Social skills programmes meant to curb aggressive children’s behaviour in special primary Cluster 4 education do not always have the intended effect. In some cases schools are unable to provide the programmes adequately, but another reason is that their effect may be undone by group processes in the class. It is often incorrectly assumed that all children for whom the programme is intended will benefit from an identical approach to their aggressive behaviour. This is the result of research conducted by Marieke Visser, who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 14 July 2011.
Remedial educationalist Marieke Visser evaluated a social skills programme intended for children aged between 8 and 12 in Cluster 4 education (for children with severe behavioural and/or psychiatric disorders).
Aggression among children has always been a fact of life, whether it’s malicious gossip, bullying or even physical violence. An increasing number of teachers, in special needs education and elsewhere, experience increasing difficulties in dealing with children displaying aggressive behaviour. This often leads to social skills programmes, with a special trainer working with the children to improve their behaviour. Visser investigated the effects of the TRAffic 8-12 aggression reduction programme on 74 children in Cluster 4 education. The results were disappointing. ‘Research based on questionnaires aimed at teachers and parents showed that children’s participation in the programme did not lead to a reduction in their aggressive behaviour.’
In three subprojects Visser delved into the reasons for the disappointing success rate. ‘Although the programme was developed carefully, it isn’t implemented as well as it could be.’ Trainers, for instance, find it difficult to deal with the behaviour of the children in the training groups, and teachers are not sufficiently involved. As a result, outside the confines of the programme too little attention is paid to what the children have learned, even though they actually require nonstop support. ‘More attention should be paid to the follow-up to a social skills programme, with the teachers playing a crucial role.’
Another subproject showed that children’s motives for aggressive behaviour vary greatly. The programme being investigated did not take this into account, Visser concluded. ‘The assumption that children all have the same motives for their aggression is mistaken. Some children are afraid of other children and therefore respond aggressively out of self-defence, while other children may enjoy bullying. Some children may react impulsively when they’re overcome by emotion. The programme does not address these differences very well.’
A third subproject Visser carried out showed that the class can have a major influence on how an individual child’s behaviour develops. ‘Children who went from Cluster 4 education to regular schools became less aggressive of their own accord. I’m not saying that more children should be in regular schools, but this does indicate how strongly the class context plays a role in aggression development. In order to deal with the behaviour of individual children, you must work with the entire class.’
Marieke Visser (Groningen, 1979) studied Clinical Child and Adolescent Studies (Orthopedagogiek) at the University of Groningen and conducted her PhD research at the Department of Developmental Psychology. Her PhD research project was partially funded by Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland – the Dutch Children’s Welfare Stamps Foundation. Her thesis is entitled ‘The tip of the iceberg and beyond. Evaluation of an aggression reduction program for special elementary education: classical effect study & consideration of child and context’. Her supervisor was Prof. P.L.C. van Geert. Visser now works as a researcher at the Integrated Pedagogic Treatment (Geïntegreerd Pedagogisch Handelen) department and the Teaching, Learning and Life Philosophy Knowledge Centre (Kenniscentrum Onderwijs, Leren en Levensbeschouwing) of Inholland University of Applied Sciences in Haarlem. She is conducting research in primary schools and working with the Inholland primary school teacher training programme on matters such as research taking place within the programme.
Contact: Marieke Visser, tel. 023-5748977, e-mail: marieke.visser inholland.nl
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