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Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Maintaining Order Is Crucial In First Grade

The overall amount of disruptive behavior in the first grade classroom can influence the course of aggressive behavior in boys through middle school, according to a study by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health researchers. Aggressive and disruptive first grade boys who began first grade in classrooms where the level of disruptive behavior was high were far more likely to be rated severely aggressive in middle school compared to all other boys. In contrast, first-grade boys who were rated as being just as aggressive, but who spent their first year of school in classrooms where order was maintained, were significantly less likely to act aggressively later on. The common practice of grouping many disruptive children together in one classroom may be actively steering those children toward anti-social behavior. The study was published in the Spring 1998 issue of Development and Psychopathology.

The investigators tracked children from first grade through the sixth, looking for relationships between aggression levels in first-grade classrooms and the persistence of problem behavior later on. Despite children being randomly assigned to classrooms at the beginning of first grade, and those classrooms being balanced for the numbers of aggressive children, differences in the classes' aggression levels emerged as early as the first quarter of the first grade, suggesting that variations in classroom disorder depend on the teacher or on the mix of students and the teacher.

Regardless of their levels of aggressive behavior in first grade, both girls and boys at schools in poor communities were at increased risk of being highly aggressive by middle school.

The lead author is Sheppard G. Kellam, MD, professor, Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. This work was upported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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