Researchers Gary W. Ladd and Becky Kochenderfer-Ladd presented findings on how relationships impact children's learning

The relationship of children’s behavior to their academic success is the topic of considerable research in the education profession. At this year’s Benjamin Cluff Jr. Lecture, Gary W. Ladd, EdD, and his wife Becky Kochenderfer-Ladd, PhD, presented some of their research findings on the subject.

The Ladds, who shared the podium at the Cluff Lecture, explained that their findings culminate three separate research endeavors: the Pathways project, the Class Act project, and the 4 R Success project. The first two projects involved observing students for extended periods of time to see how they interacted with peers and teachers, then comparing these interactions with the students’ classroom performance. The Ladds found that social competence, the aptitude children have for successful interactions with teachers and peers, is an important predictor of academic success.

Social competence enables children to develop relationships and prepare for collaborative classroom and workplace experiences, thus affecting the possibility of long-term well-being and success. In addition, “Social competence assists children [academically] since learning often takes place in a social context, and we as humans are influenced by people we like, trust, and respect,” said Becky Ladd.

To gauge social competence, the Ladds looked for three skills children should posses: the ability to initiate interactions, the desire to connect with teachers and peers, and the self-control to refrain from antisocial conduct. Interviews with peers helped the Ladds see to what degree the children they were observing exhibited these skills.

The Ladds found that even kindergarten students made distinctions between children they liked to play with and others they preferred to work with. Patterns emerged showing that children who were physically or verbally aggressive had few work or play partners. Kind, cooperative children had many friends, but even then, their peers categorized them as either work or play companions. “These findings,” said Gary Ladd, “show that children are the architects of their own relationships.”

Another segment of the Ladds’ research focused on the correlation between social acceptance/ rejection and classroom performance. Of the students the Ladds studied, some were rejected by their peers during first through third grade and then accepted from fourth through sixth grade. Others were accepted during the first three years of elementary school but then rejected during the last three. A small group of students faced peer rejection that began the day they first set foot in elementary school and did not end until they moved on to middle school.

“The students who were rejected consistently throughout their time in elementary school struggled the most with their studies, and for the other groups, their grades fell during the time their peers rejected them and rose once the rejection ended,” said Becky Ladd.

The ultimate goal of the Ladds’ research is to help students and teachers thrive in the classroom environment through healthy social interactions. “We want to translate the data from these studies into helpful teaching and learning strategies,” said Becky Ladd. Some of the strategies the Ladds have developed are already in use as part of the 4 R Success project, and the Ladds said they are pleased so far with the results.

The Ladds both work at Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. Together they have years of experience researching predictors of educational success, the effects of peer rejection and acceptance, the development of childhood relationships, and other aspects of educational psychology.

Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922

Writer: Shazia Chiu