Students spend more time on academic tasks in classrooms where whole-class interaction is emphasized. These were the findings of researchers in Bristol, England.
The importance of the amount of time spent on academic tasks for learning has been well-researched, especially in the United States. Although results vary, there is a consistent, positive relationship between the amount of time on task and student achievement. Therefore, teaching methods which increase the amount of time on academic tasks facilitate learning.
This study by Croll and Moses revealed that the way teachers organize learning in their class affects the amount of time students are on task. The primary factor appears to be the amount of whole-class interaction.
This study was carried out in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms in 20 schools. On the average, teachers spent 87.5% of their class time interacting with children, either individually, in a group, or as a whole class. Of the three types of interactions, however, the study showed that the more time teachers spent in whole-class interaction, the more time was spent directly on curriculum.
This study found that the most common method of interaction was individual. On average, teachers spent 45% of their class time working individually with children. 26.6% of class time was spent, on average, interacting with the entire class. Interaction with groups was the least frequent form of interaction, just 15.9%. These averages, however, do not reflect the diversity of teaching practices among the teachers studied.
More time for learning
In classrooms where teachers spent less than 10% of the day in whole-class interaction, students worked directly on academic tasks 43.4% of the time. In classrooms where teachers spent 40% or more of the day in whole-class interaction, however, students worked on academic tasks 65.3% of the time.
Croll and Moses suggest that during whole- class interaction, students are monitored more effectively and, therefore, have less opportunity to be distracted. Teachers who use more whole class teaching spend less time on managerial and routine activities since these are accomplished more efficiently. It should be remembered that no one type of interaction was used to the exclusion of all others, nor is this recommended.
Surprisingly, even when students work independently, they attend better in those classrooms which have a higher percentage of whole-class interaction. Furthermore, teaching style affects how pupils approach their work. Students described as “intermittent workers” (those who tend to spend the least amount of time on task) were found five times more often in classrooms that emphasized individual monitoring. This would indicate that students appear to adapt their behavior to match the teaching style of different teachers.
Increased levels of concentration
Croll and Moses conclude that teachers who use more whole-class teaching have succeeded in raising children’s levels of concentration and involvement across a range of activities. They suggest, surprisingly, that whole-class teaching actually provides students with a greater amount of teacher contact, which encourages good independent-working skills.
The shorter and less frequent times devoted to individual work in those classrooms in which a lot of time is spent working together, may also lend itself to higher levels of concentration. A high frequency of individual instruction may actually be distracting to students and may require a teacher to spend more time establishing contact and repeating directions, rather than teaching curriculum.
More time spent on curriculum
Croll and Moses insist that the results of this study demonstrate the importance of a balance of the types of interaction. Use of one type only, they warn, will not necessarily lead to greater efficiency. Their findings show, nevertheless, that teachers who spend more time working with a class as a whole, are able to spend more time directly on curriculum.
Interestingly, although whole-class interaction is often viewed as a traditional and formal approach to education, such techniques as open-ended questioning, more commonly associated with progressive approaches to education, were found more often in whole-class interaction settings. They conclude that a substantial amount of whole-class interaction appears to have positive results for teachers and children.
Educational Research Volume 30, Number 2, pp. 90.
Published in Educational Research Newsletter November/December 1988 Volume 1 Number 1