As a newly qualified teacher, research has been key in helping me to develop my practice. I have found that research can be particularly useful when trying to resolve issues that arise in the classroom.
For example, as we progressed towards October half-term, I found that behaviour in my classes started to slip. Students would enter the classroom in drips and drabs and were slow to settle. Often, a quarter of the lesson would go by and only the register had been completed. I was giving out over 10 warnings every lesson, and adding time to each lesson for all students. It was clear that my students were not motivated and I was concerned that the students were not progressing as they should.
Although I had asked for advice from members of staff at the school, the various strategies that I had tried were not effective in the long-term. At this point, I decided to turn to research to help me. As teachers, we often focus on the behavioural problems in front of us, not the cause. I needed to find a way to improve behaviour, by tackling the motivational issues that were causing them in the first place.
Research showed me that too often, there is a focus on what not to do in class, as opposed to what to do (Becker, Madsen, Arnold and Thomas, 1967). This is reinforced by more recent evidence, showing that when we punish a person for behaving badly, we leave it up to them to discover how to behave well (Maag, 2001). According to Kaplan, Gheen and Midgley (2002), emphasising mastery goals in class reduces the likelihood of students disrupting lessons. Positive reinforcement can be used to manage classes and enhance skill performance (McLeod, 2015). Students take rules and responsibilities more seriously when there is a common approach, from which they benefit.
I introduced a reward based system called Class Dojo with my groups. Students can be awarded for positive actions, but points can also be deducted for negative behaviour. I believed that this system would have three main outcomes. Firstly, I hoped it would motivate students. The incentive of parental contact for students with the most points led to healthy competition within my classes. As well as this, my expectations would be reinforced every lesson, as Kaplan et al. (2002) had suggested. Each time a point was given out, students would know what it had been given for and why. Finally, I wanted there to be an attention on positive behaviours, as opposed to negative.
Very quickly I found that this system was having a positive impact on my lessons. The number of warnings that I gave out each lesson was reduced, as was the number of detentions. I rarely added minutes to the end of the lesson. Students were more enthusiastic and willing to contribute their ideas. In terms of data, most students reached or exceeded their end of year targets. This demonstrates that the use of a rewards based system can be a success. I ran a survey to see what impact using Class Dojo had on my students. It was clear that they valued receiving positive points, and felt more motivated in class based on its use.
To conclude, this is an example of how research can be used effectively in the classroom to resolve a problem. By researching an issue and trialling different strategies, teachers can become reflective practitioners that use evidence-informed ideas to develop their classroom practice. Teachers need to constantly evolve to meet their pupils needs, and research is fundamental in achieving this.
Becker, W.C., Madsen, C.H., Arnold, C.R. and Thomas, D.R. (1967) The Contingent Use of Teacher Attention and Praise in Reducing Classroom Behaviour Problems. The Journal of Special Education 1(3): pp 287-307.
Kaplan, A., Gheen, M. and Midgley, C. (2002) Classroom goals structure and student disruptive behaviour. British Journal of Educational Psychology 72(2): pp 191-211.
Maag, J.W. (2001) Rewarded by Punishment: Reflections on the Disuse of Positive Reinforcement in Schools. Exceptional Children 67(2): pp 173-186.
McLeod, S. (2015) Skinner – Operant Conditioning [online]. Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html