Scott Gest

Professor; Chair, Department of Human Services

My research focuses on the developmental processes linking children’s school-based peer experiences with their academic competence and problem behaviors. I am especially interested in how teaching practices and intervention efforts may promote positive peer experiences and better school adjustment. This work is centered on children in the elementary grades, but I am involved in research that extends from pre-Kindergarten through high school. I draw upon theories from developmental, educational and social psychology and methods from social network analysis to explore these issues in both non-intervention and intervention studies.

In the Classroom Peer Ecologies Project, we are studying teaching practices, peer social networks and student adjustment in a sample of 3,500 youth attending 207 1st, 3rd and 5th grade classrooms. One goal of this project is to identify features of classroom peer networks (e.g., status hierarchies, behavioral norms) that are related to academic and behavioral adjustment (e.g., achievement-related beliefs, perceptions of school, peer victimization). Another goal is to identify ways in which teachers may influence peer network processes through generally supportive interactions with students and through specific practices such as seating arrangements and direct attempts to manage students’ peer relationships. Results from this project will inform our efforts to develop of a professional development program for teachers that will support their use of more effective strategies for managing classroom social dynamics. (Funding from the William T. Grant Foundation and Spencer Foundations, 2008-2010; and Institute of Educational Sciences, 2010-2014.)

Since 2003, I have been a collaborating investigator on the Head Start REDI project. The first phase of this project implemented a randomized control trial examining the impact of a pre-kindergarten classroom intervention designed to enhance children's school readiness by promoting both language-literacy and social-emotional competence. A second randomized trial tested whether the addition of a home-visiting component to the REDI classroom program enhanced intervention effects. Children in both intervention trials are now being followed through the elementary and secondary school years to identify long-term program impact and clarify mediating processes. (PI, Karen Bierman; Funding from National Institute of Child Health and Development)

Since 2006 I have also been a collaborating investigator on the PROSPER Peers project, which examines the role of friendship networks in the emergence of substance use and problem behavior across Grades 6-9, and the impact of school-based intervention programs on those processes (PI, Wayne Osgood. Funding from William T. Grant Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse).