The Relation Between Teacher and Peer Perceptions of Aggressive Behavior

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The Relation Between Teacher and Peer Perceptions of Aggressive Behavior
Gocool, Reisha
Smith, Stephen ( Mentor )
Daunic, Ann ( Mentor )
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Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Journal. of in.lnerr.3dlu.3ae ReI--.earch

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The Relation Between Teacher and Peer Perceptions of Aggressive Behavior

Reisha Gocool

Kip Kinkel a.3s .3 fifteen- ear ol' teen 4ho kilele his parents an.3n cuEO sud-enis .3a his hi. h school, in .3.3dlition

to injuring 25, in May of 1998. Kip had exhibited some signs of emotional distress to his teachers, such as

menacing notes on the top of work that he turned in. However, he received only a suspension as punishment for

his inappropriate behavior rather than receiving needed psychiatric intervention. The notes that Kip left were a cry

for help that went unaddressed, even though it was obvious to his peers that he was in distress. The Kinkel case

is not an isolated incident. Students with emotional or behavioral problems may sit undetected in general

education classrooms. Often, such as in Kip's case, a student's peers can help identify troubled behavior,

but unfortunately, they are not typically given an opportunity to provide their input.

Extreme behavior like Kip Kinkel's and other more common aggressive-type behavior in students has become

an escalating problem in schools for both students and teachers. Aggressive behavior is not only disruptive to

the school environment, but when exhibited at a young age it often develops into more serious behaviors such

as theft by force, weapon possession, alcohol and drug use (Farrington, 1989). Teachers usually play a

significant role in identifying students who have emotional or behavioral problems that may ultimately require

special education or comprehensive intervention programs (Astor et al, 2005). While teacher input has been

an effective tool for identifying students with aggression, recent student violence episodes (see Frontline, 2000)

are evidence that a more comprehensive selection process may be necessary to identify problem students.

There is some indication that peer relationships may be a significantly better indication of social behavior

than teacher ratings of behavior problems (Landau et al, 1984). These findings indicate that more needs to be

known about how closely peer and teacher nominations and identification of student emotional and

behavioral problems are related. Although a teacher's input is always a necessary component of evaluating a

student, the correlation between teacher and peer ratings and the importance of peer contribution need to

be explored further.

It is also very useful not only to identify students with behavioral problems, but to be able to classify their type

of aggression so that it can be addressed specifically. Aggression can be divided into reactive and proactive

subtypes (McAdams & Lambie, 2003). Matloff (2001) defines reactive aggression as aggressive behavior prompted

by skill deficiencies when a child is provoked and proactive aggression as relying on aggressive behavior to

achieve manipulative goals. According to social information-processing theory, deficiencies at different stages

of informational mental processing result in these two types of aggression; however, a person may exhibit both

types (Crick & Dodge, 1996; Dodge & Schwartz, 1997). Being able to classify a child's aggression type would

enable educators to better match an intervention program to a specific student's needs. In order to do this, it

would be helpful to have the assistance of both teachers and peers. Peers have a perspective of what goes on in

the classroom that is different from that of teachers. In particular, peers have the opportunity to witness whether

a fellow student initiates aggression, which signals proactive aggression, or if student is provoked first,

distinguishing reactive aggression. Thus, peers can provide needed input about students with behavioral

problems, commonly referred to as "target students," by possibly shedding light on these issues. This is an

additional reason to investigate the connection between teacher ratings of aggression and peer nominations

for aggressive behavior.

The purpose of my research, therefore, was to investigate the relationship between teacher and peer ratings

for problematic behaviors that indicate a need for intervention. My specific research questions were as follows:

1. How do teacher ratings of proactive and reactive aggression correlate with peer nominations for disruptive

and aggressive behavior?

2. Is there a relation between teacher nomination for problematic behavior (i.e. anger and aggression) and

peer rejection?



The sample in this study is comprised of students from various elementary school classrooms located in North

Florida. The research participants consist of fourth and fifth grade students. Participating schools had large at-

risk populations (approximately 40-95 percent), according to the number of students eligible for free or reduced-

price lunch. The distribution of males to females was roughly equal, with a total of 119 students from 16 classrooms.


Target Student Nomination Form. Teachers were given a nomination form that asked them to nominate up

to seven students ("target students") whom they considered to be the most aggressive children in their

class. Directions to teachers were as follows:

"Please list the children in your class (no more than 7) who you believe:

1. Have difficulties with the experience, expression, and/or control of their anger and/or

2. Are the most aggressive, either physically or verbally, with other people or objects."

The results for each child were then recorded as either a "yes," the child was nominated (yes= 1) or a "no," the

child was not nominated (no=0).

Reactive-Proactive Aggression Scale. Teachers were also given the Reactive-Proactive Aggression

Scale developed by Dodge and Coie (1987) to determine type of aggressive profile. The part of the scale I

used consists of three statements relating to reactive aggression and three statements relating to

proactive aggression. These statements were randomly dispersed within a total of 12 items that ask the

respondents, in this case the teachers, to indicate how true a statement is, ranging from never true (1) to

always true (5), for a particular child (e.g., "This child always claims that other children are to blame in a fight

and feels that they started the trouble"; "This child threatens or bullies others in order to get his/her own way").

How We Relate in the Classroom. To obtain peer nominations about sociometric status and

behavioral characteristics, How We Relate in the Classroom was administered to all students in a given

classroom, with help from their teacher. Questions were obtained from others who have conducted research on

peer rejection (Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990). The students were given five questions, and under each

question, a roster of their classmates. The students were instructed by their teachers to circle the name of the

three classmates whose behavior most closely fit the criteria for each question (e.g., "Circle the names of

3 classmates that you most like to play with"; "Circle the name of 3 classmates that you least like to play

with"). Each teacher was given standardized instructions to read to his or her students. They instructed the

students that the purpose of completing this task was to help the school learn how students relate to each other.

The children were informed that they did not have to put their names on their paper and that only the researchers

in the study would see their responses. They were also told not to discuss the information they provided with

their classmates.


All data were entered and analyzed using the statistical program SPSS. To standardize scores on items from

the student survey (How We Relate in the Classroom) across classrooms containing different total numbers

of students, I converted number of nominations to percentage of total possible nominations for a given classroom.

To answer the first research question (How do teacher ratings of proactive and reactive aggression correlate

with peer nominations for disruptive and aggressive behavior?), four Pearson correlations were run. The

first correlation was between scores on item number four from How We Relate in the Classroom ("Circle the names

of 3 classmates who start fights, hit other children, or say mean things to them") and total scores (sum of the

three items) on the proactive aggression subscale (teacher report). The second correlation was between scores

on item number four and total scores on the reactive aggression subscale. Similarly, the next set of correlations

was between item number five ("Circle the names of 3 classmates who upset everything when they get into a

group- they don't share, and they try to get everyone to do things their way") and scores on proactive and

reactive aggression subscales.

To answer the second research question (Is there a relation between teacher nomination for problematic behavior

(i.e. anger and aggression) and peer rejection?), I ran a correlation between the teachers' initial nominations

for target status, which is a categorical variable, with scores on item number two from How We Relate in

the Classroom ("Circle the name of 3 classmates that you least like to play with"), which is a continuous

variable. This requires a point-biserial correlation because one variable is dichotomous (i.e., can take on only

two values, in this case either yes or no) and the other is continuous.


The data used were collected by the project staff of the Aggression Intervention Research team at the University

of Florida as part of a three-year project involving an intervention for aggressive behavior. Participants for the

study were solicited through discussions with elementary school principals and faculty, along with the help of a

group of district administrators and community members. A subset of students (those with complete data on

the measures used in the present study) was selected to comprise the participants in this study.

Participating teachers completed the Target Student Nomination Form and the Reactive-Proactive Scale.

Although data were analyzed only on students with parental consent, all students in participating

classrooms completed the How We Relate in the Classroom survey as part of classroom activities. Teachers read

the instructions to their students before the students completed the survey.


The relation between student responses for How We Relate in the Classroom item number four (starts fights)

and proactive aggression had a correlation of .458 (N = 118, p = .000). For the relation between student

responses for item number four and reactive aggression, I found a correlation of .516 (N= 118, p = .000).

The relation between student responses for item number five (upsets everything) and proactive aggression had

a correlation of .509 (N = 118, p = .000). the relation between student responses for item number five

(upsets everything) and reactive aggression had a correlation of .565 (N = 118, p = .000). The relation

between teacher nomination for target status and item number two (least like to play with) had a correlation

of .546 (N = 118, p = .000). Teacher perceptions of proactive aggression and reactive aggression had a

correlation of .849 (N = 118, p = .000).


To determine whether peer input differed from teacher reports about aggressive behavior on the part of

regular education fourth and fifth grade students, I investigated the relationship between teacher and peer ratings

for problematic behaviors that indicate a need for intervention.

For both research questions, I found strong correlations between teacher and peer ratings on several measures

of behavior. I predicted the relatively strong correlations between peer reports of initiating aggression (item 4, e.

g., starts fights, bullies) and teacher reports of proactive aggression and between peer reports of disruptive

behavior (item 5, e.g., upset everything) and teacher reports of reactive aggression. The strength of

the relationships, however, between (a) teacher reports of proactive aggression and peer reports of

disruptive behavior and (b) teacher reports of reactive aggression and peer reports of aggressive behavior on

item four were somewhat surprising. Although many children who exhibit proactive aggression also

demonstrate reactive aggression (e.g., Crick & Dodge, 1996), the strong correlations found between all the

different combinations of teacher and peer reports appear to stem from a somewhat global interpretation

of aggression on the part of teachers and, perhaps, peers. I also found a high correlation between teacher reports

of proactive and reactive aggression, suggesting that when teachers categorize a child as aggressive, they view

the student in terms of the general label rather than specific behaviors. This could be troublesome, because in

order to select an intervention for a child with aggression, it is very important to be able to classify what type

of aggression he or she has.

Overall, the correlations I found support the validity of peer input, since teachers and students seemed to be in

sync with their observations of target students. The measures I used in this study were focused only on

externalizing behaviors such as disruption and aggression. Peers may be even more valuable when it comes to

less obvious, more internalized behaviors. They are privy to actions that teachers usually do not have the

opportunity to observe, such as notes that get passed and what take places on the playground. I would

suggest, therefore, that future researchers investigate the relation between teacher/counselor ratings

of inappropriate or disturbing behaviors that are less external and peer ratings on similar characteristics.


1. Astor, R. A., Meyer, H. A., Benbenishty, R., Marachi, R., & Rosemond, M. (2005). School safety interventions:

best practices and programs. Children & Schools (pp. 17). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2. Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., & Kupersmidt, J. B. (1990). Peer group behavior and social status. In S. R. Asher & J.

D. Coie (Eds.), Peer Rejection in Childhood (pp. 17-59). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3. Crick, N. R. & Dodge, K. A. (1996). Social information- processing mechanisms in reactive and proactive

aggression. Child Development (993-1002). United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing.

4. Dodge, K. A., & Coie, J. D. (1987). Social information- processing factors in reactive and proactive aggression

in children's peer groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (pp. 1146-1158).

5. Dodge, K. A., & Schwartz, D. (1997). Social information-processing mechanisms in aggressive behavior. In D.

M. Stoff, J. Breling, & J.D. Maser (Eds.), Handbook of antisocial behavior (pp. 171-180). New York: Wiley.

6. Farrington, David. P. (1989). Early predictors of adolescent aggression and adult violence. Violence and Victims

(pp. 79-100). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

7. FRONTLINE and Entropy Media. Web site @1995-2005 WGBH Educational Foundation. Killer at Thurston

High. Retrieved November 8, 2000, from

8. Landau, S., Milich R., & Whitten, P. (1984). A comparison of teacher and peer assessment of social status. Journal

of Clinical Child Psychology (pp. 44-49) US: Lawrence Erlbaum.

9. Matloff, R. G. (2001). Peer rejection and perceived social competence among elementary-school children who

display reactive and combined reactive and proactive aggressive behaviors. Dissertation for the University of

Florida (p. 5)

10. McAdams, C. R., & Lambie, G. W. (2003). A changing profile of Aggression in schools: its impact and Implications

for school personnel. Preventing School Failure (pp. 122).


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