Term Paper: Bulling and Academic Performance

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Woodsa, S. & Wolkeb, D. "Direct and relational bullying among primary schoolchildren and academic achievement"

Article Review of Paper by Woodsa & Wolkeb

School bullying is a truly international issue; in Japan there are thousands of children refusing to go to school to avoid terrible bullying while in America children have been known to commit mass murder when pushed too far by bullies. Many pop-psychology theories exist among students and parents as to why bullying takes place. This article by Sarah Woodsa and Dieter Wolkeb, titled "Direct and relational bullying among primary school children and academic achievement," looks carefully at a British primary school's system of bullying and analyze within it the popular idea that bullies are so cruel because of their own inferiority complexes. Somewhat amusingly, from a bully perspective, they conclude that most bullies are actually better adjusted and more academically successful than their victims. This study, in its creation, had two goals: "(1) to assess the relationship between direct and relational bullying behavior, and SATs tests results and teacher assessments; (2) consider variables that predict children's SATs results and teacher assessments and determine whether SATs results and teacher assessment results contribute to the prediction of being involved in direct and/or relational bullying." (Woodsa & Wolkeb) in this they are relatively successful in a limited context, though the degree to which they research contradicts some of the sources they quote in their literature review does bring the results into question.

Woodsa and Wolkeb were particularly scrupulous in their article regarding the exact nature of their measurements and analysis, including any potential weaknesses. The research plan involved 1016 children in two grade levels: 480 in year 2, 536 in year 4. Children were interviewed by a group of carefully trained research assistants (though their responses could not be recorded in audio or visual format), and further analyzed based on parental reports, teacher assessments, and standardized testing.

In the personal "Bullying interview" (Woodsa & Wolkeb), students were screened in as standard a fashion as possible to determine if they were bullies, bullied, or neutral. Students were first asked if in the last six months they had been subjected to any of six direct bullying behaviors: "(1) having been called bad or nasty names, (2) having belongings taken, (3) having lies told about them, (4) having nasty tricks played on them, (5) having been threatened or blackmailed, (6) having been hit or beaten up." (Woodsa & Wolkeb) They were then asked if in that period they had been subject to any of the following relational bullying behaviors: "(1) other children saying that they did not want to play with them; (2) other children saying that they would not be the child's friend anymore; (3) other children telling nasty stories that were not true about them; (4) Other children deliberately spoilt their games." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) in any case where the child responded in the affirmative, they were prompted for more information and asked for examples. The interviewer would then follow protocol to determine if the children were facing a dominant individual and if it were a legitimate case of bullying. After these questions regarding victimization, the child was asked nearly identical questions regarding commission. "They were asked whether they had ever used any of the behaviors to upset other children over the past 6 months." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) to avoid skewing the data, judgmental terms such as "bully" or "bullying" was never used. After receiving their answers, the researchers classified students into groups as relational or direct bullies, relational or direct victims, relational or direct bully/victims, and relational/direct neutrals.

Woodsa and Wolkeb voluntarily critique their interview process by acknowledging that: "the limitations of the current study includes the reliance on individual interviewers to classify children...Ideally, reliability analyses based on tape recorded interviews should have been conducted...[additionally] it would be imprudent to assume that the bullying interview methodology is entirely objective as bullying behavior due to its complex social nature and the fact that 6-9-year-olds took part is bound to reveal some subjective issues." Additionally, one might add, children might hesitate to incriminate themselves as bullies, especially if they were asked about their own bullying activity after being asked in anyone had hurt them which might prompt empathetic feeling. Thus one should add, as the researchers do not, that this test only measures self-identified bullies and victim, and does not capture the psychology of those who are ashamed to admit their status. (This might cause an increase in the perceived self-confidence of bullies, as insecure bullies might be more likely to deny their wrongdoing or even perceive themselves as victims. It might also tend to indicate children with extremely sensitive consciences as being bullies even if they are less bullish than more insensitive children) This system seems somewhat flawed in relying on children to tell adults the truth about their misdeeds, especially when one considers that adults automatically hold positions of authority in the child's world and may be seen as someone that must be placated or impressed. (Again, more intelligent or headstrong children would be less likely to feel this way) it would perhaps have been advisable to ask other children in the class to identify the bullies, either as a qualifying factor or in the place of self-incriminating questions.

The next step in the research was a behavior and health questionnaire given to children's parents. The "Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire" was to be filled out by all consenting parents. It measured "conduct problems, hyperactivity, emotional symptoms, peer problems, and prosocial behaviour...For each scale, except for prosocial, higher scores indicate more problems." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) Children were then classified as normal or as having behavior problems. This was accompanied by a health questionnaire regarding problems such as stomach aches, breathing problems, nightmares and bedwetting, (to name a few) which could be associated with stress or fear regarding school.

The final step was to gather SATs test results (TR) and teacher assessments (TA). These are nationally standardized guides, which include writing and spelling tasks, reading and math skills. "The tests are not based on a multiple choice format, but require the child to write their answers on standard examination forms and demonstrate their workings out for questions where appropriate," (Woodsa&Wolkeb) which is believed to make them more accurate for student placement. Teacher assessments were also given, based on "(1) an overall English assessment, (2) speaking and listening, (3) reading, (4) writing, (5) spelling, (6) mathematics (included: using and applying mathematics, number, shape, space, and measures), and (7) science."(Woodsa&Wolkeb)

All these variables were cross analyzed with school data regarding SES, urban vs. rural placement, school and class size, and grade level. All in all, 82 classes in 39 schools were approached. Students had approximately equal sex distribution, and their other personal attributes were carefully watched and kept as standard as possible, so that the differences between genders and status and city/class size could be considered in the final analysis.

A cross comparison of all the data from these collected pieces of information did not precisely give a clear picture of the underlying causation of bullying, but it was crystalline regarding which sort of students were doing the bullying. It was determined that direct bullying was not correlated with low academic achievement or poor self-esteem, as many social peacemakers have suggested to their children. Bullies are, their work suggests, probably not jealous of their victims. Each classification in which children were placed had its own predictors. Direct bullying was predicted largely by gender and class size; bullies were "more likely to be boys rather than girls, and from small class sizes compared to medium or large class sizes." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) Victims of direct bullying were likely to be male, have behavior problems, and live in rural areas. Most direct bullies were in the younger class; all relational bullies were in the older class. In regards to relational bullying, predictions could be based on high achievement in test results, gender, class size, and emotional/behavior problems: "more likely to have average/above average achievement compared to low achievement on SATs TR, be boys rather than girls, came from schools with small class sizes... And had at least one emotional health problem compared to no emotional health problems." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) Victims of relational bullying were more likely to "have had fewer days... off school, had behavior problems within the clinical range compared to the normal/borderline range, came from small schools compared to medium/large sized schools, and went to a rural school compared to an urban school." (Woodsa&Wolkeb) the fact that bullied children were unlikely to miss as much school as other children seems somewhat counterintuitive, and is not explained fully.

Woodsa and Wolkeb only mention school climate in passing, when they say that the school's low tolerance for bullying and very high academic standards might contribute to the fact that bullies there have higher test scores than their victims. This does seem to deserve particular attention, however. In many American schools, students attest that "geeks" and "nerds" (the more intellectual students) are often bullied and teased,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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