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Accelerating Social-Emotional Growth and Literacy with A2i

Districts have been scrambling to find effective uses for their newfound funding. In the midst of this search, social-emotional learning has become a key focus for many administrators looking to improve the achievement of their younger students.

Although this level of attention is new, the topic itself as well as research into its implementation has been around for decades. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the SEL check out our last blog post, where we discuss SEL in depth as well as its impact on early learning.

For more than 10 years now, Learning Ovations has been investigating the positive impacts of SEL on both learning and equity. With this, we’ve carefully woven critical findings of this work into A2i, focusing on the finer details of maximizing instructional practices. We’d like to share some of the findings that led to these decisions.

Dr. Carol Connor, A2i’s founding researcher and UCI Chancellor's Professor of Education, looked extensively into the impacts that SEL and classroom environments have on student learning. In her work, she found that “students whose teachers were more warm and responsive achieved greater gains in reading skills, including vocabulary, by the end of first grade” (Connor et al., 2014).

Beyond general impacts on student achievement, these findings offer a profound opportunity for accelerating learning gains for our most vulnerable students, for whom Dr. Connor found “this more nurturing aspect of the classroom environment [provided] a safe haven that facilitates learning” (Connor et al., 2014).

Another critically important finding of this research is that effective teaching also relies on individualizing instruction. Much like the uniqueness of each student's emotional development and social awareness, “individual children’s reading strengths and weaknesses influence how children respond to instruction.” (Connor & Morrison, 2016).

Simply said: meeting every student exactly where they are and providing thorough instruction tuned to their specific needs is the best possible way to promote their educational growth, as well as their own emotional development.

Figure 1. Based on data from the A2i longitudinal study (Connor et al., 2013), students’ reading scores at the end of third-grade were highest when they received differentiated instruction guided by A2i for three years in a row (from grades 1 to 3). Students who received two years of A2i differentiated instruction (in grades 1 and 3) or just a single year of A2i guided instruction (in grade 1 only) outperformed students who did not receive any differentiated instruction informed by the A2i recommendations.

*Note. On this graph, Reading Level is represented by a z Score, a standardized unit representing growth in “standard deviation” units. Students who received A2i instruction 3 consecutive years grew 1.12 standard deviations from the mean, whereas students with 0 years in A2i instruction only grew 0.87 standard deviations in that same amount of time.

When it comes to figuring out how to actually go about implementing individualization in its most effective form, things can get a bit tricky. This is because it is often perceived as a very vast subject that requires lots of research and consideration to understand, and even more to apply properly.

Fortunately, we’ve already done that, and we can do it for your classroom, too. A2i doesn’t just mean access to instruction, it means access to individualization, because even though reading is a science, you don’t have to be a scientist to learn how to teach children how to read.


Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., Fishman, B., Crowe, E. C., Al Otaiba, S., & Schatschneider, C. (2013). A longitudinal cluster-randomized controlled study on the accumulating effects of individualized literacy instruction on students' reading from first through third grade. Psychological science, 24(8), 1408–1419.

Connor, C. M., Spencer, M., Day, S. L., Giuliani, S., Ingebrand, S. W., McLean, L., & Morrison, F. J. (2014). Capturing the complexity: Content, type, and amount of instruction and quality of the classroom learning environment synergistically predict third graders' vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes. Journal of educational psychology, 106(3), 762–778.

Connor, C. M., & Morrison, F. J. (2016). Individualizing Student Instruction in Reading: Implications for Policy and Practice. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(1), 54–61.

Connor, C. M., Day, S. L., Phillips, B., Sparapani, N., Ingebrand, S. W., McLean, L., Barrus, A., & Kaschak, M. P. (2016). Reciprocal Effects of Self-Regulation, Semantic Knowledge, and Reading Comprehension in Early Elementary School. Child development, 87(6), 1813–1824.

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