A study of 452 sixth-graders from two suburban middle schools sought to determine the effects of teachers on student motivation and adjustment in middle school. Results suggest that effective teaching styles resemble good parenting.
High expectations were a consistent positive predictor of students’ goals and interests, and negative feedback was the most consistent negative predictor of academic and social behavior. Significant classroom differences were found with respect to teachers’ fairness, rule setting, expectations, negative feedback, and interest in subject matter. Even after controlling for individual student differences (race, gender, prior achievement, family background), teaching style significantly influenced students’ performance, indicating that teachers can greatly affect early adolescents’ classroom motivation and behavior.
Most middle-school students recognize when teachers behave in ways that communicate caring and personal support, and it affects their engagement in class and their interest in academics. Adolescents who enjoy emotionally close, positive relationships with parents are less likely to experience emotional distress at school, and students’ emotional well-being influences performance in school. Students in this study were motivated both socially and academically by expectations to perform to their full potential.
Developmentally appropriate challenges
Developmentally appropriate levels of challenge were highly motivating, whereas teachers’ expectations of low performance were particularly debilitating to students’ achievement. In addition, negative feedback was the most consistent negative predictor of students’ social behavior and academic performance, underscoring that highly critical feedback on students’ classroom functioning is very destructive to their motivation and behavior. It appears that by creating a classroom atmosphere that is free of harsh criticism and in which students are expected to do their best, teachers are able to encourage students’ engagement and to focus their attention on academic tasks.
Importantly, the effect of teaching style was the same for all students regardless of gender or race. A surprising finding was that students’ interest in a subject was unrelated to their academic performance.
“Are Effective Teachers Like Good Parents? Teaching Styles and Student Adjustment in Early Adolescence,” Child Development, Volume 73, Number 1, February 2002, pp. 287-301.
Published in ERN April 2002 Volume 15 Number 4