Stephen W. Smith, Ph.D.

Stephen W. Smith, Ph.D.

Professor of Special Education

College of Education

2007 Awardee

Special education Professor Stephen Smith seeks to improve education through research into ways to reduce student aggression and chronic classroom disruption, primarily through student-centered approaches.

One of Smith’s studies found that classroom harmony improves when all youngsters, not just well-known troublemakers, are taught how to control their outbursts.

“Kids who are chronically disruptive or aggressive in the classroom take up a lot of teacher time,” Smith says. “That’s time the teacher doesn’t have to give to all the kids in the room who are behaving and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

In one project, Smith and several colleagues designed a 20-lesson anger management curriculum and tested it on fourth and fifth graders in six elementary schools in Alachua and Bradford counties. The researchers found the lessons lead to improvements in all kids, according to an article in the Journal of Social Psychology.

Smith and his colleagues say that the simple fact that anger management is given the status of a classroom subject for all students makes a strong impression on children.

“When all kids get the instruction, there is a realization throughout the classroom that it’s important,” Smith says.

The lessons are a preventative measure aimed at helping children develop the mind-set to avoid trouble. The program encourages students to generate a variety of solutions instead of impulsively lashing out, he says.

The goal is to develop a mental plan – a step-by-step procedure that eventually becomes automatic – that allows children to come up with appropriate responses to whatever situation they face, he says.

“The laymen’s way of thinking of it is problem solving,” he says. “Most adults probably go through it on a daily basis over and over throughout their day as they encounter certain situations.”

If they have never learned how to do this through modeling or explicit instruction, however, children may automatically resort to impulsive or aggressive actions, he says.