The relationship between teaching...
The relationship between teaching practices and student achievement in first year classes A comparative study of small size and standard size classes Jo��l Clanet Received: 21 July 2008 /Revised: 5 March 2009 /Published online: 27 February 2010 # Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010 Abstract This study investigated the links between the teaching practices of primary school teachers (n=200) who were observed while presenting a new text to their first year classes, and the student achievement levels in those classes. The teaching practices are specifically concerned with the way the teachers supported and encouraged students��� activities during verbal interactions. Two different populations were observed: classes of first year students with a reduced teacher���student ratio (about ten students per class) and classes with a normal teacher���student ratio (between 20 and 25 students per class). We found that the average level of student achievement in the reduced size classes was higher than in the standard size classes but that teaching practices differed only at precise periods of group or individual introduction to new reading texts. In these periods, we found links between teaching practices and student achievement. R��sum�� Cette contribution traite des liens existant entre les pratiques d���enseignement de ma��tres (n=200) observ��es lors de s��ances de pr��sentation d���un texte nouveau �� leur classe de cours pr��paratoire et les performances scolaires des ��l��ves de ces classes. Ces pratiques d���enseignement concernent plus particuli��rement la mani��re dont l���enseignant soutient et dynamise l���activit�� des ��l��ves lors de ses interactions verbales. Les observations de pratiques ont eu lieu aupr��s de deux populations diff��rentes: des classes de CP �� effectif r��duit (environ10 ��l��ves par classe) et des classes �� effectif habituel (entre 20 et 25 ��l��ves par classe). Nous avons constat�� que si les performances scolaires moyennes des classes �� effectif r��duit ��taient sup��rieures aux autres, les pratiques d���enseignement, elles, ne diff��raient que lors de moments tr��s pr��cis: les moments de d��couverte collective et individuelle des textes de lecture. C���est dans ces moments l�� que nous avons constat�� l���existence de liens entre pratiques d���enseignement et performances scolaires. Keywords Effective teaching . Small size classes . Student achievement . Teaching practices . Teaching reading skills Eur J Psychol Educ (2010) 25:192���206 DOI 10.1007/s10212-010-0012-y Translated from the French by Cynthia J. Johnson J. Clanet (*) Toulouse University, Toulouse, France e-mail: email@example.com
Introduction As part of the research trend focused on effective pedagogies, several recent studies have attempted to better understand one aspect of the learning process: class size. The impact of a reduction in class size on student achievement was demonstrated in American studies over a decade ago (Ziegler 1997) and yet again, more recently (Biddle and Berliner 2002). While the link between smaller classes and improved student performance has been demonstrated in a number of studies (Meuret 2001), others have pointed out that simply reducing the number of students is not sufficient and that the teacher���s role should be taken into account: ���...to reduce the number of students in classes, without first investigating the pedagogical methods used by the teachers, is to go down the wrong track. An ineffective teacher with thirty students will be just as ineffective with 15, if not more so.��� (Crahay 2000, cited by Gauthier et al. 2005, p. 8). This study investigated the characteristics of teachers��� practices according to context (reduced size classes versus standard size classes) and the relationships between these practices and student achievement. The comparisons were based on in situ observation of 200 classes of first year students. This study was part of a much larger research project commissioned by the Direction de l���Evaluation et de la Prospective (DEP) [Department of Evaluation and Planning] of the French Ministry of Education, Universities and Research1. The research question Hedges et al. (2004) reviewed the American studies, particularly those carried out in Tennessee,2 and concluded that there is a real and lasting benefit in terms of achievement when students begin their schooling in reduced size classes. Gauthier et al. (2005) noted that this research on effective teaching methods came to the conclusion that the improvement in student performance was related to class size. These authors (2005) observed that the studies found that ���small-size classes achieve better academic results than classes with greater numbers of students.��� (Gauthier et al. 2005, p. 24). In a very recent report, Blatchford (2008) suggested that the impact on low-attaining older children may have been underestimated in the past.3 The question of how class size affects student achievement is thus not new and continues to generate studies that increasingly extend our understanding of teaching practices and learning behaviours in different contexts. In 2000, the French High Council on School Evaluation commissioned a report (Meuret 2001) on the research that had been done on class size. Based on the results of experimental research in the S.T.A.R. programme (Tennessee���s Student Teacher Achievement Ratios, 1985���1989), as well as more recent meta-analyses, the report concluded that ���...to be 1 See the reports: Bru et al. (2003), Bru et al. (2006). 2 In 1985, the students from 79 schools in Tennessee were assigned at the end of kindergarten to either standard size classes (22���26 students) or small size classes (13���17 students). They were then followed for 4 years (end of fourth grade). The results demonstrated that student reading levels covered a smaller range in the small classes than in the ordinary classes. 3 The study by Blatchford et al. showed, for example, that when class size was increased by five students, low-achieving students spent 40% more time on off-task activities. Other examples are given in this article. Teachers��� practices and students��� achievements 193
effective, the reduction [in class size] should be considerable and should clearly bring class size to under 20 students...��� (Meuret 2001, p. 29). The emphasis was put on the differential benefits for underprivileged students and those from higher socioeconomic groups,4 the gain for the former being greater. The author insisted on the lasting nature of these benefits but pointed out that the studies left several uncertainties as to non-academic benefits. Yet questions persist: Does reducing the number of students alone explain the improvement in student achievement, particularly for underprivileged students? Are other processes involved? What about the role of teaching practices? Do they differ in small size classes? What are the relationships between teaching practices and student achievement, and do these relationships differ with class context? Is the impact of smaller classes affected by teaching practices? These are the main questions that have guided the French research project, and some of the results are presented herein. The research on class size has yielded a series of seemingly counterintuitive results for example: ���Teachers do not change their way of teaching when the class size is smaller��� (Meuret 2001, p. 21). In this case, the author was referring to the findings of studies from nearly 40 years ago (Yeany 1976 Pong and Pallas 1969). The author (Meuret 2001) went on to cite more recent work, however, that detailed the benefits of small classes as ���...a reduction in discipline problems, a focus on preventing learning problems rather than waiting until students fail, better student participation, better teacher morale...more time available for instruction, and an individualisation of instruction��� (Meuret 2001, p. 22). The benefits would thus be found elsewhere, rather than in the teaching practices. These conclusions were drawn from an analysis of questionnaires filled out by teachers concerning their teaching practices. It would have been interesting if these declared practices had also been observed in situ in order to study them comparatively. The above-mentioned studies were not limited only to concluding about the impact of small class size on student achievement and classroom environment. Two other avenues of research were also explored: teaching practices, particularly the identification of the most effective practices, and learning behaviour in small size classrooms. Molnar et al. (2001) and Gauthier et al. (2005) based their work on observational data collected in Wisconsin schools from 1995 to 2001 and evaluated nearly 20 teachers of first to third year students. Their conclusions highlighted the need for explicit teaching practices in order to see the benefits following a reduction in class size. In other words, the authors found that it was not enough to drastically reduce class size but that teaching practices also had to correspond to a form that the researchers characterised as ���explicit.��� Gauthier et al., referring to Rosenshine (1986a, b), described this as ���an explicit and systematic kind of teaching which consists of presenting the subject split into parts, with pauses in order to check comprehension, and which assures active, productive participation of all the students [it] is a particularly appropriate teaching method for promoting learning...��� (2005, p. 28). The latest British research (Blatchford 2008) also indicated a link between class size and teaching practices. Blatchford and his team observed in 49 schools (27 primary and 22 secondary) and found that teachers in larger classes talked more and used the textbook more. The students were less focused on the task and were more passive. In secondary 4 Underprivileged students are those, for example, who are entitled to free school lunches. The results are the same for those belonging to an ethnic minority. 194 J. Clanet