Aggressive classroom management by teacher counterproductive, study says

Education activities in classroom,   teacher yelling at pupilDoes a teacher use aggressive behaviors such as yelling, sarcasm and punishment because the students in the class are not responsible? Or are the students in the class not responsible because they have a teacher who resorts to aggressive and coercive behavior to manage the class?

In a recent study in the Australian Journal of Education, two researchers say they can provide evidence that aggressive behavior by teachers has the unintended effect of deterring students from taking responsibility for themselves and others.

“Teachers are responding to troublesome students with management strategies that generate less responsibility, rather than more, and more misbehavior, rather than less, particularly when they rest on coercive and aggressive techniques such as threats, verbal reprimands and nagging,” the researchers write.

“It seems that teachers may be unaware of how much they potentially influence the behaviour of their students.”

Based on surveys of both teachers and students, the researchers say misbehavior is more prevalent in classrooms where teachers use coercive and aggressive management strategies. The strategy that is most effective at encouraging responsible student behavior is teacher recognition of responsible behavior, they write.

The researchers surveyed teachers from 18 secondary and 19 primary schools in Melbourne, Australia about both their classroom management strategies and the amount of misbehavior in their clases. A total of 145 primary and 363 secondary classroom teachers completed the questionnaire.

Management strategies

A 35 -questionnaire survey asked teachers to what extent they used 6 management strategies  To help them provide the most accurate estimates, the questionnaire instructed teachers to consider the next class they would be teaching after completing the survey.

The 6 management strategies are:

  • hints and non-directional descriptions of unacceptable behavior
  • talking with students to discuss the impact of their behavior on others, and to negotiate improved behavior
  • involving students, as a class group, in classroom management decision-making
  • recognising the appropriate behavior of individual students or the whole class
  • applying consequences for misbehaviors and increasing their level of seriousness if resisted
  • aggressive and punitive techniques

Teachers also were asked to indicate how many of the students in their next class could be characterized by descriptions of a total of 39 responsible classroom behaviors.

The responsible student behaviors cover the following issues:

  • Students exercising their learning rights
  • Students protecting the learning rights of their peers and/or teachers
  • Students protecting the emotional and physical safety of other students
  • Students protecting property

The survey included 2 final items. The first asked the teacher to indicate how many students normally misbehaved in the class under consideration and the second asked the teacher to rate his or her level of concern over classroom management.

Researchers compared the results from this teacher survey to a survey of 3500 students in the same schools 10 years before. Of the 6 teacher strategies, 2 were significantly associated with responsible behavior by students,: teachers’ recognition of appropriate student behavior and teacher use of coercive, aggressive behavior.

Recognition of appropriate behavior was positively associated with responsible student behavior and aggressive behavior by teacher was negatively associated with it.

Differences between student and teacher perception of management strategies

Among the differences researchers found between primary teachers and secondary teachers: Secondary teachers report using fewer of the 5 positive management strategies than primary teachers. Primary teachers report very frequent use of rewards, discussion, hints and student involvement, use of consequences and almost no use of aggression.

There was also a significant difference in the way students and teachers perceived the use of management strategies in class. Students reported greater use of aggressive punitive techniques and the use of consequences for misbehavior than teachers. They also report less likelihood of teachers talking with students to negotiate improved behavior and of using hints and non-directional descriptions of unacceptable behavior than students.

“Teachers’ views on the impact of classroom management on student responsibility,” by Joel Roache and Ramon Lewis, Australian Journal of Education, 2011, Volume 55, Number 2, pps. 132-146.

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