TouchPaper Problem #6 – Teacher Perceptions of Behaviour

This is the sixth blogpost expanding on the TouchPaper Problems first discussed at #Researched2013 and due to be tackled at the first TouchPaper Problem Party.

Question #6 – What rule best predicts teacher ‘behaviour’ ratings of pupils?

Teachers are often asked to describe student behaviour: to their parents, on report cards, even to students themselves. But is it the child’s behaviour only that determines how teachers rate the pupil or are there other factors at play?

There are two ways that it might be possible other factors matter:

1. Something about a teacher means they perceive student behaviours in different ways. For example, perhaps I hold a belief that it isn’t “ladylike” for girls to be loud. If I teach a female student with a particularly booming voice, might I therefore (however subconsciously) give her a lower behavior rating than a female student of similar behaviour patterns but with a quieter voice? (And is that because her behaviour is actually worse?)

2. Could it be that something about a teacher means the students actually behave differently? Sticking with the volume example, is a teacher with a naturally booming voice more likely to have a loud class, who they then perceive as chatty, and so mark down for behaviour?

Clearly, these factors will be different for different people. This is why the problem ask what best predicts the rating. We’re not saying that knowing something about a person will always tell you how they will perceive behaviour, but what is it about us that gets us closer to the answer.

Other thoughts that come to mind for me are:

– Does a teacher’s level of optimism matter? Do more optimistic people rate students more highly? Are students better behaved for more optimistic teachers?

– Does a teacher’s own experience of education matter? If they were taught in chattery classrooms and nevertheless did well, perhaps they don’t mark down chattery students. If, on the other hand, the chatterboxes of their youth are the ones they think destroyed their chances, do they then take this as an opportunity to “right the wrong” and mark such students down?

At this point, I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to having people think about how we might figure this out, and what sort of information we would need to do so.

7 thoughts on “TouchPaper Problem #6 – Teacher Perceptions of Behaviour

  1. I love this one. It’s deliciously controversial, intricately psychological and demanding of a huge amount of reflexivity and humility even to begin discussing. Not sure how much research the team doing it will find…

    From my own experience, I think the optimism aspect may make me rate students more highly – according to their best performance/what they are capable of…

    I think the idea you’re working towards here – of closely examining teachers’ beliefs, pre-conceptions and prejudices, is critical. You’ve suggested gender-based assumptions – which I’m sure is correct; I suspect racism (of the institutional/dysconcious variety) is equally important. Incendiary as it is, I find the arguments of David Gillborn too compellingly well-argued and evidence to overcome – in short, teachers’ assumptions about different ethnic groups (and expectations of them) are a huge factor in how they perceive, support and rate students.

    1. I could be wrong but I think youll find tons of research on this. Maybe not quite specific to the question but I have a hunch that the things that influence teacher perceptions of pupils have been researched extensively, a lot of this will be about academic expectations, career expectations, gender, socio-economic group, and ethnicity bias, but I should think a fair bit relates to behaviour. Actually this raises a much bigger issue in relation to ResearchEd2013, these Touchpaper Questions, and academic educational research. There is no doubt in my mind that the relationship between educational research and CPD for teachers is not working well. Part of the problem is to do with ‘ivory towers’ and researchers getting caught up in their own academic worlds and producing research that isn’t of interest to teachers; part of the problem is that teachers don’t have great mechanisms for accessing the research; part of the problem is patchy quality of research; part of the problem is abuse of research to sell initiatives. All this ground was covered at ResearchEd 2013, in the blogosphere, in some recent books, etc. Its understandable that some teachers and other educational professionals – those with the extraordinary motivation required to do so on top of the demands of teaching – are starting to grab the bull by the horns. But although the research needs some filtering, we are not starting from scratch here. To get through all the really high quality educational research out there would take several careers (just look at the scale of Hattie’s endeavour, and remember that only deals with meta-analyses). For academics, getting to know the literature really well is part of the job and is timetabled in; even then it takes years focusing on a specialist area. Getting these people to contribute to discussions around these Touchpaper Questions – getting these people engaged with what teachers actually want to know – might well be the best thing that could come out of the whole idea, and would make a massive difference to the final value of whatever conclusions are reached.

  2. Comments about behaviour are nearly always subjective. It is all about the intricate and often subconscious judgements that are made in a classroom. If we shifted this to learning behaviours and associated vocabulary it may become more helpful. I don’t know how helpful report comments are in developing good learning behaviour. Think mostly they are used in wedding speeches and obituaries.

  3. Hi Laura – I enjoyed this one.
    You are right to suggest that views about behaviour are quite often subjective. I know there have been days when I’ve been up beat & the disruptive behaviour has not seemed so bad. Or perhaps I approach solving it in a more positive way. On other days, my tolerance level is very low. This must be very confusing to the youngsters being dealt with. When we are dealing with human relationships and interaction, consistency can be very difficult to achieve.

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