Monday, 2 April 2012

Sociograms

The use of Sociograms in child psychology


Presenting issue:
A school wanted help with a Year 2 class (age 7-8) who were having difficulty getting along with each other. Staff reported that some days they seemed to ‘hate each other as a class’.

I had  recently heard Robin Banerjee’s presentation about Sociograms at the Division of Educational & Child Psychology Conference in January 2010. I was inspired by his talk and thought Sociograms would be a useful tool to unpick the class dynamics.

What is a Sociograms?
Quoting directly from Banergee’s webiste: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/robinb/socio.html

  • A Sociograms is a visual representation of interpersonal relationships within a group.  
  • It can be especially useful in an educational context, in order to help teachers and other staff understand more about pupils' peer relationships.  It is often a useful starting point for identifying and addressing the social and emotional needs of pupils.

How did I incorporate sociograms into my work as a practicing psychologist?
Observation:
I observed the class three times, mainly because the teaching position was a job share and I wanted to see if the class dynamics were affected by the presence of a different teacher. I also wanted to see if the children behaved differently in the morning compared to the afternoon which warranted more than one visit.

On reflection, did I need to observe so many times? Perhaps not, but by being there I felt like an ‘anthropologist in the field’ which paid back later during the final consultation session with the class teachers because I felt that I really knew the children.. Can you still use sociograms and not carry out observations if you don’t have time? Absolutely yes. For me it was the ‘cherry on the cake’ but it isn’t essential.

Consultation with class teachers:
Consultations with both class teachers were carried out before the classroom observation and after I collated the data. This is essential because It was an opportunity:

  • to unpick what was currently occuring in the classroom.
  • to think systemically about outside factors that perhaps were influencing the class dynamics
  • to feedback results to give a greater understanding of the class dynamics and work together to problem solve some ideas to help remedy issues.

Collecting the ‘data’:
Banergee explains that “Sociograms are made on the basis of pupils' nominations of classmates in response to questions.  The exact wording of the questions can vary depending on interests, but a common scenario involves asking pupils to nominate three classmates with whom they most like (ML) to play/spend free time and three  classmates with whom they least like (LL) to play/spend free time”.

This can be done as a whole class activity. Pupils (individually) record their answers to the questions on a piece of paper to be collected and kept confidential by the psychologist. You need to be mindful of children with learning difficulties who may need some extra support. It can be done with individual children, but for a busy psychologist this can be time consuming.

During the DECP conference I recall Dr Mark Turner quite rightly question the ethical nature of asking children to record who ‘they least like’ to play with. In using the Sociogram in my practice this was something I felt a little uncomfortable with but I counterbalanced this potential issue with a short ‘PSHE’ type introduction. It was explained to the Year 2 class what we were doing, why we were doing it and how someone would feel if they were told to their face that they were put in the ‘least liked’ column. It’s part of life to like some people more than others, what is more important is treating everyone with respect and kindness. The advantage of observing three different sessions meant that I could monitor this situation. The class teachers reported that no short or long term issues occured from this exercise.

‘Analysing’ the data:
Banergee’s website gives a step-by-step guide to administering the sociometric survey and generating the visual representation which is, in essence, the sociogram. Banergee assures that your data is confidential (although you don’t need to write in children’s names anyway), however, be mindful that you are most likely adding to Banergee’s own research and data collection.  It generates an interesting diagram like this:


Figure 1: Sociogram generated from Banerjee's website.


Banergee also gives some advice on interpreting the sociogram. I found this very useful to use alongside the other psychological models you naturally draw on in a consultation.

How did the use of a sociogram help class teachers?
The sociogram generated from the children’s answers were shown to the class teachers. The results of the sociogram prompted the following discussion points/explorations:

Supporting ‘rejected’ and ‘controversial’ children

  • Results from the Sociograms shows that four pupils were considered to be ‘rejected’ by peers. Class teachers reflected that they will need to monitor these children’s feelings and their patterns of thinking, and it will be important to support these pupils' development in targeted work. In addition, the links in the Sociograms provides valuable information for supporting and managing these pupils in group work. For example the Sociograms shows that Jane likes to play with Sally. It was decided to sometimes pair these two children occasionally to help Sally to feel less isolated.

  • The children we are viewed by peers as ‘controversial’ were explored. Children who fall into this category are considered to be dominant, perceived to be popular yet they may be also seen as aggressive, disruptive and intimidating. The class teachers reflected that this group of children did have an impact upon the class ethos and that it needed to be monitored.

The ‘popular’ children

  • The class teachers were able to successfully spot the children who were considered ‘popular’ because they consistently show socially competent behaviours. I felt it was important that there were not too many surprises from the sociograms findings because it is empowering for class teachers when they ‘know’ and understand some aspects of their class dynamics.
  • The class teachers discussed how they could utilise the ‘popular’ group of children to model good interaction and friendship skills. Although it was recognised that children in this group would need support to do this and cannot be solely relied on to fulfil this role.

Using observation skills in combination with the Sociogram

  • Based upon classroom observations it was evident that some children in the class are able to learn, but they are not emotionally ready to learn. The class teachers requested some resources on the following areas to support pupils to develop skills to: a) Work co-operatively. b) Learn it is okay to lose and c) Listen to each other.

Preparing for transition

  • The results from the sociogram helped inform the Head Teachers of the Infant and Junior School to make decision on how to compile new class lists for the new academic year. The new Year 3 classes were trailed while the pupils were still in Year 2. This enabled the children to become comfortable with their new class set up and gave scope for ‘tweaking’ before the new academic year.

Class teachers evaluation of using a Sociogram

  • The class teachers commented that “the Sociogram gave us a useful insight into the psychology of our class. How we, as adults, view the inner workings of a peer group is different to how children will view their peer group. Seeing a glimpse of what our children experience has helped us to understand the class dynamics and how this needs to be supported.


Summary
Overall using a sociogram was extremely useful for the purpose of unpicking and exploring class dynamics. The visual representation helps the mind to visualise and understand how children are connected within the classroom system. When the work was reviewed with the class teachers 3 months later they reported an improvement in their understanding of the classroom dynamics following the work with the Sociogram. This subsequently informed how they responded to issues and they felt the class were happier. 


Using Sociograms was a helpful springboard in which to discuss and explore other issues and compliments other psychological frameworks such as the consultation model and Solution Focused Thinking. Above all it helped the school staff to problem-solve different ways to move forward with a new and fresh understanding that was illuminated by the sociogram.

I would be interested to hear from other psychologist who have used Sociograms in their work. What do you think of it as a tool? What are your success stories?



Further Reading:


Banerjee, Watling and Caputi (2011) Peer Relations and the Understanding of Faux Pas: Longitudinal Evidence for Bidirectional Associations. Child Development, Vol 82 (6) pp.1887-1905


Caputi, Leece, Pagnin and Banerjee (2012) Longitudinal effects of theory of mind on later peer relations: The role of prosocial behaviour. Developmental Psychology Vol 48 (1) pp.257-270

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