A better classroom is the best way to educate your students, a new study finds.
The study, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Research for Educational Success, found that a high level of teaching in primary and secondary education results in better learning outcomes and fewer behavioral problems.
A better learning environment has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression among students and increase student achievement.
However, this study doesn’t tell us how or when to implement it, says Julie Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who was not involved in the study.
“The research doesn’t provide much insight into the exact mechanisms through which this works,” she says.
“It’s kind of a mystery.”
Johnson says that although many research studies have found that primary school students are less likely to perform poorly in school, it’s hard to find research that directly compares school climate to learning environment.
In this new study, she and her colleagues looked at data from over 3,500 schools across the United States.
They used data from the 2016-17 school year and found that schools with the highest levels of teacher-initiated teacher interactions, as measured by teachers asking students to complete tasks, had the lowest levels of students dropping out.
(Teachers also asked students to write about the learning experience and how it impacted their learning.)
“In general, the schools with high levels of in-person interactions were the schools that showed the lowest dropout rates,” Johnson says.
The researchers also looked at what kinds of teachers were most likely to intervene in students’ classrooms.
They found that the more interventions a teacher provided, the less likely students were to drop out.
“Teachers who did more in-class interventions were less likely than those who did less intervention to intervene students out of classrooms,” Johnson explains.
Teachers also had little effect on students dropping in and out of classes, but were less effective at keeping them there.
Johnson says the findings show that a teacher can do a lot to improve the learning environment, but that the impact on students isn’t clear-cut.
“There’s a lot of research on what the impact of teacher intervention on behavior is, and a lot more research that’s not necessarily focused on the teacher’s effect on behavior,” she explains.
Johnson is also concerned that many educators aren’t investing enough in improving classroom teaching.
“Many teachers don’t have the skills to be effective teachers,” she notes.
“When they’re not doing it, they’re doing things that they should be doing.”
This study adds to the growing body of evidence showing that teachers are key to a good classroom.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Association of Colleges and Schools have been advocating for better classroom teaching for years.
In 2013, they created the Teacher Quality Improvement Award, which encourages schools to improve teacher quality, by paying $25,000 to schools that have the highest number of classroom interventions and a minimum of six classroom interventions per year.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics launched the Teacher Education Excellence Awards, which awards scholarships to teachers who deliver a better learning experience for their students.
Teachers’ union representatives also have been pushing for more classroom-based efforts in schools.
In addition to the new U.K. study, other research has shown that teachers who work with students in the classroom are more likely to identify and respond to behavioral problems in students.
“I think the evidence is that teachers do a very good job of engaging students in a variety of learning contexts,” Johnson notes.
The findings of this new U-K study were published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.