Szociális kompetencia és tanulási sikeresség a gyakori zavarokat mutató tanulók esetében
Cheryl Irish - Indiana Wesleyan University; e-mail: Cheryl.Irish@indwes.edu
A szociális kompetencia – a sikeres szociális adaptációhoz szükséges készségek és viselkedési formák – nélkülözhetetlenek a sikeres tanulmányi előmenetelhez. Bár a pedagógusok mindezzel tisztában vannak, mégis energiáikat a tanítás során a tanulmányi célokra összpontosítják, és kevés figyelmet fordítanak a szociális kompetencia rendszerezett és direkt módon történő oktatására. A jelen cikk néhány olyan vizsgálati eljárást és a gyakorlat által is igazolt stratégiát tekint át, amelyeket a szociális kompetencia oktatására dolgoztak ki. (A tanulmány angol nyelvű!)2010. 05. 17. 13:03
A szociális kompetencia – a sikeres szociális adaptációhoz szükséges készségek és viselkedési formák – nélkülözhetetlenek a sikeres tanulmányi előmenetelhez. Bár a pedagógusok mindezzel tisztában vannak, mégis energiáikat a tanítás során a tanulmányi célokra összpontosítják, és kevés figyelmet fordítanak a szociális kompetencia rendszerezett és direkt módon történő oktatására. Azok a gyerekek, akik nem rendelkeznek hatékony szociális készségekkel, gyakran tapasztalnak negatív bánásmódot, mások áldozataivá válnak, és gyakran élik át a tehetetlenség és magányosság érzését, amelyek felhalmozódva igen rossz végkifejlethez vezetnek. Ezek és más tényezők a proszociális viselkedéssel nem rendelkező gyermeket különösen veszélyeztetett helyzetbe viszik, amely az antiszociális magatartás és végül a fiatalkorú bűnelkövetők körébe sodorja őt. Mivel a szociális kompetenciával nem rendelkező gyermekek eredményei igen sivárak, ezért létfontosságú, hogy tanulmányi sikerességük esélyét odaszánt oktatással növeljük, amellyel optimalizálni lehet szociális készségeiket és kompetenciáikat.
A jelen cikk néhány olyan vizsgálati eljárást és a gyakorlat által is igazolt stratégiát tekint át, amelyeket a szociális kompetencia oktatására dolgoztak ki.
Kulcsszavak: szociális kompetencia, szociális készségek, proszociális viselkedés, tanítási stratégiák
Social Competence and School Success for Students with High-Incidence Disabilities
Social competence, the behavior and skills needed for successful social adaptation, is critical to academic success. Though cognizant of the need, frequently educational professionals focus their instructional energies on academic goals giving little attention to direct and systematic instruction of social competencies. Children with ineffectual social skills are often negatively treated and victimized by others and often experience feelings of helplessness and loneliness leading to a host of poor outcomes. These factors and others combine to place children who lack prosocial behaviors at significant risk for antisocial behavior and eventual involvement with the juvenile justice system. Given the bleak outcomes for children who lack social competence, increasing the likelihood of academic success through deliberate instruction in critical behaviors which optimize children’s social skills and competencies is essential. A number of assessment tools and empirically-validated strategies for teaching social skills are reviewed in this article.
Keywords: social competence, social skills, prosocial behaviors, teachings strategies
As inclusion becomes the norm rather than the exception in classrooms around the world, teachers must plan instruction for all learners and give attention to the critical need for social and emotional learning. Social competence, the behaviors and skills needed for successful social adaptation, is critical to academic success. Children with ineffectual social skills are often ostracized and victimized by others and often experience feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-esteem. These factors and others combine to make socially incompetent children at significant risk for antisocial behavior and eventual involvement with the juvenile justice system. Given the bleak outcomes for children who lack social competence, increasing the likelihood of academic success through deliberate instruction in critical behaviors which optimize children’s social skills and competencies is essential. Research (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group [CPPRG], 2004; Elias, Tobias & Friedlander, 2000; Elias et al., 1997; Elias, Patrikakou, & Weissberg., 2007; Elias, 2003; Goleman, 1995; MacLellan, 2000; Topping & Bremner, 1998; Zins et al., 2003) indicates that the delivery of services focused on prevention and early intervention is paramount to increasing social competence and cites it as effective to produce a corresponding reduction of a student’s risk for developing antisocial behavior.
Social Competence and Social Skills
A child’s social competence is determined by the child’s ability to acquire and perform a variety of prosocial behaviors and is influenced by her knowledge of and ability to use a variety of social behaviors that are situation-appropriate, mutually satisfying, and pleasing to others. The child must demonstrate the necessary behaviors to acquire high quality and mutually satisfying relationships and to avoid negative treatment or victimization from others. These behaviors, called social skills, when used effectively are continually refined and allow the child to develop increased social awareness, effectiveness, and self-confidence and to form the knowledge and attitudes which lay the foundation for social competence.
Gresham, Van, and Cook (2006) defined social skills as “a set of competencies that (a) promote positive social relationships, (b) contribute to peer acceptance and friendship development, (c) lead to satisfactory school adjustment, and (d) allow students to cope with and adapt to the demands of the social environment." (¶. 3) According to Gresham and colleagues, social skills can be classified in two ways; they can be grouped according to function or social validity. Those social skills like saying “thank you" or greeting a friend in the hallway between classes serve the same function – they allow the child to establish relationships with others. Other social skills like making friends and cooperating in a group serve to predict important outcomes – peer acceptance and friendship.
Goleman (1995) coined the term emotional intelligence or EQ to refer to an individual’s ability to perceive in any given situation important social information which is then used by the individual to determine and implement a socially valid behavior. Goleman included in his definition of EQ several important components of social competence including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. An element of an adequate EQ is a large repertoire of social skills which are used in socially perceptive ways to develop and maintain high quality and mutually satisfying relationships (Goleman). Along with social skills, many other factors play into the development of social competence including the child’s age, personality, self-esteem, and self-confidence. A child who is unable to develop social competence is at increased risk for several significant outcomes including peer and adult rejection (Gresham, 2002, 2004), poor academic achievement, school disciplinary measures, mental health disorders, and juvenile delinquency (Coie & Dodge, 1983; Gresham, 2002; Lo, Loe, & Cartledge, 2002; Meier, DiPerna, & Oster, 2006; Reid, Patterson, & Snyder, 2002; Walker & Severson, 2002).
Critical Need for Social and Emotional Learning
Children with or at risk for high-incidence disabilities (i.e., emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, mild mental retardation, and other health impairments including ADHD) commonly experience difficulties in the development of social competence (Gresham, 2002; Parker & Asher, 1987). They may demonstrate socially unattractive behaviors, have difficulty attaining and maintaining satisfying interpersonal relationships, and display difficulties behaving within the bounds of acceptability. Without intervention, children who lack social competence will demonstrate increasingly discrepant social skills when compared to their peers and will experience difficulty building meaningful relationships with peers and adults (resulting in concomitant decreases in self-esteem and self-confidence). Further, children with emotional disturbance and social skills deficits are more likely to demonstrate antisocial (juvenile delinquent) behavior (Greene, Biederman, Faraone, Wilens, Mick, & Blier, 1999; Gresham, Cook, Crews, & Kern, 2004).
Deficits in social competence are strongly tied to insufficient self-esteem and negative peer relations (Gresham, 2002). These deficiencies may lead the child to be victimized or rejected by adults and peers (Kupersmidt, Coie, & Dodge, 1990; Parker & Asher, 1987) and often result in the development of feelings of loneliness (Pavri & Monda-Amaya, 2001), anxiety, and helplessness (Meadan,& Monda-Amaya, 2008). Research shows that children with few friends are at increased risk for other emotional problems including depression and anxiety (Asher, Erdley, & Gabriel, 1994).
Poor attention and weak cognitive skills impede the development of social competence and without intervention often lead to rejection. A child with cognitive or attention deficits may struggle to make friends because he doesn’t perceive subtle social cues or comprehend the hidden agenda in his classroom. The rejected child may seek to compensate for various perceived deficits only to act out in ways that others find unattractive; she may be noncompliant, aggressive, and short-tempered. When a child is rejected he often plays alone or with younger or less popular children and has fewer opportunities to interact with others. Rejection limits the child’s number of opportunities to develop socially effective behavior and ultimately leads to low self-esteem and limited self-confidence (Browning, Cohen & Warman, 2003).
A study by Sparrow and colleagues demonstrated that children with ADHD behave in maladaptive ways that distinguish them from their nondisabled peers (in Stein et al., 1995). Children with ADHD who had average intelligence scored more poorly than their nondisabled peers on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (Sparrow, Balla & Cicchetti, 1985) in the areas of socialization, communication, and daily living skills (in Stein et al., 1995). The discrepancy between the scores of the children with ADHD and their nondisabled peers grew rather than diminished with age indicating the significance of their deficits and their need for intervention (Roizen, Blondis, Irwin, & Stein, 1994). Children with ADHD may grow to believe that their failures are fixed character flaws. To compensate, they may develop coping behaviors that further isolate them from others such as disruptive and aggressive (antisocial) behavior (Brooks, 1992).
Just as a correlation exists between weak cognition and/or attention and the lack of social competence, there exists a link between antisocial behavior (juvenile delinquency) and the lack of social competence. According to LaVoie (2005), children with learning disabilities are more likely to engage in juvenile crime, be apprehended for their crime, and to receive greater court-ordered punishments from their crime. The social status of students with LD is considered to be stable and a reliable predictor of poor peer relations (Weiner, 2004), maladjustment, criminality, and school dropout (Greene, et al., 1999; Parker & Asher, 1987). According to Rahr, commander of the Gang Suppression Unit in Seattle, (as cited in Appalachia Educational Laboratory. 1999), children who are unable to perceive the need for and to demonstrate socially acceptable behavior following apprehension and while in the presence of a judge or the police are more likely to be arrested or jailed for their offenses than to be sent home to their parents.
Children with learning or attention deficits struggle academically and socially, and when informed about these deficits often attempt to compensate for these weaknesses in ways that demonstrate a desire to please and make friends (Gresham, Sugai, & Horner, 2001). Nonetheless, their attempts to please are frequently self-defeating and lead to further rejection and social failure (Gresham, Sugai, & Horner). The inability to develop appropriate peer relationships as a young child is a strong predictor of difficulties later in life (Dwyer, Osher, & Hoffman, 2000; Tobin, Sugai, & Colvin, 1996). And, among children with LD and ADHD the lack of social competence is so pervasive and disabling that some researchers cite it as a leading and defining characteristic (Kavale & Forness, 1996). Providing effective social instruction for children who display social deficits can be a daunting task for teachers who although they recognize the need and value of social skills instruction often lack the skills and tools for meaningful intervention (Fouse & Brians, 1993).
Given the long-term significance of social ineffectiveness, there is growing consensus among parents and educational professionals that prevention is paramount and intervention is essential. Furthermore educational outcomes must be focused on the “whole child" (Elias, 2003). Educational objectives must include more than proficiency in the language arts, mathematics and sciences; educational objectives must attend to social-emotional learning including the development of character and social relationships. Teachers must purposefully design instruction that builds caring, concern, and respect for others; teach children to make sound moral decisions; and facilitate an understanding of how society works. A child’s social skills are the ultimate determining factor in that child’s future success, happiness, and acceptance.
Social Skills and School Success
Education professionals are under tremendous pressure with the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB; 2001) to increase student achievement, meet state content standards and demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP; U.S. Department of Education, 2003). While content standards are generally focused on academic outcomes, there are embedded within the content standards numerous social skills which are critical to achievement.
Schoenfeld and colleagues evaluate one standard in light of social behavior:
Consider a standard that requires a first grader to write the alphabet. To meet that goal, the student must be able to hold a pencil, listen to a teacher describe the shapes of the letters, and remain seated long enough to practice and ultimately complete the task. Just as the inability to hold a pencil makes it difficult for a child to write the alphabet, the inability to participate socially and behaviorally in educational activities limits a student's access to instruction. (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock, 2008, ¶. 3)
Even with a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and with increased emphasis on meeting the standards related to social development (CEC, 2008; INTASC 2001) many students with exceptionalities do not demonstrate social competence or the skills needed for successful relationships with adults and peers (Korinek, Walther-Thomas, McLaughlin, & Williams, 1999).
Learning from instruction depends upon a child’s ability to engage in prosocial behaviors. Without adequate social skills, a child’s opportunities to learn decline precipitously (Malecki & Elliott, 2002; Wentzel, 1993). Given the requirements of NCLB (2001), there is tremendous pressure upon education professionals to provide increased access to evidence-based best practices and to ensure that instruction is designed to promote improved behavior and academic performance. Despite the mandates, schools face daunting barriers to reaching the goals of NCLB. More children each year are referred for discipline, suspended, and expelled (Appalachia Education Laboratory, 1999; Vincent, Horner, & Sugai, 2002). Children are faced with the menace of drugs and parents question the physical safety of their children while at school (Sugai et al., 2000). Further, an increasing number of children enter kindergarten unprepared to learn, unable to adjust to the task-demands of the educational environment, unfamiliar with the prosocial skills required to make friends, and unable to discern the effects of their behavior on others (Marchart, Anderson, Caldarella Fisher, Young, & Young, 2009).
Social skills curricula are based on a common set of assumptions which according to Sugai and Lewis (1996) and Warger and Rutherford (1996) are the following:
1. All students can learn social skills. Social skills are not inherent in the individual. Like any behavior, they can be taught.
2. Social skills instruction is most effective when individualized to the student's needs. Social skills deficits are as unique as the students themselves. Therefore, interventions must take into account the individual circumstances of each student.
3. Social skills, once learned, must be generalized. If students are to achieve the greatest benefit from their new social skills, they must be able to apply them to new situations. If a student learns to raise his hand in sixth grade English class, but continues to call out in all other classrooms, the benefits to him will be negligible. (Sugai & Lewis, 1996; Warger & Rutherford, 1996)
Barriers to the development of social competence stem from disparate cultural norms as well. As teachers strive to find ways to meet the needs of diverse student populations, the implications of social behavior cannot be overlooked. Even an understanding of eye-contact (Davis, 1996; Gable et al., 2002) and peer pressure (Kauffman, 2005), which are viewed differently by various cultures, can influence a child’s academic and social success in the classroom. Culturally-responsive instruction is important not only to develop in students an understanding and appreciation for individual differences, but to promote a likelihood that children will have the necessary skills for prosocial interactions with their peers. Successful interactions with peers and teachers leads to many positive outcomes including positive relationships teachers and peers. Likewise, when children are unable to establish positive relationships in school, the negative outcomes may include rejection by teachers and peers, school failure, and few opportunities for social interaction (Lane, Menzies, Barton-Arwood, Doukas, Monton, 2005).
Some children will demonstrate difficulty “reading" social cues just as some children struggle to read words. Though the struggle to perceive social information may be similar to difficulties learning to decode text, the outcomes are vastly different. A child’s interaction with words and books is unilateral and often private; whereas a child’s interaction with peers is bilateral and emotionally laden. “Mistakes" in social communication are often lasting and pervasive. Children with diminished social skills may engage in the thinking of learned helplessness, believing that their efforts make little or no difference to the social and academic outcomes in their lives (Brooks, 1992, 1994a, 1994b).
Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, and Rock (2008) state:
Chronic school failure demoralizes children, causes loss of status and rejection by peers, destroys self-esteem, and undermines feelings of competence. As a result, it can undermine a child’s attachment to teachers, parents, school, and the values they promote…school is not a place of attachment and learning, but of alienation and failure. (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, Rock, 2008, ¶. 6)
Research supports schools as an effective arena in which to focus prevention and intervention efforts related to building social competence (Farrell, Meyer, Kung, & Sullivan, 2001). It is important for teachers to meld into daily academic instruction lessons on prosocial behavior. Social skills must be directly and systematically taught in the classroom (Martens & Witt, 2004; Warger & Rutherford, 1996). Since the research would indicate that some social skills training programs have produced less than optimal effects (Kavale, Mathur, & Mostert, 2004; Mathur, Kavale, Quinn, Forness, & Rutherford, 1998), several factors are important to consider prior to implementing a social skills training program. Not all programs are empirically validated. It is important to select a social skills training program that has been studied, validated and found to be effective. The program must be carefully planned, consistently implemented and must target behaviors that are meaningful to the student (socially validated) (Gresham et al., 2001; Mathur & Rutherford, 1996). Likewise, the research on social skills training programs would indicate that effective instruction is directly related to the degree to which teachers focus on teaching children to generalize (Gresham, 2004). Children need to be taught and given time to practice social skills in authentic and appropriate settings until fluency is achieved.
One aspect of social skills instruction that is often overlooked is the need to teach replacement behaviors for competing behaviors (Maag, 2005). Those behaviors in which children engage instead of the more socially acceptable behaviors are called competing behaviors. For these behaviors, the teacher must teach and reinforce the use of another, equally satisfying behavior. Replacement behavior training (RBT) is based on the premise of functional behavior assessment (FBA). The purpose of FBA is to identify those behaviors that serve the same function as the inappropriate behavior.
Teachers in inclusive settings can successfully facilitate the development of social competence in children. With carefully planned and implemented research-validated social skills instruction, students can develop positive peer relations.
Essential Social Skills
Replete in the literature is evidence that classroom teachers have long understood the importance of social behavior to academic success (Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2003; Lane, Wehby & Cooley, 2006). Prosocial skills such as self-control and cooperation are highly valued in classrooms. According to LaVoie (2005), four key social skills must be included: the ability to join or enter a group, the ability to establish and maintain friendships, the ability to resolve conflicts and the ability to “tune in" social skills. Children with high-incidence disabilities are especially vulnerable to social skills deficits; therefore, instruction focused on perceiving subtle nonverbal cues, understanding the timing and affect tied to verbal communication, and reading the “clues" conveyed in proxemics, kinesics, vocalics is critical. How close another stands (Proxemics), the gestures, body posture and movements (kinesics), and how loud or soft, high or low, fast or slow, their speech (vocalics) convey important information that children with disabilities often fail to perceive. Misreading social information can lead to disastrous consequences for children with mild disabilities. Children with ADHD and LD tend to elicit frequent negative reactions from others (including teachers and other adults), and can, through inappropriate social response, cause an entire class to suffer punishment for their behavior.
Social skills lessons must include instruction in “reading" important nonverbal clues which are major components of communication.
Social Skills: Skills Deficits and Performance Deficits
Just as good teachers use assessment for learning (Stiggins, 2002), it is important prior to beginning social skills instruction to determine the types of deficits which must be addressed during social skills instruction. Skill deficits, performance deficits, and fluency deficits are common. A child who does not possess the desired social skill displays a skill deficit, whereas a child who possesses the skill but does not remember or choose to perform it demonstrates a performance deficit. The child who performs the desired social skill infrequently is demonstrative of fluency deficits. Further, Elliot and Gresham (1991) posited that social skills deficits can be a function of lack of knowledge (skill deficit), lack of performance (performance deficit), or a lack of social reinforcement (fluency deficit).
Using the pre-assessment information to inform instruction provides social validation for the social skills training and increases the likelihood of its success (Lane & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2004; Quinn, Kavale, Mathur, Rutherford, & Forness, 1999). Teaching children to ask at the outset of a play experience about the other children’s play preferences when the teacher directs the children’s play activities may have little effect on the child’s acquisition of the behavior. Or, teaching children to ask others about their play preferences when the children already regularly perform this behavior will also lead to ineffective instruction. If the children understand the need for asking others about their play preferences but forget or lack the confidence to perform the behavior, the instruction should focus on reminding the child to perform the behavior and reinforcing any occurrence of the behavior.
Following assessment for learning, the social skill lesson targeted at skills deficits should proceed just as any academic lesson; explicit instruction that includes modeling, guided practice, and independent practice with immediate and frequent feedback (instructive and corrective) is essential (Gresham, 2002). A social skills lesson targeting performance deficits will target increased fluency of the desired skill. Students will be provided with incentive and opportunities to practice the desired social skill and will be reinforced with those reinforcers valued by the student for any and all occurrences of the desired social skill. Motivation to perform the desired social skill can be provided through cues and prompts or through the creation of lessons and practice opportunities that entice the child to perform the skill. Meaningful reinforcers can be identified through pre-assessment. Lessons targeting fluency deficits are similar to those targeting performance deficits. Provided in this instance are many opportunities to practice the desired skill and frequent corrective feedback and positive reinforcement.
There are many social skills curricula published for use by education professionals. As mentioned, however, not all programs are evidence-based and effective (e.g., Kavale, Mathur, & Mostert, 2004; Mathur, Kavale, Quinn, Forness, & Rutherford, 1998). Research would support careful the analysis of any proposed program (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable & Rock,2008) . The reviewer should look specifically at the evidence base, social validity of the social skills proposed for instruction, plans for generalization, and design of instruction (to include pre-assessment of existing skills; assessment-informed instruction; plan implementation including direct instruction, guided and independent practice, progress monitoring with corrective and positive feedback; assessment; and reflection) (Elias, 2003; Kadish, Glaser, Calhoun, Giner, 2001; Lane, Menzies, Barton-Arwood, Doukas, Munton, 2005, Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable & Rock).
Assessment of Social Status: Sociometrics
Just as determining the type of social skills to target for social skills is important to effective instruction; sociometric assessment allows the design of instruction around the factors which contribute to a student’s social status. Social status is defined as the degree to which a child is liked or disliked by her classroom peers (Schneider, Wiener, & Murphy, 1994). Sociometric measures allow exploration of children’s peer relationships and are simple to administer and reliable (see Asher & Coie, 1990; Bukowski & Cillessen, 1998; Hartup, 1983; Parker & Asher, 1987; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998 for reviews). The effectiveness of a child’s social behavior is important to his social status. Children who possess weak or ineffective social skills are at increased risk for a number of dismal outcomes later in life (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998; Weiner, 2000). The research indicates that prosocial behavior can be effectively taught (at either prevention or intervention stages) by purposeful, clear, and consistent instruction (Fenti, Miller, Lampi, 2008; Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable & Rock,2008)
Two types of sociometric measures are commonly utilized in classrooms: peer nominations and peer ratings. Although each type has distinct advantages and disadvantages, both have been used successfully in schools for many years because of their value in predicting social outcomes (Parker & Asher, 1987). Two cautions are mentioned regarding the use of sociometric techniques: the measure provides no information about what constitutes likeability and acceptance (e.g., characteristics of the child or the environment that cause others to refrain from nominating her or the social skills deficits that influence the nominations or rejections) and the classroom as the only reference group may suggest unreliable results since the child may have meaningful relationships in peer groups outside the classroom (e.g., church groups, scouts) (Weiner, 2004). Also important to the effective use of sociometric information is the assurance that data are collected from at least 70-75% of class members (Crick & Ladd, 1990). This can be problematic since separate informed consent is generally required for every student and obtaining it is often difficult. Further, there are concerns about increased possible negative effects on a child’s social status should he fail to return his consent form.
The nomination method of sociometric assessment explores the data gathered from each children’s responses to peer reputation items like whom they “like most" and “like least" or whom they’d “most like to work with on a project" and “least like to work with on a project." The data are gathered, tallied, and standardized (computing mean and standard deviation of nominations received within the classroom) for each child. Analysis of the data allows the teacher to explore behaviors of children whom the classroom of children view as “popular" (liked most) and whom they view as “rejected" (liked least) and to design instruction in social skills with the goal of helping every child feel accepted. Sociometrics provide a valid option for this goal, “because the resulting scores represent a composite of responses across all possible classmates, the results of sociometric assessment are widely considered to be the most valid indicators of preferences and reputations among peers." (Prinstein, 2007).
When using the nomination method of sociometrics, some children receive many positive (“like") nominations and some children receive many negative (dislike) nominations. However, there are also some children who receive few positive or negative nominations. These children are termed “neglected" (Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli, 1982), “isolated" or “ignored". The data on neglected or isolated children is significant as it informs the teacher about those students who are neither liked or disliked by their classroom peers. Only the nomination method of sociometrics can differentiate between neglected and rejected children (Kuhne & Weiner, 2000). Because children with LD are more likely than their nondisabled peers to be rejected or neglected by the end of the school year (Kuhn & Weiner), it is important that the teacher provide intervention in terms of instruction in social skills so that these students can elevate their social status. An often cited disadvantage of the nomination method is the use of negative nominations (i.e., “don’t like" or “don’t want to play with"). Some education professionals have questioned the ethics of using negative items.
In response to these questions, Mayeux and colleagues (2007) conducted a study to examine the ethics of sociometric testing and found the following:
Overall, the results of this study suggested that sociometric testing can be conducted without compromising our ethical responsibilities to treat children decently (Thompson, 1990) and with dignity and respect (American Psychological Association, 2002). Most children and their teachers reported no negative emotional reactions to the sociometric testing, nor did they report that children were treated differently by peers following the procedure. There was no relation between children's social preference and their emotional responses to testing or their perceptions of differential peer treatment following testing. Last, the majority of children in this study understood their research rights: voluntary participation, confidentiality, and the right to withdraw. (Mayeux, Underwood, & Risser, 2007)
The method of rating scale sociometrics, like the nomination method, can reveal important information about the peer relationships in a classroom. For the rating scale method children are given a class roster and asked to rate each child on a Likert scale given questions like, “Name a child in the class you would like to play with." or “Name a child in the class whose birthday you would like to go." Like the nomination method, rating scale sociometrics is a reliable and valid method of determining each child’s social status in the classroom (Asher & Hymel, 1981; Hymel & Rubin, 1985). Rating scale sociometrics have several advantages including the following: a) every student receives a rating (a child may not be selected as liked or disliked when using the nomination method; i.e., the neglected children), b) because there are more raters the method has increased reliability, c) the negative ratings are eliminated; children are not asked to identify children they don’t like or with whom they don’t wish to engage; and d) children can be rated on a host of characteristics (e.g., “I would like to play soccer with this child," or “I would like to sing in a group with this child,"). Likewise, the method has disadvantages. These include: a) stereotypical ratings are frequently given; children rate the “popular" children higher because they are popular and rate the rejected children lower because, “no one likes Johnny"; b) central tendency errors weaken the reliability of the data (the middle ratings [i.e., 2-3] on a Likert scale are more likely to be selected than the highest and lowest ratings [i.e., 1 and 4).
For those teachers who desire to use sociometrics but meet with resistance from their administration, Mayeux and colleagues suggest several strategies:
Several strategies could be helpful in convincing educators that sociometric testing is worthwhile. First, it seems helpful to be explicit with school administrators, principals, teachers, and parents that we join them in caring deeply about all children being able to succeed and feel accepted by peers at school. second, we believe that many school administrators would be compelled by solid empirical evidence that children are not harmed by sociometric testing. Perhaps those researchers fortunate to work with school districts that allow sociometric procedures might systematically collect data on the impact of such testing on children so that a larger body of evidence will accumulate. Third, it may be fruitful to become more creative and strategic in obtaining multiple levels of informed consent for sociometric testing so that not just district-level administrators but also principals, teachers, and parents have the opportunity to be educated about the goals of sociometric testing, the unique information it provides, and the low level of risk. Last, peer relations researchers might be wise to find every opportunity to show that we conduct sociometric testing out of our desire to understand why some children suffer and some thrive in the peer world and to create prevention and intervention programs to help all children develop skills to allow them to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. We share with educators a moral obligation to promote positive development for all children. We might need to become comfortable acknowledging openly and explicitly that in conducting sociometric testing, we are trying to "shine our light" into the dark place that is peer rejection and to "leave no one behind" (Jackson, 2000, p. 330) in identifying and helping children who are excluded. (Mayeux, Underwood, & Risser, 2007) ¶. 72
Social competence is critical to academic success. Children with ineffectual social skills experience a host of poor outcomes including helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-esteem. Left without intervention these children experience significant risk for antisocial behavior and eventual involvement with the juvenile justice system. Through critical to each child’s academic achievement and eventual success in adult life and important to decreasing a child’s risk for rejection which leads to devastating social outcomes, social-emotional learning is often overlooked as a school-wide goal and an instructional objective.
Research has shown that children’s social competence can be improved with deliberate and systematic instruction. Effective instruction is evidence-based and utilizes best practices which include assessment-informed intervention and tools like sociometrics to measure children’s peer relationships. Leaving no child behind will require a focus on social-emotional skills as the “true standard for effective education in the world today and for the foreseeable future" (Elias, 2003).
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