The impact of negative classroom behavior is an important topic in the field of education. A large portion of classroom time is spent dealing with disruptions caused by negative student behavior. I chose this as a particular area of interest because there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding what the key contributing factors to positive and negative classroom behavior are. A better understanding of what the key factors are that contribute to classroom behavior would help to reduce negative behavior that disrupts the learning process.

Academic Literature:

Hart (2010) summarized current consensus of educational psychologists on classroom behavior management. Reinforcement of positive behavior was a strategy recommended by over 90% of educational psychologists. They also recommended a student-focused approach, as well as a focus on language and communication. The research uncovered eight themes of behavior management: “contingency management, feeling safe/secure, managing setting conditions, promoting positive beliefs about self, promoting pupil autonomy, pupils feeling valued, understanding of setting conditions and vicarious learning.”

Holm (2010) studied gender patterns. This study found that teachers direct more attention to boys and what they are interested in. Girls are more quiet and do not get noticed as much. They are less likely to protest if they do not like something. However, girls tend to receive higher grades than boys.

A study by Arbuckle & Little (2004) attempted to determine Middle Years teachers’ perceptions and management of disruptive classroom behavior.  It was found that male students were perceived to be more disruptive than female students. Disruptive behavior of the male students increased with the transition from primary school to secondary school. However, the management strategies used by teachers did not differ between primary and secondary school. Teacher confidence was found to vary inversely with male disruptive behavior, but no relationship was found with female behavior.

Gillies (2011) studied the growing emphasis schools placed on children's emotional growth. Schools have expanded their roles to include both the monitoring students' well-being and the teaching of ‘emotional and social skills’. This study argued that these new methods tend to abstract emotions so that they are “evaluated in terms of appropriateness.” Students whose emoitional expressions are inappropriate are removed from the classroom for therapy. It contends that this can be harmful to the students.

Another study (Romi, Lewis, & Katz 2009) compared how teachers and students viewed student responsibility and how those perceptions affected classroom discipline in Australia, China, and Israel. The study found that when inclusive disciplinary techniques, such as discussion and recognition are used, students accept more responsibility for their actions than when punishment is used. They are also more likely to encourage their classmates to behave properly.

Overton & Sullivan (2008) found that non-compliant behavior did sometimes occur in a democratic classroom where the teacher shared power with the students. Discussion with the students revealed that during these episodes of non-compliant behavior occurred when the teacher shared less power with the students. The paper argued that teachers should reduce non-compliance by giving the students input into the management of the classroom.

Jull (2009) suggests that self-monitoring of student behavior would assist in identifying and dealing with negative behavior in the classroom. This is consistent with the other studies (Romi, Lewis & Katz 2009; Overton & Sullivan 2008) on democratic classroom management.

One recent study (Thoonen, Sleegers, Peetsma & Oort 2011 ) contradicts these studies. Researchers examined the effect of teachers’ sense of self-efficacy on student motivation. Three of the four aspects of teaching that were studied did have an effect on student motivation. Of these four aspects, process-oriented instruction had the greatest impact on student motivation. Process-oriented instruction had an adverse effect on student motivation. This contradicts other research (Romi, Lewis & Katz 2009; Overton & Sullivan 2008; Jull 2009) that suggest hat increasing students’ self-regulation has a positive effect on their motivation.

Martin & Dowson (2009) studied students' interpersonal relationships to determine how these relationships affect students’ academic motivation, engagement, and achievement.  Attribution theory, expectancy-value theory, goal theory, self-determination theory, self- efficacy theory, and self-worth motivation theory were reviewed in relation to the way students' relationships affected their academic performance.

Another study on students' relationships (Liem, Arief, & Martin 2011) specifically focused on peer relationships, both same-sex and opposite-sex. Positive relationships with same-sex peers, but not those with opposite-sex peers, were directly predictive of good academic performance. Relationships with both same-sex and opposite-sex peers were predictive of self-esteem and engagement in school.

Another study (Martin, Daley, Hutchings, Jones, Eames, & Whitaker 2010) showed the importance of the relationships between teachers and students. These relationships influence the emotional and behavioral development of children as well as their academic development. If the relationship between a teacher and a student is positive, negative behavior is reduced, but if the relationship is negative, behavioral problems increase. Therefore it is important to measure the relationship between the teacher and  student.

The causes to which students attribute negative behavior remained stable over a 30-month period during one study (Lambert & Miller 2010). Two causes, “adverse family circumstances and hostile role models at home” and “culture of misbehavior” were particularly stable. “Pressure of work demands and high expectations” was also stable. “Teacher fairness and racial issues” was not stable over time.

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School Description:

Established in 1866, Wesley College Melbourne, an open-entry school of the Uniting Church and Victorian Registered School and is one of the largest independent coeducational schools in Australia. Wesley has 3 metropolitan campuses, Elsternwick, Glen Waverley and St Kilda Road, as well as 3 outdoor education sites at Healesville, Portland and on the Gippsland Lakes, a residential campus in the Victorian township of Clunes, a studio school on Leopold Downs Cattle Station in the Kimberley (WA). The majority of Wesley College students come from high socio-economic backgrounds. Wesley offers a broad curriculum, a balanced approach to learning, a concern for the whole student and the provision of opportunities for all young people to learn to know, to do, to live with and to be, within an innovative and caring environment.

Study Approach:


I had a brief chat with each class before undertaking the surveys and they were happy that their information was going to remain confidential. The survey was taken by 20 year 7 students (10 boys and 10 girls) and 22 year 9 students (12 boys and 10 girls) varying in age and mixed abilities and behavioural issues . The survey was aimed at the students answering the same questions in a variety of ways and being given the opportunity to explain their answers. Although my question specifies “positive” and “negative” factors, I felt it was important to have a “both” column with an opportunity for the students to explain how their behaviour can be influenced both positively and negatively from the different factors. I did this because I think many of these factors can be either or at any given time.

During first semester placement I found the behavior and dynamics of the two classrooms to be very interesting and unpredictable. I spoke with a number of teachers and they agreed that these two classes who would generate some very interesting data because seating arrangements had been implemented, and behavior was being monitored by various teachers. There were three stages to my data collection process. I used a mixture of core data such as surveys and observations plus informal interviews with students and teachers. Every student attempted every question.

The observation data was placed in a reflective journal. The survey data was entered into an excel spreadsheet and analysed by gender and year level, then analysed as a whole to work out the key factors.

The survey also required reflection and definition from the students about the way they behave in the classroom or events where they or those around them changed their behavior. I went with this option due to our discussions throughout the semester on sensitivity etc.

It was interesting to note that in the written responses (explanations) the students, in particular 6 out of the 10 year 7 girls, explained that whether they liked or disliked a subject was heavily influenced by the teacher and whether they liked that teacher or not. This may be related to the findings in the study by Martin, Daley, Hutchings, Jones, Eames, & Whitaker (2010).

Through observation I found a fantastic mix of gender dominance and behavior in the classroom. In year 7 for example, there were very similar behavior patterns such as shouting out, talking when the teacher was talking and other disruptive behavior. In year 9 the boys were louder and spoke more, but the girls had dominance when they didn’t agree with someone’s behavior in the classroom be that boy or girl. Overall, there was basically an even split between the genders in the classroom and their behaviors were very similar. However, outside the classroom the boys were a lot more physically and verbally dominant as they were playing footy, jumping on each other, and yelling out whereas the girls just sat in the groups and chatted. This is consistent with the findings of Holm (2010) and Arbuckle & Little (2004).

One of the most intriguing insights that came out of this research project was the definition students gave to “classroom behavior.” They all spoke of it in terms of verbal communication, not physical.

Motivation was a factor that I underestimated, and it was a main factor, along with friends, that contributed positively to classroom behavior in year 7 girls. I would have liked to have explored this further and find out where this motivation stemmed from – parents etc.

In the explanation section the students explained the impact seating arrangements had on their behavior. Although many of them said they would like to sit with their friends, they acknowledged that they were more productive when they were in their seating arrangements, especially in subjects where they were often distracted and misbehaved. This was a classroom management strategy used by certain teachers to ensure students were still engaged and participating but also to educate and get them thinking about what is and isn’t acceptable classroom behavior.

The most intriguing factor was from my observations that the students are very aware of what is expected of them and how they became very disgruntled as a class with the person or people who were misbehaving and often took the role of the teacher and telling them off they took their responsibility as a student seriously. This is in agreement with theories of democratic classroom management and self-monitoring (Romi, Lewis & Katz 2009; Overton & Sullivan 2008; Jull 2009).

The other key point I took out from observation is that loud behavior doesn’t necessarily translate into bad behaviour. In year 9 for example they were quite a loud class, but it was because they were engaged and wanting to impress the teacher. Students called out but didn’t interrupt each other etc.




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