Title: The Impact of Classroom Aggression on the Development of Aggressive Behavior Problems in Children
Name: Duane Thomas
Applied Psychology & Human Development Division
Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania
3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6216
Phone: 215-573-2978
Fax: 215-573-2115
Year: 2001
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: There is mounting evidence that school environments during the elementary school years can contribute to the early socialization and promotion of childhood aggressive behavior problems and interpersonal violence. Over the last two decades, structural features of schools, such as large size, economic disadvantage among the student body, and risky neighborhood conditions flanking school grounds have been cited as variables associated with increased levels of student aggression (Howley, Strange, & Bickel, 2000). Less well studied are characteristics of classroom social contexts that may influence violent student behavior. There is some research showing that exposure to grade school classrooms with many aggressive members may increase risk for persistent aggressive behavior problems (Barth, Dunlap, Dane, Lochman, & Wells, 2004). However, relations between structural features of schools and the prevalence of classroom-level aggression have not been fully examined, nor have the effects of these different aspects of school context been disentangled in terms of their effects on child aggression. With respect to classroom characteristics, additional longitudinal research is needed to better understand the effects of exposure to high aggressive classrooms over time.

To explore these developmental processes in more detail, this study followed a longitudinal sample of 4907 children from four different geographic locations representing a wide cross-section of the American population and examined different demographic factors associated with exposure to high aggression classrooms. The developmental impact of different temporal patterns of exposure (i.e., primacy, recency, chronicity) to high aggression classrooms was also evaluated on child aggression. Analyses revealed that African American children attending large, urban schools that served socioeconomically disadvantaged students were more likely than other students to be exposed to high-aggressive classroom contexts (Thomas, Bierman, & CPPRG, 2006). The results of the study demonstrated cumulative effects for temporal exposure, whereby children with multiple years of exposure showed higher levels of aggressive behavior after three years (grades 1 to 3) than children with less recent and less chronic exposure, controlling for initial levels of aggression.

Findings from the study have important implications for future research on the development of childhood aggression and for early violence preventive efforts with children. They suggest that future studies make use of broader transactional models that consider the complex and reciprocal interplay between individual, school, and classroom factors linked to developmental risks for child aggressive behavior problems. Additionally, findings suggest that preventive interventions need to assess and target classroom environments directly, with strategies focused on enhancing teacher management practices and promoting positive teacher-child relations. Results also suggest that important gains in violence prevention work can be made by simultaneously directing prevention efforts to promote nonaggressive, prosocial norms in classrooms, particularly in low-income, urban schools.
Bibliography: Thomas, D. E., Bierman, K. L., & the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. "The impact of classroom aggression on the development of aggressive behavior problems in children." Development and Psychopathology 18(2) (2006): 471-487.