The role violence plays in an urban fourth grade classroom

Grace Lucia Sussman, University of Pennsylvania


As an urban fourth grade teacher in a particularly impoverished area of the city, violence is a constant partner in my classroom. What does violence mean to my students? How do they understand it? What motivates it? This study was my attempt to find the answers to those questions. Data were collected through observations of and interviews with both individual students and groups of students in and out of class. In addition, student reflection journals were collected and analyzed along with my field notes as participant observer. The data collection centered on six questions: What actions are defined as violent by my students? Are words defined as potential acts of violence by my students? Do the students have a repertoire of affirming and positive expressions that help establish satisfying human relationships? Do the students have the ability to share positive criticism? Do the students touch each other positively at times? And, are the students aware of the consequences of their actions? The data revealed that the students have a clear notion of what words and actions are violent. Also, it is frequently hard for them to offer prosocial verbal expressions or to hear positive criticisms. Yet, they stroke each other lovingly on occasion. Not surprisingly they are unable to predict the consequences of their actions. The literature review grounded these findings in broader social influences to explain the violence in the classroom. The inner-city school, reflecting these influences, is deficient in meeting the academic, social, emotional and physical needs of the students. From these deficiencies, a void is created in the students' lives and they are disengaged from the school. Finding no affirmation from academic achievement, they find it on the street. It is the ways of the street that provide them the measure of personhood, the source of respect and the solace of justice. The ways of the street end up in the classroom.

Subject Area

Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Sussman, Grace Lucia, "The role violence plays in an urban fourth grade classroom" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3052943.