Feature

A research project led by APA's Education Directorate is examining whether teaching the "other three Rs"-- reasoning, resilience and responsibility--can help children learn to better cope with academic and other challenges.

The project is an offshoot of one of the presidential initiatives of 2003 APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD. During that year, APA received a $467,000 grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to study how schools could incorporate the other three Rs concepts into their curricula, and whether those changes would help student performance.

APA partnered with Maryland's Montgomery County public school system and the Vanderbilt University Center for Evaluation and Program Improvement to run a pilot study of an "other three Rs" teacher training program that ran from October 2004 to January 2005. APA Education Directorate staff designed the program with the help of a committee of education researchers, teachers, curriculum writers and other experts.

At APA's 2005 Annual Convention, Sternberg joined Jeanine Cogan, PhD, assistant director of the other three Rs project at APA's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education, and collaborators from Vanderbilt and Montgomery County to discuss the pilot study's positive results on teacher and student self-efficacy.

Why the other three Rs?

During the session, Sternberg described how the training program emphasizes using the other three Rs to promote success beyond content knowledge.

Reasoning, he said, includes not just memory and analysis--which tend to be emphasized in school--but also creative and practical skills. Resilience is also key, he said, because students need to learn how to overcome setbacks. Finally, he said, students should learn responsibility--that their actions have consequences.

"People at places like Enron succumbed to scandals because they didn't show responsibility," he said. "They thought: Everything will be all right because I'm so smart."

The study

The pilot study involved 43 third-grade teachers and 724 students from 17 Montgomery County elementary schools. The teachers were randomly assigned to receive training in either the other three Rs, or an alternative intervention that focused on teaching and learning mnemonics. The teachers attended five biweekly training sessions where they learned skills and content that they then incorporated into their daily instruction in the classroom.

The researchers used pre- and post-intervention surveys, classroom observations and teacher focus groups to study how the training had affected both the students and the teachers. They found that after completing the sessions, the teachers assigned to the other three Rs training felt better able to influence children's learning; had greater confidence in their ability to help children use reasoning skills to solve problems, become more resilient learners and be more socially responsible; and had a stronger belief that resilience can be taught.

For students, the researchers found that children whose teachers completed the other three Rs training had higher scores in self-efficacy than the children in the mnemonics group, though for both groups self-efficacy scores dropped between the pre- and post-intervention evaluations. This may be because third grade is a transitional year in which expectations for students change, and self-efficacy often drops that year, the researchers said. It's possible that the other three Rs training served as a buffer against this decreasing self-efficacy.

The researchers did not find any effects on the students' overall academic achievement. However, Cogan said, that may be because of the study's short time frame and because the measure of academic achievement available from the school district--the percentage of students proficient on a standardized test--was not very sensitive.

Overall, the program was a great success, according to Sandy Shmookler, special assistant to the superintendent of Montgomery County Schools.

"We almost did too good a job, because principals who weren't involved in the original study now want to be involved," she said. "So we're working to get more funding."