All entries for Wednesday 20 April 2005

April 20, 2005

Education essay

The brief: 1500 words. "Discuss the processes involved in classroom interaction".

If you spot any mistakes… I don't want to hear about them! I'm not coming back to it, it's been handed in, and this isn't going to be useful in my future life. That said, I've already spotted one incomplete reference. D'oh.

The Use of Classroom Interaction Characteristics as Indicators of Effectiveness

In a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment (now the DfES) and published in June 2000, management consultancy Hay/McBer claimed to have isolated three factors exhibiting a strong correlation with the measured ‘effectiveness’ of the teachers observed as part of the study. These were identified as ‘teaching skills’, ‘professional characteristics’ and ‘classroom climate’. The report now forms a central part of official policy and would be instigated in plans to introduce structured feedback as an aid to teachers. The validity of relying upon these factors will be considered here, with the analytical emphasis being placed upon the secondary school age group.

The premise of the DfEE report is that ‘all competent teachers know their subjects… and the ways [in which] pupils learn’ (Hay/McBer, 2000), but that differences in ‘value added’ (as measured by testing at the start and end of the one-year study period) result from variations between teachers in the way they apply themselves to their profession and the way they conduct their classes. The ‘teaching skills’ group were broken down by Hay/McBer into 35 separate ‘micro-behaviour’ categories: essentially a scored check-list of characteristics exhibited by the teacher in a typical lesson. The report summarises these characteristics as including ‘behaviours such as:

  • Involving all pupils in the lesson
  • Using differentiation appropriately to challenge all pupils in the class
  • Using a variety of activities or learning methods
  • Applying teaching methods appropriate to the National Curriculum objectives
  • Using a variety of questioning techniques to probe pupils’ knowledge and understanding.’
    (Hay/McBer, 2000).

The above definition is would seem to include that used by Muijs and Reynolds (Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice, 2001 – quoted by Brown et al, 2001) to define ‘interactive teaching’, namely ‘the right mix of higher and lower-level questions, the best way to react to right and wrong answers and the use of prompting.’ Brown et al suggested that this, in turn, was a close match with much of the modern literature on the subject, and hence is probably reliable.

The second factor highlighted by the DfEE report has been denoted ‘professional characteristics’. This comprises ‘professionalism’, ‘relating to others’, ‘analytical and conceptual thinking’, ‘leading’ and ‘planning and setting expectations’. Essentially these are management qualities, which suitably reflects the fact that a teaching job is much more than a classroom-only occupation. The qualities are expected to apply to colleagues and administration as well as to pupils and lessons.

As acknowledged by Hay/McBer (2000), ‘teaching skills’ and ‘professional characteristics’ stem directly from the personality of the teacher: as such, it could be considered that their utility as tools for improving existing teachers’ standard is limited. A teacher is unlikely to be able to radically alter his or her teaching style to reflect the effectiveness-judging criteria. Indeed, it could further be argued that the findings of the Hay/McBer report are in mild contradiction to those of the 1996 ORACLE follow-up study: Neill (2005a) suggests that this study shows teaching styles to be significantly more uniform than was the case in the 1976 study. As teaching styles have coalesced under the National Curriculum to the extent that they now lack significant differentiability (according to Neill again, who references Galton et al (1999)), it would seem difficult to rely too heavily on a system which delineates subjects by assigning a value of merit to one style of teaching over another.

It is asserted by Neill in a separate article (2005b) that the ability to convey information to a class of any age is, for the most part, contingent upon a teacher’s maintenance of both discipline and interest amongst the students. This assertion is encompassed in the 2000 Hay/McBer report by the label ‘classroom climate’. As an illustration of the document’s influence, this is the phrase which is now used on several different teacher resources web-pages owned by the Department for Education and Skills (2005).

To paraphrase the Hay/McBer report, ‘classroom climate’ comprises nine separate objectives, of which several are sufficiently similar in meaning to be grouped together for the purposes of this review.

  • Clarity regarding the lesson and its purposes within the subject and the academic year
  • Fairness, equal participatory opportunity and support for every pupil
  • Safety and comfort
  • Discipline, order and a set of behavioural and academic standards
  • Interest and stimulation
    (Hay/McBer, 2000)

Clarity, as defined above, can obviously be an important factor: it is easy to imagine a student becoming less motivated if faced with a number of lessons that seemingly have no direction to them. Fairness and support are important attributes for a teacher to display, for much the same reasons, and it seems reasonable to split ‘safety and comfort’ into factors under the control of the school (maintenance, security and suchlike) and those under the control of the teacher. This latter group would mainly refer to abilities such as the awareness to suppress bullying. This in turn is very close to the ‘discipline’ category, which seems significant enough to deserve further attention.

In order to maintain sufficient order over a class of twenty to thirty pupils, a teacher must be fully aware of every disruption within the group. With time they will acquire experience of the group dynamic and be able to predict likely conflict and misbehaviour, but the teacher must ensure that their initial interactions with the class are handled successfully. The attitudes of the class members towards the teacher are likely to be formed on the basis of the first few encounters: each child will make a judgement of what is likely be considered acceptable behaviour from these initial impressions (Neill, 2005b).

The teacher would be wise to differentiate between so-called ‘open’ and ‘closed’ challenges (Neill, 2005c quoting Macpherson (1983)): the former are likely to escalate and detract from a working atmosphere if left unchecked, whereas attempting to halt the latter (which may be, for example, a child whispering something to a friend) can sometimes disrupt the lesson further and create resentment on the part of the child. That said, however, methods of teacher control can be very subtle – among them slight gestures, changing of voice intonation and increasing teacher proximity (all mentioned by Neill in his 2004/5 IE102 Part B lecture course, among others).

Finally, ‘interest and stimulation’ are becoming more commonly heard of as issues that may improve the ‘added value’ experienced by a pupil. Examples of attempts to increase student interest include initiatives such as Showcase Science, set up by Dr Mo Afzal, a research fellow at the University of Warwick (Berliner, 2005), the creation of a new GCSE syllabus (Lee & Lucas, 2005) and the ‘streamlining’ of old ones (QCA, 2005). The DfES-owned web-page relating to classroom climate advises new teachers to make their classrooms ‘colourful and bright’ (Teachernet, 2005)

There are, however, reservations against the Hay/McBer method of evaluating effectiveness. The report (Hay/McBer 2000, p.8) claims to ‘predict well over 30% of the variance in pupil progress’ over the course of a year. However, a respected pair of authors, Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds, said of their separate model – published the same year: ‘Using multilevel modelling techniques it was found that teacher behaviours were able to explain between 60% and 100% of pupils' progress on the Numeracy tests.’ (Muijs & Reynolds, 2000). Finally, it is noted that the Hay/McBer model makes no reference to a number of key factors that other authors (such as Campbell et al, 2003) feel are significant – among them the curriculum subject being studied (as – especially at primary level – a teacher will normally take all of one class’s lessons, and will naturally have his or her own strengths and weaknesses) and pupil background factors.

Thus it is considered that, although a good initial model, and one against which actual student variance can be measured with a strong degree of positive correlation, the Hay/McBer report of 2000 is by no means undisputed. It uses indicators which, by necessity, are subjective and hence could be employed incorrectly. The use of these indicators is endorsed by other knowledgeable figures in the field, such as Muijs & Reynolds, but many of these experts suggest further measures should also be incorporated into the model. Despite this, the adoption of the report by the British Government in 2000 means that the Hay/McBer model is and will remain an important reference in its field for some time to come.

REFERENCES

BERLINER, W. (2005), ‘Bright Sparks’, p.10 , Education, The Guardian, 15/03/05
BROWN, M., ASKEW, M., RHODES, V., DENVIR, H., RANSON, E. & WILIAM, D. (2001), ‘Magic bullets or chimeras? Searching for factors characterising effective teachers and effective teaching in numeracy’, accessed 25/03/05, link.
CAMPBELL R. J., KYRIAKIDES L., MUIJS R. D., ROBINSON W. (2003), Abstract of Differential Teacher Effectiveness: towards a model for research and teacher appraisal, accessed 30/03/05, link
HAY/McBER (2000), Research Into Teacher Effectiveness, accessed 21/03/05, link
LEE, J. & LUCAS, L. (2005), Bring Out the ‘Wow’ Factor, p. 12, Times Educational Supplement, 18/03/05.
MUIJS, D. & REYNOLDS, D. (2000) Abstract of School Effectiveness and Teacher Effectiveness in Mathematics: Some Preliminary Findings from the Evaluation of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (Primary)
NEILL, S. (2005a), ORACLE, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
NEILL, S. (2005b), Classroom Interaction, lecture notes, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
NEILL, S. (2005c), The Meaning of Pupils’ Non-Verbal Signals, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
QCA (2005), QCA approve changes to OCR specifications in Latin and Classical Greek, dated 16/03/05, accessed 25/03/05, link.
TEACHERNET (2005), Creating A Good Classroom Climate, accessed 27/03/05, link


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