Student engagement: Reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour

Student engagement: Reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour

A study by Skinner and Belmont (1993) investigated the reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour on student engagement. Student engagement is an important aspect of classroom motivation as engaged students are more likely to be motivated, persistent, able to cope with learning challenges, and are interested in their learning.

Teacher behaviours are shown to influence student engagement. Teacher behaviours which have a positive effect on student engagement include guidance, modelling, enthusiasm, provision of choice, praise, reinforcement, and interest (Brophy, 1986).
Little is known about the reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour, that is, how the relationship between teacher and student behaviour is mediated by the student’s perceptions of the teacher towards the student. Conversely, little is known about how student engagement is mediated by teachers’ perceptions of student motivation.

Teachers behave in either a compensatory of magnified manner to student engagement. Either style of behaviour can be positive or negative on student engagement depending on the teacher’s perceptions of the student’s motivation. For example, a highly motivated and engaged student could elicit a magnified response from the teacher in support of the student’s engagement. Similarly, an unmotivated student could elicit either a compensatory response to support and improve engagement and motivation or the teacher could respond with behaviour which magnifies the student’s negative motivation and engagement, through withdrawal or less offers of support.

The most significant finding in the study was the report of teacher engagement in student perceptions. Teacher engagement in the classroom is connected to student engagement.
In the student perceptions of teacher behaviour, the findings showed that those teachers who were highly involved, had students who experienced their teachers as involved, more structured in their teaching, and autonomy supportive. Students with teachers who were less involved, perceived their teachers as less involved and additionally, more chaotic and coercive.

Interestingly, student behavioural engagement was uniquely predicted by student perceptions of teacher structure, and student emotional engagement was uniquely predicted by teacher involvement.

The results of the study suggest strong reciprocal relationships between teachers’ behaviour and student engagement in the classroom. Students respond to teachers level of involvement and engagement and in return, teachers respond to perceptions of their students level of engagement and motivation. In a teacher’s response to a student with low levels and engagement and motivation, they can attempt to compensate to improve the motivation and reduce the student negativity. Conversely, the teacher could respond negatively, thereby exacerbating the students’ negativity. Suggestions as to why teachers do this are because student passivity is aversive and leads teachers to feel incompetent. As a result, the teacher will be less likely to spend time with that student.

Responding positively to students’ negative emotions is not a natural response as it is perceived as passivity by the teacher. However, the authors suggest that younger student’s negative emotions are either an anxiety or boredom response, and this is a signal to teacher to increase the support offered to the younger student. Older student’s negative responses are said to differ in their quality, such as anger or depression, and teachers will be less likely to respond to these behaviours in a supportive manner.

Overall, the research demonstrates a strong case for the existence of reciprocal relationships between teacher behaviour and student engagement. It highlights the importance of recognising the most appropriate teacher response to student levels of engagement, even though it might be counterintuitive to initial teacher reactions.

Brophy, J. (1986). Teacher influences on student achievement. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1069-1077.
Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.

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