by Claire Miller
Karen Bierman has spent years studying peer relations and determining the best ways to intervene when children don’t get along well with others.
“In thinking about intervention research, we’re not only thinking about how we help kids develop, but also addressing the peer side of things,” said Bierman, a distinguished professor of psychology in the Department of Psychology at The Pennsylvania State University, during the Oct. 19 Research Wednesdays.
In her career, she has worked on two major projects entitled “Fast Track” and “PATHS To Success,” where researchers placed kids in small groups and worked on “developing social skills and regulating their behaviors,” according to Fast Track’s website. These group sessions were supplementary to the general behavioral instruction offered in the classroom and gave students another opportunity to practice their social skills.
Both projects focus on elementary-aged students and how their interactions make a difference in a child’s development.
“The constellation of issues becomes more complex as children move through more years of experiencing rejection, which is why a lot of the research that’s being done is focusing on the first years of elementary school and this prevention mindset,” Bierman explained. “There’s a period of preschool years and very early elementary school – kindergarten and first grade – where peers are pretty forgiving. If you change your behavior, they’ll forgive and forget and start anew. But as you move into second, third and fourth grade, kids remember what you were like and they don’t want to risk engaging with you again.”
Bierman believes the last three decades of research on peer relations emphasize giving kids more opportunities to practice and implement the social skills they learn in small group sessions to help make the positive behavior attributes stick.
“The idea is that you’re preparing students to be more accepting of these skills because everybody is brought into the same value structure in the classroom,” she said.
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information about Bierman and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.