Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, VoL 6, No. 1, 1978, pp. 47-59

Formal and Informal Classroom Settings: Effects on Hyperactivity 1 Rolf G. Jacob Stanford University K. Daniel O ' L e a r y 2

State University of New York at Stony Brook Carl Rosenblad William Floyd Elementary School, Shirley, New York

The behavior o f hyperactive children was compared to controls in two different classroom settings. One setting (Informal) involved choice and variety o f tasks; the other setting (Formal) involved teacher specification o f a small number o f tasks. As assessed by a composite observational measure o f hyperactivity, there were significant differences between the hyperactive and control groups in the Formal but not in the Informal setting. Analyses o f five individual categories o f hyperactive behavior showed that, with one exception, the hyperactive group tended to display higher frequencies o f behavior than did controls in both settings. For two of the categories, the difference between the groups was significantly larger in the Formal than in the Informal setting. Finally, a modified observational code was suggested that differentiated hyperactives from controls equally in the two settings.

Manuscript received in final form May 13, 1977. 1This research was supported by Office of Education Grant OEG-2-71-0017 and Biomedical Sciences Grant 5SO5RR0706708. Dr. Jacob was supported by the Anders Otto Sv~/rd Fund and the Sixten Gemzdus Fund. The opinions herein, however, do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of any of these granting agencies. The authors express their appreciation to Noreen Pelham for conducting the experimental classes, to Gloria Price for her psychological evaluation of the hyperactive children, and to Ronald Kent, Helena Kraemer, Richard Laude, Susan O'Leary, and Jerome Yesavage for their advice during preparation of this manuscript. 2Address all correspondence to Dr. K. D. O'Leary, Psychology Department, SUNY, Stony Brook, New York 11794. 47 0091.0627/78/0300-0047

$05.00 9 1978 Plenum Publishing Corporation


Jacob, O'Leaxy, and Rosenblad

Motor restlessness, short attention span, and academic deficiencies are among the characteristics of children with the hyperkinetic behavior syndrome (Laufer & Denhoff, 1957). In the United States, hyperkinesis is diagnosed quite frequently and is probably the most common indication for psychopharmacological treatment in school children. A commonly stated prevalence is 5% (e.g., Sroufe & Stewart, 1973), but even higher rates have been reported. For example, 10% of second grade school children in rural Vermont were reported to be hyperkinetic (Huessy, 1967). In contrast, advocates of the "open classroom" educational approach claim that hyperactivity is rarelyseen in this more informal setting (Silberman, 1970). Though differences in defining or mei~suring hyperactivity might play a role, these varying prevalence rates could imply that the occurrence of hyperactive behavior is determined by situational factors. However, the evidence pertaining to the question of environmental determinants of hyperactivity is sparse, conflicting, and only indirect. In one series of studies it was found, for example, that methylphenidate (an amphetaminelike stimulant) decreased seat movements of hyperactive children engaged in a formal memory test. However, when a subsample of these children was observed in an informal playroom, no effect of medication was found on nine categories of hyperactive behavior (Sprague & Sleator, 1973; Ellis, Witt, Reynolds, & Sprague, 1974). On the other hand, in another playroom study it was found that certain measures of activity decreased during dextroamphetamine treatment (Rapoport, Abramson, Alexander, & Lott, 1971). The present study compared behaviors of nonmedicated hyperactive children with controls in a formal and informal classroom setting. In the Formal setting, children were required to remain in their seats, do assigned work, or listen to presentations. In the Informal setting, the children could choose between various tasks, largely consisting of educational games, which often required cooperation with other children. The frequencies of behaviors classified as characteristic of hyperkinesis were the dependent variables. Because of the nature of the tasks, one of the six behaviors recorded, change of position, was expected to occur more frequently for both groups in the informal setting. In addition, it was hypothesized that hyperactive children would have higher hyperactivity scores than would controls, and that the difference between the groups would be greater in the Formal setting than in the Informal setting.


Subjects The subjects were 8 hyperactive and 16 nonhyperactive children, attending an elementary school serving a population of 614 students. The hyperactive group was selected, according to principles described below, from 27 children,

Hyperactivity and Classroom Settings


who had been referred by their teachers for treatment of hyperactivity. The treatment was offered by a research team of which the two senior authors were members and was scheduled to take place after completion of the present study (Jacob, O'Leary, & Price, Note 1). To confirm the diagnosis of hyperactivity, the referrals were discussed with the referring teachers, the school principal, and the school psychologist. In addition, the children were observed in their regular classrooms according to an observational code of disruptive behavior (O'Leary, Kaufman, Kass, & Drabman, 1970). On the basis of the interviews and observations, 7 of the 27 children referred for hyperkinesis were excluded because a diagnosis of hyperkinesis could not be confirmed. Three more children were excluded because of an acute family problem, a recent onset Of medical disorder, and an attendance problem, respectively. Finally, 2 children had to be excluded because they were on stimulant medication. In selecting subjects for the study from the remaining 15 hyperkinetic children, preference was given to those who had the highest ratings by their teachers on the Conners Teacher Rating Scale (Conners, 1969). All 8 hyperkinetic children in the final sample had scores of more than 1.5 on the Conners hyperactivity factor (Mean: 2.70) and more than 1.5 on the Conners Abbreviated Scale (Mean: 2.33). These scores were in the hyperactive range compared to normative data (Werry, Sprague, & Cohen, 1975). On classroom observations, these children had scores of disruptive behavior of at least 85% (a score of 100% would mean that on the average one disruptive behavior occurred in each interval of 20 Seconds). The hyperactive children included in the study were seven boys and one girl, 9 to 10 years old. Seven subjects attended fourth grade, and one attended third grade. In parent interviews, five of the children were seen as hyperactive in their home settings, one as primarily disobedient and acting-out, one as questionably hyperactive, and one as not hyperactive. The children were given a battery of tests including the WISC, the Beery Developmental Test of VisualMotor Integration (Beery, 1967), and a neurological examination according to a manual used by Conners and co-workers (Conners, Note 2). The average IQ of seven of the children oil the WISC was 103 (Range: 91-115). The remaining child's IQ was 102 according to the Lorge Thorndike. On the Beery Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration, three children scored well below age level; the others scored according to their norms. On neurological examination, the median number of "soft signs" was six per child (range: 1-10). The abnormalities most commonly found were impaired fine motor coordination (six cases), deviant plantar responses (six cases), impaired balance (five cases), dysdiadochokinesia (five cases), and impaired 2-point discrimination or graphesthesia (four cases). The two children who had been judged as not hyperactive or questionably hyperactive at home had the highest number of soft neurological signs. Referrals of the nonhyperactive children were generated by contacting the teachers and asking for children who were not judged to be hyperactive but


Jacob, O'Leary, and Rosenblad

whose performance in mathematics was such that they might benefit from a remedial math class. Sixteen nonhyperactive children participated in the study; however, only 8 were observed. These 8 children, constituting the control group, were randomly selected from the 16 with the restriction that they were matched with the hyperactive children for sex. The control group consisted of 7 boys and 1 girl, aged 9-10 years, with an average IQ of 96. A certified teacher was hired for the study on a consultant basis. She had no prior knowledge & t h e children and did not know to which group a particular child belonged. She Was instructed to try not to pay an inordinate amount of attention to any particular child but rather to distribute her interactions equally over all students.

Experimental Classes There were two experimental remedial math classes, each consisting of four hyperactive children, four control children, and four nonobserved children. The two classes were taught by the same teacher and scheduled for consecutive morning sessions. The classes lasted for 65 minutes, consisting of 30 minutes each of Formal and Informal setting, separated by a 5-minute break. The order of the Formal and Informal conditions within each class was randomized with the limitation that each began on an equivalent number of days. The two conditions took place in different parts of the same classroom. Twelve class sessions were held. The first 2 were used for adaptation of the children and observers, leaving 10 sessions for data analysis. The activities in the Informal setting were the following: Flash Cards, Math Quizmo, Dice Game, Concentration, Dot Game, Taping Word Problems, and a variety of dittos with crossword puzzles or riddles, treasure maps, measurement instructions, or computational math problems. In general, each day the children had a choice of Flash Cards, Quizmo, dittos, and one or two of the other activities, giving them a choice among four or five alternatives. The teacher occasionally prompted the children to choose a task or instructed them regarding the tasks, but otherwise she did not interfere with the activities of the children. Activities in the Formal setting consisted primarily of solving mathematical problems on dittoed sheets or listening to the teacher present a lesson. The activities in the two conditions were selected to resemble classrooms characterized as "open" versus classrooms in which the teacher directs the lesson in a more traditional fashion.

Dependent Variables The primary dependent measure was the frequency of hyperactive behavior according to the Hyperactive Behavior Code. The code was developed to obtain

Resistance to obey teacher's command.

Movement of at least two steps from original location. Change in body attitude or posture (sitting, lying, standing). Idling, noninvolvement with task.

3. Refusal

4. Change of position

6. Weird sounds

Audible vocal sound that is not language communication. Vocalization loud enough to be heard through a wall.

Physical attack, or intense movement directed at others. Verbal attack or hostility.

2. Aggression

5. Daydreaming

Attempts to initiate interaction with teacher,


1. Solicitation


Singing, whistling, crying, or screaming. Imitating animals, Tarzan, Indians, etc. Demonstrative coughing, sneezing, or clearing of throat. Monotonous repetition of a sentence or word.

Not engaging in task at all during interval. Looking out through window or at objects not related to task. Talking to neighbor if not r e n t e d to task.

Noncompliance. Partial compliance. Arguing, even if the child later complies. Walking, leaving seat, sitting down, lying down, standing up.

Raising hand, calling teacher, walking up to teacher, or unsolicited physical contact with teacher. Hitting, name-calling, cursing.


Table I. The Hyperactive Behavior Code

Engaging in task for only part of interval. Not attending to task while engaging in other categories of hyperactive behavior. Intelligible verbalizations, unless repetitious, screamed, or sung. Coughing, sneezing, clearing of throat when the child has a cold (i.e., when not "operant" behavior).

Turning in seat, turning head.

Intense movements toward self or objects without inferred intent to hurt others. Obeying command without arguing.

Raising hand in response to teacher's question.





Jacob, O'Leaxy, and Rosenblad

a quantitative measure of behaviors deemed characteristic of hyperactive ~hildren. The six categories of hyperactive behavior included in the code are listed in Table I. The categories Solicitation, Aggression, and Refusal of Teacher Attention were chosen because they were thought to reflect the low frustration tolerance characteristic of hyperactive children. Change of Position was thought to reflect motor restlessness and Daydreaming to express short attention span. Finally, the Weird Sounds category was included because this behavior' seemed to occur frequently in previous observations by the authors of hyperactive children (none of which were included in the present study). The observations occurred on a 10-second-observe, 5-second-record basis. Within a given 10-second interval, each category was scored 1 or 0 depending on whether or not behaviors fulfilling the definitions occurred. The scores for each category within a 10second interval were summed with equal weight to yield a composite hyperactivity score. Within each condition in a given session, each child was observed during three 2-minute segments that were 8 minutes apart, rendering a total of 4 minutes of observation time and 2 minutes of recording time for each child in each condition per class session. Thus, each child was observed a total of 40 minutes in each condition for the whole experiment. To determine reliability, each day one or two children were observed simultaneously by two observers in each class session. The observers were undergraduate students who received research credits for their participation in the study. Following completion of the study, on the last day of experimental classes, the teacher made one rating of each of the children on the Conners Teacher Rating Scale (Conners, 1969). 3 The ratings were scored according to Werry, Sprague and Cohen (1975) and Sprague and Sleator (1973), yielding scores of factor I (Conduct Problem), factor II (Inattention), factor III (Anxiety), factor IV (Hyperactivity), and for the Abbreviated Scale. Finally, the teacher rank-ordered the children according to her global impression of the child's hyperactivity.


Reliability of Observational Units As determined by Cohen's kappa (Cohen, 1960), the reliability of all the behavioral 10-second units, pooled over categories, groups and settings, was .86. 3This rating was not the one used for the selection of the hyperactive children for the study. The latter had been completed by the child's regular classroom teacher.

Hyperactivity and Classroom Settings


For specific categories,. Cohen's kappa reliability was .60 for Solicitation, .87 for Aggression, 1.00 for Refusal, .94 for Change of Position, .93 for Daydreaming, and .66 for Weird Sounds. For observational units in the Formal setting, pooled reliability was .87 (.71 for Solicitation, .00 for Aggression, 1.00 for Change of Position, .96 for Daydreaming, and .65 for Weird Sounds). The zero reliability in Aggression resulted from one observer recording aggression once and the other observer not recording any instance of aggression. Pooled reliability for observational units in the Informal setting was .86 (.43 for Solicitation, .91 for Aggression, 1.00 for Refusal, .92 for Change of Position, .81 for Daydreaming, and .66 for Weird Sounds). Reliabilities of observations of hyperactive versus control children were both .86.

Group and Condition Differences Composite Hyperactivity Scores. Group means of hyperactivity level were calculated for each condition by averaging the mean hyperactivity levels of the members of the respective group. In the Formal setting, the level of hyperactive behaviors per minute was 1.65 -+ .69 (Mean + 1 SD) for the hyperactive group and .69 -+ .35 for the control group. The corresponding scores for the Informal condition were 1.92 + .49 and 1.57 -+ .44 hyperactive behaviors per minute for the hyperactive and control group, respectively. A 2 • 2 (Group • Condition) repeated measures analysis of variance (Keppel, 1973) showed a significant Group effect (F = 9.52; df = 1, 14; p < .01)~ a significant Condition effect (/7 = 16.70; df = 1, 14; p < .005) and a significant Group by Condition interaction ,,,

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Formal and informal classroom settings: effects on hyperactivity.

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, VoL 6, No. 1, 1978, pp. 47-59 Formal and Informal Classroom Settings: Effects on Hyperactivity 1 Rolf G. Jacob...
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