Secondary school teachers’ perceptions of students’ problem behaviours

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  • This article was downloaded by: [UQ Library]On: 15 November 2014, At: 02:40Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Educational Psychology: AnInternational Journal of ExperimentalEducational PsychologyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cedp20

    Secondary school teachers perceptionsof students problem behavioursEmma Littlea RMIT University , AustraliaPublished online: 05 Oct 2010.

    To cite this article: Emma Little (2005) Secondary school teachers perceptions of studentsproblem behaviours, Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental EducationalPsychology, 25:4, 369-377, DOI: 10.1080/01443410500041516

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  • Educational PsychologyVol. 25, No. 4, August 2005, pp. 369377

    ISSN 0144-3410 (print)/ISSN 1469-5820 (online)/05/04034705 2005 Taylor & Francis Group LtdDOI: 10.1080/01443410500041516

    Secondary School Teachers Perceptions of Students Problem Behaviours

    Emma Little*RMIT University, AustraliaTaylor and Francis LtdCEDP104134.sgm10.1080/01443410500041516Educational Psychology0144-3410 (print)/0144-3410 (online)Original Article2005Taylor & Francis Group Ltd254000000August 2005EmmaLittleDepartment of Psychology and Disability StudiesRMIT UniversityBundoora 3083Australiaemma.little@rmit.edu.au

    Much of the research into behaviour problems and school interventions has focused on primaryschool-age children. In the primary school setting, the behaviours that cause the most concern toteachers are frequently occurring but relatively minor behaviours such as calling out and interrupt-ing the learning of others. These minor problematic behaviours have been shown to respond tolow-level interventions that are presented as written advice. The behaviours that secondary schoolteachers perceive as problematic, and the preferred method of intervention, have received compar-atively little attention in the research. An investigation of the behaviour problems that high schoolteachers find most troublesome was conducted in this study. It was found that similar behaviourswere reported as troublesome in the secondary school classroom compared with the primary class-room, although differences were demonstrated across year levels. Teachers were also surveyedabout their preferred method of intervention/assistance for these behaviour problems. This infor-mation about intervention approaches informs the development of strategies for assisting class-room teachers.

    Media portrayals of behaviour problems in the secondary school environment tend tofocus on bullying and violence as being the major areas of concern. However, whetherthese are the behaviours that cause the most concern to secondary school teachers isstill to be widely investigated. Much of the research into behaviour problems andschool interventions has focused on primary school-age children. One well-knownstudy in this area is that by Wheldall and Merrett (1988a), who examined the class-room behaviour problems that primary school teachers found most troublesome. It isimportant to note that in their study Wheldall and Merrett examined both severity(most troublesome) and frequency, as it was possible that there may be differencesbetween the two. That is, the most troublesome behaviours may have been the more

    *Division of Psychology, RMIT University, Bundoora 3083, Australia. Email:emma.little@rmit.edu.au

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  • 370 E. Little

    dangerous and volatile behaviours (aggression/violence), but the most frequentbehaviours might be more minor behaviours that cause concern because of how oftenthey occur. The results of their study indicated that the most frequent and the mosttroublesome behaviours are very similar in the primary school setting. Talking out ofturn (TOOT) and hindering other children (HOC) were the most problematic behav-iours identified in the study. Other behaviours that were identified as being problem-atic in primary schools were disobedience, aggression, and idleness (being off task).

    Subsequent replication of this study with an Australian sample found that thesebehaviours were also identified by Australian primary school teachers as problematic(McDonald & Wilks, 1994). However, in the Australian study, being easilydistracted and not listening to directions were the two most commonly reportedbehaviour problems, followed by TOOT and HOC. Taken together these resultsindicate that in the primary school setting the most concerning behaviours to teach-ers are those that involve minor violations of rules and regular disruption to thesmooth functioning of the classroom.

    To date only one study has investigated the behaviour problems that high schoolteachers find most troublesome. This study, conducted in England, found thatTOOT and HOC were the most frequent and troublesome classroom behavioursidentified by secondary school teachers (Houghton, Wheldall, & Merrett, 1988). Inaddition 55% of secondary teachers reported that they spend too much time dealingwith issues around maintaining order and control in the classroom. This is consis-tent with the findings of Wheldall and Merrett (1988a), where 51% of teachersreported spending too much time on issues of order and control. Clearly classroombehaviour problems are causing concern to teachers and are interfering with thelearning of both the individual child and his/her peers.

    Houghton et al. (1988) examined behaviour problems across the different Britishsecondary school faculties and across year levels. There was little difference inbehaviour problems across faculties, with all reporting talking out of turn as beingthe most troublesome behaviour. Across year levels, talking out of turn was alsoidentified as the most problematic behaviour. However this behaviour declined infrequency over the high school years. In addition, idleness was not identified as aproblem in the early high school years but increased in frequency by the fifth year ofhigh school to 25%. It is important to note that teachers were asked to reflect on theclass they taught most often, so the same teacher was not reflecting on different yearlevels. In Australian secondary schools, most teachers teach across all levels of highschool (or at least across a range of years); therefore it may be possible to have teach-ers identify the behaviours they consider problematic across year levels. This mayeliminate any group differences from teachers reflecting on only one year level. Thisinformation would provide the basis for the development of specific interventions foruse with high school students. It may be the case that older students cause quitedifferent problems for their teachers than younger secondary school students.

    Given that teachers perceive that they are spending too much time on issues oforder and control, and that these behaviours are minor in nature, it is clear thatinterventions that deal specifically with these behaviours are needed.

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  • Secondary School Teachers Perceptions of Students Problem Behaviours 371

    Interventions in the classroom setting are often developed as a comprehensiveclassroom management program that involves quite time-consuming and cost-intensive assistance. Given that teachers are reporting that relatively minor (butfrequently occurring) behaviours are the ones that cause them the most trouble inthe classroom, it may be that such intensive classroom management programs arenot required by all teachers. In response to this issue in the primary school setting,some written advice for teachers, in the form of tip sheets that dealt with specificclassroom behaviour problems, was developed and trialled in Australian schools(Little, Hudson, & Wilks, 2002). The tip sheets provided specific strategies for thedifferent behaviour problems identified by Wheldall and Merrett (1988a) andMcDonald and Wilks (1994) and it was found that this was an effective and highlyacceptable method of intervention for these disruptive behaviours (Little et al.,2002). Such an approach has not been developed for the secondary school setting.In fact, few interventions for secondary school classroom behaviour problems havebeen developed at all.

    One comprehensive intervention specifically designed for the secondary schoolclassroom is the BATSAC program (Behavioural Approach to Teaching SecondaryAged Children) developed by Wheldall and Merrett (1988b). This program is deliv-ered as six one-hour in-service sessions provided to groups of teachers and uses theprinciples of behavioural psychology as a basis. Skills covered include identifyingand monitoring behaviour, consequences, and rule setting. This program was foundto increase on-task classroom behaviour, decrease the number of negative teacherresponses, and increase the number of positive responses (Wheldall, Houghton,Merrett, & Baddeley, 1989). This provides clear evidence that a behaviouralapproach to classroom management in the secondary school environment is effectivein improving classroom behaviours. However, it may not be possible for manyschools to implement this program as it is quite time intensive and costly. In addi-tion, teachers who have already established some effective management strategies, orthose who are dealing with minor behaviour problems, may not require suchcomprehensive training. An alternative, less restrictive intervention may be requiredin those instances where the teacher needs assistance in managing specific behaviourproblems.

    Researchers have previously reported that one strategy for addressing behaviourproblems will not fit all young people (Keller & Tapasak, 1997). Therefore, a flexi-ble approach to intervention is needed that allows strategies to be matched with theneeds of the student, and of the teacher. Given the success of teacher tip sheets inthe primary school setting (Little et al., 2002), high school teachers may also benefitfrom having specific strategies to deal with the behaviour problems that theyperceive to be most problematic in the classroom. Written advice certainly fits intothe least restrictive alternative philosophy and allows teachers to try lower-levelinterventions (such as following written advice) before moving on to higher-levelinterventions if needed (such as teacher in-services). However, before such an inter-vention can be developed, further information is needed regarding the behavioursthat teachers perceive as being most problematic in the secondary school setting.

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  • 372 E. Little

    The aim of this study was to examine secondary school teachers perceptions ofproblematic behaviours. In particular, are the behaviour problems identified in theBritish study a decade and a half ago still salient in todays secondary school class-room? If so, do teachers need assistance in managing these behaviours? Finally, howwould teachers like this assistance to be delivered?

    Method

    Participants

    In all, 148 secondary school teachers from schools throughout Victoria, Australia,participated in this study. Schools were randomly selected from each of the eightDepartment of Education, Employment, and Training (DEET) regions withinVictoria. A total of 400 surveys were sent out, with a return rate of 37%. Of theteachers who participated in the survey, 94 were women (63.5%) and 54 were men(36.5%).

    Materials

    The survey used in this study was modified from that used in the study by Hough-ton and colleagues (1988). Teachers were asked to provide demographic informa-tion (age, gender, year levels currently taught, average number of students inclasses). The first question of the survey asked teachers: In general terms do youthink that you spend more time on problems of order and control than you ought?Following this, the survey had the same questions repeated for three groups(juniors: Years 7 and 8; middle group: Years 9 and 10; and seniors: Years 11 and12). For each of the levels the teachers were asked: (1) Write down the two catego-ries of behaviour you find most troublesome with your classes as a whole; and (2)Write down the two categories of troublesome behaviour you find most frequentwith your classes as a whole. Teachers were instructed only to fill in the questionsfor the year levels they currently taught. The final question asked teachers to indi-cate the type of assistance they would prefer for managing students behaviour prob-lems (face to face; book; tip sheets; teacher in-service courses; advice from otherteachers; or any other form of assistance). These items were derived from pastresearch that identified these approaches as being the ones most commonly used byteachers (Little, 1999)

    Procedure

    A letter describing the project was sent to principals of rural and urban secondaryschools in Victoria, Australia. Schools were randomly selected from each of the eightVictorian DEET regions. Once the principals agreed to have their school participatein the study, teachers who agreed to participate were provided with a copy of thesurvey. The survey took approximately 10 minutes to complete and once done the

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