These past two weeks we have talked about the importance of identifying two groups of students in your classroom or group – the peer opinion leaders and the social isolates. Knowing who these students are can have a significant impact on your overall program outcomes.
The challenge is how to successfully identify the peer opinion leader and the isolate. We tend to think we know who the peer opinion leaders and isolates are based on our own observations or knowledge. Research suggests that teachers are right a little more than half the time. A more effective approach is to let the students tell you who their peer opinion leaders and isolates are using a Friendship Survey.
Why bother with a Friendship Survey? There are two reasons.
First, results of the survey can be used to identify students who have no or few friends. Research shows that these students are at increased risk for engaging in drug use and other problem behaviors. Knowing who these students are can help you when you create small groups to complete activities. Your goal should be to help each of these students connect with other prosocial students. Do not to simply put the social isolates together as this tends to foster more peer isolation and increase their risk for becoming deviant. Read last week’ blog, Kids Without Friends, for more ideas on how to support and work with your social isolates.
Second, results of the survey identify peer opinion leaders. Peer opinion leaders set trends and have a profound influence on other students. They exist within all groups. They define norms within the peer group. Some peer opinion leaders have a natural positive influence. Some have a negative influence and can lead others to join them. In either case, peer opinion leaders should not be ignored. Refer to my blog, How to Use Peer Opinion Leaders as Change Agents, on strategies for involving peer opinion leaders in your class or group.
The bottom line is… the Friendship Survey is an effective, scientific, research-based tool, for identifying your peer opinion leaders and social isolates. It is more reliable than your own prediction.
The Friendship Survey I am sharing with you comes from the All Stars Core program. It can be administered with middle and high school age students as part of All Stars or as a stand-alone activity.
Download the Friendship Survey, tally sheet and instructions for free and give it a try. When you introduce the survey to the students tell them the survey will help you to know more about them as a group and how you can use their positive qualities and talents in the classroom or group. You also need to reinforce the survey is anonymous and they should not put their name on it.
You have nothing to lose and alot to gain by integrating the Friendship Survey into your group or classroom work. You gain insight into your students and their social networks while also earning the trust and respect of the peer opinion leaders and isolates. The mileage you can get from achieving this can have long-lasting effects not only in your classroom, but also in the lives of your students.