5.4 School and classroom microsystems
5.4.3 Classroom level factors
Commonly mentioned distal and internal characteristics of the classroom microsystem include classroom size, classroom age, class composition, language skills of the other children in the class, teachers‟ qualifications, beliefs that teachers have regarding the goals of education, and classroom curriculum (NICHD ECCRN, 2002; cf. Lee, Loeb & Lubeck, 1998; Pianta et al., 2002). For instance, studies including teacher demographics and teacher beliefs show that the frequency of engaging children in cognitively challenging talk, including early literacy talk, non present talk, personal narratives, and scientific talk, is
positively associated with a strong pedagogical orientation towards literacy development and with higher levels of teacher qualification, but not with years of experience (NICHD ECCRN, 2002; Pianta et al., 2002; Smith & Dickinson, 1994).
The EPPE 3-11 research also shows that proximal classroom processes such as teaching style effect children‟s attainment. Observed quality of pupils‟ educational experiences during Year 5 (age 10) was significantly higher in classes where teachers closely adhered to the Literacy and Numeracy strategies. Although this influence of teaching quality on Reading and Maths outcomes at the end of primary school is stronger than the net influence of some background factors, such as gender and family disadvantage, influences of the early years home learning environment (HLE) and mothers‟ highest qualification level show stronger effects (Sammons, et al., 2008c). The Effective Primary Pedagogical Strategies in English and Maths (EPPSEM) in Key Stage 2 Study shows that, of the primary schools that
participated in the EPPE research, the most academically effective primary schools with the highest teacher quality scores for classrooms were characterized by the fact that the teacher showed respect, social support and concern for pupils. The teachers made sure pupils‟ individual needs were recognized. The teachers established routines so pupils knew what was expected of them, conducted plenaries and used group work and peer tutoring. They also engaged pupils in dialogic learning and teaching and built on pupil‟s prior knowledge, interest‟s and experiences. During lessons they identified key learning concepts and lesson objectives and provided assessment for learning, questioning and feedback to class/groups/ individuals. Teachers also made cross-subject links explicit (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2011 forthcoming).
A teacher‟s ability to control the classroom was also positively related with emotional and behavioural conduct of children that is associated with achievement (i.e. reduced
„Hyperactivity‟ and increased „Pro-social‟ behaviour and „Self-regulation‟). Disorganized classrooms predicted poorer progress in both English and Maths and increased hyperactive behaviour in children (Sylva et al., 2008). The „vulnerable‟ children in the CFCS in particular mentioned that they felt that the high amount of supply teachers, and the disorganized lessons that came with this, contributed significantly to their low attainment. EPPE 3-11 has further shown that good relationships between the child, teachers and peers in a class and children‟s self-reliance during lessons is an important influence on children‟s progress in Reading during the primary years. These quantitative research findings regarding the proximal classroom processes are confirmed by the qualitative CFCS data. School and teacher effectiveness research has drawn attention to the importance of an orderly school and classroom climate in promoting pupil progress and better academic outcomes (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000; Sammons, 2007). The EPPE 3-11 research analyses of classroom
practices in Year 5 classes using observational data shows that pupils made poorer progress in schools where classes scored highly on the factor „Disorganisation‟ in classes. Inspection evidence has also drawn attention to the links between improvements in pupil behaviour and better academic results in schools that succeed „against the odds‟ in high disadvantage contexts (Ofsted, 2000; 2009).
Students and parents from low SES families „succeeding against the odds‟ as well as from successful high SES families attributed (part of their) success in school to the quality of their teachers. For instance, they thought that good quality teaching meant that teachers were able to explain things clearly, were enthusiastic about the subject they taught, were
approachable when things were difficult to understand, were generally friendly, had control over the class and clearly communicated their expectations and boundaries.
They [my primary teachers] were always very approachable like we, we never called our teachers by their second names, it was always the first names which, which made it a lot easier to talk to them and I think because we had the circle times and stuff like that and because when we were working we weren't just taking notes from a board we were all discussing it and stuff. You really got thinking about it a lot more and if there were any problems there would be no hesitation. You'd just ask, you
know, that it wouldn't be embarrassing (laugh). Imogene, girl, Group 4 (high SES,
attainment as predicted).
Martha‟s Maths teacher described how he perceived his own teaching style to help students do well:
Just the explanation at the start, again, you think how you‟re going to explain something, you emphasise the key points. You start off easily and graduate up in their level of difficulty. You ask a lot of questions. You get an atmosphere where they don‟t mind getting things wrong in front of a class, if you ask such and such what the answer is and they get things wrong, they don‟t feel like gutted, that‟s just fine, that‟s allowed sort of thing, and you allow pupils to ask you for when they‟re stuck
and they feel happy to do that. Teacher of Martha, girl, Group 1 (low SES,
When asked about her Maths teacher Martha said:
The best! [laughing] Oh, he made Maths really fun and he didn‟t have favourites, but he was nice to everyone...but er...I dunno he treated everyone like the same and he was just generally nice to people and he made loads of people like him, so that they
enjoy the lesson more, which I think helped. „Cos like mum said he‟s quite good
looking for a teacher, which was annoying sometimes [laughing] but like, I think the more people like the teacher, the more, well any teacher.. .if you like the teacher you enjoy the lesson... well most of the time. If people were naughty, he‟d send them out so they don‟t disrupt the lesson, but he‟d still make them work, he wouldn‟t like just let them sit outside, he‟d make them do work still... which I thought was good.
And you just said that he managed to make Maths fun? How would he do that?
Well... he‟d ask us like quite a lot like... if it was getting boring, and if someone said it was getting boring he‟d just change the subject completely and he always did like...
quizzes and stuff, like Maths quizzes and that made it quite fun. Martha, girl, Group
1 (low SES, attainment higher than predicted).
With these teachers students felt they not only enjoyed the classes and could achieve the standards set for them but they could actually extend themselves beyond their predicted attainment.
I discovered I was like quite good at Maths like, in like Year 8, Year 9, „cos I‟ve got a really good Maths teacher and like he‟s proper friendly and he‟s always helping me out with stuff like… If I need extra help on homework he‟d do it for me… so he‟s a
good teacher. Rajnesh, boy, Group 1 (low SES, attainment higher than
These children generally described having positive relationships with at least some of their teachers. They felt they had learned most from teachers who had been knowledgeable on the subject, who could and would use interactive teaching strategies and who made learning a pleasant experience. Wider research on effective teaching has demonstrated the
importance of teacher behaviour as an influence on pupil progress and suggested that school and teacher influences may be especially important for disadvantaged pupil groups (see Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Van der Werf, 2006).