3.2.1 Systematic Social Observational Tools

Methods for systematically observing features of social spaces have been used to study a variety of settings, ranging from neighborhoods (Sampson and Raudenbush 1999) to preschoolers’ interactions (Torrens and Griffin 2013). Several teams of researchers in lab schools at Arizona State University developed observation protocols in classrooms of preschool-aged children that included systematic scanning procedures for sampling students and their interactions. Once a child was sampled by the scan procedures, trained research assistants recorded a battery of details about each child’s current behaviors. In addition to their own characteristics, these observations also included information about the other children they were interacting with (who and how) in the sampled moments (see illustration in Appendix C). These sampling scans repeated on regular, short-timeframe intervals (e.g., 15 to 30 seconds).

These sorts of interaction data have been used to assess the structure of playgroups as they evolved throughout the school year. For example, in one such study they found that even at such a young age, children’s peer interactions followed patterns commonly observed in the social network literature, such as reciprocity and preferential attachment. Surprisingly, children’s networks also exhibited triadic closure, an effect that increased in magnitude across the school year (Schaefer et al. 2010).