The positive influence of classmates’ behaviour

Prior research has indicated that an individual adolescent’s behaviour is influenced by the behaviour of his or her classmates. But while most studies have focused on negative peer influence, a study published in Journal of Adolescence investigates whether individual anti-social behaviours in adolescents can potentially be reduced by promoting pro-social behaviour at the classroom level.

In order to determine whether classmates’ pro-social behaviour is related to lower anti-social behaviour of pupils, Verena Hofmann and Christoph Michael Müller conducted a longitudinal study among lower secondary school pupils in Switzerland (mean age = 13.8 years). The sample included 55 classrooms in eight schools, and the researchers analysed data collected at the end of Grade 7, Grade 8, and Grade 9 (Years 7–10). Participants completed self-reported assessments on pro-social behaviour, anti-social behaviour, and anti-social attitudes. Classmates’ pro- and anti-social behaviour for each pupil was calculated by averaging all pupils’ scores in a class, excluding the pupils’ own score.

While children generally developed more anti-social behaviour over time, particularly those who had higher initial levels of anti-social behaviour, results indicated that more pro-social behaviour among classmates predicted lower levels of individual anti-social behaviour and anti-social attitudes in the future.

Source: Avoiding antisocial behavior among adolescents: The positive influence of classmates’ prosocial behavior (October 2018), Journal of Adolescence, volume 68

Effects of the Whole School Restorative Justice Program

Restorative approaches are practices aimed at making peace, preventing further harm and building community. The Whole School Restorative Justice Program (WSRJ) is designed to promote these practices in the school setting. It uses multi-level strategies to provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches, which have raised suspension rates in the US, especially among minority youth. Tier 1 is regular classroom circles, Tier 2 is repair harm/conflict circles, and Tier 3 includes mediation, family group conferencing and welcome/re-entry circles to initiate successful re-integration of pupils being released from juvenile detention centres.

A three-year matched study compared schools in California participating in WSRJ to similar schools that did not. In WSRJ schools, suspensions were cut in half (34% to 14%). This was significantly more than the change seen in non-RJ schools (p<.05). Chronic absences diminished in WSRJ middle and high schools, while increasing in non-WSRJ middle and high schools. The middle school differences were highly significant (p<.001). Reading levels for pupils in ninth grade (Year 10) increased more in WSRJ schools than in non-WSRJ schools, and four-year graduation rates gained significantly more.

Source: Restorative Justice in Oakland schools implementation and impacts: An effective strategy to reduce radically disproportionate discipline, suspensions and improve academic outcomes (September 2014), US Department of Education

How much is enough?

There have now been many controlled studies of preventive mental health interventions for young people. For these studies to be useful, practitioners need to know whether the effects shown for a particular intervention are modest, moderate, or large.

Emily Tanner-Smith and colleagues summarised more than 400 mean effect size estimates from 74 meta-analyses that synthesised findings from many trials. All the trials were of programmes aimed at preventing problematic behaviour or emotional problems for young people aged 5-18. The results, published in Prevention Science, indicate that, with few exceptions, the median average effect sizes on various outcomes fell within the range of +0.07 to +0.16. The authors advise that these indicate the level of improvement that has been achieved to date and can serve as a benchmark for assessing the value of new findings.

The report also points out that prevention programmes yielded larger effects on knowledge than on actual behaviour. Providing information to increase knowledge (e.g., about the risks of drug use) is an important component of many programmes, but knowledge does not always correlate strongly with actual behaviour.

Source: Empirically Based Mean Effect Size Distributions for Universal Prevention Programs Targeting School-Aged Youth: A Review of Meta-Analyses (August 2018) Prevention Science

The impact of a classroom management programme on children’s mental health

Tamsin Ford and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IYTCM) programme. The IYTCM programme aims to improve teachers’ classroom management skills and build strong relationships with students and their parents. Teachers are trained to ignore low-level bad behaviour that often disrupts classrooms and instead develop effective behaviour plans that encourage and promote emotional regulation skills.

The study, published in Psychological Medicine, used a cluster randomised controlled trial, in which children ages four to nine from schools across the southwest of England were randomly allocated to undertake the IYTCM programme or continue their usual practice over a 30-month period (with outcomes assessed at 9, 18, and 30 months). One class in each of 80 schools (40 IYTCM, 40 usual practice; 2,075 children in total) participated. Effects of the intervention on students’ mental health were assessed via the Total Difficulties score from the teacher-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Data on a range of secondary outcomes (e.g., children’s disruptive behaviour, service use), was also collected in addition to detailing the costs of IYTCM compared to usual practice.

The report concludes that IYTCM may provide a small short-term improvement to children’s mental health, particularly for children who are already struggling. The results of the trial showed there was a small reduction in the SDQ Total Difficulties score at 9 months, but not at 18 or 30 months.

Source: The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management programme in primary school children: Results of the STARS cluster randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 1-15.

Good behaviour is no game

An evaluation conducted for the Education Endowment Foundation looked at whether the Good Behaviour Game (GBG) improved pupils’ reading skills and behaviour.

The GBG intervention is a classroom management approach designed to improve pupil behaviour and build confidence and resilience. The game is played in groups and rewards pupils for good behaviour. More than 3,000 Year 3 pupils from 77 UK schools took part in a randomised controlled trial of GBG over two years. Around a quarter of the pupils in the schools were eligible for free school meals, around a fifth were pupils with special educational needs, and 23% had English as an additional language.

The analysis indicated that, on average, GBG had no significant impact on pupils’ reading skills (effect size = +0.03) or their behaviour (concentration, disruptive behaviour and pro-social behaviour) when compared to the control group pupils. However, there was some tentative evidence that boys at risk of developing conduct problems showed improvements in behaviour.

Source: Good Behaviour Game: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Evidence supports Foundations: Establishing Positive Discipline Policies

Safe and Civil Schools’ Foundations: Establishing Positive Discipline Policies is a programme designed to create a safer climate within a school and its surrounding grounds. It focuses on using proactive techniques instead of punishment to facilitate change, a technique referred to as school-wide positive behavioural intervention and support (SWPBIS). Foundations helps schools adopt and maintain these techniques by providing school teams with training and data-gathering materials, multiyear training, coaching support and school visits. The programme requires a team at each school to teach the staff these techniques, and data related to safety and behaviour is used to gauge what is working and what is not.

A randomised controlled trial in 32 US elementary (primary) schools in a large urban school district demonstrated that Foundations yielded improvements in school discipline, pupil safety policy and training, staff perceptions of pupils behaviour and suspension and tardiness rates over a two-year period. To determine if positive results of the programme would generalise into a “real world” setting, a second study continued to evaluate these elementary schools for two more years while also scaling up to add all remaining elementary and secondary schools in the district, when these schools adopted the programme without support from research funding.

In total, 74 regular public schools participated in the scale-up study. All schools received two years of Foundations training where school teams learned how to implement improvements related to safety, behaviour and discipline, and to collect and analyse related data to set goals for the next year.

As in the randomised study, schools in the second study showed gains in all areas. Specifically, after Foundations training, staff reported improved pupil behaviour, with fewer suspensions, absenteeism and tardiness, with a positive relationship evidenced between years of implementation and rates of effectiveness. The authors concluded that the improvements from the Foundations training were evidence that the programme generalises well into the real world setting.

Source: A randomized evaluation of the Safe and Civil Schools model for positive behavioral interventions and supports at elementary schools in a large urban school district, School Psychology Review, Volume 42, Issue 3

Scale-up of a Safe & Civil Schools’ model for school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (April 2016), Psychology in the Schools, Volume 53, Issue 4