paper: Social dynamics in the classroom paper AbstractBy showing support and conflict, teachers may function as a model for students regarding how to interact and how to evaluate each other, thereby shaping the classroom peer ecology.
Associations of general and student-specific levels and differential provision of teacher support and conflict with the classroom peer ecology were investigated. Multivariate multiple regression analyses were performed with a sample of 58 Dutch fifth-grade classrooms (1454 students). In particular student perceptions of teacher support and conflict, rather than teacher perceptions or observations, explained peer liking and disliking, the degree of social hierarchy, and how prosocial versus aggressive the peer ecology was.KeywordsTeacher support; Teacher conflict; Differential teacher behavior; Peer ecology1. IntroductionThe classroom peer ecology, or the social environment of classroom peers in interaction with each other, is one of the most important proximal environments for students social (Ahn et al.
, 2010, Farmer and Xie, 2007, Hodges et al., 1999 and Roland and Galloway, 2002) and academic development (Kindermann, 2007, Roseth et al., 2008 and Wentzel and Caldwell, 1997). Teachers, as professionals in a position very close to the peer group, may have a role in shaping the nature of their classrooms peer ecology. Affecting the peer ecology deliberately may even be a strategy for teachers to foster students development (Gest and Rodkin, 2011 and Rodkin and Hodges, 2003).
Nonetheless, there has been little research on associations between teacher behavior and peer relations. Because of this relative lack of research, Farmer, McAuliffe Lines, and Hamm (2011) referred to the teachers influence on peer relations as the invisible hand of the teacher. The few studies conducted so far (e.g., Hughes et al., 2001 and McAuliffe et al.
, 2009) have mainly examined how teacher“student interactions and relationships are associated with the position of specific students within the classroom group, and have not investigated how teachers may influence the classroom peer ecology as such. Some characteristics of the peer ecology, such as the social structure or status hierarchy, only exist at this classroom-level and cannot be grasped when focusing on student-level outcomes. In only one study, Gest and Rodkin (2011) examined associations between general teacher practices and the peer ecology of the entire classroom group. In the present study, we aim to further reveal the teachers invisible hand by examining how teacher support and conflict are related to the nature of the classroom peer ecology.To study the complexity of peer relations within the social system of a class, we employed a social network approach. Social network analysis is used not just to count the number of ties between peers in a class, but also to examine in more detail patterns or structures of relationships (e.
g., hierarchy) among individuals in a group (Borgatti, Everett, & Johnson, 2013).1.1. Classroom peer ecologyThe concept of peer ecology is rooted in ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979 and Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006), which describes how an individual is nested within social settings, like families or classrooms. Interactions the child has within a setting, called proximal processes, are considered to be primary mechanisms producing human development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006, p. 795). Thus, by interacting with each other, children influence and socialize each other.
A set of individuals in interaction is referred to as a social microsystem (Neal & Neal, 2013), within which Bronfenbrenner and Morris (2006) further distinguished between patterns of interpersonal relations, social roles, and activities. This distinction was used in research on peer relationships (Gest & Rodkin, 2011) to describe the classroom peer ecology as encompassing (a) the richness of interpersonal ties, (b) social structure or status hierarchy, and (c) patterns of social behaviors exhibited by classroom peers (see also Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). In the present study, we examine these three aspects of classroom peer ecologies.1.1.1.
Richness of interpersonal tiesThe richness of interpersonal ties indicates how many positive and how few negative relationships are present among students in a classroom. Following a long history of research on peer relationships (e.g., Coie et al., 1982 and Rubin et al., 2006), we focus on liking and disliking. In classrooms where many students like each other well, students are more likely to feel secure and accepted, which in turn positively affects academic adjustment (Roseth et al.
, 2008 and Wentzel and Caldwell, 1997). Larger numbers of positive ties in a classroom also imply less negative behavior like bullying (Roland & Galloway, 2002).1.1.2. Status hierarchyThe status hierarchy refers to the degree to which social status in the classroom peer ecology is structured in an egalitarian versus hierarchical manner.
In the case of an egalitarian distribution, each student has a similar status, whereas in a hierarchical peer group a small number of students has a relatively high peer status and is in that sense more socially dominant (Brown, 2011). At the student level, likeability and popularity reflect two aspects of peer status (Cillessen, 2011). Whereas likeability is a combination of how well a student is liked by every other individual in the classroom, popularity refers to a students visibility, dominance, or prestige and thus more directly reflects a position in the peer ecology (Cillessen, 2011).
When likeability or popularity is distributed highly hierarchically in the class, only some students are liked by the majority of their peers or are considered to be highly popular. Schafer, Kron, Brodbeck, Wolke, and Schulz (2005) found that with a more pronounced status hierarchy, there was more negative behavior “ in their study tapped by bullying and victimization “ than in classrooms where social status was distributed more equally. Furthermore, a study by Cappella, Kim, Neal, and Jackson (2013) showed that students in classes with a more egalitarian structure were more behaviorally engaged than students in classes with less network equity.1.1.3. Social behaviorA third aspect of the peer ecology is the social behaviors that characterize daily interactions among peers. In the current study we focus on both positive (prosocial) and negative (aggressive) behaviors.
Two of the most basic prosocial behaviors are cooperating and helping (Rubin et al., 2006). Aggression has often been sub-divided into overt aggression (hitting, calling each other names) and relational aggression (gossiping, excluding others; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). As the prevalence or commonness of such behavior describes what is currently normal behavior in a group, we use the term descriptive norm (see Chang, 2004 and Lapinski and Rimal, 2005).
Next to current commonness of behaviors, classroom descriptive norms are associated with future prevalence of behaviors, as social behaviors tend to be contagious ( Dishion & Piehler, 2009); in classrooms where aggression is the norm, students tend to conform to this norm and become more aggressive themselves ( Espelage et al., 2003 and Thomas et al., 2006).
Furthermore, descriptive norms predict how strongly behaviors are associated with acceptance or rejection ( Chang, 2004).1.2. Teacher support and conflictGiven the importance of the classroom peer ecology as a social context for students development, it is necessary for teachers to understand how they may, unwillingly or deliberately, affect these ecologies. Gest and Rodkin (2011) suggested that the teacher, who has a position close to the peer group, is the one professional who has the opportunity to oversee and affect the classroom peer ecology.
Gest and Rodkin developed a model of how teacher practices affect students individual development, partly through affecting the classroom peer ecology. They described how the peer ecology is impacted both by everyday teacher“student interactions and by network-related teaching, that is, conscious teaching strategies directly aimed at affecting peer relationships. In the present study the focus is on everyday teacher“student interaction, and more specifically on the amount of support and conflict in teacher“student relationships and interactions. Teacher support, or warmth, fosters individual students social (e.g.
, Luckner and Pianta, 2011 and Verschueren et al., 2012) and academic adjustment (e.g., Cornelius-White, 2007 and Den Brok et al., 2004), whereas teacher conflict amplifies externalizing behavior (e.g., Doumen et al.
, 2008 and Runions, 2014) and is negatively related to academic achievement (e.g., Ladd et al.
, 1999 and Mantzicopoulos, 2005).In daily classroom practice, teachers interact both with individual students and with the classroom group as a whole. Wubbels et al.
(2015) argued that teachers differ in the extent to which they establish warm, supportive relationships at these two levels. A teacher who shows much support to individual students may not be able to establish supportive interactions during whole-class teaching. Another teacher may convey much warmth or support when teaching the class as a whole, but may keep individual interaction formal and less supportive. Corresponding to these conceptually different levels, studies have either investigated teacher support and conflict with a specific student as the object (e.g., Hughes et al., 2001 and Verschueren et al., 2012) or as more general “ in the sense of not student-specific “ teacher or classroom characteristics (e.
g., Luckner and Pianta, 2011 and Mainhard et al., 2011). A study by Den Brok, Brekelmans, and Wubbels (2006) illustrates the relevance of distinguishing student-specific from general teacher support and conflict; Den Brok et al. found qualitative differences in teacher support, depending on whether the class as a whole or individual students were the focus in otherwise similar questionnaire items.
The present study adopts this distinction between general and student-specific teacher support and conflict. Although student-specific teacher support and conflict are first and foremost oriented at the individual student, these can be informative about a teachers classroom practices in interactions with their students in (at least) two different ways. First, classroom-average measures of student-specific support and conflict indicate how a teacher generally behaves with students in dyadic interaction (e.g., Buyse et al., 2009 and Hughes et al., 2006).
Hughes et al. (2006) referred to this aggregate as the classroom norm of support and conflict, which resonates with the classroom descriptive norms of student behaviors as discussed in Section 1.1.3. Second, it may also be worthwhile to examine the extent of teachers differential provision of support and conflict.
Research on teacher differential behavior has its origins in studies on the teacher-expectancy effect ( Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968), which states that some teachers treat students differently based on the level of achievement they expect of the student (see Babad, 2009). One aspect of teacher“student interaction in which teachers treat students differentially is the amount of support or affect they show, which is typically higher for high-expectancy students ( Babad, 2009) and also for students whom teachers feel closer to ( Newberry & Davis, 2008). So, in the present study, student-specific teacher support and conflict are used as the building blocks of classroom norms of support and conflict and of teacher differential behavior.
1.3. Teacher support and conflict and the peer ecologyTwo mechanisms describe how teachers general and student-specific support and conflict may relate to the peer ecology, being modeling and social referencing.
We first elaborate on these mechanisms and then relate them to the three aspects of peer ecologies as introduced above. First, teachers general social practices in class can be a model for peer interactions and peer relationships. In this view, teacher support or conflict set the tone for, or model, peer interactions in the classroom and communicate information about the types of interactions and relationships that students are expected to establish with each other ( Farmer et al., 2011 and Gest and Rodkin, 2011). When teachers generally show support and have positive interactions, the modeling perspective assumes that students are likely to emulate this behavior, that is, to show warmth to each other and engage in positive interactions with peers as well. Likewise, teachers who generally show much conflict and negative affect may stimulate conflicted contact among students as well ( Farmer et al.
, 2011 and Mikami et al., 2012).Whereas the modeling perspective emphasizes how students take in their teachers general support and conflict as implicit lessons for how to behave themselves, the social referencing perspective focuses on how students implicitly learn how to evaluate and approach a specific student, depending on the teachers student-specific provision of support and conflict ( Buyse et al., 2009 and Hughes and Chen, 2011). Hughes et al. (2001) were the first to reason that the teacher functions as a social referent in the classroom, that is, that classmates make inferences about childrens attributes and likeability based, in part, on their observations of teacher“student interactions (p.
289). The social referencing principle applies to both norms of teacher support and conflict and teacher differential behavior. That is, when a teacher shows support to many individual students and thereby sheds a positive light on each of them, this may result in peers learning how to view specific students more positively, which in turn may lead to a more pleasant peer ecology. When teachers differentially treat students and focus their positive (or negative) comments on only a few students, they inform the classroom group on their peers differential value ( Mikami, Lerner, & Lun, 2010), which may result in a more hierarchical peer ecology.
1.3.1. Richness of interpersonal tiesThrough general support versus conflict, teachers may model positive versus negative interpersonal relationships. As a result, students in classes with relatively higher levels of general teacher support are expected to form more liking and less disliking relationships.
In line with this notion, Gest and Rodkin (2011), in a U.S. sample of first, third and fifth-grade classes, found that teachers who showed high levels of general emotional support had classrooms with more reciprocated friendships.Classroom norms of student-specific support are also expected to result in a peer ecology that is richer in positive ties, since students are more likely to be viewed by their peers in a positive light. Similarly, in a classroom in which a teacher has many conflicted relationships with individual students, the peer ecology is likely to be characterized by more negative ties as students learn to approach many students negatively. In a Belgian study, Buyse et al. (2009) indeed found that first-grade classroom norms of student-specific teacher support were positively related to third-grade peer liking, whereas first-grade classroom norms of student-specific teacher conflict were negatively associated with third-grade peer liking. In the same vein, Hughes et al.
(2006) showed that the classroom norm of supportive relationships was positively related to the average amount of peer liking in the classroom group in first and second grade in the U.S.1.3.2. Status hierarchyWe expect social status hierarchy to be mainly related to teachers differential behavior; when teacher support or conflict is highly focused on a small group of students, the teacher informs the students on the differential value of these peers.
Hughes, Im, and Wehrly (2014) have studied the impact of teacher differential provision of support on peer experiences in third and fourth grade in the U.S. They reasoned that when the provision of support is more egalitarian, more students have the opportunity to be perceived positively by their peers, leading to less hierarchy in the peer-ecology. Hughes et al. found that when supportive relationships were concentrated on just a few students, also more status hierarchy in peer relations occurred.
This was true however, specifically for students academic reputation as an outcome rather than for peer liking.Next to differential provision of individual teacher support and conflict, general teacher support may also be related to the hierarchy in ties. Chang (2003) showed that in Chinese middle-school classrooms where teachers rated themselves as showing relatively more warmth, peers disliked withdrawn and especially aggressive students less than in classrooms where teachers deemed themselves as being less warm.
A study by Cappella and Neal (2012), with second to fourth-grade students, also showed that general teacher support can buffer negative relationships of victims of bullying. A generally supportive teacher may thus relieve negative peer evaluations of neglected or rejected students, and thereby foster a more egalitarian peer ecology.1.
3.3. Social behaviorBy modeling supportive interactions in general, teachers communicate to their students the social value of prosocial interaction (Farmer et al., 2011). Luckner and Pianta (2011) have found that general teacher support was positively related to students prosocial behaviors in a sample of fifth-grade students in U.
S. elementary schools. Similarly, teacher conflict may function as a model for students antisocial, aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, we expect that in a classroom with a higher classroom norm of student-specific support, prosocial behavior receives more attention, whereas in classrooms with a higher norm of student-specific conflict, aggressive behaviors are addressed more. This may add to the students perception of the degree to which these behaviors are normative, and as a result to their own exhibition of the behavior. In the study by Buyse et al. (2009), first-grade classroom normative conflict was indeed positively associated with aggressive student behaviors.1.
4. The present studyIn the present study associations between teacher support and conflict and the classroom peer ecology are examined. By focusing on these class-level constructs, we aimed to investigate the social structures that define the setting within which students develop. More specifically, we examined three aspects of teacher support and conflict, being (a) the level of general support and conflict, (b) classroom norms of student-specific teacher support and conflict, and (c) teachers differential provision of student-specific support and conflict. Also three aspects of peer ecologies were examined, being (a) richness of interpersonal ties, (b) hierarchy of these ties, and (c) classroom norms of social behaviors.
An overview of these constructs is provided in Fig. 1.Overview of the study constructs.
General, classroom-based teacher support and …Fig. 1.
Overview of the study constructs. General, classroom-based teacher support and conflict are hypothesized to function as a model for the relationships and interactions students have in the classroom peer ecology. Student-specific teacher support and conflict, both the average level and the differential behavior of the teacher, are expected to function as a social referent, providing information about students within the peer ecology.Figure optionsBoth when a teacher models support or conflict in general (Farmer et al., 2011 and Gest and Rodkin, 2011) and when the teacher is a social referent for the social evaluation of specific students by peers (Hughes et al., 2001), the teachers influence on the peer ecology seems to depend on the students intake of teacher behavior. Therefore, we made sure to incorporate the students views on all aspects of teacher support and conflict.
For triangulation purposes, a multiple informants design was used, including the students as well as the teachers or an external observers perspective for each of the three aspects of teacher support and conflict. The overarching research question was: How are teacher support and conflict associated with the classroom peer ecology?Given what we discussed so far, we expected that teachers would model peer interactions and relationships in general but would also be a social referent for the evaluation of specific students. We expected that the more support and the less conflict teachers showed in general and to specific students, (a) the more classrooms would be characterized by positive rather than negative ties, and (b) the more prosocial behaviors would prevail over aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, more differential provision of teacher support was expected to be related to more status hierarchy in classrooms, since then the teacher would specifically highlight differences between students.
Also, we expected that the more general support a teacher would show, the more egalitarian the classroom distribution of ties would be.() ;,?()paper paper -X()