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Adapting social emotional learning for successful implementation in diverse international contexts: a contextualization toolkit

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


Education spaces around the world and across diverse contexts are expressing increased interest in social-emotional learning (SEL), including education in emergencies (INEE, 2016). However, the majority of SEL programs have been designed and validated for U.S. and other stable contexts with limited knowledge about how to adapt these programs for successful implementation in international and emergency settings (Masten & Narayen, 2012). Based on our work adapting Brain Games for implementation in diverse international emergency contexts, we propose a systematic approach to adaptation that attempts to bridge the current knowledge gap.
Brain Games are a low-cost targeted (LCT) strategy, or kernel (Embry & Biglan, 2008), which offers a lower-burden and more adaptable alternative to more traditional SEL programs while leveraging potent, essential active ingredients (Jones & Bouffard, 2012). Designed as part of a comprehensive, evidence-based SEL program for US schools, this particular kernel, Brain Games, targets children’s executive function and self-regulation skills (Jones, Bailey & Jacob, 2014). Brain Games are dynamic, short games that can be easily integrated into classroom routines and transitions. Research on Brain Games has shown them to be effective at improving students’ skills and teacher practices in low-income US contexts (Jones, Barnes & Bailey, 2017).
Given the promising findings of Brain Games in the US and the benefits of the LCT approach to meet the unique challenges facing education in emergencies (EiE) and low-resourced contexts, our team adapted Brain Games for use in Lebanon, Niger and Sierra Leone in 2016-2017 in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and NYU Global TIES as part of the 3EA initiative. Implementation findings from this project, informed the creation of the Brain Games Contextualization toolkit, which leverages local knowledge and allows for deep and meaningful contextualization. As interest in Brain Games has spread to more countries and contexts, including a current project for early childhood in Brazil, and potential projects in the Syria response region, Colombia and China, the Brain Games Contextualization Toolkit offers a practical approach to achieve local ownership of the intervention in each new context.

Study Context:
The Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA) study involved Brain Games adaptation, implementation and evaluation in Lebanon, Niger and Sierra Leone as part of the IRC’s non-formal education program: Learning in a Healing Classroom. Brain Games was one of two social-emotional components of this intervention, with Mindfulness being the second SEL component. The 3EA study included a randomized design in each country. In Lebanon the intervention took place with Syrian refugees across 66 communities in the Bekaa Valley and Akkar District. In Niger, the intervention took place with children affected Boko Haram by violence in 30 schools across the Diffa and Mainé regions, this includes both Nigerian refugees and children who were internally displaced. In Sierra Leone the intervention took place in 20 primary schools in the Bo District, where children were affected by the Ebola crisis. The adaptation process for Brain Games in each context generally included the following components: 1) discussing activities with IRC technical unit staff, 2) sharing materials with IRC staff in-country and receiving feedback, 3) field testing where possible and 4) revising throughout. During the study period, mixed methods implementation data was collected to learn about how teachers were using the games in each context, which included teacher implementation logs and reflection notebooks, as well as a teacher classroom observation tool used by the IRC to measure quality and fidelity. In addition, NYU Global TIES and IRC measured social, emotional, academic and well-being outcomes for students; this impact analysis is still in progress.

In each country, all Brain Games were played with varying frequency by game, however there was wide variability in implementation dosage by country. For example, in Lebanon Brain Games implementation was relatively stable, with teachers meeting the expected dosage of game play (three times per day) 88% of the time, while in Niger this criteria was only met 34% of the time. Implementation findings across the three contexts show that Brain Games were positively received by teachers and students. Teachers reported that Brain Games provided a much-needed shift of focus away from the difficult situations that students face on a daily basis in these contexts, while also building necessary skills. Similarly, teachers across all three settings reported enjoyment and decreased stress for both themselves and their students while playing Brain Games. Finally, in each setting, teachers reported making their own adaptations to the games to make them more culturally relevant. While teachers’ adaptations are encouraged and suggest teacher ownership and autonomy in the intervention, it also suggests the need for deeper contextualization in each location prior to implementation.

This presentation proposes a structured and systematic approach to adapting a social-emotional learning intervention for use across diverse international contexts. The Brain Games Contextualization Toolkit will examine each area of adaptation that must be systematically considered across every aspect of intervention. We expect this toolkit to serve as a model for the intentional and collaborative adaptation that is needed for any social-emotional learning intervention to be relevant and effective across borders and in diverse cultures and contexts.


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