Kristen Bub: Good Behavior, Good Grades?By Jill Anderson
A child’s social and behavioral development and academic achievement go hand-in-hand, according to advanced doctoral student Kristen Bub. “A child can’t learn from peers if those peers don’t like the child. Furthermore, if a teacher doesn’t like a child, then the child may disengage from learning,” Bub says.
The limited educational research or recognition of social and behavioral development as important for academic achievement intrigues Bub, who has spent years studying how the two intersect. For 11 years, Bub worked with Dean Kathleen McCartney as a research assistant on the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which further opened her eyes to the effects of high-quality early education experiences on children’s social, behavioral, and cognitive skills.
“The idea in the past was if you want a child to do well academically then you focus on language, science, and math skills,” Bub says. “No one considered social and behavioral development until more recently…but if a child can’t concentrate [in the classroom], then he can’t learn to read.”
Her dissertation extends beyond the early childhood period and into early elementary school in an effort to understand whether continuous high-quality learning experiences between pre-kindergarten and third grade can help sustain the positive effects of early childhood education on social, behavioral, and academic skills. Bub studies how children’s social and behavioral development — for example how they develop relationships, behave, or self-regulate — affects their ability to learn. For her dissertation, she is looking at data on 500 children, pre-kindergarten through third grade, from 10 states. So far, early research indicates that children who have better social skills in pre-kindergarten, first grade, and third grade do better academically in fifth grade — and likely beyond — than their peers with poor social skills. In contrast, children with behavior problems at these ages exhibit lower academic achievement in fifth grade.
High-quality classroom experiences, especially during early childhood, provide critical supports for children’s social and behavioral development. “Children who have positive relationships with teachers appear do better socially and academically in part because they trust their teachers,” Bub says. Positive classroom experiences can also create a learning environment where a child can ask for help, show more respect, and generally perform better academically. This is a win-win situation for many teachers and other students in the classroom since it promotes more learning opportunities with fewer distractions.
However, getting to that point is a challenge for many early childhood teachers, who often receive little educational support and manage up to 12 children in a classroom at a time. As a result of her research, Bub hopes to provide strategies for teachers in responding to children who struggle to develop positive social and behavioral skills.
In today’s age of standardized tests and increasing special education reforms, Bub suspects that attention to a child’s social development and additional training of teachers may have an even larger pay off further down the road. “Children are young and malleable so if we invest early, the payoffs will be far greater and much less expensive than remediation later on,” she says.