Understanding Classroom Social Networks

By Jill Locke

Do you know who your child's friends are in his or her classroom?

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By asking children to privately write down who likes to hang out together we can reveal a social network of their classroom’s peer groupings that indicates: 1) who's connected to whom, and 2) the strength of that relationship. Four different classifications are possible that will help you understand a child’s social salience in the classroom. Children can be considered “isolates”, which means they do not belong to any peer group in the classroom or peripheral, which means they are in the bottom 30% of their classroom’s social structure. Children also can be secondary, which means they are very well connected in their classroom (the middle 40%) or nuclear, which means they are highly salient and within the top 30% of their classroom’s social structure. It is important for all children to be connected to at least one other child in their classroom to promote healthy social development.

Pictured above is a map of a real classroom's social network. All of the names have been changed. Each line represents a connection between children. The number in parentheses represents the number of times that child was nominated to any peer group, or his/her individual salience. The number among the lines is the child’s group salience, which determines how well connected the peer group is overall. Joe is a student with autism. Both he and Bailey are considered isolates. Felipe and Brian are considered peripheral as they were infrequently nominated (1) time each and have a group salience of (1) as well. Valery and Zara are considered secondary, whereas Jessica and Lily are considered nuclear given their high individual salience (10) and (12), respectively, and high group salience (11). Understanding social networks and the power dynamics within a classroom is an important way to learn more about your child’s social development. And remember, there are ways to improve social network inclusion – is your child, isolated, peripheral, secondary, or nuclear?