Group respect makes for better behaviour

Yvonne Stewart-Smith, Julian Elliott And

In classrooms in south-east Asia and eastern Europe one is immediately struck by the supportive and cohesive atmosphere in which children feel safe to learn and make mistakes.

As students of Japanese education have observed, within the home one can relax and exhibit mildly anti-social behaviour in a trusting and intimate atmosphere.

In the outside world, however, one is expected to demonstrate pro-social, supportive, giving behaviour in order to serve the needs of the group.

In Russian classrooms we see a similar concern for the importance of the group. When children answer questions or perform in front of their peers the support and encouragement offered by their classmates is tangible.

The schadenfreude, in the form of smirks and laughter evidenced in many English classrooms when a classmate makes a public error, is rarely a feature of the Russian classroom.

Respect for the group is closely related to general classroom behaviour and findings from our study reinforce the growing notion that behaviour in English schools is poorer than in many other industrialised nations. In our recent study, 37 per cent of our English sample stated that lessons were often disrupted by poor behaviour; a further 53 per cent saying that this happened sometimes.

In comparison, the Russian figures were 8 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. Of those who stated that such disruption was "almost never", the figures were 34 per cent for the Russian children and 2 per cent for the North-east sample.

The impact of others upon the individual's behaviour is important. Of those who were influenced to work harder than normal, the ratio was almost three to one in favour of the Russian children. In contrast, almost four times as many English children as Russian stated that the influence of their peers reduced their work rate.

The teacher-pupil relationship, developed through highly skilled performance in whole-class teaching contexts, often results in an intimacy which is highly conducive to helping the fostering of a group identity and sense of shared goals.

For the Russian sample, feelings towards the teacher play a much greater role in determining subject preference and children's perceptions of the reasons for academic success.

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