Healthy Relationships
Violence Prevention Curriculum

by Dr. Wendy Josephson and Dr. Jocelyn Proulx
The Manitoba Research Centre on Family Violence and Violence Against Women
The University of Winnipeg
Winnipeg, Manitoba
June, 1997

The first research question was how well students had learned the content of the "Healthy Relationships" curriculum. For the most part, content questions were specific to the content taught at each level, but there was a subset of questions that we asked at every grade level. All were from the London Family Court Clinic Questionnaire. Three of these were questions of factual knowledge that we believed should be gained from the curriculum in all three grades: Did students learn that intimidation and swearing at another person were abuse, did they know that women were not responsible for the abuse they suffered, and did they know that a violent fight did not "clear the air", and was likely to happen again? There was a big effect of grade on this set of items. On average, grade 8 and 9 students were right on 2.7 and 2.6 items out of 3, respectively, even on the pretest and maintained this high performance on the post test, regardless of whether they were in the intervention group or the control group. Grade 7 students started out with only 1.0 right, on average, and those in the intervention group improved significantly at the post test, while those in the control group stayed the same. An examination of individual items indicated that performance for all 3 questions improved for the intervention group in grade 7, and remained virtually unchanged for the control group. There were greater improvements in recognizing that intimidation and swearing are abuse, and that women do not deserve to be abused, both of which were marginally significant with a McNemar test (p<.06 and p<.07, respectively). The third item did not approach significance with the McNemar test.

The other items that were used to test learning across all three grades were associated with a scenario from the London Family Court Clinic Questionnaire. The scenario is about two dating partners, Tony and Krista. Tony is verbally abusive to Krista, and tries to control what she wears when they go out. Students are asked whether Tony's behaviour will have serious effects on Krista, whether he is likely to continue to treat her this way, and whether she ought to try harder to please him. There were significant gender and grade effects on this set of variables, but no effects associated with the intervention. Grade 7 students were significantly less likely than grade 8 and 9 students to think that Tony's behaviour would continue, and would seriously affect Krista, and more likely to agree that Krista should try harder to please Tony.

We added a question to the original Tony and Krista items, to test students' communication skills. Students were asked to choose what would be the best response for Krista to make in this situation: assertively telling Tony how she feels when he behaves that way, aggressively telling him to stop being such a jerk, and passively complying with his demands. In all three grades, the most common response for both program and control group participants was to choose the assertive response on the pretest and to stay with it at time 2. However, there was a significant effect of the intervention (p.<01, with a McNemar test) and it was found among those who chose the aggressive response on the pretest. If they had received the "Healthy Relationships" program, 27% of the boys and 36% of the girls who chose the aggressive response on the pre-test went on to choose the assertive response on the post-test. Girls in the program group were as likely as boys to start out choosing the aggressive response, but were more likely than boys were to change. In the control group, not one of the participants went from an aggressive response to an assertive response. Very few people, control or program, ever selected the passive response.

In grades 7 and 8, we asked students whether Tony's behaviour in the scenario was any or all of physical abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. Almost all the grade 8 students correctly identified that Tony was emotionally abusing, but not physically or sexually abusing Krista in the scenario. Grade 7 students did much less well. Although 68% of them recognized emotional abuse when they heard about it, they quite frequently thought it was also physical and sexual abuse, as well. They did not make this distinction better in the post test than they did in the pretest, either, even if they had been in the intervention group.

To see if grade 7 students had learned to consider other emotions underlying anger and aggression, they were asked to indicate whether they thought Tony might be feeling 6 different emotions during the scenario. There was a significant difference between the experimental and control groups on the number of emotions that students thought Tony might be experiencing. Experimental group participants did endorse a larger number of emotions, and the number increased at the post test (3.2, increasing to 3.4, with the control group choosing 2.7 at the pretest and 2.5 at the post test) but the significant difference was in the overall difference, across time, rather than in the change from pretest to post test. Grade 7 students were also asked to match 4 emotion labels (anger, fear, disgust, and jealousy) to cartoon faces, as a test of how well they could recognize emotions from facial expressions. Fully 92% of the students (100% in the intervention group) could already identify all four of the facial emotions correctly in the pretest, leaving no room for improvement in their performance at time 2.

There were factual knowledge items that were included in the questionnaire for both grade 8 and grade 9 participants. These included one of the items from the London Family court Clinic Questionnaire ("When a man abuses a woman, he is trying to control her" - True or False) and 7 items about stereotypical expectations of male and female dating partners in relationships (e.g., girls prefer boys to make the first move, looks are the most important thing to a girl, etc.). There were no effects on the total score for these. An examination of individual items indicated that two of them (girls only respect boys who are tough, and a girl doesn't have to do everything her boyfriend wants her to do) had very high rates of correct response (80% and 93%, respectively, at the pretest). However, removing them and re-totaling the remaining items (which had correct answer rates of 53% to 72%) made no difference at all to the results.

There were some factual knowledge items in both grade 8 and grade 9 that were unique to their respective grades. For grade 8, one asked if TV programs show the world in a realistic way, and a second asked if boys and girls look for different qualities in a relationship. Neither of these questions differentiated between the program group and the control group. At both time 1 and time 2, more than 75% of both groups said "Sometimes". For grade 9, there were two questions about whether jealousy is a sign of love, and one about whether "no means no". There was a time effect, with the average score going up from 2.0 questions right to 2.6 between the pretest and the post test. This was unrelated to whether students had been in the "Healthy Relationships" program or not. Examination of the individual items revealed that most of the changes were on the jealousy items. On the pretest, 87% of the grade 9s agreed that "no means no", which again meant there was little room for improvement.


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