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The Instructional Behaviour of Teachers in Secondary Vocational Education as Perceived by the Teachers Themselves and by Their Students

H.J.A. Biemans

C.T. Jongmans

Agricultural Education Group
Wageningen University, the Netherlands

F.P.C.M. de Jong

Section Education and Training
University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Th.C.M. Bergen

Graduate School of Education (UNILO)
University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

Abstract

This study was designed to examine student (N=2400) and teacher (N=145) perceptions of teachers’ instructional behaviour in schools for secondary vocational (in this case agricultural) education. For this, two questionnaires (a teacher version and a student version) were used, consisting of the scales ‘teacher-led activation’, ‘student-led activation’, ‘clarity’, and ‘control’. Clarity of instruction, in the eyes of the students, increases with a teacher’s efforts to activate his or her students. Systematic differences exist between the teachers’ perceptions and the students’ perceptions: on all scales, teachers appear to give themselves higher ‘marks’ than the students do. It is argued that, through critical reflection on their own teaching, teachers will become aware of the discrepancy between their own and the students’ perceptions. This awareness is likely to be a driving force for the improvement of teachers’ instructional behaviour.

Introduction

The idea that learning is an active process has by now become to be generally held in circles of educational researchers (and more in more in circles of teachers as well) (Kelly, 1993). A central assumption in many recent theories about learning is that knowledge and skills cannot be directly ‘transferred’ to the learners, but that they are the result of their own learning activities. The quality of the learner’s learning performance (what and how much is learned) would be determined to a large degree by the quality and nature of his or her learning activities. This implies that teachers have to activate and stimulate their students to have an active role and take their learning process in their own hands (see Biemans, 1997).

Process-oriented instruction emphasises the stimulation of students themselves to play an active role in their own learning processes, so that they actually learn to learn independently (see also Vermunt, 1992). Students’ ability to learn independently is defined by Simons (1991) as the degree to which they are able and prepared to be their own teacher. The ‘be able to’ in this definition on the one hand refers to the student’s ‘ability’, but on the other hand also to the teacher’s ‘enabling’. The aspects of teacher behaviour aimed at promoting an active learning role for students and at stimulating responsibility for their own learning process and independent learning can be regarded as important indicators of activating and/or process-oriented instructional behaviour.

In our opinion, the ultimate goal should be education based on principles of process-oriented instruction. In the present situation, however, it is necessary to take more ‘traditional’ principles of direct instruction into account as well. It is more realistic to hold such an integrative view than to just focus on process-oriented principles. The opportunities to integrate direct and process-oriented instruction do not seem to lie in uniting the opposite points of departure, but more in bringing together some of their aspects. Seen from this perspective, aspects of direct instruction can very well be integrated into a student-centred, activating educational framework.

The model for direct instruction (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986) is characterised by a systematic, tightly structured and teacher-controlled lesson plan. The model aims at the development of effective class management by the teacher, aimed at maximising the student’s actual learning time. On the level of behaviour, direct instruction is characterised by a teacher’s great activity and a strongly directing role. Elements of teacher behaviour like orientation, clear explanation, teacher control and feedback are of importance as indicators of directing teacher behaviour. Using the model for direct instruction means that there is less room for students’ own activities, especially activities with which they can shape and direct their own learning process. As mentioned above, however, the ultimate goal of education should be to stimulate students to ‘learn to learn’.

During the last decade, many schools for vocational education have made efforts to implement a ‘learning to learn’-approach as a didactical method in their educational practice. Within the framework of the project "Development of school organisations from the perspective of active learning", carried out by the Agricultural Education Group at Wageningen University, a ‘learning to learn’-approach is developed for teachers in secondary vocational education (SVE) (see also Biemans & Jongmans, 1995). In a ‘learning to learn’-approach the teacher no longer only plays the role of knowledge provider, but also that of guide of learning processes. Central in this is guiding individual students towards (more) individual independence during learning. The success of a ‘learning to learn’-approach is determined to a high degree by the professionality of the teacher as a cognitive guide. The ability to use active work methods is very important, here.

However, little is known about the degree to which teachers in SVE use didactical work methods in their (everyday) teaching practice aimed at stimulating and activating their students. Such an insight is necessary to be able to create a link with teachers’ instructional behaviour when introducing a ‘learning to learn’-approach. In this connection it is important to both study how teachers see their own instructional behaviour and how students perceive those teachers’ instructional behaviour. Through critical reflection on his or her own teaching, each teacher can become aware of the discrepancy between his or her own perceptions and the students’ perceptions. This awareness can be a driving force for the improvement of teachers’ instructional behaviour. In the study at hand we therefore put this central research question: how do students and teachers perceive teachers’ instructional behaviour in schools for secondary vocational education?

Design of the Research

Target Group And Response

As part of this study, 272 teachers working at nine schools for secondary vocational (in this case agricultural) education received a questionnaire with regard to their own instructional behaviour (see paragraph "Measuring instruments" below); 163 teachers returned a questionnaire we could use (a response of 59.9%). Because of the reasonably high response we did not investigate the non-response.

In addition we asked every teacher to select a certain class and have its students complete a questionnaire about the instructional behaviour of the teacher concerned (see paragraph "Measuring instruments" below). A total of 2400 students completed a questionnaire we could use. Of 145 teachers (53.3%) we could use both the teacher questionnaire and the student questionnaires.

Measuring Instruments

With the help of the Questionnaire Instructional Behaviour/Teacher (QIB/Teacher) we investigated how teachers perceive their own instructional behaviour (see also Bergen, 1996). When completing the questionnaire, the teachers had to keep in mind their instructional behaviour with regard to the selected class.

The questionnaire QIB/Teacher consists of 33 statements subdivided into 4 scales (alpha values are based on the data of the current research project):

Student-Led Activation (9 items; a =.72)

teacher activities in which stimulating and activating students is expressed and in which the emphasis lies on independent learning (together) by the students; examples of items within this scale are "I stimulate students to help each other with doing their tasks" and "I stimulate students to take responsibility for their work themselves".

Teacher-Led Activation (10 items; a =.70)

teacher activities in which stimulating and activating students is expressed and in which mainly the teacher plays an active, determining role; examples of items within this scale are "I investigate together with my students why a certain answer is correct" and "I pay attention during the lesson to how students plan their school work".

Clarity (6 items; a =.66)

clarity from the teacher in the area of giving explanations, feedback and tasks; examples of items within this scale are "When I give a task, the students know exactly what they have to do" and "I teach orderly".

Control (8 items; a =.71)

teacher control of the course of the lesson and the student activities during that lesson; examples of items within this scale are "If a student does not exactly do as I say, I correct him or her immediately" and "When I give a task, students must exactly keep to it".

The teachers have to indicate on a five-point scale (from "hardly ever" to "almost always" and from "not" to "very much") for every statement in how far the instructional behaviour described applies to them.

The statements that are part of the scales "Clarity" and "Control" are an operationalisation of teacher activities within the model for direct instruction (see for more details Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). According to this model the teacher plays a central role in the area of shaping, guarding and directing the students’ learning processes. The scales "Teacher-led activation" and "Student-led activation" relate to teacher activities aimed at stimulating and activating students, who have available more degrees of freedom in the "Student-led activation" than in the "Teacher-led activation". Clarity and control by the teacher are valid conditions for (adequately) using different forms of activation in the classroom.

To find out how the students perceive the instructional behaviour of their teachers we asked them to complete a parallel version of the QIB/Teacher, the so-called Questionnaire Instructional Behaviour/Student (QIB/Student) (see also Bergen, 1996). This questionnaire also consists of the four scales mentioned above (and 33 statements): the students have to indicate on an identical five-point scale in how far every statement applies to the teacher concerned. The reliabilities of the different scales of the QIB/Student were as follows: ‘student-led activation’: a =.75; ‘teacher-led activation’: a =.80; ‘clarity’: a =.78 and ‘control’: a =.72.

Results

QIB/Student

In the analyses described below we only used data from teachers of whom we had available QIB/Student and QIB/Teacher data (N=145). First of all, we researched how students perceive the instructional behaviour of the participating teachers. As an in-between step we calculated the mean scale scores per teacher on the basis of the rough QIB/Student data. After that, we calculated the mean scores and standard deviations on the different scales of the QIB/Student (see Table 1).

In the eyes of the students the teachers sometimes to regularly use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students (this holds true for both student-led and teacher-led work methods). The students estimate their teachers’ clarity to be higher than average. The degree of control the teachers exert on the course of the lesson and the students’ activities within it is also estimated to be higher than average by the students (see Table 1).

Table 1

Scales of the QIB/Student and the QIB/Teacher plus relevant means (M), standard deviations (Sd) and numbers of test persons (N)

M

Sd

N

QIB/Student

Student-led activation

2.94

.42

145

Teacher-led activation

2.80

.45

145

Clarity

3.46

.52

145

Control

3.32

.44

145

QIB/Teacher

Student-led activation

3.38

.54

145

Teacher-led activation

3.28

.51

145

Clarity

3.85

.50

145

Control

3.64

.52

145

On the basis of the QIB/Student data we can conclude that there is a clear, positive connection (r=.81; p£ .001) between the degree of student-led activation and the degree of teacher-led activation (as perceived by the students): the students experience more room to really learn actively themselves the more teachers activate and stimulate them. Moreover, both forms of activation are positively connected (r=.68; p£ .001 and r=.82; p£ .001, consecutively) to the degree to which the teacher is experienced as clear by the students: the more the teacher activates the student, the more he or she is experienced as clear by the students. We have also found a positive connection between the scales ‘Student-led activation’ and ‘Control’ (r=.23; p£ .01), between the scales ‘Teacher-led activation’ and ‘Control’ (r=.30; p£ .001) and between the scales ‘Clarity’ and ‘Control’ (r=.32; p£ .001).

QIB/Teacher

We also researched how the participating teachers perceive their own instructional behaviour. The mean scores and standard deviations on the different scales of the QIB/Teacher are also shown in Table 1.

As they say themselves, the teachers regularly to often use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students (this holds true for both student-led and teacher-led activation). The teachers estimate their own clarity to be high. The degree of control exerted by them on the course of the lesson and the students’ activities within it are also estimated to be high by the teachers (see Table 1).

On the basis of the QIB/Teacher data we can conclude that there is a clear, positive connection (r=.45; p£ .001) between the degree of student-led activation and the degree of teacher-led activation (as perceived by the teachers). Moreover, we have found a positive connection between the scales ‘Teacher-led activation’ and ‘Clarity’ (r=.30; p£ .001) and between the scales ‘Clarity’ and ‘Control’ (r=.47; p£ .001). The different scales of the QIB/Teacher did not show any other significant connection.

Comparison QIB/Student and QIB/Teacher

After all this, we compared the students’ and the teachers’ perceptions by means of analyses of variance. Teachers appear to estimate themselves higher on all aspects of the QIB than students do (see Table 1). In the teachers’ eyes they undertake more activities in which the stimulation and activation of the students is expressed than in the students’ eyes. This holds true for both student-led activation (F(1,144)=84.04; p£ .001) and teacher-led activation (F(1,144)= 116.46; p£ .001). The teachers also estimate their clarity in the area of giving explanations, feedback and tasks to be higher than students do (F(1,144)=47.21; p£ .001). The same holds true for the degree of control the teacher exerts on the course of the lesson and on the activities of the students within the lesson (F(1,144)=48.42; p£ .001).

On the basis of a ‘quick cluster’ analysis of the QIB/Student data we were able to divide the teachers into two types: ‘type 1’-teachers (teachers who – according to the students – little use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students; N=66) and ‘type 2’-teachers (teachers who – according to the students – regularly use these kinds of didactical work methods; N=79). After that, we compared these two types of teachers by means of analyses of variance for the degree of similarity between student and teacher perceptions (see Table 2).

Table 2

Scales of the QIB/Student and the QIB/Teacher for the two types of teachers distinguished on the basis of the QIB/Student data plus relevant means (M), standard deviations (Sd) and numbers of test persons (N)

QIB/Student

QIB/Teacher

M

Sd

M

Sd

N

‘Type1’-teacher

Student-led activation

2.64

.32

3.37

.52

66

Teacher-led activation

2.41

.30

3.15

.49

66

Clarity

3.00

.31

3.82

.49

66

Control

3.14

.46

3.61

.52

66

‘Type-2’-teacher

Student-led activation

3.20

.31

3.39

.57

79

Teacher-led activation

3.12

.27

3.39

.50

79

Clarity

3.85

.30

3.88

.50

79

Control

3.47

.36

3.66

.52

79

On all scales of the QIB the student and teacher perceptions appear to be more similar for ‘type 2’-teachers than for ‘type 1’-teachers: this holds true for both ‘Student-led activation’ (F(1,143)=41.32; p£ .001), ‘Teacher-led activation’ (F(1,143)=31.01; p£ .001), ‘Clarity’ (F(1,143)=72.17; p£ .001) and ‘Control’ (F(1,143)=9.86; p£ .005) (see Table 2). In other words, teachers who – according to the students – regularly use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students (‘type 2’-teachers) estimate their own instructional behaviour more realistically (i.e. more similar to the students’ perceptions; see Conclusions and Discussion) than teachers who – according to the students – little use these kinds of didactical work methods (‘type 1’-teachers). Although ‘type 2’-teachers estimate themselves too high on the different aspects of the QIB, with the exception of the aspect ‘Clarity’ (F(1,78)=.23; p=n.s.), ‘type 1’-teachers do so even more.

Conclusions and Discussion

In this study we researched how students and teachers perceive teachers’ instructional behaviour in schools for secondary vocational education (SVE). We concluded that students experience more room to really learn actively themselves the more teachers stimulate and activate them to do so. Moreover: the more teachers activate the students, the more students experience them to be clear. According to the students, using active work methods more frequently also goes hand in hand with an increase of control by the teacher involved.

The teachers themselves, however, do not link a high degree of student-led activation to an increase of their own clarity and control. The reverse rather seems to be the case: from teachers’ statements it appears that many of them associate a more frequent use of work methods based upon student-led activation with a loss of clarity and control. In the students’ eyes such negative effects of using student-led activation do not really occur, as we have already mentioned above.

This finding supports the assumption from the Introduction that the opportunities for integration of direct and process-oriented instruction do not lie in uniting the opposite points of departure, but more in bringing together some of their aspects: aspects of direct instruction can very well be integrated into a student-centred, activating educational framework. After all, teachers who more often use student-led and teacher-led activation (aspects of process-oriented instruction) also score higher according to the students on clarity and control (aspects of direct instruction). These teachers seem to be able to efficiently orientate the students to the subject matter and give them the explanations needed in the relatively short time they themselves are central in the lesson. When the students are working independently, these teachers have enough time and room to check and guide the progress of individual students or small groups of students and to give them feedback. Teachers using less student-led and teacher-led activation score lower on clarity and control according to the students. These teachers seem not to limit themselves to the main points of the subject matter (which subtracts from the clarity) in the longer time they are central in the lesson; they have less time and room to check and guide the students’ progress and give them feedback.

In a comparison of the students’ and the teachers’ perceptions it is striking that teachers estimate themselves higher on all aspects of the Questionnaire Instructional Behaviour (QIB) than the students do. In the teachers’ eyes they undertake more activities in which the stimulation and activation of students is expressed than in the students’ eyes. This holds true for both student-led and teacher-led activation. Furthermore, teachers estimate their own clarity to be higher than students do; this also holds true for the control they exert.

Because the teachers knew that we would ask their students to complete the QIB/Student we do not regard social desirability to be an important explanation for the differences we found. We rather think that many teachers are not able to realistically assess their own instructional behaviour. In this connection it should be noted that research has shown that student perceptions supply valid information about the instructional behaviour of teachers (see Marsh, 1982; 1984). Setz et al. (1993) also showed that student perceptions of teachers’ instructional behaviour are highly similar to the observations of external observers. The assumption that students perceive their teachers’ instructional behaviour in a more valid way than the teachers themselves appears to be justified here.

The finding that students are better able to realistically assess their teachers’ instructional behaviour than the teachers themselves may be caused by the fact that teachers operate in isolation from each other so that they cannot compare their behaviour with that of colleagues. Consequently, students, who can compare teachers on a regular basis, may be more valid informants. In addition, it may be that teachers do things quite well, but that they do not perceive this as such (and vice versa). This phenomenon may also be due to the lack of possibilities for comparisons teachers have.

Thereupon the question arises how teachers can be taught to assess their own instructional behaviour more realistically. Within the framework of the project "Development of school organisations from the perspective of active learning" the individual teacher scores on the QIB/Teacher and the QIB/Student have been discussed with the participating teachers. We can conclude on the basis of these discussions that most teachers regard completing the QIB/Teacher to be meaningful because it has stimulated them to reflect on their own instructional behaviour. We can also conclude that the teachers think the way in which students perceive their instructional behaviour is important. It has appeared that most teachers want to use the QIB/Student data to further optimise their instructional behaviour. Particularly for teachers who – according to the students – little use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students, such data can play an important role in reflecting on their own instructional behaviour. For it appeared from this study that teachers who – according to the students – little use didactical work methods aimed at stimulating and activating students assess their own instructional behaviour less realistically (i.e. less similar to the students’ perceptions) than teachers who do so regularly.

To conclude, student perceptions of teachers’ instructional behaviour can be a valuable source for teachers to reflect on their own behaviour. We assume that teachers become conscious of the discrepancy between their own perceptions and those of the students by means of a critical reflection on their own way of teaching. It is plausible that this realisation process gives rise to a stimulus further to improve their own instructional behaviour. Moreover, teachers’ possibilities to compare their instructional behaviour with that of colleagues should be increased e.g. through peer coaching or other opportunities to learn from each other.

References

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Biemans, H.J.A., & Jongmans, C.T. (1995). Secondary agricultural education from a ‘learning-to-learn’-perspective. European Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 2, 41-50.

Kelly, J.A. (1993). From knowing content to constructing knowledge: a trend analysis of secondary science education, 1953-1992. Doctoral dissertation. University of North Texas.

Marsh, H.W. (1982). Validity of students’ evaluations of college teaching: a multi-trait – multi-method analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 264-279.

Marsh, H.W. (1984). Students’ evaluations of university training: dimensionality, reliability, validity, potential biases and utility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 707-754.

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This document was added to the Education-line database 21 September 1999