challenges of managing disruptive behavior.
  • The role of behavior management strategies in promoting a positive classroom climate.
  • The effectiveness of conflict resolution strategies in the classroom.
  • The impact of classroom management on student engagement.
  • The role of classroom routines in promoting student responsibility.

10. Assessment and Evaluation

  • The impact of formative assessment on student learning.
  • The role of feedback in student assessment.
  • The effectiveness of performance-based assessment.
  • The role of self-assessment in promoting student learning.
  • The impact of standardized testing on teaching and learning.
  • The challenges of assessing student learning in diverse classrooms.
  • The role of assessment in curriculum planning.
  • The effectiveness of portfolio assessment.
  • The impact of grading policies on student motivation.
  • The role of assessment in identifying students at risk of academic failure.

This comprehensive list of elementary education research paper topics provides a wide range of areas to explore. Whether you’re interested in teaching methods, curriculum development, educational technology, or the social aspects of elementary education, there’s a research topic for you. Remember, the best research topic is one that you’re genuinely interested in and passionate about.

Elementary Education Research Guide

Elementary education, also known as primary education, is a crucial stage in the educational journey of a child. It is during these formative years that children acquire foundational skills in areas such as reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. Additionally, they develop critical thinking skills, creativity, and social competencies that are essential for their overall growth and development.

Elementary education serves as the building block for all future learning. The experiences and knowledge gained during these years can significantly influence a child’s attitude towards learning, their academic success, and their lifelong learning habits. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that children receive quality education during these years.

Research in elementary education is of paramount importance. It helps educators, policymakers, and stakeholders understand the best practices, methodologies, and strategies to enhance learning outcomes in primary education. It also provides insights into the challenges faced in elementary education and how to address them effectively.

Elementary education research paper topics can span a wide range of areas, including teaching methods, learning styles, the impact of technology on learning, educational policies, classroom management, and many more. Choosing a research topic in this field requires careful consideration of various factors, including your interests, the relevance of the topic, and the availability of resources.

In the following sections, we provide a comprehensive list of elementary education research paper topics, expert advice on choosing a topic and writing a research paper, and information about iResearchNet’s professional writing services. Whether you are a student embarking on your first research project or a seasoned researcher looking for new areas to explore, this guide is designed to assist you in your research journey.

Choosing Elementary Education Research Paper Topics

Choosing a research topic is a critical step in the research process. The topic you select will guide your study, influence the complexity and relevance of your work, and determine how engaged you are throughout the process. In the field of elementary education, there are numerous intriguing topics that can be explored. Here are some expert tips to assist you in this process:

  • Understanding Your Interests: The first step in choosing a research topic is to understand your interests. What areas of elementary education fascinate you the most? Are you interested in how teaching methods influence student learning, or are you more intrigued by the role of technology in the classroom? Reflecting on these questions can help you narrow down your options and choose a topic that truly engages you. Remember, research is a time-consuming process, and your interest in the topic will keep you motivated.
  • Evaluating the Scope of the Topic: Once you have identified your areas of interest, the next step is to evaluate the scope of potential elementary education research paper topics. A good research topic should be neither too broad nor too narrow. If it’s too broad, you may struggle to cover all aspects of the topic effectively. If it’s too narrow, you may have difficulty finding enough information to support your research. Try to choose a topic that is specific enough to be manageable but broad enough to have sufficient resources.
  • Assessing Available Resources and Data: Before finalizing a topic, it’s important to assess the available resources and data. Are there enough academic sources, such as books, journal articles, and reports, that you can use for your research? Is there accessible data that you can analyze if your research requires it? A preliminary review of literature and data can save you from choosing a topic with limited resources.
  • Considering the Relevance and Applicability of the Topic: Another important factor to consider is the relevance and applicability of the topic. Is the topic relevant to current issues in elementary education? Can the findings of your research be applied in real-world settings? Choosing a relevant and applicable topic can increase the impact of your research and make it more interesting for your audience.
  • Seeking Advice: Don’t hesitate to seek advice from your professors, peers, or other experts in the field. They can provide valuable insights, suggest resources, and help you refine your topic. Discussing your ideas with others can also help you see different perspectives and identify potential issues that you may not have considered.
  • Flexibility: Finally, be flexible. Research is a dynamic process, and it’s okay to modify your topic as you delve deeper into your study. You may discover new aspects of the topic that are more interesting or find that some aspects are too challenging to explore due to constraints. Being flexible allows you to adapt your research to these changes and ensure that your study is both feasible and engaging.

Remember, choosing a research topic is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires careful consideration and planning. However, with these expert tips, you can navigate this process more effectively and choose an elementary education research paper topic that not only meets your academic requirements but also fuels your passion for learning.

How to Write an Elementary Education Research Paper

Writing a research paper is a significant academic task that requires careful planning, thorough research, and meticulous writing. In the field of elementary education, this process can be particularly challenging due to the complexity and diversity of the field. However, with the right approach and strategies, you can write a compelling and insightful research paper. Here are some expert tips to guide you through this process:

  • Understanding the Structure of a Research Paper: A typical research paper includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. The introduction presents your research question and its significance. The literature review provides an overview of existing research related to your topic. The methodology explains how you conducted your research. The results section presents your findings, and the discussion interprets these findings in the context of your research question. Finally, the conclusion summarizes your research and suggests areas for future research.
  • Developing a Strong Thesis Statement: Your thesis statement is the central argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise, and debatable. A strong thesis statement guides your research and helps your readers understand the purpose of your paper.
  • Conducting Thorough Research: Before you start writing, conduct a thorough review of the literature related to your topic. This will help you understand the current state of research in your area, identify gaps in the literature, and position your research within this context. Use academic databases to find relevant books, journal articles, and other resources. Remember to evaluate the credibility of your sources and take detailed notes to help you when writing.
  • Writing and Revising Drafts: Start writing your research paper by creating an outline based on the structure of a research paper. This will help you organize your thoughts and ensure that you cover all necessary sections. Write a first draft without worrying too much about perfection. Focus on getting your ideas down first. Then, revise your draft to improve clarity, coherence, and argumentation. Make sure each paragraph has a clear topic sentence and supports your thesis statement.
  • Proper Citation and Avoiding Plagiarism: Always cite your sources properly to give credit to the authors whose work you are building upon and to avoid plagiarism. Familiarize yourself with the citation style required by your institution or discipline, such as APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, or Harvard. There are many citation tools available online that can help you with this.
  • Seeking Feedback: Don’t hesitate to seek feedback on your drafts from your professors, peers, or writing centers at your institution. They can provide valuable insights and help you improve your paper.
  • Proofreading: Finally, proofread your paper to check for any grammatical errors, typos, or inconsistencies in formatting. A well-written, error-free paper makes a good impression on your readers and enhances the credibility of your research.
  • Incorporating Elementary Education Concepts: When writing an elementary education research paper, it’s crucial to accurately incorporate elementary education concepts. Make sure you understand these concepts thoroughly and can explain them clearly in your paper. Use examples where appropriate to illustrate these concepts.
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data: If your research involves data analysis, be sure to explain your analysis process and interpret the results in a way that is understandable to your readers. Discuss the implications of your findings for the broader field of elementary education.
  • Discussing Real-World Applications: Elementary education is a practical field with many real-world applications. Discuss how your research relates to these applications. This can make your research more interesting and relevant to your readers.

Remember, writing a research paper is a process that requires time, effort, and patience. Don’t rush through it.Take the time to plan your research, conduct thorough research, write carefully, and revise your work. With these expert tips, you can write an elementary education research paper that is insightful, well-structured, and contributes to the field of elementary education.

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Writing a research paper is a significant undertaking that requires a deep understanding of the topic, strong writing skills, and the ability to conduct thorough research. At iResearchNet, we understand the challenges that students face when writing a research paper, and we are here to help. We offer a range of professional writing services designed to support students in their academic journey.

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research on elementary education

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  • Open access
  • Published: 18 September 2023

Elementary school teachers’ perspectives about learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Aymee Alvarez-Rivero   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0489-5708 1 ,
  • Candice Odgers 2 , 3 &
  • Daniel Ansari   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7625-618X 1  

npj Science of Learning volume  8 , Article number:  40 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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How did school closures affect student access to education and learning rates during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did teachers adapt to the new instructional contexts? To answer these questions, we distributed an online survey to Elementary School teachers ( N  = 911) in the United States and Canada at the end of the 2020–2021 school year. Around 85.8% of participants engaged in remote instruction, and nearly half had no previous experience teaching online. Overall, this transition was challenging for most teachers and more than 50% considered they were not as effective in the classroom during remote instruction and reported not being able to deliver all the curriculum expected for their grade. Despite the widespread access to digital technologies in our sample, nearly 65% of teachers observed a drop in class attendance. More than 50% of participants observed a decline in students’ academic performance, a growth in the gaps between low and high-performing students, and predicted long-term adverse effects. We also observed consistent effects of SES in teachers’ reports. The proportion of teachers reporting a drop in performance increases from 40% in classrooms with high-income students, to more than 70% in classrooms with low-income students. Students in lower-income households were almost twice less likely to have teachers with previous experience teaching online and almost twice less likely to receive support from adults with homeschooling. Overall, our data suggest the effects of the pandemic were not equally distributed.

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The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on education worldwide 1 , 2 , with the aftermath of more than 180 countries experiencing school closures and more than 1.5 billion students left out of school 3 . Despite the efforts of governments and education institutions to provide alternative learning opportunities, the long periods that students had to spend away from the classroom have raised concerns about the potential long-term consequences on academic achievement, and the unequal effect that it will have on students from vulnerable and marginalized groups 4 , who had to navigate the challenges of at-home schooling while their families struggled with financial burdens 5 .

Empirical data about changes in students’ performance has been slow to emerge. One of the earliest pieces of evidence comes from a study in The Netherlands by Engzell, Frey, and Verhagen 6 . The authors analyzed changes in performance associated with school closures, using a uniquely rich dataset with more than 350,000 students in primary school. The data included biannual test scores collected at the middle and the end of each school year from 2017 and 2020. Critically, in 2020, the mid-year tests took place right before the first school closures in The Netherlands, providing a benchmark that authors could use to estimate learning losses. The authors identified an overall decrease in academic performance equivalent to 0.08 standard deviation units. Moreover, the effects on learning outcomes were not uniform, as students from less-educated households experienced losses 60% more pronounced than the general population.

These findings are critical since they provide evidence of the potential effects of the pandemic in a “best-case” scenario. More than 90% of students in The Netherlands had access to a computer at home, and more than 95% had access to the internet and a quiet place to study 7 . But even in this context of high levels of access to digital resources, equitable funding for elementary schools, and average-to-high performance prior to the pandemic, school closures have had tangible effects on learning outcomes, especially for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Similar studies comparing students’ performance before and after COVID have been conducted in other countries 8 , 9 . Most of them have found evidence of learning losses and slower rates of growth in academic abilities during the 2020–2021 school year 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 , while others did not find any negative effects 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 .

Moreover, there is strong evidence suggesting that pre-existing inequalities in education have become more pronounced. Even before the pandemic, achievement gaps across socio-economic status (SES) were evident since kindergarten and persisted across education years 27 , 28 . During the pandemic, students from disadvantaged backgrounds suffered longer school closures 29 and had less access to computers and internet for schoolwork 7 , 30 , 31 , 32 . In addition, families facing financial struggles were in less favorable positions to dedicate resources and time to school activities at home 33 . As a result of these and other limitations, learning losses have been more severe for students from racial minorities 15 , 19 , 34 , with less educated parents 6 , 17 or those coming from low-income households 13 , 14 , 16 , 19 , 34 , 35 .

Recent attempts to synthesize the literature about learning losses 8 estimate that students have lost the equivalent of 35% of an academic year’s worth of learning. However, further data is necessary to assess the real extent to which the pandemic has impacted learning. On one hand, the data about changes in students’ performance is still very scarce, due to the limitations that remote learning imposed on school abilities to continue standardized assessments. Moreover, students from disadvantaged groups are more likely to be underrepresented 11 , 34 , 36 , both within countries and on a global scale 8 . Therefore, further evidence is needed to assess the real extent of the effects of the pandemic across different socio-economic conditions.

Teachers are a critical source of information that has not been considered enough. Teachers were at the front line of the education efforts during the pandemic and observed the impact on student learning and academic performance firsthand. While not free of biases, they are possibly the best-informed source of information about students’ abilities to benefit from these efforts, using their own previous experience as a comparison point. Critically, teachers’ observations are available across all school contexts and socio-economic strata. Therefore, they can provide insights into the effects of the pandemic that are representative of a wider variety of contexts than the ones included in a recent analysis of individual differences. Elementary school teachers more specifically, establish a unique relationship with their students, as they instruct them in multiple subjects, compared to higher education where students’ curriculum and interests are more heterogeneous, and students are often taught different subjects by different teachers. As a result, in the current context of data scarcity, elementary school teachers may be better prepared to aggregate individual student information into group-level estimates than can be accessed through survey methods.

Moreover, understanding teacher’s experiences throughout the pandemic is of critical importance for the future of education. Multiple studies have indicated that teachers have experienced higher levels of dissatisfaction and a lower sense of success during the pandemic 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , resulting in increased levels of attrition rates worldwide 42 .

The present study presents the results of a survey distributed to teachers in Canada and the US, right at the end of the 2020–2021 school year. Our survey obtained participants’ assessments about three overarching issues: (1) How did teachers experience the transition to emergency remote learning? (2) How were equitable opportunities to access education impacted by school closures? and (3) Have students experienced learning losses or gains during the pandemic? We also collected additional data about variables regarding the socio-economic context of students to explore the generalizability of our data to different school and classroom contexts.

Teachers’ experience transitioning from in-person to remote classes

Table 1 summarizes some of the variables that assessed teachers’ experience transitioning to remote learning. We expected that teachers’ previous experiences with online teaching and technology may have influenced how well they adapted to these changes. Overall, the observed distributions show that we recruited participants with different levels of previous preparation and training in both countries.

Notably, the proportion of teachers with no previous experience teaching online goes from 40% for high-SES students, to more than 75% for low SES students. This association was statistically significant \(({\tau }_{c}=0.22{;p}\, < \,0.001)\) . Although weak, we also found significant interactions between student’s income level and the amount of training teachers received ( X 2  = 23.44; p  = 0.024, df  = 12, Cramer ′ sV  = 0.09). We also observed higher levels of proficiency using digital technologies for educational purposes \(({\tau }_{c}=0.08{;p}=0.007)\) for teacher of higher-income students. As we expected, switching to remote education was increasingly challenging for teachers with less experience teaching online \(({\tau }_{c}=-0.18{;p}\, < \,0.001)\) , and those with poor digital skills \(({\tau }_{c}=-0.11{;p}\, < \,0.001)\) .

Equitable opportunities to access education

Multiple items throughout the survey assessed to what extent learning opportunities were offered to students and their ability to benefit from them (Table 2 ). More than 96% of participants agreed that most to all students in their classroom had access to the resources needed for online classes. The distribution of responses was slightly different between countries ( X 2  = 17.82, p  < 0.001, df  = 3, Cramer ′ sV  = 0.15). But overall, even for teachers that had low-income students, reporting that few or none of their students had access to technology was rare.

Despite having the means to access online education, more than 65% of participants indicated that attendance to class decreased during the 2020–2021 school year. Overall, there was no significant difference in teachers’ reports of attendance across countries ( X 2  = 2.97, p  < 0.227, df  = 2, Cramer ′ sV  = 0.07). However, there was a difference in the association between attendance levels and students’ income across countries. For teachers in the US, lower levels of attendance were reported more frequently when students came from low-income households \(({\tau }_{c}=-0.19{;p}\, < \,0.001)\) . For Canadian teachers, this association was not present \(({\tau }_{c}=-0.03{;p}\, < \,0.517)\) .

Knowing the limitations of this survey in terms of providing individual data about attendance, we included one additional question to explore approximately what proportion of students were missing from the classroom. We asked respondents to break down their students into three different groups: students who attended regularly, students who attended irregularly and students who were completely absent from class throughout the whole year. According to teachers’ estimations, an average of 69.98% of students were present regularly in class, 21.24% came to class only irregularly and another 8.78% were completely absent during the whole school year. The proportion of students completely absent was consistently low for all SES levels \((F(4,611)=0.46,{p}=0.764,{\eta }^{2}=0.01)\) . In contrast, the number of students attending regularly increased linearly with SES levels \((F(4,611)=2.41,{p}=0.048,{\eta }^{2}=0.02{;linear\; trend}:t=2.12,{SE}=3.16,{p}=0.034)\) . Since these proportions are complementary, the proportion of students attending irregularly also decreased across SES levels \((F(4,611)=3.34,{p}=0.010,{\eta }^{2}=0.02{;linear\; trend}:t=-2.52,{SE}=2.28,{p}=0.012)\) .

During class, most participants indicated that they covered less content during online lessons than they do in a regular school year. Moreover, around 28% of participants considered that adult assistance was needed for students to complete schoolwork. Whether the support from a parent or caregiver was imperative or not, we also asked participants to estimate, approximately, what proportion of their students received help at home. More than 70% of participants perceived that most to all students in their class had the support of an adult to some degree. But more importantly, perceived levels of support were higher for teachers of students coming from higher-income households \(({\tau }_{c}=-0.25{;p}\, < \,0.001)\) .

Changes in academic performance during the pandemic

Another important goal of our survey was to get teachers’ input on how different aspects of academic achievement may have been affected because of the interruption of in-person classes (Table 3 ). More than 50% of teachers indicated that children in their class performed worse than in previous years (Fig. 1a ). Moreover, teachers who reported having students from lower socio-economic status were more likely to report that performance was below the expectations for the grade (Fig. 1b ; \({\tau }_{c}=-0.25{;p}\, < \,0.001\) ). There were no differences across countries in these estimations of students’ average performance ( X 2  = 2.97, p  < 0.227, df  = 2, Cramer ′ sV  = 0.07).

figure 1

Teachers’ perceptions of the overall performance of students, compared to a regular school year ( a ) by country and ( b ) by classroom SES. Legend: - On average, students have performed below the expectations for their grade = On average, students have performed according to the expectations for their grade + On average, students have performed above the expectations for their grade.

Previous reports have suggested that learning losses during the pandemic have not been equally severe across different learning domains 11 . Motivated by those results, we asked participants to rate students’ performance in Math, Reading/Literature, and Spelling/Writing, separately. The distribution of responses for the three domains was slightly skewed, as most teachers reported learning losses to some degree for the three areas. We wanted to know if teachers’ perceptions of academic loss for specific domains varied depending on the subject they teach. Unfortunately, around 60% of our participants did not report that information. Moreover, out of the 40% who reported the subjects they were teaching, more than half of them taught multiple subjects that covered the three topics of interest. Nonetheless, we ran an exploratory analysis including just that 40% and we did not observe significant effects. (i.e. participants who teach math-related areas do not report better or worse learning losses in math when compared to other participants).

To complement these overall ratings, we requested more detailed information about the distribution of students in their classrooms, according to their performance level. Participants were asked to classify their students into three categories: students who performed below the expectations for their grade, students who performed according to the expectations for their grade, and students who performed above the expectations for their grade. Even though our data cannot inform about individual differences in performance, with this question we expected to obtain an estimate of the proportion of students who experienced the learning losses reported in the previous questions.

Comparing the data across the three domains did not yield significant differences in the severity of learning losses that teachers report for Math, Reading, or Spelling (Fig. 2 ). However, we did find differences across countries in the proportions of low, average, or high-performance students that teachers reported across all domains. Canadian teachers reported lower percentages than their US counterparts of students performing below standards during the 2020–21 school year \((F(1,904)=7.23,{p}=0.007,{\eta }^{2}=0.01)\) . They also reported higher proportions of students performing above standards for their grades despite the pandemic \((F(1,905)=37.54,{p}\, < \,0.001,{\eta }^{2}=0.03)\) . In summary, even though teachers of both countries reported an overall decrease in students’ performance, teachers from the US report having a higher percentage of students experiencing these losses.

figure 2

Average performance of students compared to a regular school year in ( a ) Math, ( b ) Reading/Literature, and ( c ) Spelling/Writing. Legend: -- Much worse- Somewhat worse = About the same + Somewhat better + + Much better.

Participants were also asked to estimate whether the gap between the students performing at the higher level, and those performing at the lowest level had increased, decreased, or stayed the same, compared to a typical school year. This question was designed to elicit teachers’ views of individual differences between students in their classrooms. About 58% of teachers indicated that differences between students had widened during the 2020–2021 school year, in contrast to around 32% who didn’t perceive any changes and another 10% who indicated that this gap decreased. Finally, we included one general question in the survey to ask teachers if they believed that the pandemic would have long lasting effects on students and, if so, whether these effects would have a positive or negative outcome. A large proportion of the participants expressed that the changes occurring during the pandemic would most likely have a negative impact on students’ learning in the long run.

We distributed a survey to primary school teachers in the US and Canada at the end of the 2020–2021 school year. Our survey was able to reach teachers from different levels of SES, who were affected by school closure at varying degrees. Their responses provided relevant insights into how education took place during the COVID-19 health crisis, especially during the 2020–2021 school year, the first to fully occur within the pandemic.

Results from our survey suggest that a large proportion of students in both countries had access to the digital resources required to access these online alternatives (such as computers, internet, etc.). This was especially true for students from advantaged homes, but even in the lower SES levels, more than 90% of students had access to digital resources. This is not surprising, considering recent statistics showing that around 93% and 88% of students in Canada and the US, respectively, have access to a computer at home and more than 95% have access to the internet in both countries 7 , 32 .

However, the availability of digital resources is necessary but not sufficient to guarantee that students have access to educational opportunities. For example, our data indicates that the amount of instruction time decreased substantially, compared to a regular school year. Instruction time requirements for primary school in both Canada 43 and the US 44 vary across states, but the average is close to 30 h per week. The average number of hours of remote instruction reported by our participants fell below the 20 h, which represents less than two thirds of these typical requirements. Consistently, most participants reported not being able to deliver all the content they typically taught during a regular school year. In addition, most participants indicated that attendance to class was lower than in a traditional year. Was this trend due to just a few, or to many students consistently missing class? On average, our respondents report that approximately 3 in every 10 students in their class were attending inconsistently or completely absent. Although small, the reported proportions of students who were completely absent from class are of critical importance, since they represent students who were not able to benefit from education opportunities at all during the last school year.

Overall, nearly 56% of our participants agreed that students performed below the expectations for their grades during the 2020–2021 school year. These reports are converging with previous studies using standardized tests to compare students’ academic achievement before and during the pandemic (Engzell et al., 2020; Kuhfeld et al., 2020). Unlike previous studies, teachers’ rates of academic performance obtained during our survey do not suggest that the drop in math performance was more pronounced than in other domains (i.e., reading). It is possible that differences between learning losses experienced across domains exist in our student population, as suggested by studies analyzing individual data on standardized tests. However, those differences may not be large enough to be captured by the limited response options presented in our survey. It is also possible that presenting this question in a grid format may have increased the probability of straight-lining, or the tendency in which participants select the same answer choice to all items on the question.

More importantly, teachers’ rates of academic performance varied drastically according to the income-level of their students, and more than half of our participants agreed that differences between low and high performing students became more pronounced during the 2020–2021 school year. This learning gap between low and high performing students is fundamentally different from the overall performance trend. Assuming that teachers’ ratings are an accurate depiction of how actual performance was impacted by the school closures, the questions about overall performance should reflect perceived changes on the mean of the distribution, whereas the questions about the learning gap should reflect perceived changes on the difference between the lower and the upper tail of the distribution within their classrooms.

Like previous studies in the literature, our findings suggest that the pandemic has emphasized individual differences between students of different income levels, that are otherwise attenuated during in-person instruction. Figure 3 highlights the most noticeable differences between the lower and the top 20% of the SES distribution. The consistent pattern of interaction between teachers’ reports of the effects of the pandemic and their students’ socio-economic background suggests that students from low- and high-income households may have experienced school closures in very different ways.

figure 3

We created two groups to represent the extremes of the SES distribution. To make the groups comparable in terms of size, the lower SES group included participants who reported that their students come from predominantly Low-Income households ( n  = 168), whereas the higher SES group included participants whose students predominantly come from High-Income households ( n  = 53), or a mix of Middle and High-Income ( n  = 119). Since our perceived SES measure is on a discrete scale, selecting exactly the top and bottom 20% is not possible. Instead, the lower and higher income groups represent 18.44% and 18.88% of the distribution.

First, our data suggest that teachers from classrooms with higher income levels may have been more prepared for the transition to remote alternatives, as they had more relevant experience with online instruction before the pandemic and they had better self-ratings of digital skills than teachers from lower SES classrooms. For example, 7 out of every 10 teachers of students in the lower 20% of the SES were teaching online for the first time during the pandemic, versus only 4 out of every 10 in the top 20% SES.

During the school closures, teachers from higher SES classrooms were also less likely to report a drop in overall attendance levels to online lessons, compared to a regular school year, and had higher proportions of students who consistently attended class. Moreover, they observed students receiving support from adults at home more frequently. This was one of the most striking contrasts observed in our data, which became more evident when comparing the two extremes of the distribution. Taken together, these results suggest that students in higher income levels may have been in a better position to benefit from the remote alternatives offered during the pandemic. Consistent with this prediction, teachers from higher income classrooms were also less likely to report learning losses during the pandemic.

These results have critical implications for our understanding of the long-term effect of the pandemic. Household income was already an important predictor of future academic achievement before the pandemic. With the closure of schools as a measure to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who were already in a vulnerable position may find themselves falling further behind their peers. As a result, they may be more likely to experience dropout in the future and less likely to pursue higher levels of education, which may reinforce the already existing income inequalities into future generations.

There are limitations to our results due to the observational nature of the data. It is possible that some of the associations observed are the results of biases in teachers’ perceptions. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that teacher reports offer information that occurs at the classroom level and therefore cannot account for effects at the individual level.

Despite these limitations, teachers can provide insights into the effects that the pandemic has had on students that is unique and highly valuable. Teachers have been active observers of students’ performance before, during, and after the pandemic. They receive a constant stream of data from students and therefore may perceive trends that standardized tests taken at a single time point may not capture.

In addition, teachers can provide information that is representative of a wide range of socio-economic and classroom contexts, something that has been a limitation of previous analyses of individual data. Our survey has its own limitations when describing the effects of SES on learning during the pandemic. For instance, we cannot guarantee that the SES levels reported by teachers in the US will correspond perfectly with the same levels in Canada. In other words, what teachers consider low SES in one country may be considered middle SES in the other. But even if the levels do not overlap perfectly, what seems to be consistent across our data is that students in lower levels struggled more during the pandemic and that trend remains when analyses are conducted on each country separately.

Critically, the relevance of teacher surveys is not only limited to their role as informants of students’ achievement. Teachers have a critical role in carrying forward education efforts and understanding how they experienced the recent crisis is by itself a critical question that current research should address. The stress associated with abrupt changes in the work environment, combined with the high demands and responsibility levels puts teachers at risk of experiencing work-related burnout. In fact, previous studies have found that, during 2020, teachers were more likely to consider leaving the classroom before retirement age 39 , 45 , 46 , 47 , and at least 23% considered retiring specifically due to the pandemic 48 , which has aggravated the already existing global crisis of teacher shortages 42 . In our survey, as expected, the frequency of teachers considering leaving their profession was higher for those with more years of experience. However, even in the group of less experienced teachers, around 1 in every 4 considered retiring during the pandemic. Teachers are expected to continue to have a critical role as the pandemic continues to unfold and in future efforts to mitigate the learning losses experienced by students during this period. It is evident from these results that understanding teachers’ experiences and providing them with the necessary resources and support will be critical for the success of these efforts.

In summary, our results provide an insight into how teachers from these countries experienced remote education, and their observations about consequences for students’ academic achievement, measured right at the end of the first school year to fully occur amidst the pandemic. Our sample was diverse in terms of the geographical distribution of responses and the socio-economic background of the students. Nevertheless, our results may be specific to the higher-level socio-economic characteristics of these countries and may not be generalizable to different contexts. Our results suggest that even in the presence of widespread access to digital learning tools, consistent attendance to class and complete delivery of the curriculum could not be guaranteed. Most teachers reported observing a decline in students’ academic performance, and a growth in the gaps between low and high performing students. More importantly, our data suggest that the effects of the pandemic were not equally distributed. Students from lower SES levels had teachers who were less prepared for the transition to online activities and received less support from adults during homeschooling. Consistently, teachers from lower SES classrooms also reported drops in performance more frequently than those from the higher SES levels.

Even though the group estimations that teachers provide at the classroom level are not enough to suggest causal relationships between the variables we studied and individual differences in academic achievement, teachers contribute valuable information, based on their constant interaction with students. Their observations provide a unique perspective on the effects of the pandemic that is relevant to inform policy decisions and future research.


Teachers from public elementary schools were recruited through the Qualtrics Online Sample panel. We aimed at a sample size of 900 participants, 450 from Canada and 450 from the US. Our sample size was constrained by the availability of participants from the Qualtrics panel that fit into our inclusion criteria. We required participants to be elementary school teachers (grades 1 to 6), fluent in English, living in Canada or the US, who were actively teaching during the 2020–2021 school year. We surveyed 918 participants between June 16th and June 28th, 2021. Seven participants were removed for having a large number of missing responses. The final sample included 911 participants, 453 from Canada and 458 from the US (Fig. 4 ). The complete dataset can be accessed here: https://osf.io/3dsef .

figure 4

Distribution of responses collected across Canada and the US 49 The circle size represents the amount of participants recruited, transformed to log scale.

Our sample was diverse in terms of the professional background of participants and the socioeconomic characteristics of their students (see Table 4 ). We did not consider participants’ socioeconomic status (SES) when determining inclusion. In fact, we were not able to select participants across specific SES levels since the Qualtrics Online Sample of teachers was already limited. Rather, we recruited all potential participants and subsequently described the income level of the students they teach, as reported by the participants themselves.

There were small differences between participants of both countries. For example, teachers from the US were on average more experienced than their Canadian counterparts ( X Can  = 10.05 years, X USA  = 11.82 years; t (822.63) = −2.14, p  = 0.033, d  = 0.14) and reported having students from lower-income households to a greater extent ( X 2  = 71.44, p  = 0.000, df  = 4, Cramer ′ sV  = 0.20).

More than 90% of teachers in our sample experienced school closures during the pandemic, ranging from a few days to the whole year (Table 5 ). Partial closures were, on average, larger in Canada compared to the US ( t (409.40) = 3.32, p  = 0.001, d  = 0.33). During remote instruction, participants reported spending around 18.87 h of class time per week. Furthermore, most participants received classwork from students on a weekly or daily basis and provided feedback with similar frequency. These survey items offered an estimate of the amount of information that participants received from students, which will serve as a basis for their judgments about academic performance.

Since most of the observed discrepancies between countries corresponded to small effect sizes, we considered both groups of participants to be comparable. Therefore, we report here the results corresponding to the whole sample.

The study was approved by the Non-medical Research Ethics Board of the University of Western Ontario. We administered the survey through the Qualtrics online platform. All the participants on the Qualtrics panel who potentially met our inclusion criteria received an email with a link to the survey and the estimated time commitment. Participants who accessed the link were presented with the letter of information (LOI) before starting the survey. Since the survey was administered online, participants could not provide written consent. Instead, they indicated agreement to participate by ticking a checkbox at the end of the LOI. The survey was presented only to those participants who provided this type of consent.

We asked participants to complete the survey in a single session, which should have taken approximately 10 min. To minimize the risk of missing data, we required responses for most survey items. However, all the questions with response requirements included an ‘I prefer not to answer’ option that participants could use if they didn’t feel comfortable disclosing the required information. The complete survey is available here: https://osf.io/bx63k/ .

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Research Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are openly available in the Open Science Framework at https://osf.io/3dsef .

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We would like to thank all the educators who offered their valuable time to respond to our survey. We would also like to thank Bea Goffin for assistance with research ethics and project management. This project was supported by a Catalyst Grant from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR, Grant Reference CF-0213) to CLO and DA. Danial Ansari is supported by the Jacobs Foundation through the CERES Network.

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Study conception and design by all authors. Initial survey draft by A.A.R, but all authors reviewed and provided feedback that was incorporated to the final version. Data analysis and initial draft of the manuscript by A.A.R but all authors contributed and approved the final version.

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Alvarez-Rivero, A., Odgers, C. & Ansari, D. Elementary school teachers’ perspectives about learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. npj Sci. Learn. 8 , 40 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41539-023-00191-w

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Implementing Social-Emotional Learning in the Elementary Classroom

Kelsey l. kaspar.

1 Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock Community School District, Rockford, IA USA

Susan L. Massey

2 Upper Iowa University, Fayette, IA USA

Social-emotional learning has the power to change how educators deliver instruction across the country. For this article, social-emotional learning research and journal articles were reviewed for the purposes of identifying common themes among existing research. Multiple perspectives were considered in the review of literature and the findings were used to identify potential issues and create overall recommendations. The first author provides an example of an implementation case at her elementary school. The recommendations from this case are provided for school leaders to consider when implementing social-emotional learning in their elementary school buildings. A step-by-step action plan is laid out for school leaders to use as a guide for this process, based on the first author’s case, while taking possible issues into consideration.


Social-emotional learning has evolved within the field of education over the years and is recently gaining more attention as students adapt to a changing world and, thus, a new learning environment. This type of learning focuses on students developing life skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, and goal setting (CASEL, 2020 ). Supporters of social-emotional learning (SEL) argue that these skills are equally as important as academic content (Brennan, 2015 ; Durak et al., 2011 ; Shriver & Weissberg, 2020 ). Legislators support social-emotional learning as evidenced by the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This legislation allows schools to be evaluated on a non-academic outcome such as school climate and student engagement (National Conference of State Legislature, 2018 ). As the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way teachers delivered instruction, a common sentiment among educators was to remind each other of the importance of “Maslow before Bloom” (Raschdorf et al., 2020 ). That is, students’ social-emotional needs should be met before expecting them to absorb and retain academic information. This belief has more early childhood educators calling for knowledge of social-emotional learning instruction and the best way of doing so. A large body of current research is allowing for education to head in this direction. The research provides support for the impact that SEL can have on schools across the country.

The purpose of this article is to examine potential practices for implementing social-emotional learning into the elementary classroom. Prior research will be reviewed for information surrounding the most effective way to implement SEL. After reviewing effective strategies, recommendations and their implications will be given to allow for a successful transition into the elementary setting. These recommendations are based on the implementation process at the first author’s school. Potential roadblocks, like time management, financial considerations, and stakeholder buy-in, will be taken into account as a plan for implementation. A step-by-step plan will be outlined for assisting school leaders in the process of adding social-emotional learning to the classroom. A successful plan will convince all parties involved of the necessity of social-emotional learning, including administrators, parents, teachers, students, and community members.

Current Approaches to SEL

Current literature offers insight into the impact of social-emotional learning on student academic performance. Research includes current social-emotional learning practices and how opposing views affect the implementation of SEL. This review will also discuss necessary components for successful implementation, such as the learning environment and SEL curriculum, based on prior research findings. The review will conclude with an overview of why further investigation is needed to determine the best plan for bringing SEL to the elementary classroom.

The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

The most popular argument for social-emotional learning is that SEL is as critical as academic instruction for students of all ages. When SEL is implemented correctly, there can be a dramatic increase in academic performance as a result. A meta-analysis of 213 studies found this to be true, concluding that social-emotional instruction has a significant impact on students’ academic scores (Durlak et al., 2011 ). However, it is important to note that SEL does not replace core instruction. Instead, when taught as a supplemental curriculum, social-emotional learning benefits children from all backgrounds and helps to enhance their overall experience at school (Shriver & Weissberg, 2020 ). When students’ social-emotional needs are prioritized, they are more likely to respond to learning within the school environment. This is especially true for students who have experienced trauma, or adverse childhood experiences, who tend to struggle with the typical needs of the school day (Parker & Hodgson, 2020 ).

Furthermore, when implemented effectively, SEL connects very well with standards-based teaching and grading. A component of standards-based grading requires students to reflect on their learning and learn from their failures and mistakes. Standards-based grading also encourages students to be aware of their learning goals and work towards them at their own pace. These practices are remarkably like lessons taught as part of social-emotional learning, where students learn the importance of growth mindset and goal setting (Brennan, 2015 ). The connection between standards-based grading and social-emotional learning could result in increased academic performance for students at the elementary level (Brennan, 2015 ).

Opposing Views of Social-Emotional Learning

While research supports the impact of SEL on academic performance, there are arguments against the implementation of SEL in U.S. public schools. Those who oppose social-emotional learning argue that SEL is manipulative and works to mold student personalities into a uniform expectation, taking away student individuality (Zhao, 2020 ). Likewise, legislation involving funding social-emotional learning is consistently turned away by some legislators who argue that more time should be spent on academic instruction than on teaching soft skills (Stringer, 2019 ). Opponents also worry that social-emotional learning may influence students’ future political views, rather than teaching them to develop their own opinions about political issues (Stringer, 2019 ).

Conversely, advocates of social-emotional learning work to convince opposers by arguing that SEL is needed for students to become successful, functional adults in society. Because social-emotional learning develops students’ ability to recognize their own emotions and empathize with others, advocates of SEL argue that students with these developed skills will be more successful later in life (Burroughs & Barkauskas, 2017 ). In fact, some even attest that social-emotional learning is needed for complete human development, particularly in the early years (Ahmed et al., 2020 ). If students are not receiving a typical social-emotional environment at home, schools can replicate the teaching of these skills with an appropriate SEL curriculum. Students who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACES) in their home life can have an equal chance at proper social-emotional development when SEL instruction is delivered at school (Parker & Hodgson, 2020 ). Not only could SEL enhance students’ overall health and development, social-emotional learning can also have a positive impact on school climate and atmosphere. SEL has been found to improve student engagement while at school and reduce high-risk behaviors (Meyers et al., 2015 ; Yang et al., 2018 ).

Current Social-Emotional Learning Practices in the United States

While there remain arguments on either side of the spectrum, schools across the United States are implementing SEL to determine the impact it can have on students. In the United States, legislation provides funding for schools to research and implement SEL, like the School Climate Transformation Grant. School districts were able to first apply for this grant in 2014 (U.S. Department of Education, 2014 ). From there, the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) offered more funding for schools wishing to add teacher leader positions in the field of SEL (CASEL, 2019 ). These changes allowed for schools in the United States to begin researching the impact SEL could have on their students and bring attention to meeting students’ social-emotional needs.

Available Resources

Social-emotional learning gains much of its support and new resources from civic organizations in the United States. For example, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a leader in helping schools to perfect their skills in SEL instruction. CASEL ( 2019 ) not only offers guides for implementation, but also reviews curricula to help school districts find a best fit. CASEL ( 2019 ) also provides extensive research touting the benefits of social-emotional learning. Similarly, the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development ( 2019 ) conducted research to provide school districts with recommendations to begin SEL implementation. Their research concluded that social-emotional learning requires the following factors: policy alignment, continuous reflection, local ownership, trained leaders, and cross-sector coalitions (National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, 2019 ). Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) supports teachers in their concern for student wellbeing (NEA Education Policy and Practice Department, n.d.). The NEA believes that social-emotional learning is an imperative component of a child’s education.

The support from these types of organizations makes the creation of SEL resources and curricula possible. There continues to be more curricula on the market for administrators to purchase. Dusenbury and Weissberg ( 2017 ) reviewed multiple SEL curricula, including Caring School Community, PATHS, Positive Action, Resolving Conflicts Creatively, Responsive Classroom, Second Step, Social Decision Making/Problem Solving Program, and Steps to Review. These curricula focused on the five social-emotional competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making (CASEL, 2019 ). These curricula make it possible for the general education teacher to add SEL as a daily component in the classroom (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017 ). Before deciding on which curriculum best fits a certain school, Ferreira et al. ( 2020 ) remind administrators of the importance of ensuring that the curriculum is developmentally appropriate for the intended age. Just as academics are scaffolded throughout the year, social-emotional skills should correspond to developmentally appropriate age ranges and expectations. In addition, while cost is an important factor to consider when deciding on a curriculum, administrators may recognize that the impact of social-emotional learning can create a financial return by improving student performance, school climate, and increasing standardized test scores (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017 ). In this way, purchasing an SEL curriculum can be considered an important investment in a school’s success.

Necessary Components for Implementation

Once schools receive the support and resources to begin the implementation of SEL, administrators need to research best practices for implementing social-emotional learning. These examples have revealed necessary components for SEL instruction to be the most successful. To begin, teachers should be aware of their comfort level with teaching social-emotional learning. To be able to teach social skills, educators need to be socially competent themselves (Collie et al., 2012 ). If educators are not aware of their own social-emotional competencies, then the art of instructing these skills can become too stressful. In this way, schools should set their priority on supporting adults first before expecting them to teach SEL (Darling-Hammond, 2018 ). Mentally healthy teachers will be more impactful with their instruction than those who have other stressors to worry about. With that in mind, it is helpful for schools to focus on simply initiating SEL and then be willing to reflect, learn from mistakes, and listen to teachers’ thoughts and opinions about what was successful and what was challenging (Berman, 2018 ).

After teachers are prepared for teaching SEL, school leaders then may consider focusing on perfecting the learning environment. School is naturally a social place for students, and it makes sense to instruct these skills in this setting (Dominguez & LaGue, 2013 ). Three themes emerged from the literature that were described as necessary components for SEL to be most successful. These all impacted the learning environment: positive teacher-student relationships, diversity and acceptance, and student voice (Durlak et al., 2011 ; Elias, 2014 ; Farrel, 2019 ; Zalaznick, 2020 ). Students thrived in an environment where they felt supported and respected by their teachers and, therefore, were more open to SEL instruction (Elias, 2014 ). Likewise, SEL instruction that included conversations about diversity and acceptance created an ideal learning environment for all involved (Farrell, 2019 ). Students appreciated a classroom where they felt they had a voice in their learning and felt understood by their teachers (Zalaznick, 2020 ). When all factors were effectively put into place, students were more likely to improve in their academic performance.

After a proper learning environment is put into place, the instruction of SEL can begin. Prior research provides recommendations of important pieces to allow students to get the most out of the instruction. First, social-emotional learning was implemented throughout the day and taught regularly by classroom teachers (Bailey et al., 2019 ; Barnett, 2019 ). This took on multiple forms, including being integrated into another curriculum (e.g., literacy or math). On the other hand, some programs required separate times of the day devoted to SEL, such as morning and closing circle times (Berman, 2018 ; Stearns, 2016 ). These lessons focused on the direct, explicit instruction of social-emotional skills. Oftentimes, these skills were practiced through peer collaboration in both general academic work and direct SEL work (Capp et al., 2018 ). However, when instruction was given, it was most helpful to be in the form of an easy-to-follow curriculum, with step-by-step instructions for the teacher to follow. Likewise, SEL was most impactful when families and the general community were involved in the students’ learning (Greenberg et al., 2017 ; Haymovitz et al., 2018 ).

Roadblocks to Address

While an action plan is created, the following will be important roadblocks to consider: finding time for SEL instruction, locating money in the budget for resources and personnel, adequately preparing teachers for providing the instruction, gaining the support of stakeholders, and collecting data to reflect on its effectiveness. As the world changes, so do the students entering classrooms. Schools should recognize the need to educate the whole child, in lieu of focusing solely on academics (Durlak et al., 2011 ). The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 requires schools to be evaluated on conditions of learning, and social-emotional learning can positively affect school’s climate to improve these scores (Shriver & Weissberg, 2020 ).

First, the main concern that teachers have about social-emotional learning is finding the time to fit SEL instruction into their daily schedule (Collie et al., 2012 ). There are many demands on elementary teachers; namely, expectations for students to perform well on standardized tests. A typical elementary schedule is already full of literacy and math lessons, and the notion of adding in another component may be overwhelming for elementary educators (Collie et al., 2012 ). With that in mind, it will be important for an SEL curriculum to be easy to implement and fit seamlessly into the normal elementary routine. SEL can also be embedded into academic curriculum, through partner work, minilessons during literacy, and as part of the Common Core State Standards speaking and listening standards.

Next, some schools may have difficulty acquiring money to support the implementation of SEL. Funds will be needed for multiple components, including curriculum, personnel, and professional development (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017 ). School leaders should be aware of grant opportunities and government-controlled funds that would aid in the purchasing of these components. Professional development is necessary to ensure that teachers are properly prepared for providing instruction in social-emotional learning (Collie et al., 2012 ).

Finally, school leaders should recognize the importance of gaining support from important stakeholders including parents, the local community, and the students themselves. Those who oppose social-emotional learning believe that SEL takes precious time away from academics (Zhao, 2020 ). To combat those fears, school leaders need to create a plan for collecting data to prove the success of their chosen SEL program. Stakeholders will benefit from being kept informed on all levels, so that they know what to expect for outcomes from social-emotional learning.

Social-emotional learning seems to be the latest trend in education, but it does not come without controversy. Many states are beginning to see the benefits of providing SEL instruction and will likely begin to require this type of instruction in schools. However, the problem remains in creating steps to follow for a smooth implementation, while addressing issues like time, money and resources, and stakeholder buy-in. These issues need to be considered for an SEL implementation plan to succeed.

Recommendations and an Example Case

Clearly, the process of implementing social-emotional learning into the elementary classroom does not come without its challenges. However, the recommendations from the current research offer valuable insight into the best approach for beginning the process. School leaders may consider simply choosing a starting point and working from there to get off and running (Berman, 2018 ). Before jumping into the implementation, it will be important to consider the previously mentioned sub issues that are likely to affect the success of a plan. From there, a step-by-step plan, based in the literature’s findings and the first author’s experiences, can smoothly guide the development of social-emotional learning throughout an elementary school’s classroom.

Action Plan

With the existing research and the first author’s actions at her school in mind, the following action plan is presented. This action plan includes multiple elements to ensure that the implementation of social-emotional learning goes as smoothly as possible. These components include creating a social-emotional learning leadership team, offering multiple opportunities for staff to receive professional development on the topic of SEL, creating a plan that includes frequent communication with all stakeholders, developing consistency among elementary classrooms within the school building, and offering tier two and tier three interventions for students needing targeted instruction in social-emotional skills. The first author implemented a similar action plan in her school and examples from this school are given for each step. Refer to Fig.  1 to see an example of an implementation timeline.

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A Timeline for Implementing Social-Emotional Learning.

Social-Emotional Learning Leadership Team

The first step towards success when implementing social-emotional learning should include the creation of an SEL leadership team. This team should include a wide variety of staff members to include diverse perspectives. Some positions to consider are the instructional coach(es), the curriculum coordinator, a teacher new to the district, a teacher new to the profession, at least two veteran teachers, and the school guidance counselor. Monthly meetings of the SEL team are suggested to plan and fulfill actions towards adding social-emotional instruction to the elementary building. At the author’s school, these members were selected by the elementary principal to identify the weaknesses in the area of social-emotional instruction and then work towards a solution. Creating a shared vision is one of the first actions that the team will want to complete. This vision will include where they see SEL fitting into the school and the changes it will bring to the overall school environment. The shared vision should include a mission statement. An example of a mission statement is: “Under the implementation of a new social-emotional curriculum, our elementary school will offer an environment where the maximum amount of learning can take place, where students can feel safe, where teachers are appreciated, and all feel welcome.” The mission statement will be used, along with the shared vision, to introduce SEL to the elementary staff. The vision statement encompasses the beliefs of how the leadership team expects both students and educators to act underneath their new SEL plan. The following questions may be beneficial in generating discussion to create a shared vision:

  • What does an ideal school environment look like?
  • How do ideal students solve problems with one another?
  • How should teachers be supported in their profession?
  • How does social-emotional learning relate to our school mission statement?
  • How could social-emotional learning transform our school?

After developing a shared vision, the SEL leadership team will need to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) goals for how to meet their vision. These goals should be broken up by priority, and the SEL team should make both short-term and long-term goals. These goals could include the development of schoolwide norms, or expectations, for students to follow no matter where they are in the school building. This consistency will be helpful in enhancing the school’s learning environment (Durlak et al., 2011 ). Also, the SEL team will want to develop a plan that ensures teacher morale stays positive (Darling-Hammond, 2018 ). For example, SEL leaders may work on celebrating staff accomplishments on a regular basis or rewarding teachers with small sentiments. Both factors will be very impactful in improving the climate of the school and the learning environment for students (Fig. ​ (Fig.2 2 ).

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SMART goal example

When making the SMART goals, the SEL team should have a plan for collecting data to show their growth towards goals. One possible assessment tool is the social, academic, emotional, behavioral risk screener (SAEBRS) assessment offered by Fastbridge. This assessment screens students from kindergarten through 12th grade and quickly identifies students who may need a targeted intervention related to social-emotional skills (Illuminate Education, 2021 ). The data from this assessment could be one of the main determinations in SEL goal achievement.

In addition to collecting student data from an assessment like SAEBRS, the SEL leadership team will also want to have additional data collection tools. First, the leadership team will want to collect data from teachers, including their thoughts on the school climate and levels of job satisfaction (Darling-Hammond, 2018 ). A survey, anonymous suggestions, or a similar idea could be created. Teachers should feel supported in their own job before they can competently teach social-emotional lessons (Collie et al., 2012 ). This survey could identify potential issues before they hinder the SEL team’s efforts. Similarly, students could complete a school climate survey. For example, the Iowa Department of Education in the United States requires all public schools to conduct a Conditions of Learning Survey, collecting data on students’ feelings about their school (Des Moines Public Schools, 2021 ). All these pieces of data will be crucial in determining a starting point for the SEL team, and later in determining the success of the team’s efforts.

Next, the SEL team will want to choose the tools for SEL instruction. There are many available curricula in the social-emotional domain, so the pros and cons of all curricula will need to be weighed. Factors to consider when choosing a curriculum should include ease of use, cost, resources included, and research-based materials (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017 ). An appropriate curriculum will meet most of the school’s needs. It may be beneficial for the leadership team to choose one or two teachers to pilot a program and share their thoughts on the program before purchasing it for the entire elementary. The first author was chosen to pilot the Caring School Community curriculum from the Center for the Collaborative Classroom at her school. This program was used with her 27 fourth-grade students. Data was collected to determine its effectiveness, and the author presented her findings to her colleagues at the beginning of the 2021–2022 school year. In addition, the author trained her colleagues to use the curriculum in their own classrooms. It is helpful to have a curriculum chosen and sample materials made available as the shared vision is presented to all elementary staff members.

Professional Development

After choosing a curriculum, the next step in SEL implementation is preparing the educators for delivering social-emotional instruction. The SEL leadership team should organize professional development opportunities for elementary staff. The professional development opportunities should occur more often during the first year to best support educators in the transition to social-emotional learning. These first sessions should include opportunities for teachers to develop their own social-emotional competencies (Darling-Hammond, 2018 ). Administrators will want to emphasize the importance of teachers taking time for self-care or activities where they take the time to refresh and elevate their mental health (Collie et al., 2012 ). These types of activities include fitness, mindfulness practices, free-reading, or any other activities that teachers enjoy doing in their free time. In addition, teachers should be able to recognize and manage their own emotions to assist students in doing the same (Darling-Hammond, 2018 ). For example, at the author’s school, the administration brought in area education agency members to train staff on social-emotional learning practices. This included the viewing and discussion of the documentary Paper Tigers (Redford & Pritzker, 2015 ).

From there, teachers can begin to practice empathy by learning about trauma-informed instruction and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). An understanding of these topics is crucial in being able to deliver social-emotional lessons and create a classroom environment where all students feel safe and comfortable (Parker & Hodgson, 2020 ). The author’s colleagues participated in a book study of Help for Billy by Heather Forbes. When students experience trauma in their young lives, the development of their brains is affected (Forbes, 2012 ). Because of this, their ability to maintain relationships in the same way as traditional students is diminished. Behavior typically becomes a problem with these types of children, and it is helpful for educators to be professionally trained in a trauma-informed approach in order to best meet their needs. Social-emotional learning can reduce high-risk behaviors when implemented correctly (Parker & Hodgson, 2020 ). Consequently, professional development should offer the opportunity for educators to learn and understand the neuroscience behind trauma and ACES.

Once educators have the foundational knowledge necessary for teaching social-emotional learning, they can begin instruction. However, the learning does not stop there, and school leaders should consider utilizing their instructional coaches to continue to improve educator’s SEL practice. Like other coaching sessions focused on academics, an instructional coach can complete a coaching cycle with his or her co-workers, analyzing social-emotional lessons. To make the most out of the first year of schoolwide SEL implementation, administrators should consider requiring all teachers to complete a coaching cycle in social-emotional learning. This coaching cycle will involve the instructional coach reviewing a lesson with the teacher beforehand, observing the lesson, and reflecting with the teacher afterwards. The coaching cycle will give teachers a chance to ensure they are delivering instruction in the best way possible for students to gain as many social-emotional skills as possible. Likewise, the instructional coach can learn from his or her colleagues to build a “toolbox” of knowledge for all elementary staff to share as they plan their SEL instruction.

Communication with Stakeholders

Creating a vision of SEL and preparing educators for instruction will serve as the building blocks for success of implementation. From there, administrators and school leaders will want to consider the involvement of educational stakeholders. This will include parents, students, all school workers, school board representatives, and community members. Community members may include local business owners, student relatives, and all those who have a stake in the funding for the school. For SEL to be most effective, communication with stakeholders should happen regularly and consistently (Raschdorf et al., 2020 ). The SEL leadership team will want to share their SEL vision with all stakeholders and present it in a way that shows them the benefits of such instruction. At the author’s school, parents were given an overview of the new social-emotional curriculum at Back-to-School night and were also able to ask any questions or raise any concerns during this time. After the implementation of SEL program, parents continued to give feedback. One of the thoughts from a parent at the author’s school is shared in Fig.  3 .

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A Parent’s perspective on SEL curriculum at RRMR elementary

In fact, when parents are involved in social-emotional instruction, the impact on student performance is that much greater (Haymovitz et al., 2018 ). In addition to including parents and school workers, SEL leaders will want to coordinate community partnerships (Greenberg et al., 2017 ). These partnerships can give students the opportunity to give back in their community, learn as an apprentice, or other various learning experiences.

After providing an overview to school stakeholders of SEL instruction, it will be helpful for the leadership team to gather data from them to gauge their feelings about the implementation process. This information will help SEL leaders pinpoint any specific areas of concern that could be addressed when communicating with stakeholders. Similarly, the SEL leadership team will want to share success stories as they begin lessons and collecting data from students. This could happen in multiple formats, including website updates or informational fliers sent to the school’s community partners. These celebrations will help the stakeholders to see the importance of teaching social-emotional skills to students in their community (Fig. ​ (Fig.4 4 ).

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Example learning target

Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

The most critical part of SEL instruction will occur in the elementary classroom. There are numerous factors that should be considered to make the lessons the most effective. These elements include focusing on positive student–teacher relationships, developing consistency among all elementary classrooms, and ensuring classrooms are culturally responsive. All teachers should include SEL in their classrooms somehow, and this SEL instruction should occur daily (Bailey et al., 2019 ). From there, teachers will want to work on fostering positive relationships with their students. Research supports the importance of students feeling respected and cared for by their teachers (Raschdorf et al., 2020 ; Yang et al., 2018 ). When these relationships are in place, student behavior will improve, and students will be more likely to respond to SEL instruction. An easy way to begin to develop these relationships is to follow the “two-minute-a-day” strategy (McKibben, 2014 ). This strategy focuses on giving students targeted, positive attention every day. This focused attention allows for the student to see their teacher as an ally, rather than an enemy. This strategy can be particularly meaningful for students who typically have behavioral issues (McKibben, 2014 ). These relationships are the foundation for creating an ideal learning environment.

Next, once SEL instruction begins, it will be essential for there to be consistency among all elementary classrooms (Durlak et al., 2011 ). There should be schoolwide discipline policies and expectations in place that are followed by all staff members. Administrators may consider doing classroom walk-throughs to check for this consistency on a regular basis. The SEL leadership team may focus on using positive language in these expectations (Whisman & Hammer, 2014 ). For example, instead of writing “Don’t run in the hallways,” the language could be changed to “Walk in the hallways.” This language can also be used in the classrooms. Teachers should consider rewarding students for positive behaviors, rather than scolding those acting out. These factors will also contribute to an ideal learning environment.

As SEL is added to the elementary classroom, there are multiple components that will be helpful in ensuring that instruction is the most impactful. First, educators will want to create explicit learning targets, like academic learning goals. These learning targets can relate back to the five SEL competencies by CASEL ( 2020 ) or the SEL competencies required by the state’s department of education. In this way, SEL instruction can relate back to the process of standards-based instruction and grading, where students take ownership of their learning, using the learning targets as their guide. These learning goals can also be used to assist students in the process of self-assessment. Just like with their academics, students will want to recognize their growth in social-emotional skills, and self-assessment is a meaningful way to do so.

In addition, social-emotional learning can be integrated into other subject areas to add components of it throughout the school day. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by including peer collaboration into all subjects. When students work together on a variety of tasks, there are many social-emotional skills coming into play (McKown et al., 2016 ). Students are required to use their communication skills, teamwork, and conversational skills to work best with their partner. Students should not be simply assigned to a partner project for the sake of practice. Instead, students should be provided with direct, explicit instruction in how partners should work together for that task. Afterwards, reflecting on the successes and challenges of their partner work will help students to identify their strengths in social-emotional skills (McKown et al., 2016 ).

A critical component of social-emotional learning is to include parents in the practice of social skills (Haymovitz et al., 2018 ). This component should be executed by all classroom teachers teaching social skills. Teachers will need to communicate with parents the learning goals of SEL, so that the skills can be reinforced at home when applicable. For example, when teaching students about the importance of agreeing and disagreeing respectfully, prompts can be sent home to use in the home setting as well. At the author’s school, students are given a home connection activity to complete every week with an adult at home. This activity relates to the current SEL learning target. When SEL skills are put into practice both at school and at home, students will be more positively impacted (Haymovitz et al., 2018 ).

Likewise, teachers will want to respond to students’ home environments by ensuring that classrooms are culturally responsive. Social-emotional learning offers an ideal opportunity for teachers to address diversity across the globe and appreciate cultural differences. Similarly, educators should be aware of cultural differences when celebrating holidays at school. Teachers should also ensure that students are exposed to diverse literature, where all students can “see” themselves in the books that they read. Literature gives students the chance to put themselves into others’ shoes, and, therefore, practice the skill of empathy while also practicing literacy skills. When all these components are put together in the classroom, social-emotional learning will be most effective.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports for SEL

Once students are given direct instruction in social-emotional skills, they should be provided with interventions when needed (Barnett, 2019 ; Green et al., 2019 ; Greenberg et al, 2017 ). These interventions should be provided on both a tier two and tier three level to meet all students where they are at with their social-emotional development. To put these interventions into place, all elementary students should be assessed with a universal screening assessment to identify students in need. This assessment will aid in identifying the specific areas of need for students to grow. Tier two instruction can occur in a small-group setting, where students work on social-emotional skills together. Likewise, tier three instruction will occur individually, where students can focus on their own growth where needed. This instruction could take on the form of a regular one-on-one conference with the student to help them with whatever skills they may need. The conferences will give students the opportunity to share any social woes they may have and work on problem-solving strategies for alleviating them. The universal screener can be given three times a year, and the data from this screener can serve as a reflection tool. Teachers will be able to identify growth among their students in social-emotional skills, and the school will be able to determine the success of its social-emotional skills as a whole.

School leaders who wish to implement social-emotional learning will benefit from these recommendations. It will be important for leaders to keep the concerns in mind, like issues with time and money, when beginning the step-by-step plan. However, by using findings from current research, these recommendations are practical and possible for beginning the process SEL implementation.

SEL implementation is not an easy path to take. There are likely going to be issues that arise during the process, including pushback from stakeholders, scheduling conflicts, and budget shortfalls. However, if those are directly addressed in a step-by-step action plan, the process may go much smoother. When school leaders begin to implement social-emotional learning, they will want to begin with creating an SEL leadership team. This team will be in charge of creating a shared school vision, training staff members, and guiding their co-workers through the implementation process. While there are many roadblocks to consider in this action plan, the benefits of following through with it are sure to outweigh any negatives. If SEL is implemented correctly, students and teachers are more likely to experience a high quality, less stressful learning environment. Communication between the school and its stakeholders may increase, developing important relationships. All educators involved in the implementation process will be given the opportunity to grow in their instructional practice, as they dive into professional development on social-emotional learning and trauma-informed teaching. Administrators will become more aware of the importance of teacher mental health and self-care, and students will feel the results in the classroom academically. As social-emotional learning grows in popularity, the research supports these notions. School leaders should seriously consider evaluating their current practice and determining a place for social-emotional learning in their buildings. The effects of doing so may be felt for many years, as students learn to become well-rounded, emotionally intelligent adults. An administrator at the school of the first author noted these effects: As a building administrator I have noticed a decrease in small behavior issues that come through my office simply because of the common language and the fact that students are able to resolve conflicts on their own. Teaching those strategies and skills over the course of a school year with daily lessons has been so valuable for everyone.

SEL can prepare students for living in a diverse world, by teaching them to interact with all types of humanity. Teacher burnout and anxiety can decrease when approached as part of the process, and stakeholders in the community will get the chance to be involved in student development. Additionally, students across the world can benefit from direct instruction in managing emotions and working with others. The history of humanity teaches us the importance of knowing these skills, and the future of the world depends on the next generation. By empowering this generation with necessary social-emotional skills, children can confidently face their futures. For these reasons, SEL belongs as a promising future in the field of education.

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Getting First Graders Started With Research

Teaching academically honest research skills helps first graders learn how to collect, organize, and interpret information.

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Earlier in my career, I was told two facts that I thought to be false: First graders can’t do research, because they aren’t old enough; and if facts are needed for a nonfiction text, the students can just make them up. Teachers I knew went along with this misinformation, as it seemed to make teaching and learning easier. I always felt differently, and now—having returned to teaching first grade 14 years after beginning my career with that age group—I wanted to prove that first graders can and should learn how to research. 

A lot has changed over the years. Not only has the science of reading given teachers a much better understanding of how to teach reading skills , but we now exist in a culture abundant in information and misinformation. It’s imperative that we teach academically honest research skills to students as early as possible. 

Use a Familiar Resource, and Pair it with a Planned Unit

How soon do you start research in first grade? Certainly not at the start of the year with the summer lapse in skills and knowledge and when new students aren’t yet able to read. By December of this school year, skills had either been recovered or established sufficiently that I thought we could launch into research. This also purposely coincided with a unit of writing on nonfiction—the perfect pairing.

The research needed an age-related focus to make it manageable, so I chose animals. I thought about taking an even safer route and have one whole class topic that we researched together, so that students could compare notes and skills. I referred back to my days working in inquiry-based curriculums (like the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program) and had students choose which animal to study. Our school librarian recommended that we use Epic because the service has an abundance of excellent nonfiction animal texts of different levels.

Teach the Basics for Organized Research 

I began with a conversation about academic honesty and why we don’t just copy information from books. We can’t say this is our knowledge if we do this; it belongs to the author. Instead, we read and learn. Then, we state what we learned in our own words. Once this concept is understood, I model how to do this by creating a basic step-by-step flowchart taught to me by my wife—a longtime first-grade and kindergarten teacher and firm believer in research skills.

  • Read one sentence at a time.
  • Turn the book over or the iPad around.
  • Think about what you have learned. Can you remember the fact? Is the fact useful? Is it even a fact?
  • If the answer is no, reread the sentence or move onto the next one.
  • If the answer is yes, write the fact in your own words. Don’t worry about spelling. There are new, complex vocabulary words, so use your sounding-out/stretching-out strategies just like you would any other word. Write a whole sentence on a sticky note.
  • Place the sticky note in your graphic organizer. Think about which section it goes in. If you aren’t sure, place it in the “other facts” section.

The key to collecting notes is the challenging skill of categorizing them. I created a graphic organizer that reflected the length and sections of the exemplar nonfiction text from our assessment materials for the writing unit. This meant it had five pages: an introduction, “what” the animal looks like, “where” the animal lives, “how” the animal behaved, and a last page for “other facts” that could become a general conclusion.

Our district’s literacy expert advised me not to hand out my premade graphic organizer too soon in this process because writing notes and categorizing are two different skills. This was my intention, but I forgot the good advice and handed out the organizer right away. This meant dedicating time for examining and organizing notes in each combined writing and reading lesson. A lot of one-on-one feedback was needed for some students, while others flourished and could do this work independently. The result was that the research had a built-in extension for those students who were already confident readers.

Focus on What Students Need to Practice 

Research is an essential academic skill but one that needs to be tackled gradually. I insisted that my students use whole sentences rather than words or phrases because they’re at the stage of understanding what a complete sentence is and need regular practice. In this work, there’s no mention of citation language and vetting sources; in the past, I’ve introduced those concepts to students in fourth grade and used them regularly with my fifth-grade students. Finding texts that span the reading skill range of a first-grade class is a big enough task. 

For some of the key shared scientific vocabulary around science concepts, such as animal groups (mammals, etc.) or eating habits (carnivore, etc.), I created class word lists, having first sounded out the words with the class and then asked students to attempt spelling them in their writing.

The Power of Research Can Facilitate Student Growth 

I was delighted with the results of the research project. In one and a half weeks, every student had a graphic organizer with relevant notes, and many students had numerous notes. With my fourth- and fifth-grade students, I noticed that one of the biggest difficulties for them was taking notes and writing them in a way that showed a logical sequence. Therefore, we concluded our research by numbering the notes in each section to create a sequential order. 

This activity took three lessons and also worked for my first graders. These organized notes created an internal structure that made the next step in the writing process, creating a first draft of their nonfiction teaching books, so much easier. 

The overall result was that first graders were able to truly grasp the power of research and gathering accurate facts. I proved that young children can do this, especially when they work with topics that already fascinate them. Their love of learning motivated them to read higher-level and more sophisticated texts than they or I would normally pick, further proving how interest motivates readers to embrace complexity.

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21 Action Research Examples (In Education)

action research examples and definition, explained below

Action research is an example of qualitative research . It refers to a wide range of evaluative or investigative methods designed to analyze professional practices and take action for improvement.

Commonly used in education, those practices could be related to instructional methods, classroom practices, or school organizational matters.

The creation of action research is attributed to Kurt Lewin , a German-American psychologist also considered to be the father of social psychology.

Gillis and Jackson (2002) offer a very concise definition of action research: “systematic collection and analysis of data for the purpose of taking action and making change” (p.264).

The methods of action research in education include:

  • conducting in-class observations
  • taking field notes
  • surveying or interviewing teachers, administrators, or parents
  • using audio and video recordings.

The goal is to identify problematic issues, test possible solutions, or simply carry-out continuous improvement.

There are several steps in action research : identify a problem, design a plan to resolve, implement the plan, evaluate effectiveness, reflect on results, make necessary adjustment and repeat the process.

Action Research Examples

  • Digital literacy assessment and training: The school’s IT department conducts a survey on students’ digital literacy skills. Based on the results, a tailored training program is designed for different age groups.
  • Library resources utilization study: The school librarian tracks the frequency and type of books checked out by students. The data is then used to curate a more relevant collection and organize reading programs.
  • Extracurricular activities and student well-being: A team of teachers and counselors assess the impact of extracurricular activities on student mental health through surveys and interviews. Adjustments are made based on findings.
  • Parent-teacher communication channels: The school evaluates the effectiveness of current communication tools (e.g., newsletters, apps) between teachers and parents. Feedback is used to implement a more streamlined system.
  • Homework load evaluation: Teachers across grade levels assess the amount and effectiveness of homework given. Adjustments are made to ensure a balance between academic rigor and student well-being.
  • Classroom environment and learning: A group of teachers collaborates to study the impact of classroom layouts and decorations on student engagement and comprehension. Changes are made based on the findings.
  • Student feedback on curriculum content: High school students are surveyed about the relevance and applicability of their current curriculum. The feedback is then used to make necessary curriculum adjustments.
  • Teacher mentoring and support: New teachers are paired with experienced mentors. Both parties provide feedback on the effectiveness of the mentoring program, leading to continuous improvements.
  • Assessment of school transportation: The school board evaluates the efficiency and safety of school buses through surveys with students and parents. Necessary changes are implemented based on the results.
  • Cultural sensitivity training: After conducting a survey on students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences, the school organizes workshops for teachers to promote a more inclusive classroom environment.
  • Environmental initiatives and student involvement: The school’s eco-club assesses the school’s carbon footprint and waste management. They then collaborate with the administration to implement greener practices and raise environmental awareness.
  • Working with parents through research: A school’s admin staff conduct focus group sessions with parents to identify top concerns.Those concerns will then be addressed and another session conducted at the end of the school year.
  • Peer teaching observations and improvements: Kindergarten teachers observe other teachers handling class transition techniques to share best practices.
  • PTA surveys and resultant action: The PTA of a district conducts a survey of members regarding their satisfaction with remote learning classes.The results will be presented to the school board for further action.
  • Recording and reflecting: A school administrator takes video recordings of playground behavior and then plays them for the teachers. The teachers work together to formulate a list of 10 playground safety guidelines.
  • Pre/post testing of interventions: A school board conducts a district wide evaluation of a STEM program by conducting a pre/post-test of students’ skills in computer programming.
  • Focus groups of practitioners : The professional development needs of teachers are determined from structured focus group sessions with teachers and admin.
  • School lunch research and intervention: A nutrition expert is hired to evaluate and improve the quality of school lunches.
  • School nurse systematic checklist and improvements: The school nurse implements a bathroom cleaning checklist to monitor cleanliness after the results of a recent teacher survey revealed several issues.
  • Wearable technologies for pedagogical improvements; Students wear accelerometers attached to their hips to gain a baseline measure of physical activity.The results will identify if any issues exist.
  • School counselor reflective practice : The school counselor conducts a student survey on antisocial behavior and then plans a series of workshops for both teachers and parents.

Detailed Examples

1. cooperation and leadership.

A science teacher has noticed that her 9 th grade students do not cooperate with each other when doing group projects. There is a lot of arguing and battles over whose ideas will be followed.

So, she decides to implement a simple action research project on the matter. First, she conducts a structured observation of the students’ behavior during meetings. She also has the students respond to a short questionnaire regarding their notions of leadership.

She then designs a two-week course on group dynamics and leadership styles. The course involves learning about leadership concepts and practices . In another element of the short course, students randomly select a leadership style and then engage in a role-play with other students.

At the end of the two weeks, she has the students work on a group project and conducts the same structured observation as before. She also gives the students a slightly different questionnaire on leadership as it relates to the group.

She plans to analyze the results and present the findings at a teachers’ meeting at the end of the term.

2. Professional Development Needs

Two high-school teachers have been selected to participate in a 1-year project in a third-world country. The project goal is to improve the classroom effectiveness of local teachers. 

The two teachers arrive in the country and begin to plan their action research. First, they decide to conduct a survey of teachers in the nearby communities of the school they are assigned to.

The survey will assess their professional development needs by directly asking the teachers and administrators. After collecting the surveys, they analyze the results by grouping the teachers based on subject matter.

They discover that history and social science teachers would like professional development on integrating smartboards into classroom instruction. Math teachers would like to attend workshops on project-based learning, while chemistry teachers feel that they need equipment more than training.

The two teachers then get started on finding the necessary training experts for the workshops and applying for equipment grants for the science teachers.

3. Playground Accidents

The school nurse has noticed a lot of students coming in after having mild accidents on the playground. She’s not sure if this is just her perception or if there really is an unusual increase this year.  So, she starts pulling data from the records over the last two years. She chooses the months carefully and only selects data from the first three months of each school year.

She creates a chart to make the data more easily understood. Sure enough, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in accidents this year compared to the same period of time from the previous two years.

She shows the data to the principal and teachers at the next meeting. They all agree that a field observation of the playground is needed.

Those observations reveal that the kids are not having accidents on the playground equipment as originally suspected. It turns out that the kids are tripping on the new sod that was installed over the summer.

They examine the sod and observe small gaps between the slabs. Each gap is approximately 1.5 inches wide and nearly two inches deep. The kids are tripping on this gap as they run.

They then discuss possible solutions.

4. Differentiated Learning

Trying to use the same content, methods, and processes for all students is a recipe for failure. This is why modifying each lesson to be flexible is highly recommended. Differentiated learning allows the teacher to adjust their teaching strategy based on all the different personalities and learning styles they see in their classroom.

Of course, differentiated learning should undergo the same rigorous assessment that all teaching techniques go through. So, a third-grade social science teacher asks his students to take a simple quiz on the industrial revolution. Then, he applies differentiated learning to the lesson.

By creating several different learning stations in his classroom, he gives his students a chance to learn about the industrial revolution in a way that captures their interests. The different stations contain: short videos, fact cards, PowerPoints, mini-chapters, and role-plays.

At the end of the lesson, students get to choose how they demonstrate their knowledge. They can take a test, construct a PPT, give an oral presentation, or conduct a simulated TV interview with different characters.

During this last phase of the lesson, the teacher is able to assess if they demonstrate the necessary knowledge and have achieved the defined learning outcomes. This analysis will allow him to make further adjustments to future lessons.

5. Healthy Habits Program

While looking at obesity rates of students, the school board of a large city is shocked by the dramatic increase in the weight of their students over the last five years. After consulting with three companies that specialize in student physical health, they offer the companies an opportunity to prove their value.

So, the board randomly assigns each company to a group of schools. Starting in the next academic year, each company will implement their healthy habits program in 5 middle schools.

Preliminary data is collected at each school at the beginning of the school year. Each and every student is weighed, their resting heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol are also measured.

After analyzing the data, it is found that the schools assigned to each of the three companies are relatively similar on all of these measures.

At the end of the year, data for students at each school will be collected again. A simple comparison of pre- and post-program measurements will be conducted. The company with the best outcomes will be selected to implement their program city-wide.

Action research is a great way to collect data on a specific issue, implement a change, and then evaluate the effects of that change. It is perhaps the most practical of all types of primary research .

Most likely, the results will be mixed. Some aspects of the change were effective, while other elements were not. That’s okay. This just means that additional modifications to the change plan need to be made, which is usually quite easy to do.

There are many methods that can be utilized, such as surveys, field observations , and program evaluations.

The beauty of action research is based in its utility and flexibility. Just about anyone in a school setting is capable of conducting action research and the information can be incredibly useful.

Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (1997). The jigsaw classroom: Building cooperation in the classroom (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Gillis, A., & Jackson, W. (2002). Research Methods for Nurses: Methods and Interpretation . Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems. Journal of SocialIssues, 2 (4), 34-46.

Macdonald, C. (2012). Understanding participatory action research: A qualitative research methodology option. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13 , 34-50. https://doi.org/10.33524/cjar.v13i2.37 Mertler, C. A. (2008). Action Research: Teachers as Researchers in the Classroom . London: Sage.


Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition


Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition

2 thoughts on “21 Action Research Examples (In Education)”

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Where can I capture this article in a better user-friendly format, since I would like to provide it to my students in a Qualitative Methods course at the University of Prince Edward Island? It is a good article, however, it is visually disjointed in its current format. Thanks, Dr. Frank T. Lavandier

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Hi Dr. Lavandier,

I’ve emailed you a word doc copy that you can use and edit with your class.

Best, Chris.

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World Bank Blogs

Four of the biggest problems facing education—and four trends that could make a difference

Eduardo velez bustillo, harry a. patrinos.

Woman writing in a notebook

In 2022, we published, Lessons for the education sector from the COVID-19 pandemic , which was a follow up to,  Four Education Trends that Countries Everywhere Should Know About , which summarized views of education experts around the world on how to handle the most pressing issues facing the education sector then. We focused on neuroscience, the role of the private sector, education technology, inequality, and pedagogy.

Unfortunately, we think the four biggest problems facing education today in developing countries are the same ones we have identified in the last decades .

1. The learning crisis was made worse by COVID-19 school closures

Low quality instruction is a major constraint and prior to COVID-19, the learning poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was 57% (6 out of 10 children could not read and understand basic texts by age 10). More dramatic is the case of Sub-Saharan Africa with a rate even higher at 86%. Several analyses show that the impact of the pandemic on student learning was significant, leaving students in low- and middle-income countries way behind in mathematics, reading and other subjects.  Some argue that learning poverty may be close to 70% after the pandemic , with a substantial long-term negative effect in future earnings. This generation could lose around $21 trillion in future salaries, with the vulnerable students affected the most.

2. Countries are not paying enough attention to early childhood care and education (ECCE)

At the pre-school level about two-thirds of countries do not have a proper legal framework to provide free and compulsory pre-primary education. According to UNESCO, only a minority of countries, mostly high-income, were making timely progress towards SDG4 benchmarks on early childhood indicators prior to the onset of COVID-19. And remember that ECCE is not only preparation for primary school. It can be the foundation for emotional wellbeing and learning throughout life; one of the best investments a country can make.

3. There is an inadequate supply of high-quality teachers

Low quality teaching is a huge problem and getting worse in many low- and middle-income countries.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the percentage of trained teachers fell from 84% in 2000 to 69% in 2019 . In addition, in many countries teachers are formally trained and as such qualified, but do not have the minimum pedagogical training. Globally, teachers for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are the biggest shortfalls.

4. Decision-makers are not implementing evidence-based or pro-equity policies that guarantee solid foundations

It is difficult to understand the continued focus on non-evidence-based policies when there is so much that we know now about what works. Two factors contribute to this problem. One is the short tenure that top officials have when leading education systems. Examples of countries where ministers last less than one year on average are plentiful. The second and more worrisome deals with the fact that there is little attention given to empirical evidence when designing education policies.

To help improve on these four fronts, we see four supporting trends:

1. Neuroscience should be integrated into education policies

Policies considering neuroscience can help ensure that students get proper attention early to support brain development in the first 2-3 years of life. It can also help ensure that children learn to read at the proper age so that they will be able to acquire foundational skills to learn during the primary education cycle and from there on. Inputs like micronutrients, early child stimulation for gross and fine motor skills, speech and language and playing with other children before the age of three are cost-effective ways to get proper development. Early grade reading, using the pedagogical suggestion by the Early Grade Reading Assessment model, has improved learning outcomes in many low- and middle-income countries. We now have the tools to incorporate these advances into the teaching and learning system with AI , ChatGPT , MOOCs and online tutoring.

2. Reversing learning losses at home and at school

There is a real need to address the remaining and lingering losses due to school closures because of COVID-19.  Most students living in households with incomes under the poverty line in the developing world, roughly the bottom 80% in low-income countries and the bottom 50% in middle-income countries, do not have the minimum conditions to learn at home . These students do not have access to the internet, and, often, their parents or guardians do not have the necessary schooling level or the time to help them in their learning process. Connectivity for poor households is a priority. But learning continuity also requires the presence of an adult as a facilitator—a parent, guardian, instructor, or community worker assisting the student during the learning process while schools are closed or e-learning is used.

To recover from the negative impact of the pandemic, the school system will need to develop at the student level: (i) active and reflective learning; (ii) analytical and applied skills; (iii) strong self-esteem; (iv) attitudes supportive of cooperation and solidarity; and (v) a good knowledge of the curriculum areas. At the teacher (instructor, facilitator, parent) level, the system should aim to develop a new disposition toward the role of teacher as a guide and facilitator. And finally, the system also needs to increase parental involvement in the education of their children and be active part in the solution of the children’s problems. The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles or the Pratham Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) are models that can be used.

3. Use of evidence to improve teaching and learning

We now know more about what works at scale to address the learning crisis. To help countries improve teaching and learning and make teaching an attractive profession, based on available empirical world-wide evidence , we need to improve its status, compensation policies and career progression structures; ensure pre-service education includes a strong practicum component so teachers are well equipped to transition and perform effectively in the classroom; and provide high-quality in-service professional development to ensure they keep teaching in an effective way. We also have the tools to address learning issues cost-effectively. The returns to schooling are high and increasing post-pandemic. But we also have the cost-benefit tools to make good decisions, and these suggest that structured pedagogy, teaching according to learning levels (with and without technology use) are proven effective and cost-effective .

4. The role of the private sector

When properly regulated the private sector can be an effective education provider, and it can help address the specific needs of countries. Most of the pedagogical models that have received international recognition come from the private sector. For example, the recipients of the Yidan Prize on education development are from the non-state sector experiences (Escuela Nueva, BRAC, edX, Pratham, CAMFED and New Education Initiative). In the context of the Artificial Intelligence movement, most of the tools that will revolutionize teaching and learning come from the private sector (i.e., big data, machine learning, electronic pedagogies like OER-Open Educational Resources, MOOCs, etc.). Around the world education technology start-ups are developing AI tools that may have a good potential to help improve quality of education .

After decades asking the same questions on how to improve the education systems of countries, we, finally, are finding answers that are very promising.  Governments need to be aware of this fact.

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Eduardo Velez Bustillo's picture

Consultant, Education Sector, World Bank

Harry A. Patrinos

Senior Adviser, Education

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