Could you do any better, Miss?

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
A new online questionnaire aims to give staff an accurate idea of how their teaching style is received. Nicolas Barnard reports.

DO pupils in your classroom feel stimulated, fairly treated and secure? HayMcBer has developed a tool to find out.

Controversially, the firm claims many teachers can be poor judges of how pupils feel about their lessons.

To solve this problem, it has produced a questionnaire, which it plans to put on the Internet to assess what it terms the classroom "climate". This should be one of the easiest aspects of its report to implement.

The questionnaire will determine how pupils feel about their lessons and working environment. It should take them roughly 20 minutes to complete, with the program giving teachers instant feedback.

It means teachers can check quickly the impact of any changes in their teaching style or methods. Only a small sample of students - five pupils, for example - need take the test.

"Climate" is a concept widely used by Hay in adult workplaces. If staff feel positive about their environment, the theory goes, they work better; the same applies to pupils.

But despite the importance of a good atmosphere, Hay says teachers rarely get feedback on the climate they are creating.

The firm's view that teachers are not aware of how their pupils feel emerged from trials where both teachers and pupils filled in the questionnaire as well. The staff's judgments of how children felt often differed markedly from the views of the pupils themselves.

The firm has adapted its standard questionnaire for adult workers and has produced a a 27-question form for primary pupils and a 57-question one for secondary.

It identified nine "dimensions" to describe pupils' feelings about their classroom (see box, right).

Primary pupils are asked questions relating to each of the nine dimensions, giving their answers on a sliding scale: yes; usually; not really; no.

In secondary schools, where the link between climate and performance is considered to be more complex, pupilsare asked similar questions, also on a sliding scale, but are asked to give two answers: how things are and how they should be.

The firm found there were three important underlying factors which affected pupils' ability to learn. They were:

Lack of disruption;

Encouragement to learn; and

High expectations from the teacher.

In both primary and secondary schools, pupils were more worried about safety and fairness than teachers realised.

Secondary pupils' description of their ideal classes in particular suggested their teachers had a long way to go.

Primary children were also concerned about safety, but thought there was greater clarity, support and interest, and a better environment, than teachers recognised.

And secondary pupils were less worried than teachers thought about standards - possibly because they didn't want extra work piled on them, Hay suggests.

The firm concludes: "If teachers are to make best use of the developmental feedback offered to them by teaching experts, they must have available to them information about the impact their current behaviour is having on ... students' motivation to perform."

CLASSROOM CLIMATE

Clarity - what are the aims of the lesson? How does it fit into the broader subject, and the aims and objectives of the school?

Order - is there discipline, order and civilised behaviour in class? Standards of behaviour and achievement - there should be a clear focus on higher standards, not minimum standards

Fairness - is there favouritism? Is there a clear link between pupils' performance and reward?

Participation - do pupils have a chance to join in discussion, ask questions, give out materials?

Support - are pupils emotionally supported? Are they willing to try new things and learn from mistakes?

Safety - do pupils feel safe from emotional or physical bullying or are they at risk?

Interest - are pupils stimulated to learn?

Environment - is it comfortable, clean, well-organised and attractive?

Source: HayMcBer


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