Literature Review - Part 10
The following chapter is a review of past literature relevant to the school adjustment of pupils - Literature Review introduction. The first section of literature will consist of defining adjustment and relative theories according to existing literature which could be used in solving problems associated with school adjustment. The second half of the review will discuss previous studies concerning a variety of topics and how the research affects the implementation of group counselling on the adjustment of pupils in elementary school.
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The Meaning and Nature of Adjustment
A child’s adjustment into a school setting can be difficult and have lasting problems if not approached appropriately. A few considerations for successful adjustment are the developmental tasks of various stages, an individuals coping and flexibility skills, and the “potent systemic and contextual factors of influence” (Akos, para.1, 2002). To accurately measure a student’s school adjustment progress, Daniel Shek (2002) suggests evaluating a pupil’s academic performance and school conduct.
The most difficult of transitions for pupils, according to Akos (2002) is that of leaving elementary school and entering middle school. It is during this time that both male and female pupils experience higher emotions, physical and emotional change as well as social pressure (2002). Most of these changes are brought on by the onset of puberty which will be further discussed in the Gender and School Adjustment section of this chapter. It is also during this time that many students are more defiant of adults (2002). As Akos (2002) explains, the increase in emotions and changes create a stressful situation for many students; causing a “significant increase in psychological distress” (para.4). The psychological stress has proven to cause developmental and academic problems for a student (2002).
An interesting discussion in Akos’ (2002) publication was the research on pupil motivation and attitudes, which is a significant indicator of adjustment problems. School motivation and attitudes tend to decline in middle school, Akos, discusses the “stage-environment fit”, used by Eccles (1993, as cited in Akos, 2002) to explain the “poor fit between the developmental needs of preadolescents and the environment of middle school or junior high school” (para.5, 2002). During secondary school student are more aware of their, and their friends, social or popularity status. There is also an increase in competition, grades, sports, popularity etc. (2002).
The Friendship Factor. Not surprisingly, friendships in primary and secondary school can play a significant role in the adjustment of pupils when in transition. One study (Berndt, et al., 1999) revealed a positive correlation between the effects of secondary school transition, or early adolescents’ transition, on adjustment. Berndt’s (et al., 1999) study discussed the varying results of studies from the early 1980s to the 1990s; many studies demonstrated opposing results concerning the effects of self-esteem, gender differences and “social and academic self-concepts” (para.5). When discussing cognitive competence past studies revealed;
The evidence is equally mixed for measures of students’ social and academic self-concepts. In one study, students perceived their social ability as lower after they entered junior high. In other studies, students’ perceived social competence either did not change or increased across the transition. Similarly, although some researchers have argued that students’ perceptions of their scholastic ability decrease across the junior high transition, the available data are inconsistent. In studies with measures of perceived cognitive competence, the mean scores of students either did not change or increased across the transition (as cited in Berndt, et al.,para.6, 1999).
Bernt’s (et al., 1999) study revealed that “the quality and quantity of students’ elementary-school friendships” can have an affect on both the social behaviour and reputation of pupils during the first semester of secondary school. This is the most significant time for a pupil; as discussed previously, the transition to a new grade and school is a high stress period for pupils. The study (1999) also showed that a pupil’s adjustment in seventh grade can be greatly influenced by the friends’ adjustment. The power of influence that friends may have over a pupil can be either positive or negative. The interaction between friends can cause pupils to imitate negative behaviours, while at the same time can cause a student to step back and take a more positive direction than the friends (1999).
Teacher Influence. A teacher’s influence on a student can be an important factor in student adjustment. A longitudinal study of student perceptions of teacher support was conducted in 2003 by Reddy, Rhodes & Mulhall. The results of the study demonstrated an increase of depression among males and females in middle school in correlation with a decrease in teacher support and general self-esteem. In contrast, student’s which perceived a high amount of teacher support demonstrated a higher self-esteem and less depressive symptoms (2003). The researchers indicated the need for teacher support for students adjusting to secondary school and being involved in developmental processes needed for successful adjustment (2003).
A second study of teacher support focused on teacher perception rather than student perception. The 2002 study (Davis, et al.) used attachment and motivation perspectives. As with the above mentioned teacher study, this study found a positive correlation between teacher support and a more motivated and achievement oriented pupil (2002).
Several factors can influence a pupil’s successful adjustment. There are also many barriers that have been researched in the area of student adjustment.
Barriers. In Easing the Impact of Student Mobility: Welcoming & Social Support
(1997), a reported twenty to twenty-five percent of students change schools every year; this is a cause for many adjustment challenges. According to the authors (1997), “students entering late in a school year often find it especially hard to connect and adjust” (para.2); under these circumstances it is important to use a variety of adjustment strategies to help the pupil feel accepted into his or her new surroundings. In the 1997 publication, adjustment strategies should focus on;
· easing bicultural development
· enhancing student development
· establishing “a psychological sense of community throughout the school” (para.3)
The following section will discuss the several adjustment theories; as well as how adjustment problems manifest and how relevant theories could help solve adjustment problems. While it has become increasingly clear that many students are in need of emotional support throughout their educational journey, school psychologists, counsellors and administration as well as the families of pupils are unclear as to what approach will be most beneficial to the pupil.
The Psychoanalytic Perspective
The psychoanalytic perspective is described as a behaviour which is motivated by the desire to “obtain pleasure and to avoid pain” (Stein & Carey, 2004). Stein and Carey (2004) discuss the patterns of behaviour common in children in regards to temperament as;
…stylistic and unmotivated, [and] provide a new path for the study of aspects of behaviour that [are] mediators of the influence of environmental factors. Furthermore, these fundamental elements of personality seemed to insulate the child or, alternatively, make him or her more vulnerable to stress”(as cited in Stein, 2004). Paediatricians understand temperament as those individual differences in emotional reactivity, activity level, attention, and self-regulation that may be predictors of adaptive skills, resiliency, and behaviour problems. Perhaps most importantly, the temperament model reframes many behaviours in the context of a child’s individuality. In this way we can often help parents to see their child’s unique needs and develop effective strategies for behaviour management (para.5).
Understanding a child’s individual needs and behaviours is important when determining a proper adjustment strategy. When looking at a child’s behaviour, it is important to determine what behaviours are common in the child’s age group, if the behaviours are a sign of stress or simply common misbehaviour.
According to Carey (Stein & Carey, 2004), there are “five basic areas of adjustment,” they are as follows;
· “Behaviour or interpersonal relationships”
· “Achievements (including school performance, other tasks, and play)”
· “Self-relations (self-esteem, self-care, and self-regulation)”
· “Internal status (feelings, thoughts, and body function in eating, elimination, sleep, etc.)”
· “Coping” (para.10)
The Behavioural Perspective
In terms of behaviour management, there are many factors to be considered. Some considerations are the roles that society, family and the school environment plays on a pupil demonstrating problem behaviours (EPPI, 2003). In a study by EPPI (2003), researchers found that in many cases the strategies to improving problem behaviours of pupils, thus improving pupil adjustment, required the help from professional outside sources. This is an important finding and supports the need for the implementation of psychological counselling within the educational school system (2003).
The Cognitive-motivational Perspective
The cognitive-motivational perspective is concerned with the “achievement strategies, motivational styles and the casual attributions children and adolescents display in the classroom” (Onatsu-Arvilommi, p.7, 2003). Poor school achievement can contribute to poor school adjustment and therefore research on cognitive development and task-focused or task-avoidant achievement strategies have been investigated. Pupils may demonstrate underachievement in academics; many researchers use the cognitive or cognitive-motivational perspective to understand the source of underachievement (2003).
Pupil’s are constantly acquiring, interpreting and implementing new information and tasks (2003). Part of a pupil’s educational experience relies on consistent feedback as to their “success or failure in different achievement tasks” (p.8). Onatsu-Arvilommi (2003) explains that these two factors, acquiring tasks and information and receiving feedback, can play a significant role in a pupil’s cognitive and “attributional strategies” development. The researcher (2003) does state however the lack of research pertaining to such a theory.
As will be discussed further on through this literature review, familial roles and other influences outside of the educational institution have an effect on pupils’ educational success. Onatsu-Arvilommi (2003) discusses the familial role further;
It has also been suggested that the development of pupils´ cognitive and
attributional achievement strategies have their roots outside the school, such as in the family. For example, the ways in which parents respond, tutor and control their offspring might be assumed to play an important role in the development of the achievement strategies the children deploy at school (as cited in Onatsu-Arvilommi, p.8, 2003).
In terms of school adjustment the author (2003) suggests that a pupil’s family is an important variable to successful school adjustment. A pupil is influenced by the positive or negative coping methods witnessed in his or her family’s environment (2003). The family may also influence the way one perceives themselves in comparison to other pupils. Socioeconomic structure and “psychological family-background factors” have been attributed to a pupil’s school performance and adjustment (p.14). One’s socioeconomic status has been shown to affect the child-rearing styles of parents as well (2003); for example, a pupil from a family of low socioeconomic status may witness his parents constant arguing over family finances. Socioeconomic status effect pupils’ in other ways as well; a pupil may not be able to participate in during or after school activities with peers because of a lack of financial resources. Family instability has also been attributed to negative school adjustment and achievement (2003).
The Humanistic Perspective
This approach to psychology is associated with Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. The humanistic perspective believes individuals have control of their own behaviours; it emphasizes free will (Davis & Palladino, 2004). School adjustment, as seen from the humanistic perspective focuses on the pupils’ needs and interests (Huitt, 2001). The goal for the humanist would be to investigate the pupil’s motivation and goal-setting, as well as how he or she has developed up to the point of investigation. According to Huitt (2004), the regulatory and affective/emotional systems as defined in the humanistic perspective are often overlooked in today’s educational institutions. Huitt (2004) explains the purposes of both systems as;
The regulatory system acts as a filter for connecting the environment and internal thoughts to other thoughts or feelings as well as connecting knowledge and feelings to action. The affective/emotional system colours, embellishes, diminishes or otherwise modifies information acquired through the regulatory system or sent from the cognitive system to action (para.6).
One’s present environment is one of constant change, as many refer to it as the information era. Humans are constantly receiving and distributing new information which then effects the “development of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills” of each individual (para.6, 2004). According to Huitt (2004), the humanistic perspective of education focuses on five objectives. An important aspect of all five objectives is that they are relevant to modern time, presently the “information age”, and as such, intervention and prevention strategies pertaining to school adjustment should focus on these five objectives when deciding which strategy to implement. The objectives, while mainly emphasized by humanists, have key points that relate to other perspectives in psychology.
Objective one focuses on the promotion of “positive self-direction and independence”, this is a “development of the regulatory system” (2004). A student will be a productive learner if the information is answering what they want and need to know. Huitt (2004) feels that learning theorists’ would agree to this statement, while possibly not agreeing to the source of student motivation. Educators can support this objective by allowing students to have a choice in task and activity selection (2004).
Objective two focuses on the “ability to take responsibility for what is learned”; this is relevant in both regulatory and affective systems (Huitt, 2004). This idea is shared with many cognitive theorists, who believe knowing how to learn is more important than the amount of learning being acquired. The humanistic perspective encourages teachers to foster students’ ability to set realistic goals (2004).
Objective three focuses on creativity development, an “aspect of cognition” (2004). The evaluation of an individual’s school work is a direct reflection of the pupil’s self-evaluation (2004). To encourage social and affective skills, Huitt (2004) suggests having pupils’ work in groups, “especially cooperative learning” (para.9).
Objective four focuses on the exploratory behaviour, or curiosity. This behaviour is relevant in all of the systems. Humanists strongly value this objective and Huitt (2004) feels educators are now realizing its importance in the educational environment. The objective recognizes that “feelings are as important as facts” (para.8). To explore feelings in the classroom, Huitt (2004) suggests that teachers act as a facilitator in group discussions with pupils.
Objective five has had an impact on the present educational environment; it focuses on the individual’s “interest in the arts” as a primary development of the affective/emotional system (2004). Research has shown that the school environment should be one that in non-threatening, psychologically, emotionally and physically (2004). Huitt’s (2004) suggestion for this objective may be difficult for educators since it could seem as making one’s self vulnerable. He (2004) suggests that in order to teach specific beliefs, attitudes or habits, a teacher should open themselves to their pupils’.
Implementing humanistic education strategies have proven beneficial for pupils’ (2004). One study, discussed by Huitt (2004) demonstrated the positive effects of using the above mentioned objectives, or open education strategies. The 1982 study of 150 schools positively demonstrated an increase in pupils’ attitudes towards teachers, “school, creativity, adjustment, and general mental ability” (para.10, 2004).
Social Influence Theories
The following section discusses a few of the many aspects of social influence theories which contribute to the successful school adjustment of pupils.
Social influence can be defined as a change in one’s behaviour caused by another individual, which may or may not be intentional. This change in behaviour will cause the individual to change his or her perceptions of themselves, the influential person, others and society (Changing Minds.org, 2007). Three types of social influence include: conformity, belonging and esteem (2007). Conformity is changing oneself in order to behave like others around you; it could change one’s values and beliefs. When seeking others approval, others influences can affect an individuals needs of belonging and esteem.
Compliance is accepting and acting upon requests of another individual. One may not necessarily choose to comply, however social punishment such as becoming an outcast, may persuade an individual to comply, against their better judgment (2007).
Individuals who perceive someone else as an authority figure will feel obliged to obey. These figures have heavy influence over an individual (2007). As an example, a pupil may obey his instructor, knowing that not doing so could result in a failing grade and thus affecting other areas of his life such as family and inclusion in extra curricular activities.
Normative Social Influence. Human beings have a fundamental need to fit in with those around them (2007). Social groups demonstrate “common beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours that reduce in-group threats act for the common good” (para.1). Normative social influence can be witnessed in a culture or social group’s fashions and political beliefs and other areas of cultural conformity.
Children seeking to fit in with peers will often change personal style and attitude in order to be accepted. This deliberate change can have a heavy influence on the success of a pupil’s school adjustment. Peer pressure is a problem among pupils; those wanting to be accepted, conform to the influences of those he or she wants acceptance from. Those pupils’ who feel left out from the crowd could begin acting negatively, missing school or turning to drugs or alcohol. The self-esteem of pupils trying to fit in and can’t may use desperate measures such as extreme dieting in order to look like the others.
Informational Social Influence (Social Proof). Copying other people because an individual is unsure how to act is called informational social influence (Changing Minds.org, 2007). Information is gained by those being imitated. Informational social influence can happen in two ways, either by private acceptance, when an individual secretly agrees with another but does not say so for fear of ridicule; as well as public compliance (2007). Public compliance is the act of agreeing with someone or a group of people because an individual is afraid of rejection or ridicule (2007). Either forms can lead to problems for an individual, especially a child who may permanently become a crowd follower; possibly leading to dangerous activities.
Numerous studies have been conducted over the past few decades related to social influence theories. Recent studies have used the social influence perspective when examining the effects of social influences on the school adjustment of pupils. One study (Walls and Little, 2005) examined for this review focused on the relationship between motivational styles and school adjustment, viewed as a social influence on school adjustment. Specific styles of motivation investigated were, “self-regulation (i.e., intrinsic, identified, introjected, and extrinsic)” and the types of school adjustment included “school grades, school well-being, and positive and negative affect” (abstract, 2005). The study revealed a strong relation between motivation and the school adjustment of pupils.
A pupil’s ability to self-regulate will increase the likelihood of a successful school adjustment (2005). Identified self-regulation means that an individual adopts goals that are seen as personally important, “but they are not fully owned” (p. 23). In the 2005 (Walls & Little) study, identified self-regulation was determined to be the most positive of the four styles of motivation, as an indicator of successful school adjustment. Intrinsic or integrated regulation is the full integration of both goals and the pursuit of goals into an individual and are congruent with the individuals “personal values and needs” (p.23). In Walls and Little’s (2005) study intrinsic regulation was determined to be relatively positive on the success of student adjustment.
The most damaging of all four motivational styles according to Walls and Little (2005) was external/extrinsic regulation. These behaviours are responses to outside influencers, such as peer pressure, teacher demands etc. The motivation behind such behaviours are simply receiving a reward, such as popularity, or a response from the influencer; such as teacher’s positive feedback or acing the test. Similarly, introjected regulation, adopted behaviours which are “not readily endorsed” (p.23), were found to be “comparatively detrimental” (p.28).
The results demonstrated in the 2005 (Walls and Little) study were similar to past motivational studies. This indicates that counselling strategies for students demonstrating unsuccessful school adjustment should focus on factors of self-regulation.
The Social Learning Perspective
The social learning perspective is similar to social influence theories. Pupils’ learn social behaviours and responsibilities during their school career; these social skills “lead to healthy interpersonal relationships, social awareness, understanding, and respect” (Wenk, 1974).
As mentioned previously, friends have a heavy influence on a pupil, which at times may not always be a positive influence.
Counselling in Elementary Education
Individual counselling has been the most popular method of therapy for elementary students experiencing behavioural problems in the United States (Diaz, n.d.). In terms of self-esteem, individual counselling has been effective in the educational system (n.d.).
An important aspect of pupils’ mental health is that of family dynamics, a student’s primary support system; especially in primary and secondary school. Diaz (n.d.) explains that family dynamics has been identified in several research reports to be an important factor in the “academic and behavioural adjustment of children and adolescents” (p.4). When implementing strategies for successful student adjustment, “counselling interventions with family systems have been shown to be effective” (p.4). These methods of counselling however focus on parental counselling and consultation, which may help certain pupil’s individual performance by improving the home environment; however, more successful means would be to focus first on the pupil and primary problem areas.
While familial influences can affect a pupil’s in school behaviour, there are many influencing factors in the school environment such as peer pressures, student-teacher interactions and learning experiences.
Diaz’s (n.d.) study focused on individual and family counselling which he found to be a positive strategy. One flaw in implementing this type of counselling in schools is the reluctance of many schools to participate. As Diaz explains;
While schools do possess some means to fulfil the educational needs of
students and provide some support for families, it has been my experience that schools, in general, seem rather reluctant to explore deeply into perceived areas of controversy in this era of profuse litigation (p.18).
One program, similar to group therapy, reviewed on the Helping America’s Youth.gov (n.d.) is called the Open Circle Curriculum; which focuses on children ages five through ten. This primary prevention program is a component of the Open Circle Social Competency Program. There are three goals associated with the multiyear, comprehensive program, these goals are:
· “to strengthen students’ social competency skills in communication, self-control, and interpersonal problem-solving” (para.1)
· “to promote the creation of growth-fostering relationships among students and between students and the adults in their lives” (para.1)
· “to build a sense of community in classrooms and schools by providing a common “language” that fosters communication among students and between students and their teachers and other adults” (para.1)
This program is an example of the importance of addressing social influences and developments of primary school pupils. Open Circle Curriculum recognizes “the role of social relationships in the academic and social success of children” (Helping America’s Youth.gov, para.2, n.d.). This program not only provides training to pupils but to parents of the pupils, teachers and other community members (Helping America’s Youth.gov). This approach connects the social influences of a pupil into one unified circle, allowing pupils to feel safe, secure and supported.
The program is implemented using forty-two regular curriculum lessons and thirty-three supplemental lessons (n.d.). The teacher led program is held after school in “Open Circles” with students. This open forum technique allows pupils a chance to “develop and practice their social competency skills, for building positive relationships among students and teachers, and for creating a strong sense of community in the classroom” (para.3). The curriculum is focused on communication strategies, self control and social problem solving (n.d.). This program is most beneficial to troubled pupils, or those pupils feeling excluded. The group meetings are held in a way that allows all pupils to speak freely and thus encouraging a social bond among pupils.
The Open Circle Curriculum has been evaluated using self-reported surveys; which could limit the accuracy of the actual benefits of the program. Based on the self-reported teacher surveys, completed by teachers trained in SCP (Social Competency Program), the Open Circle Curriculum has demonstrated beneficial results in fostering social skills (n.d.). This could prove an important contribution to the counselling strategies used in addressing the school adjustment of pupils; especially when used in primary school. Evaluations were conducted on pupils who had participated in the primary school Open Circle Curriculum, once they entered secondary school; in order to test whether the initial benefits of the program continued through the transition into middle school.
Researchers have found that many pupils experience negative school adjustment in secondary school (Helping America’s Youth.gov, n.d.). For this reason, addressing potential social problems in primary school could reduce the chance for negative school adjustment problems in secondary school.
The Open Circle Curriculum evaluations surveyed secondary school pupils who had participated in the program in primary school. Based on surveys completed by the pupils, researchers attempted to evaluate “observable differences in students’ behaviour and functioning” (para.7). Pupils answered survey questions pertaining to pupil perception of personal school transition and social skills (n.d.). Surveys were also given to secondary school teachers for their perception of a pupil’s success in social skills and secondary school adjustment; parents of pupils’ were also questioned. Variables examined during the evaluation were: pupil participation in Open Circle Curriculum, the degree of secondary school adjustment success (measured using the Survey of Adaptation Tasks) and social skills (using the Social Skills Rating System) (Helping America’s Youth.gov, n.d.).
Researchers found that pupils attending Open Circle Curriculum for two or more years experience positive school adjustment, “even after participation in the program ends” (para.10). Interestingly, female pupils experienced the most beneficial results once attending secondary school. Research showed that female pupils who attended Open Circle Curriculum for two or more years were less likely to report school adjustment problems and demonstrated “higher levels of self-assertiveness”, than those who had not attended the program or were a part of the program for less than two years (Helping America’s Youth.gov, n.d.). These statistics could prove quite valuable in addressing the issues of secondary school adjustment; the research on Open Circle Curriculum demonstrates the importance of addressing social problems in elementary school as a previously discussed study demonstrated (Berndt, et al., 1999). Female pupils have demonstrated the most difficulties in secondary school adjustment; and as such, the Open Circle Curriculum could prove quite effective in assisting female pupils in experiencing a positive secondary school adjustment.
Counselling in Secondary Education
Several studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of different programs and counselling strategies implemented over the years to improve school adjustment. As discussed previously, secondary schools have demonstrated serious school adjustment problems. Some problems have been contributed to the hormonal changes occurring in preteens; especially in female pupils. Peer pressures, social influences and teacher-student relationships are also contributing factors to the school adjustment of pupils.
Studies pertaining to secondary school adjustment have primarily focused on gender specific factors of adjustment. This is likely due to the drastic physical and emotional changes experienced by pupils during the onset of puberty.
Gender and School Adjustment. In a longitudinal study of 2,585 sixth through eighth grade students in Boston, U.S. demonstrated student “perceptions of teacher support and general self-esteem declined and depressive symptoms increased over the course of middle school”. Changes in both self-esteem and depression in boys and girls were predictable as to their perceptions of teacher support.
A second study of 1,267 sixth graders in four secondary schools in a United States school district surveyed the student sample twice during the school year. Both surveys demonstrated that school adjustment was less successful, for girls than boys.
One study (Spencer Foundation, 2002) was conducted with 129 pupils in four UK schools and ninety pupils in three U.S. schools. The research consisted of direct observation of playground behaviour as a component of social behaviour (2002). The researchers considered the playground games an important variable in predicting the successfulness of a pupil’s school adjustment.
Researchers examined the “differences between boys and girls and ethnic groups in games and social relations, and changes over the year, the development of a characterisation of game involvement, and cross national differences in games and social relations” (p.2).
The Spencer Foundation’s (2002) study recognized the importance of social and cultural influences on the outcomes of student adjustment. Break time behaviour can demonstrate the social interactions and influences of primary school pupils; both in peer friendships and social networks (2002). Researchers emphasized the importance of “beginning of the year” playground interactions; it is at this time when pupils are not familiar with each other and the start of a new game can draw in pupils and create friendships and social interactions.
Researchers (Spencer Foundation, 2002) found differences in the games played between girls and boys. In the UK, break time was dominated by social interaction with boys engaging in more games than girls. Girls in the other hand were more involved in “conversation, sedentary play, jump skipping and verbal games” (p.6). Interestingly, researchers found that the type of games and interactions on the playground changed throughout the year. While ball games (primarily boys) and conversation (primarily girls) increased throughout the school year, “sedentary play and chasing, catching and seeking games reduced” (p.6). Researchers also noted that among mixed sex game play, no particular type of game was consistently demonstrated; however the common activities popular among mixed sexes were racing and chasing games as well as conversation and ball games (2002).
There were other observable behaviour differences found between girls and boys. Most aggressive behaviour was demonstrated in male pupils, whereas females showed “more positive affection” (p.6). Girls were found to be more interested in playing with different aged pupils as the year progressed. The majority of children demonstrated the desire to play with peers of the same sex. Gender and cultural differences discussed by the Spencer Foundation (2002) researchers included;
Females were more likely to be in ethnically homogenous social networks and boys in ethnically heterogeneous social networks. Mixed ethnic social networks increased over the course of the year (para.6).
Differences were found between the U.S. and the United Kingdom study samples, in terms of the amount of game play and social interaction. Pupils in the U.S. study played more playground games whereas the children in the United Kingdom demonstrated more social interaction. Other differences included the amount of game play between girls and boys, for example, girls in the U.S. decreased their game play over the school year; boys play increased. Other differences found between the two countries are summarized by the authors’ (2002);
Similar to the UK findings, chasing games decreased over the year in the US. In contrast to the UK, girls played fewer ball games at the end of the year than at the start whereas there was an increase in the UK. Boys on the other hand played more ball games at the end of the year in both countries. Children showed more vigorous play in the US than the UK and boys more so than girls. Overall in both countries there was little aggression, disputing, teasing and taunting, distress and crying and being disciplined, but boys were more aggressive than girls in the US and UK (p.7).
This study was important as it demonstrates the social competency of primary school students; by evaluating such behaviours, researchers can accurately determine the level of social competency needed for successful school adjustment in secondary school.
By studying pupils in an uninhibited setting such as a playground, researchers are able to focus on the true identities of peer relations found in this particular age group. The Spencer Foundation (2002) researchers discuss an important recent occurrence in both the UK and the U.S.; the reduction of recess time. This particular study demonstrates the need for a time of social interaction between peers as a stepping stone for positive social influences and relations in school.
The Spencer Foundation (2002) also emphasizes the importance of playground play “as a guide and reflection of adjustment to school” (p.9).
School Adjustment of Children
The majority of literature reviewed for this study on the school adjustment of pupils discussed intervention strategies as the most common strategy to improving school adjustment. Very little research has been conducted on the implementation or effectiveness of group counselling methods. There are however, characteristics associated with school adjustment that have been addressed with the implementation of intervention and prevention methods, individual and family counselling.
Increasing School Completion: Learning from Research-Based Practices that Work by Camilla A. Lehr (Lehr, Hansen, Christenson, & Sinclair, 2004) is a review of forty-five intervention and prevention studies in the United States. The motivation for the review was the high amount of drop out rates in the U.S. in the 1999-2000 school year. Statistics have shown that students with disabilities, “emotional, behavioural, or learning disabilities are most at risk of not completing school” (p.1). According to Lehr’s (2004) report, twenty-nine percent of students with disabilities dropped out in the 1999-2000 school year; with the highest rate being pupils with emotional and behavioural disabilities at fifty-one percent of the total. Poor academic performance such as low grade-point average and test scores were most often recipients of intervention programs. Pupils with poor attendance records were the second most reported recipients of intervention programs; followed by pupils having been referred by a teacher and those with “a history of dropping out of school” (p.2). Lehr (2004) investigated several types of intervention strategies and narrowed the review to the following strategies:
· Personal/affective interventions.
Personal or affective intervention strategies included self-esteem enhancing retreats and in school “classroom,-based discussions” held regularly. Personal counselling and “participation in lessons on interpersonal relations were also used as forms of intervention strategies.
· Academic interventions.
The most common types of academic interventions involved tutoring and inclusion in “special academic courses” and other “individualized methods of instruction” (p.2).
· Family outreach strategies.
Family outreach strategies consisted of giving and receiving feedback from parents and home visits.
· Interventions addressing school structure.
School structure interventions involved “creating schools within schools, re-defining of the role of the homeroom teacher, and reducing class size” (p.2).
· Work-related interventions.
The work-related interventions were used with older pupils and included “vocational training and participation in volunteer or service programs” (p.2).
Lehr (2004) discussed several programs based on any or all of the intervention strategies listed above; however her report was not substantial enough to accurately determine the effectiveness of such programs. Overall, Lehr (2004) determined that there are benefits to intervention strategies on decreasing pupil drop outs and truancy.
Significant research has shown the positive benefits of parental involvement in the school adjustment of pupils. More specifically, the effects of “parental social class and education” are significant to the achievement and adjustment of pupils; especially those pupils in primary school (Wolfendale, 2006). Wolfendale (2006) discusses the role of an “at home” parent as having “positive effects on pupil achievement and adjustment” (p.6).
The author (Wolfendale, 2006) approached many components necessary for positive school adjustment concerning parental involvement. Children who feel that their opinions are valued and are allowed to participate in decisions which will affect them will take a more proactive approach to their education (2006). Understanding children’s needs is an important component in creating positive learning experiences for pupils; thus increasing the likelihood of successful school adjustment. Finally, Wolfendale (2006) expresses the importance of “direct, active involvement in learning” in order to increase the learning “rate and output; as well as the importance of teacher and child interaction with “cognitive engagement” in order to enhance the teacher-pupil relationship (p.9).
An international study on the effects of transition from primary to secondary school on school achievement and adjustment was conducted in New Zealand (McGee, et al.) in 2003. The researchers recognized the need for a continuation of “social relations and learning” during and after transition.
Behaviour Problems among School Children
England and the United Kingdom’s education policy hold behaviour management as an important factor in pupil success (EPPI Centre, 2003). Both specialist and school wide practices are in place for “managing the behaviour of all pupils” (p.1). These practices are used for pupils demonstrating “emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) or social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)” (p.1). The EPPI Centre focuses on strategies that can be implemented in the classroom for supporting pupils with EBD. The 2003 review of relevant studies, conducted by the EPPI Centre used studies from both the United States and the United Kingdom. The majority of studies were based in cognitive behavioural models which were “implemented by teachers and/or psychologists, social workers, parents, or children” (p.3). The four types of behaviours targeted for the studies were students who displayed aggressive behaviours, disruptive behaviours, were off-task and had social difficulties. Social difficulties were seen more often in studies outside of the United States. The authors’ (2003) contributed the differences in strategy targets to different theoretical models used. As an example, studies conducted outside of the United States rarely based strategies on behavioural models. However, thirteen of the thirty-five United States studies used behavioural model strategies (2003). In contrast, the United Kingdom studies used psychotherapeutic strategies more often then not, seven out of eight studies was psychotherapeutic (only one study in the U.S. was a psychotherapeutic strategy study) (2003). For the purpose of the EPPI Centre review, only five United Kingdom studies were analyzed. EPPI Centre’s review consisted of;
…one which evaluated the impact of ‘nurture groups’ to support positive emotional and social growth and cognitive development amongst children aged four- to 10-years-old with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; an evaluation of the operation and impact of a parent and school behaviour action project (PASBAC) on children aged five- to 10-years-old with EBD; an evaluation of the ‘communication opportunity group scheme’ (COGS) to improve literacy and behaviour amongst seven- to 15-year-olds with EBD; an evaluation of the impact of establishing a therapeutic ‘quiet place’ within schools for four- to 11-year-olds with EBD; and an evaluation of Project CHANCE, a community-based mentoring scheme for children aged six- to-10- years old with EBD (p.4).
Overall, the EPPI Centre was not satisfied with the results of the five reviewed studies, as it did not answer their review question which was “what are effective strategies for supporting pupils with EBD in mainstream primary classrooms?” (p.1). Psychotherapeutic studies demonstrated positive effects on students with EBD (2003). The nurture groups demonstrated improvement levels for “emotional and behavioural functioning”. This was evident in the “quiet rooms” as well. However, the various reviewers did have different opinions as to the effectiveness of each. Three of the five studies were found to demonstrate effective strategies “based on the cognitive-behavioural model” (p.5). As for parent-involvement strategies, the effect of such seemed week, according to the reviewers.
The overall results of the review (2003) were disappointing, the reviewers made several suggestions to improve the odds of more valid study results. Future studies are necessary due to the increase of emotional problems found in United Kingdom’s educational systems. According to EPPI Centre’s report, “one in twelve secondary schools and one in one-hundred primary schools are exhibiting poor behaviour problems (2003).
School Adjustment of Public and Private School Pupils
The majority of literature reviewed for this study involved public schools. Any literature pertaining to private schools, discussed the academic advantages of receiving a private school education; however nothing was discussed as to the successfulness of private school adjustment.
Counselling and School Adjustment
Sigmund Freud (1935) discussed the importance of psychoanalysis in the school environment in Wayward Youth; he believed that the dynamics gave teachers an understanding of their pupils’ behaviours and motives (Weinberg, n.d.).
Implementing group therapy in the educational setting can be beneficial for teachers and students. It creates a harmonious classroom environment which will allow for better adjustment (Weinberg, n.d.).
School adjustment problems can lead to truancy, dropouts, teen pregnancy, drug use and violence is not addressed properly; for this reason, many studies have been conducted on the variety of successful adjustment strategies. Psychosocial interventions have been reported to have positive effects on pupils (Addressing Barriers to Learning, 1996). Efforts have been made by schools to address psychosocial problems with intervention, prevention, direct services and other strategies to create a network of care for pupils experiencing mental health problems (1996).
Trends in the academic environment concerning mental health has changed from an individual problem to that of a school wide issue, one in which affects the health and safety of the school in general and thus needs to be approached accordingly (1996).
Addressing Barriers to Learning (1996) discusses the large number of pupils in elementary and secondary school in need of mental health services. Group counselling could be an appropriate strategy to serve the large number of students in need.
A review of past studies on psychotherapy in the United States (2006) reported that in a typical school one could expect eighteen to twenty-two percent of pupils to have a mental disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Approximately 2.7 million children have been reported by their parents to have “noticeable or severe emotional or behavioural problems that may interfere with their family life, their ability to learn, and their ability [ies] to make friends” (Eder & Whiston, para.2, 2006). Statistics also showed that seventeen to twenty-two percent of children eighteen years of age and younger suffer from “developmental, emotional, or behavioural problems” (as cited in Eder & Whiston, para.2, 2006).
The school setting can provide the perfect atmosphere for a wide array of counselling opportunities (Eder & Whiston, 2006). Eder and Whiston (2006) consider school a prime counselling opportunity for students because:
The child or adolescent’s relations to peers, problem behaviours, prosocial functioning, and academic performance can be observed and assessed within the school. This allows professionals in the school to identify when an intervention is needed and to evaluate whether an intervention is having an impact (as cited in Eder & Whiston, para.3, 2006).
Additionally, the school setting has a broader reach as nearly all children are required to attend school. Thus, schools have direct access to nearly all children and adolescents and have the potential to reach more children than clinic settings where parents must seek out and take the child or adolescent for treatment. Thus, by default, schools become the only avenue for some students to receive the mental health services they need (as cited in Eder & Whiston, para.3, 2006).
The studies considered in Eder and Whiston’s (2006) review were categorized by the size of the therapy group, ages of students and intended and actual outcomes; as well as gender and its effects, if any, on the effectiveness of the psychotherapy. The researchers found evidence that psychotherapy in school was more effective with adolescents and middle school children than with elementary pupils; unless the therapy used is a form of behavioural therapy, in which researchers found success in all age ranges (2006).
Most effective, according to Eder and Whiston (2006), were cognitive/rational interventions, such interventions were: “cognitive-behavioural, relaxation, and skills training” (para.3).
There are barriers to implementing school psychotherapy such as parental consent (2006), the cost of possibly hiring outside counselling and pupil willingness. Although research has shown the positive effects of adult psychotherapy, little research has been done on psychotherapy and children (2006). Research has shown however that a “therapeutic relationship between the therapist and child or adolescent is critical to positive change” (Process Factors, para.1, 2006). Although barriers exist, Eder and Whiston (2006) stress clear benefits for children in psychotherapy.
Canter (2006) describes the need for counselling in the school environment in her report School Psychology, she writes;
Historically school psychologists have not readily identified themselves as mental health providers (Nastasi, 2000). However, researchers concerned with reducing barriers to learning have called on school psychologists to play key roles in establishing school-based mental health services as a crucial means of improving achievement and life outcomes (as cited in Canter, 2006).
About Mental Health in Schools (n.d.) discusses the need for psychosocial and health problems to be addressed in school using a school wide approach. By using community-based organizations and school mental health staff, the authors’ propose looking not at individual issues but looking at “the bigger picture”. Recently, this school wide approach has been implemented with “school-linked” services which merge forces that work “to enhance initiatives for community schools, youth development, and the preparation of healthy and productive citizens and workers” (para.3). While some outside sources support school programs, others are actually connected directly with school personnel. As the authors’ of About Mental Health in Schools (n.d.) discuss, the result of such strategies have been an increase in successful programs geared towards “mental health and psychosocial concerns.” Such issues addressed through these programs include “school adjustment, [and] attendance problems, dropouts, physical and sexual abuse, relationship difficulties, emotional upset, delinquency [and] violence (para.3). These programs have had success with school wide issues however they do not address the needs of individual students or a specific group of students with similar mental health issues.
The majority of the literature reviewed for this study indicates the need to address social influences when aiming to promote successful school adjustment of pupils. Group counselling would likely be accepted in school systems which value the humanistic or social influential perspective of teaching and learning. The both perspectives foster the development of creativity, taking responsibility for ones actions and exploring one’s feelings and behaviours in order to create a positive self-direction. In order to create a non-threatening learning atmosphere, pupils’ demonstrating poor school adjustment need to address their social skills in a safe environment with others experiencing similar problems. Group therapy within the school environment could be a positive strategy for successful school adjustment; especially in primary school. Addressing social issues early on could promote a more positive school adjustment during the difficult transition into secondary school.
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