Research/Literature Review Disruptive and Violent Behaviors in the Classroom: Where do we begin to solve the problem? According to Random House Dictionary (1992), discipline is defined as “behavior in accord with rules of conduct.” It is an essential part of classroom management.Discipline in the classroom enables a teacher to focus on the task at hand, which is education our children.
It also keeps a classroom or school in order and created a safer environment in which to learn. Disruptive behaviors in the classroom affect not only the student involved but also the teacher and other students.
For example, if a student exhibits disruptive behavior as a means of gaining attention by throwing paper or talking during class, he or she takes the teacher off task to address his or her behavior. This also causes the other students to become off task. The disruptive student becomes satisfied because the attention rewards his/her negative behavior. These kinds of minor incidents, if rewarded, could lead to other forms of disruptions, which, if not controlled, could become aggressive and or violent situations.
Take for instance the six-year old boy who shot and killed another six-year old classmate after a playground dispute in Mount Morris Township, MI on February 9, 2000 (Bonilla, 2000). If elementary school educators think the problem of crime, violence and aggression in youth will not affect them, then they must reconsider. This example has proven that the perpetrator is likely to be of any age, even as young as six-years old. As a teacher, one of my concerns is classroom management.
In particular, I want to be well informed on the disruptive behavior of children, recognizing its causes and implementing a form of discipline that will not only stop the disruption and keep the students on task but also prevent it from occurring regularly. I believe being knowledgeable of the causes will enable us as educators to develop strategies to control and prevent these behaviors from occurring in the future, thus, keeping our students on task, as well as, making our schools a safer place to learn.
This paper is organized in a three-fold manner, including research on the following focus areas: (1) overview of aggressive and disruptive behaviors and violence in schools; (2) possible causes and consequences for aggressive and disruptive behaviors; (3) strategies for assessment, intervention and prevention. Definitions/Overview of Concepts How do we begin to derive a solution to the problem of violence in our schools? It only seems appropriate to first define aggression and violence.
Jan Jewett (1992), the author of Aggression and Cooperation: Helping Young Children Develop Constructive Strategies, defines aggression as “any intentional behavior that results in physical or mental injury to any person or animal, or in damage to or destruction of property. According to researcher Lorraine Wallach (1996), violence and aggression are often confused and are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. In fact, she states that aggression is inborn while violence is learned. Aggression provides the force that can cause violent behavior to erupt if it is not handled properly.
Wallach’s definition of violence is very similar to Jewett’s definition of aggression. Wallach (1996) states, “violence means using force to hurt, violate or abuse persons or destroy property. ” In their study, Kamps, Kravits, Stolze and Swaggart (1999) define aggression as, “purposeful physical contact intended to harm a peer or that could be harmful with force…” Basically this definition is synonymous with that of Jewett and Wallach. For the purpose of this paper, aggression is defined by using a variation of the above mentioned definitions as the force that causes disruptive and sometimes violent behaviors to flare.
Violent behaviors are defined as intentional behaviors meant to hurt, violate or cause damage to any person or property as a result of aggression. Violence in Schools Rossman and Morley (1996) found that violence and crime in schools have been around for decades but the nature of the behaviors has changed. They found that forty years ago teachers were reporting the most common classroom problems to be tardiness, talkative students and gum chewing. The present-day grievances have changed dramatically.
They include the presence of drugs, gangs, weapons, as well as concerns about verbal assaults, bullying, physical attack, robbery and rape (Rossman & Morley, 1996). In their synthesis of research, Rossman & Morley (1996) presented a 1993 Nationwide school-based survey by the Centers for Disease Control which reported the following results: 1. 4. 4% of 9th &12th graders missed at least one day of school because they felt unsafe on school grounds 2. 11. 8% reported carrying a weapon to school 3. 7. 3% of these students reported having been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property 4. 6. 2% reported having been involved in at least one physical fight at school 5. 32. 7% reported having property deliberately damaged or stolen while at school Much of the research presented in Rossman & Morley’s article was conducted on adolescents and teenagers. Elementary educators should be aware of this research because they encounter these children before they become “problem children”. Elementary teachers have a great impact on the behavior of their students, especially as they become adolescents.
For this reason, it is important for teachers to monitor the current research in order to prevent possible violent outbreaks among these children. A survey on the opinions of teachers, reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, revealed that teacher’s opinions on the safety of public schools are not good. This survey, conducted from 1987-88 to 1993-94, noted that elementary school teachers are reporting “physical conflicts as a moderate to serious problems” (Rossi & Daugherty, 1996). Possible Causes and Consequences of Disruptive/Aggressive Behaviors According to child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr.
Baer Max Ackerman (1998), there is no single pre-determining factor that causes aggressive behavior in children. Nature and Nurture interact to make up a child’s personality. This section of this paper will focus on both, internal and external factors that may cause aggressive and violent behaviors in children. Internal Factors Rossman and Morley (1996) give several internal and external causes for crime and violence in children. The biological factors or stressors include fetal alcohol syndrome, or crack babies. The factors impair the individuals’ abilities to exercise cognitive controls or engage in stable social relationships.
This idea is also supported by Lorraine Wallach (1996), she states, “…brain research links early deprivation and abuse with physiological changes…which can be neurological or chemical may make the afflicted individuals susceptible to violent and addictive behavior”. Other research (Massey, 1998) indicates the consequences of violence in the early years include shaken baby syndrome which can cause, “…brain damage, blindness, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, spinal cord injury, seizures, learning disabilities and even death” (Massey, 1998).
External Factors A study conducted by Stormshak and Bierman (2000) was designed to determine whether five distinct parenting practices could be related to various profiles of disruptive behavior problems in their children. The study included 631 kindergartners and their parents; they were from four areas of the United States, Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; Seattle, WA; and Central PA. The researchers (Stormshak and Bierman, 2000) collected their data through parenting interviews on reports of child behavior problems.
A factor analysis was then conducted. The results of this study indicated that there is an association between parental physical aggression and aggressive child behavior. This finding suggests that spanking, physical aggression and violent forms of parenting are related to “active, aggressive, externalizing behaviors” (Stormshak & Bierman, 2000). A limitation in research, according to the researchers, was their reliance solely on parent reports for the child’s behavior problems, as well as of parenting practices.
The responses of the parents may have reflected what they believed to be acceptable parenting styles. Other researchers Nelson, Martella & Galand, (1998) have found that parents that are unskilled in their use of punishment for their children’s disruptive behavior, and this only make things worse. Research (Aidman, 2000) done over the past forty years concludes that violence on television programs has negative effects on young viewers. Children learn to use the aggressive behavior they witness to benefit themselves.
The learning of aggressive behavior has been forecasted to increase when the violence witnessed is justified, graphic, extensive or realistic, when the perpetrator is attractive, conventional weapons are present and when the violence is rewarded or presented in a humorous fashion. Aidman (2000) also suggests in her article that when children are repeatedly exposed to aggressive acts and violence, they become desensitized to its harmful and realistic consequences. The long-term effects of desensitization of violence have been of special concern for parents and educators of young children.
Consequences of violence on children who witness violence include low self-esteem, withdrawal, nightmares, self-blame and aggression/violence towards peers and family members (Massey, 1998). Bullock, Fitzsimons, and Gable (1996) note, Factors that contribute to an increased likelihood of aggressive behavior include not only the child’s temperament and parent’s child-rearing and discipline practices, but also exposure to medial and real life violence- such as, spousal abuse/victimization, severe parental depression, chronic economic hardship, unemployment and family criminality.
The external factors associated with crime and violence in children offered by Rossman and Morley (1996) are as follow: 1. Unsatisfactory family environment/relationships: poor parenting skills and child rearing conditions, insufficient nurturing and pro-social bonding, lack of parental supervision, ineffective or harsh discipline or repeated abuse 2. Limited opportunity routes attributed to social inequalities: these minimize youths’ exposure to pro-social role models and diminish youths’ ability to envision productive, secure futures 3. School factors that are conducive to disorder, crime and violence: –Overcrowding -High student/teacher ratio –Insufficient curricular/course relevance –Low student academic achievement and apathy Another study suggest the aggression in children emerges from being rejected by peers (Mounts, 1997). It is important for young children to have good peer relationships. Friendships and good peer relationships provide the following, according to Dr. Mounts: (1) companionship and support in stressful times such as divorce; (2) a source of fun and recreational activities; (3) loyal allies during tough interactions; (4) confidants and holders of secrets.
This may allow a child to release tension and aggressive energy by talking to someone his or her own age. Peer relationships provide critical opportunities and outlets for children to learn to manage conflicts in their lives. According to research by Dr. Mounts (1997), children of single-parent homes, or homes where both parents work spend greater amounts of time in the company of peers. The following characteristics of peer-rejected children were cited in her research: (1) display high levels of verbally and physically aggressive behavior towards peers; (2) are disruptive; (3) frequently are off task in the classroom.
These characteristics represent children who cause disruption and are a source of discipline problems in the classroom. Dr. Mounts (1997) found that 1/3 of all peer-rejected children were seen as highly aggressive. Forty-eight percent of rejected 6th graders were interested in receiving help in improving their peer relationships. Other research presented by Kamps, Kravits, Stolze and Swaggart (1999) supports this relationship; they report that early trends of antisocial behavior are later predicted to result in aggressive behavior.
A study by Edmondson and Bullock (1998) was conducted using the method of focus group. It involved five elementary-school-aged boys, 3 Hispanic, 1 Asian American and 1 African-American students from grades 4 and 5 of an inner-city elementary alternative center. The study focus was on determining these students’ thoughts, feelings and perceptions on the topic of aggression and violence in schools. The researchers believed that students from this kind of setting could, “…provide educators with valuable information regarding youth who display aggressive and violent behavior” (p. 35). Results of this study (Edmondson & Bullock, 1998) suggest that the behavior and thought patterns of young people are affected by their social skills. These subjects appeared hopeful about resolving aggressive and violent behaviors in schools (Edmondson and Bullock, 1998). This article identifies possible causes of aggression in youth to be linked to societal influences. Violence and aggression can also have adverse effects on learning, according to Massey (1998).
She states, “academic achievement enhances the development of positive self-esteem and self-efficacy…which are necessary for children to experience emotional well-being and to achieve success” (p. 3). Strategies for Assessment, Intervention & Prevention There is a wealth of information regarding intervention and prevention of aggression and violence in students. While conducting the research for this topic, I came across several articles and studies. Unfortunately, only a fraction of what is available to educators, parents and the interested public will be presented in this paper.
Assessment Strategies Three elementary-aged boys in regular education classrooms, identified with extremely disruptive in-school behavior were included in a study by Ellis and Magee (1999) to assess activities of the Behavioral Assessment and Technology Support Systems (BATSS). The BATSS conducts functional analysis of very disruptive behavior in children labeled severely emotionally and behaviorally disordered. The subjects included a 10 year-old with ADHD, another 10 year-old with Pervasive Developmental Disorder and a 6 year-old with mild autism from two suburban school districts.
The researchers (Ellis and Magee, 1999) gathered data from observation conducted by the observation team for 10 days during regular classrooms, special area classes, recess and lunch. According to Ellis and Magee (1999), …The goal of functional analysis is not to find the one true approach but to find the most appropriate strategy that will provide the most information and that will ultimately result in an effective intervention that can be implemented by the relevant personnel in a particular setting. (p. 6).
Functional analysis assessment was used in the beginning on maladaptive behaviors, such as STB (self-injurious behavior), occurring with persons living in housing for those with developmental disabilities (Ellis and Magee, 1999). When this method of assessment was moved into natural settings, research was primarily conducted on persons with mental retardation. Functional analysis were rarely conducted in school settings. “Replicating the functional analysis in regular education class after analyzing the behavior…helps explain how the circumstances of a classroom routines modulate the effects of a procedure…” (p. 93). In this replication of a BATSS study, …results suggest that validating each functional analysis outcome in the student’s classroom, with the teacher conducting the analysis, provides direct opportunity for the classroom teacher to observe the effects of directly applied behavioral contingencies on the students targeted behavior. (p. 18) This study provides evidence that when the results of a functional analysis produces changes in disruptive or inappropriate behavior, functional analysis can become institutionalized (Ellis and Magee, 1999).
Another study by Scott, DeSimone, Fowler and Webb (2000) consisted of three male elementary-aged students whose behavior interfered with the quantity and quality of their classroom instruction. The researchers evaluated functional behavior assessment to develop interventions for disruptive behaviors. They state that in the past, teachers relied upon disapproval, punishment and exclusion as a means of eliminating disruptive classroom behavior. According to research (Scott et al. , 2000), these types of interventions are ineffective.
Functional behavior assessment can be applied as a validated procedure for intervention with disruptive students. This involves “…identifying the purpose or function of student behavior followed by teaching and reinforcing more desirable replacement behaviors that are selected to serve the same function for the student. ” Information obtained from the assessment can be used to define appropriate replacement behaviors, as well as, develop intervention strategies. Findings from this study show the importance of having a pre-planned intervention (Scott et al. , 2000).
Prevention/Intervention Strategies Kamps, Kravits, Stolze and Swaggart (1999) cited several studies in which the researchers found that without intervention, antisocial behaviors beginning at an early age are predicted to develop into learning difficulties. Kamps et al. (1999) conducted a study on a total of 52 (28-target group and 24-control group) elementary and middle school students at risk for EBD (emotional and behavioral disorders) from urban schools. The researchers’ goal in this study was to investigate a “universal intervention” prevention program.
The intervention consisted of behavioral management programs, social skills instruction and peer tutoring in reading. The researchers (Kamps et al. , 1999) found that student performance across several key behaviors in the target group improved the prevention program. This group also showed a decrease in aggression. They state, “…early interventions, such as programs for elementary-age students, may prevent further deterioration of behaviors and stop a negative trajectory toward academic and social failure. Overall, this study contributed to support the use of preventative programs for at-risk students and students with EBD in elementary schools (Kamp et al. , 1999). The results from this study may be applied to all students. Lorraine Wallach (1996) offers alternative suggestions to preventing aggression and violence among children. Her ideas are formed around the schools and centers that educate and care for young children. These include: 1. Schools should provide teachers who exhibit warmth and kindness and are willing to make an investment in the children they educate 2.
Teachers must show respect to children and their efforts to be independent 3. Schools should provide for young children an environment that is easily managed and orderly 4. Programs that are interesting, challenging and fun should be provided by the schools; these types of programs “provide an outlet for the aggressive energy…” as well as build self-confidence and self-esteem 5. Schools should offer many opportunities for self-expression; this gives children a chance to reveal their feelings,