How to observe adolescents in a classroom

How to observe adolescents in a classroom

Posted by Annelies Querner-Verkerk on Wed 23 Jan. 2013 - 2 minute read

In puberty, both boys and girls have to make choices about what to do, what to wear, how to act, who to date, etcetera, etcetera.

The really important stuff, you know.

In those years (12-18) things are changing, nobody can deny that. A big thing in adolescence is school. In many countries around the world, adolescents go to school at least until they are 16 years of age. Therefore, many researchers focus on classroom interaction.

A lot goes on in and around the school and many decisions are made in groups.

Group research

Group pressure is something that is all around us, but during puberty teenagers find it difficult to ignore the influence of their peers when making decisions. To study these group interactions in schools, researchers place cameras in classrooms to record interactions on video. They code behaviors on handheld devices, interview teachers, and conduct student surveys. Observing a general school population allows psychologists to gain insight into specific group dynamics and the effectiveness of age-based intervention programs.  

Behavioral Role Play

Behavioral Role Play is one method researchers use to look into thought processes and behaviors.

This method is often used to teach certain skills, such as negotiation and delay, and to evaluate responses.

Researchers also use it to evaluate intervention programs. Recently, Wolfe et al. 2012 evaluated a classroom-based healthy relationship program that discussed skills for navigating challenging peer and dating scenarios. Wolfe et al. used Behavioral Role Play to evaluate the effectiveness of the skills taught in the intervention program.

To capture all responses, they recorded the interactions on video and coded the videos in detail afterwards using The Observer XT. In order to assemble information about the interactions, Wolfe et al. developed a coding scheme of the following behaviors: delay, refusal, negotiation, yielding, and compliance.

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Managing interactions

This observational procedure provided the researchers with information about the strategies adolescents used when managing the interactions.

One of the conclusions drawn was that adolescents who utilized the skills they learned in the program showed more negotiation and delay skills compared to adolescents who did not participate in the program. After two years of collecting data, the results of an evaluation study showed that girls learned these strategies more effectively than boys and were able to more easily integrate them into their everyday interactions. 

Here you see that not only classroom interaction processes, but also group behaviors are difficult to study and intervention programs might suit girls of that age (14/15) better than boys of that age. It is really important to observe what happens and keep track of the adolescents to determine if an intervention program is successful or not.


Wolfe, D.A.; Crooks, C.V.; Chiodo, D.; Hughes, R.; Ellis, W. (2012). Observations of adolescent peer resistance skills following a classroom-based healthy relationship program: a post-intervention comparison. Prevention Science, 13, 196-205.

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How to observe adolescents in a classroom

In puberty, both boys and girls have to make choices about what to do, what to wear, how to act, who to date, etcetera, etcetera.