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What students (really) want

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New research from Edith Cowan University has uncovered what students really want in the classroom and it’s quite different from what you might have expected; school students want structure, discipline and caring relationships from their teachers.

ECU School of Education Lecturer Helen Egeberg surveyed 360 WA high school students from six schools on their views about what made an effective teacher.

“What we found was that the things that students want most is a sense that their teachers genuinely care about them, explain concepts clearly and control classroom behaviour,” she said.

“Of those students surveyed, 85% agreed that effective teachers make them feel like they care about the students as individuals and 88% agreed that effective teachers respect their ideas and suggestions.

“Further, 82% of students agreed that effective teachers ensure that behaviour in their classrooms remains under control.

“This flies in the face of the common stereotype that some high school students don’t care about their education and just want to muck around all day at school.”

Following the survey the researchers conducted in depth focus groups at each of the six schools involved in the study.

Egeberg said one of the key themes to emerge from the discussions was the need for teachers to form strong relationships with their students.

“This was something that was brought up again and again in the focus groups, students respond best to the teachers who they felt cared about them and had worked to establish a relationship of mutual respect and trust,” she said.

It was important that teachers provided the right level of guidance and structure without being too critical or harsh.

“The students said that the best teachers were neither too friendly and let them get away with anything nor too strict.”

Egeberg said the next step in her research was to examine the attitudes of those teachers students identified as doing well.

“What we are hoping to identify is the key aspects of effective classroom management that can help inform teachers’ practice with all of their students.”

Quotes from student focus groups

  • ‘‘It’s the most important thing, I won’t do any work for teachers I can’t stand but those that give a … you know which ones those are and you kind of want to do the right thing by them.” 
  • “(Teachers) earn respect by building a relationship with you, getting to know you, through knowing that they care about what they’re teaching and that they care about you.”
  • “You want a bit of a balance. You want them to get along with you well, but you also want those boundaries and expect those and if there are no boundaries, if they’re too ‘‘friendly-friendly’’, then you muck up. But if they’re too nasty you’ll muck up as well.”
  • “The good ones don’t get angry, they just stay calm and deal with it and they don’t put you down, they have boundaries but they’re not mean about them, they make you take responsibility and deal with it”

‘What do students believe about effective classroom management? A mixed-methods investigation in Western Australian high schools’ was recently published in The Australian Educational Researcher.


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