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Students better at identifying relationally aggressive classmates: A study


Nepalnews
2022 Feb 26, 16:55, Pennsylvania, US

Any Harry Potter fan can easily remember the introduction scene where Harry and Draco Malfoy meet for the first time. Both of them remained at loggerheads for the entire series. The film is a classic example of classroom management being a tough and tricky job.

Keeping a tab on the well being of students, who can socialise in both positive and negative ways, is often draining. A recent study revealed that students are better at recognising relationally aggressive classmates.

The study was published in 'School Mental Health'.

Veteran teachers often say that students are very perceptive about peers who are causing problems. The recent research from the Psychological and Brain Sciences department in the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University and the Center for Violence Prevention at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), gave weight to this educational adage. It suggested nuanced observations about relational aggression across teachers and students.

Relational aggression - or attempts to damage someone else's relationships or social status by means such as exclusion or spreading rumours -- can negatively impact the socialization of students. When kids experience relational aggression, they are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, physical complaints and conduct problems.

Many school-based programs aimed at reducing relationally aggressive behaviours require the identification of those who display problematic levels of the behaviour. Unfortunately, perpetrators of relational aggression are often difficult to detect at school, in part because teachers and students can have different perceptions of students and their behaviours.

In the study, the researchers investigated various factors that may contribute to the identification of relationally aggressive students, including their academic competence, pro-social behaviour, popularity and gender. Their efforts are intended to help improve the identification of these students in order to provide intervention services.

The research team analyzed data from 11 third through fifth-grade classrooms in the Philadelphia area. Students and teachers participated in several rating procedures to identify relationally aggressive students.

"We found that 10 per cent of students were identified as relationally aggressive by their peers but not their teacher," said Chandler Puhy, lead author of the study and doctoral student in the College.

Researchers analyzed the data to determine the contribution of each variable to the likelihood of a student being identified as relationally aggressive by teacher and/or peers, or not identified as relationally aggressive by either group.

They also found that students with higher levels of academic competence are more likely to be identified as relationally aggressive by their peers, but not their teacher, and female students were more likely to be identified as relationally aggressive by both their teacher and peers.

"Relational aggression can be difficult to detect in the school context, particularly because this is often a covert behaviour - meaning teachers often don't see the relationally aggressive behaviours," said Brian Daly, PhD, a co-author of the study and associate professor in the College. "Our findings suggest that students, who are identified as relationally aggressive by their peers, but not their teacher, appear to have higher academic competence including participation and motivation."

The researchers added that academic competence is thought to be related to greater executive functioning - like planning and insight - which could contribute to these aggressive behaviours occurring in a more covert manner. Or, alternatively, these students may receive less monitoring from teachers given their on-task behaviour, resulting in fewer opportunities for teachers to observe relational aggression.

"Relationally aggressive youth often have a strong social influence and can create a toxic environment both socially and academically. Yet, teachers are more likely to notice overtly disruptive behaviours in their classrooms," said Tracy E. Waasdorp, PhD, MEd, a co-author of the study and director of Research for School-Based Bullying and Social-Emotional Learning at CHOP's Center for Violence Prevention. "While this study suggests that gathering multiple informants of this covert behaviour is necessary, it also highlights that a certain percentage of relationally aggressive behaviours are not being noticed by teachers. This suggests an area of need for prevention and intervention programming."

"We hope these findings spur additional research into the precursors of relational aggression, including greater executive functioning skills," said Puhy. "We want these findings to lead to better identification of relationally aggressive students and the development of more effective interventions to improve the health and well-being of perpetrators, victims and bystanders."

Puhy, Daly and Waasdorp co-authored the study with Stephen Leff, PhD, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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