Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


10th International Conference; Stockholm, Sweden; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #8
The Effect of Teacher Approval and Disapproval on Students‘ Behaviour: A Comparison Between the UK, Italy, and Iceland
Sunday, September 29, 2019
8:00 AM–9:50 AM
Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre, Level 2, C1
Area: EDC; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Zuilma Gabriela Sigurdardottir (University of Iceland)
Discussant: Harpa Óskarsdóttir (University of Iceland)

Research of six decades suggest that the nature and quantity of teachers’ feedback, especially the use of praise, affects students’ behaviour. Praise can be systematically deployed by teachers to increase appropriate social behaviours and improve classroom climate. Whilst a huge amount of research has been carried out in English-speaking countries on this issue, very few studies in other European countries than the UK have been published. The results from three studies on teachers’ natural use of feedback and its effects, conducted in the UK, Italy, and Iceland, will be presented for a cross-cultural comparison. Participants were teachers and pupils (age 6-18). The Mixed Interval Classroom Observation schedule was used to collect data about teachers’ feedback and students’ time on-task. The approval:disapproval ratio found outside the UK was more similar to the one found in early investigations than to the pattern found in studies from the 1980s to date in English speaking countries, i.e., teachers gave more disapproval especially for social behaviours and pupils’ on-task behaviour was lower. International comparisons of this kind can help set parameters that are important to those who work with teachers. These data are thus important for professionals working in schools and inform the design of teachers’ pre and in-service training.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): classroom, contingencies, cross-cultural comparison, teachers
The Effect of Teacher Approval on Students’ Social and Academic Behaviour: A Review of Studies (1975-2018)
FRANCESCO SULLA (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia; University of Parma)
Abstract: How often do teachers praise their pupils? How often do they tell them off? What effect does the frequency of both these types of verbal feedback have on the pupils’ behaviour? A research literature relating to non-experimentally manipulated or “naturalistic” rates answered those questions. Over the years, there have been a number of investigations that have centered on what might be called naturalistic or existing rates: descriptive studies on the ways in which teachers typically deploy approval in the classroom. Mary White’s work (1975) in the USA is generally considered as the first study to have as its primary focus natural rates of teacher approval and disapproval. White found that teachers gave highest rates of approval for academic behaviour, while for social behaviour the reverse was true. Indeed, teacher approval for social behaviour was almost non-existent. The results of other early investigations, Heller and White (1975) and Thomas, Presland, Grant, and Glynn (1978) tended to support White’s findings. However, in the late 1980s, a shift to more teacher approval than disapproval was recorded. Since then, several studies have been conducted, mainly in English-speaking countries on the same topic supporting the results from ‘80s studies. This review analyses the results of 30 studies.

A Large-Scale Quantitative Investigation of Teacher Feedback and Students’ On-Task Behaviour in Academic Lessons in UK Secondary Schools

BRIAN JOHN BISHOP APTER (University of Cardiff)

Systematic observations by 33 psychologist-observers of 228 lessons in 28 UK secondary schools were included in this study. Key findings included: students were significantly less ‘on-task’ than students in UK primary schools; secondary school teachers used low frequencies of positive verbal feedback directed towards academic work and behaviour and much higher frequencies of critical comments directed towards behaviour; teachers’ critical comments directed towards behaviour were significantly associated with lessons where students were less compliant with teachers’ directions; and teachers who used high frequencies of positive comments directed towards academic work and social behaviour were not associated with lessons where students followed teachers’ directions more. The number of secondary teachers who did not use any positive comments about social behaviour was unexpectedly high. Teachers who used verbal feedback were more likely to use more with the younger year groups. Unlike primary students, no evidence was found that secondary students were more engaged with academic work when taught by teachers who used higher levels of verbal teaching behaviour: teachers who talked more. A number of contextual factors were also examined for their association with students’ compliance with teachers’ directions. Findings included: teachers who were more experienced were more likely to be teaching students who followed their directions. Conclusions are drawn about the nature of teachers’ verbal feedback in secondary schools.

Natural Rates of Teachers’ Approval and Disapproval in Italian Primary and Secondary Schools Classroom
FRANCESCO SULLA (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia; University of Parma), Dolores Rollo (University of Parma)
Abstract: Despite the huge amount of research in English-speaking countries (Sulla, Perini, Rollo, 2013) the natural rates of approval and disapproval have never been investigated in Italian schools. Therefore, in this study we examined: the proportionality of different types of verbal feedback used by Italian teachers; the relationship between Italian teachers use of verbal feedback and the behaviour of students; the variations in pupils’ conduct due to class size and time of the day. A total of 314 observations were conducted across the country. In both primary and secondary schools, the majority of feedback was of a negative nature and directed in response to pupils’ behaviour. Avarage students’ time on-task was 74.10% in primary schools and 77.20% in secondary schools. Pupils were more likely to be on-task during the morning, in smaller classes where teachers give more approval and less disapproval. This results should encourage teachers to become more positive in their responses to pupils’ behaviour.

The Effects of Positive and Negative Feedback on Students‘ On-Task Behavior in One School in Iceland

BIRNA PÁLSDÓTTIR (Miðgarður, Reykjavík), Zuilma Gabriela Sigurdardottir (University of Iceland)

Teachers have played a critical role in shaping the behaviour of students in schools. Positive and negative feedback has been used by teachers to impact student behaviour and research has shown positive feedback to lead to students being more on-task (Apter, Arnold and Swinson, 2010; Harrop and Swinson, 2000; Merrett and Wheldall, 1987). Negative feedback on social behaviour has been shown to decrease on-task behaviour among students (Nafpaktitis, 1985; Sulla, 2015; Wheldall et al., 1989). The goal of this study was to use direct observation to analyse student and teacher behaviour in one Icelandic elementary school, to explore the average on-task rate and the average rate between positive and negative feedback from teacher to student. The main results showed an average on-task rate to be 78,8%. Observations showed that teachers appeared to use more negative feedback than positive to influence students‘ behaviour. Statistical significant differences were found between neutral comments and on-task behaviour with 95% confidence, between positive feedback and on-task behaviour with 99% confidence, and between negative feedback on social behaviour and on-task behaviour with 99% confidence. Results were compared to previous data collected with the same procedures in Italy and Britain.




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