The relationship between friendship and school performance

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Within Taiwanese school context, children spend adequate time in school interacting with each other. Generally speaking, children of the first and second grade spend approximately five hours a day in the school. As for children of the other grades, they attend schools for around eight hours a day. This means, except for the children's family members, the peer groups are who they interact with most frequently in their daily life. In cultures like Taiwanese society where schooling is mandatory, classes will be organized and peer groups will be compromised to facilitate learning activities. Therefore experiences with peer groups profoundly influence children in terms of social development, school performance and personal adjustment.

The chapter is a review of the literature, addressing both empirical and theoretical aspects of the relationship between friendship and school adjustment or school performance. The first section begins with the discussion of how children select their friends among the peers. The second section describes how friendship affects children's attitude towards school and how it further influences children's later school adjustment. After that, an introduction is provided of how friendship patterns cause a positive or negative impact on children's school performance. Finally, a general picture is constructed concerning the school life and peer interaction of children of new migrants to Taiwan.

Children's social networks - How children make friends?

"Birds of a feather flock together" is not merely a proverb but also a general phenomenon which accounts for how children choose whom to become friends with. As Dunn describes children prefer to make friends with children who are similar to them. To detail, not only surface similarities such as age, ethnicity and language but also similarities in behavior, interests and styles of play draw children together as potential friends. Therefore "common ground" is the dominant criteria to determine whom to make friends with throughout childhood (Hartup, 1996, p. 5). It also suggests that the behaviors between friends are more similar to each other compared to non-friends. For instance, several studies have shown that friends are more similar to one another than non-friends in various characteristics such as "in shyness, cooperativeness, kindness, depression and in anti-social behaviors" (Dunn, 2004, p. 50).

Related research carried by Rubin et al (1994) has supported the argument that similarity of attitudes and beliefs is a strong inter-personal attraction. In their research, Rubin and his colleagues observed 236 seven year old children who were newly acquainted to each other in a free play session. The research discovered that children with similar styles of play were more likely to be attracted to one another as opposed to being attracted to a child with a different style of play (Rubin et al, 1994). It is clear in the research that during the stages of mid-childhood years behavioral similarities play a crucial role in the process of friendship formation and preferential personal interactions. However, inconsistent with Hartup and other researchers' assert, in Rubin et al's research, there is no evidence to show children choose preferred playmates on the basis of ethnicity (Rubin et al, 1994). "

On the other hand, Howes and her colleagues (2008) research appeared to be more congruent to Hartup's claim. The findings of the Howes et al's research confirmed that "children who had a peer with who they shared their ethnic heritage and entered the most ethnically diverse classrooms increased their complex peer play more than other children" (Howe, et al, 2008, p. 922). In other words, a child who enters a new setting without peers of the same language or ethnic background will have more difficulty in integrating compared to a child with peers of the same language or ethnic background. It is interpreted by Howes et al (2008) that a peer who shares a common language or ethnic heritage can serve as a bridge to assist another new child to incorporate into the new setting in a familiar way. In contrast, "children who lacked peers with a shared ethnic heritage and children who spoke a different language at home than the language most often used in the classrooms appeared to be struggling with peer interaction six months after entry into the peer group" (Howes et al, 2008, p. 922 ).

It seems that the findings of Howes et al's research are contradictory to the research findings of Rubin et al's research. In Rubin et al's research, it argues that behavior concordance is a predominant pull to draw children together as potential friends whereas in Howes et al's research, having a peer with a shared language or ethnic heritage appears to be a critical factor for children to establish friendship initially prior to similar behaviors. Perhaps, most noteworthy is that in Rubin's research, participants (236 7-year-old children) were arranged in same sex and same age but mix race quartets. Nonetheless 91% of the children are Caucasian and thus most of the children in a quartet are Caucasian. In this way, children of different ethnic backgrounds have a limited chance to choose a playmate with who they shared the same ethnic background from a quartet. Naturally, children may be attracted by the children with similar behaviors since there is no opportunity to select friends of a shared cultural background.

On the other hand, in Howes et al's research, participants were 170 three year old children of which 51 percent were of Latin ethnicity, 18 percent African-American, 18 percent Caucasian and 9 percent Asian-Pacific Islander. Briefly speaking, the ethnic backgrounds of the participants are more diverse in Howes et al research than the participants in Rubin et al's research. Most importantly, only 59 percent of the children spoke English at home, 29 percent only spoke Spanish and 8 percent spoke both English and Spanish. As opposed to Rubin et al's research, children in Howes et al's research are younger and not every child spoke English. Under this constrain, children with different ethnic backgrounds can not freely communicate with each other verbally. Furthermore in Howes et al's research, children were not arranged in quartets. At this point children have better chances to look for friends with who they shared the same ethnic background and perhaps they can further find friends with similar behaviors.

As the friendship develops, it is worth of noting that "similarity between friends may increase with the length of friendship as children share an increasing number of experiences; moreover, friends may change their attitudes and behaviors to intentionally become more similar" (Rubin et al, 1994, p. 1779). At this point, Rubin et al's claim greatly resembled Hartup's assertion. Hartup notes that mutual socialization within friendships fosters behaviors among friends which become more alike over time (Hartup, 1996). To put it in another way, friendship can reinforce mutual positive or negative tendencies within children's social networks.

To conclude, relevant research findings increase our belief that behavioral concordance is an important factor in the process of selecting friends. Additionally children were found to "prefer peers who behaved similarly to them; this relation between social participation and play styles was observed even when the focal child and his or her preferred playmate were not interacting" (Rubin et al, 1994). Finally, taken together, Hartup (1996, p. 6) concludes that "concordances among children and their friends in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and chronological age thus derive in considerable measure from social forces that constrain the peer pool and the child's access to it".

Friendships and school adjustment

There have been a number of studies that have investigated whether school adjustment is related to the quality of children's peer relations. Several researchers tend to propose such a hypothesis, namely that rejected children are likely to have negative school perceptions and further lead to school avoidance, dropout and failure.

For example, the research conducted by Parker and Asher (Parker and Asher, 1987) identifies that dropout rate is highly associated with peer difficulties. In this empirical work, research finding supports the hypothesis of low accepted children are at a greater chance for later school maladjustment. It is also mentioned that such maladjustment in school is likely to result in the subsequent dropout of the school or criminality in the future. However, it is worth of noting, that the research outlined aggression and low acceptance in school as the variables that contribute to later life difficulties such as dropping out or even potential criminality. Nevertheless, the research failed to test the cases of shyness/withdrawal or maladjustment which therefore require further testing (Parker and Asher, 1987). Further research of relevance also verifies that children who are aggressive and rejected by the peer group are at considerable risk of later school adjustment. As Dunn (2004) pointed out children with low acceptance are more likely to "perform poorly in terms of their academic work , to be truants, to completely drop out from school, to engage in delinquent and antisocial both within and outside school" (Dunn, 2004, p93).

In general, research suggests that children with aggressive behaviors and rejected repeatedly by the peers are at higher risk for problems of social adjustment (Dunn, 2004). As discussed in last paragraph, children incline to select those who have the same propensities to make friends with and simultaneously friendship could yield mutual socialization within friends. In other words, friends will become more alike over time (Hartup, 1996). Under this hypothesis, anti-social behaviors are likely to be reinforced within anti-socially oriented networks. It illustrates why aggressive children make friends with each other, the friendship is likely to exacerbate existing negative tendencies and push children to extreme anti-social behaviors such as delinquency, substance abuse and conduct disorder (Howe, 2010). In contrast, "children whose rejection is based on withdrawal are more likely to experience difficult personal development like anxiety, depression and low self esteem" (Howe, 2010, p. 163). It must be distinguished that children who are neglected due to their own shyness or withdrawal did not result in later academic underachievement or social adjustment problems. More specifically, aggressive children along with the characteristics of friendless or aggressive friendship patterns are at high risk of later anti-social behaviors in particular.

With respect to the children of the new migrant in Taiwan, Liu's study argued that children of new migrants display more negative behaviors that might contribute to further anti-social behaviors (e.g. fighting, fooling around or opposing their parents and teachers) or criminal behaviors in the adolescent period (Liu, 2003). Liu obtained such a conclusion by inferring that the new migrant's family structure is less healthy because most of the new migrants marry Taiwanese men in low socio-economic status. Besides, the husbands are often much older than their spouses among new migrant families. While taking into consideration the poverty and the distinctive age gap along with the language barriers of new migrants, it is not surprising that a qualitative researcher like Liu would jump to such a conclusion declaring that new migrant family structure as less healthy. Moreover, as a consequence they are likely to experience conflicts, poor child-rearing and divorce. In such circumstance, it is plausible to assume that children from new migrant families tend to have academic underachievement and negative behaviors due to their difficult family backgrounds.

Liu's study was constructed on the qualitative research approach which applied relevant literature reviews and semi-structured interviews. That is, there are no adequate samples to support such assertion and it appears to be weak to formulate such a generalized claim. Furthermore, how does a researcher actually compare new migrant children's aggressive behaviors to native children without direct observation and measuring? According to the finding of the survey done by MOE, 15% children of new migrants have poor peer interaction. In addition, Howe (2010) mentions that rejected children often display high aggression or withdrawal. In other words, aggression and peer rejection is closely connected. If Liu's comments about negative behaviors being more common among children of new migrants then, the figure of problematic peer interaction is likely to be higher in the survey carried MOE. In summary, Liu's finding is not consistent with the survey result conducted by MOE, that is, there is no clear evidence in support of Liu's claim and it deserves more empirical scrutiny.

Similar research also shows that children who have friends are more socially competent, self-confident, cooperative, and less lonely than children who do not have friends (Hartup, 1996). Besides, "having friends" can be seen as a kind of developmental predictor; it predicts "school success, aspiration, obedience to the law and several other outcomes" (Hartup, 1996, p5). In Ladd's (1990) work with 125 eight-year-old children transiting from kindergarten to elementary school found that children with many friends would develop more favorable school perceptions during school entrance. Conversely, children who failed to make new friends or to maintain prior friendships in preschools would tend to have higher levels of school avoidance and lower levels of school performance. It is demonstrated by Ladd (1990) that children with a number of friends have a few stable friendships to support them emotionally and feel more confident to cope with school demand or everyday frustrations. In this way, it is effective for children to "integrate into academic milieu and foster learning and achievement" (Ladd, 1990, p. 1096). However, it must be kept in mind that the findings of Ladd's work mainly supported the hypothesis that children who successfully maintain existing friendships and making new ones upon entrancing school tend to have more positive school perceptions. They show higher favorable attitudes towards school in this research. However, the author did not address whether different patterns of friendships will yield different types of school perceptions, he merely just took into consideration whether or not a friendship existed. For example, an academically oriented child developing a successful friendship with an influential and non-academically oriented child could produce a case in which both of the children's perceptions of school are negative.

Friendship patterns and school performance

A lot of research work have been conducted to seek for the linkage between peer relationship and academic achievement. In fact, there is a general consensus on poor prediction for children who are rejected by their peers. That is, children who are rejected by their peers are less successful academically than those who are accepted by the peers. Furthermore friendship could emerge as a positive force to promote children's academic performance when their friendship groups are high achieving oriented. Conversely, low achieving friendships are often aggressive and therefore children are at risk of social difficulties as well as school failure (Howe, 2010). The present section begins with the reference of relevant research and further illustrates how peer relationship contributes to academic achievement.

Friendship patterns do not merely influence school adjustment but also cause an impact on school performance. In Altermatt and Pomerantz's research (2005), findings illustrate that high academic performed children with friends of similar academic ability will reinforce each other's positive learning motivation and academic performance. On the other hand, if children's friendship patterns belong to low academic achievement or low learning motivation, their academic performance will be handicapped further by the friendship pattern. That is, a low achievement friendship is likely to have a negative influence on one's future academic success. Research findings also describe the friendship between low academic performed children and high academic performed. In friendships with such an imbalanced academic performed relationship, the lower performed children tend to suffer from low esteem and perceive themselves as less competent (Altermatt and Pomerantz, 2005).

It is clear that friendship plays a critical role on influencing children's learning attitude and motivation. As mentioned above, children of new migrants are in higher likelihood to possess lower academic performance due to their language barrier. When applying the findings from Altermatt and Pomerantz's research to the case of children of new migrants in Taiwan, it appears that they are at an irreversible disadvantaged status. Whether they make friends with low or high academic performed children, they are likely to either lose interest in learning or formulate a sense of low self esteem about themselves. Nonetheless, such a conclusion may sound arbitrary. First, the children must regard school success as an important value. Within the premise, school failure could undermine the children's self esteem. Secondly, high self esteem is not necessarily established by high academic achievement. Children could still hold high dignity if they are confident in other fields such as sport, music, and so forth.

Many studies of educational psychology appear to suggest working with the peers can enhance children's learning outcomes compared to listening to the teacher unilaterally in the class. Indeed collaborating with peers could offer more active interactions as opposed to listening to the teachers unilaterally. Consequently, collaborating with the peers can encourage children's learning motivations and assist them to learn better. In fact, a significant difference between working with friends and working alone on scientific tasks has been identified by several researchers. Firstly, in Azmitia and Montgomery's (1993) study revealed that collaborating with friends facilitates children engaging in a more transactive discussion than collaborating with acquaintances, primarily in difficult task. It also suggests that interacting with friends could provide a better chance to promote children's cognitive development than collaborating with acquaintances. Based on the research findings, having friends in school can stimulate children's learning outcomes effectively by collaborating with friends. Another potential advantage of collaborating with friends was found in Newcomb and Bagwell`s (1995) study with children in exploring a creative box. In Newcomb and Bagwell`s (1995) study, children who worked with friends generated more positive emotional exchange and after the exploring task, they could remember the details better compared to those who worked with acquaintance. In conclusion, social interaction between friends is differentiated from social interaction between non-friends and it could facilitate children's development under the situations as discussed above.

Yet, while most of the learning activities are based on collaboration between peers in Western societies, the learning activities still remain teacher-centered style in Taiwanese society. In other words, in most of the cases, teachers instruct learning activities by lecturing. Therefore, in terms of the teaching style in Taiwan, children may be more deprived to have chances to promote their cognitive development by interacting with their friends.

From the growing body of literature on the relation between friendship and school performance or social adjustment, it seems clear that friendship indeed causes direct or indirect effect on children's social development. Several studies have also suggested the benefit of having positive friendships. As Zettergren (2003, p. 208) concludes, a positive peer relationship in childhood seems to be a predictor of good adjustment. Compared to those rejected children, "the popular children also showed higher levels of cognitive abilities", academic or intellectual abilities (Zettergren, 2003, p208). In sum, students who are doing well academically may be more competent at establishing mutual, supportive relationships and the unique association between academic competence and friendship is likely reciprocal (Erath et al, 2008). In other words, a positive and supportive friendship is helpful to promote academic competence and allow children to allocate their attention to learning activities (Erath et al, 2008).

Children of new migrants' peer relationship in Taiwan

As discussed, peer relationship is critical to influence children's academic performance and cognitive development. Nonetheless a number of studies have been done to examine the reciprocal relationship between friendship and school performance or later social adjustment. It must be noted that before investigating the reciprocal relationship between friendship and school performance or later social adjustment, we should first explore whether children of new migrants struggle in peer relationship due to their language proficiency. In Taiwan, much of the research was conducted with respect to the academic performance and its relation to language or disadvantaged socioeconomic family background among children of new migrants. Less attention has been paid on the tri-relationship among language proficiency, peer interaction and school performance in the Taiwanese academic field.

For instance, The Ministry of Education (MOE, 2005) launched a wide scale research program in the year of 2005 attempting to gain an overview on school life of children from new migrant families. With respect to the social interaction with the peers, the survey indicates that "15 percent of children from new migrant families have poor interaction with peers" (MOE, 2005). Moreover language proficiency of children from new migrant families appears to develop late compared to native children. According to the statistics from Taiwanese Ministry of Education (2005), "24% of the children from new migrants have a problem with language tardiness, particularly when their mothers are at an inadequate level of Mandarin." To conclude the figures, children of new migrants develop their ability to communicate in Mandarin with much less success than their native counterparts. Nevertheless, the statistics fail to illuminate the reasons why children of new migrants perform less successfully in school. Naturally, a number of recent studies have shown a great interest in the relation between language proficiency and school performance and in fact, more than one study has revealed children of new migrants are less successful in school work compared to the children from native families (Chung & Chao, 2009).

On the other hand, other research argues the children of new migrants are not bound to fail in school (Chung & Chao, 2009). They may be left behind compared to the children of native citizens in the first few years but they are able to later catch up with their peers as language proficiency develops. Indeed language proficiency affects children of new migrants' academic performance. Besides this, we should identify if language proficiency deters children from forming positive peer relationships and also if it exacerbates academic performance. However, as discussed in this chapter, peer relationship is an important indicator for a child's social and academic development. Early peer rejection seems to predict later failure of social adjustment and friendship patterns can affect children's school attitudes and academic performance. Despite the lack of abundant research regarding peer interaction and language proficiency among children of new migrants in Taiwan, it is still useful to refer to the related research of friendship patterns conducted in Western societies while examining peer interaction among children of new migrants in Taiwan.