School & District Management

Teacher Training in Classroom Management Is Insufficient, NCTQ Finds

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 10, 2013 4 min read
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Most teacher colleges appear to spend at least some instructional time on classroom-management techniques, but it’s often incomplete, not based on research, or divorced from the student-teaching component of preparation.

That’s the gist of a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which used a sample of the syllabi and other materials collected for last summer’s teacher-preparation review for the analysis.

Unlike other NCTQ reviews, this one doesn’t give ratings or grades to programs, but it’s still pretty harsh in its condemnation. One big problem, it says, is that classroom management is often said to be “embedded” across classes, leading to fragmentation and incoherence in how the topic is taught.

Teacher colleges have criticized the NCTQ’s past review projects, labelling them methodologically flawed and ideologically biased. They’re likely to have similar complaints about this project, and I’ll be sure to update this item with reaction from the colleges as it comes in.

UPDATED, 12/10, 12:37 p.m. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s President, Sharon Robinson, had this to say about the report: “Classroom management is so fundamental to the work of teaching, that I’m flabbergasted,” she said. “I wish they would tighten up their methodology; they do make such sweeping statements based on small samples, and there is variation in how the standards were applied. ... This is an essay, not a research report.”

For the paper, NCTQ examined materials from 122 programs housed in 79 institutions in 33 states, mostly collected through open-records requests. Analysts reviewed the research on classroom management and arrived at what it called a “big five” that should be taught in every program:

  • Rules for classroom behavior that are explicitly taught and applied;
  • Routines on how to act when working in groups, turning in homework, and so forth;
  • Praise for students’ good behavior;
  • Consequences for misbehavior;
  • Student engagement through the use of interesting lessons with ample opportunities for participation.

Then, NCTQ looked at syllabi, lecture topics, assignments, and textbooks, mainly in foundational coursework classes, to see whether these issues were covered. (As with the NCTQ’s other projects, what’s actually taught in many programs could differ from what documents and syllabi say is taught.)

Overall, programs spent an average of about eight class periods—or 40 percent of a single course—on classroom management. But only 17 percent of the programs studied addressed all five of the areas identified by NCTQ.

Notably, programs tended not to address the technique of how to use praise and rewards; 74 percent lacked this topic. The report doesn’t try to surmise why praise is so absent from programs. (While I’m certainly not an expert in the social sciences, I wonder if this finding in part reflects broader debates about behaviorism versus cognitive psychology. Perhaps techniques based on rewards and sanctions are out of favor, while approaches that focus on metacognition, like self-regulation and motivation, are on the rise.)

The review also finds that while the programs did include paper-and-pencil assignments on classroom management, they often didn’t give students a chance to practice them. For instance, NCTQ officials found few connections between what was taught in coursework and what teacher-candidates were evaluated on during student-teaching.

What causes this apparent mismatch? The group chalks it up to the collision of academic freedom and a vague curriculum.

“All too often, individual instructors are allowed to decide what is important to teach and what is not, with little regard for the overall integrity of the training provided by the program, which may or may not have even articulated a picture of how its training should be constituted,” NCTQ says.

It’s a provocative statement that raises an interesting question: What should the teacher-preparation curriculum consist of, and how specific or standardized does it need to be? NCTQ notes that there’s no agreement in the programs about how many courses are needed on classroom management, what the sequence should look like, or what should comprise the foundational texts. Not even state regulations address the five areas NCTQ identified, with only “routines” appearing in a majority of state teaching standards.

AACTE’s Robinson countered those assertions, saying programs have gone far beyond adherence to the “big five.” Programs “have incorporated neuroscience, they have incorporated the research on resiliency, on motivation, and the behaviorist approaches,” she said. Moreover, new accreditation standards demand greater documentation of evidence that candidates can effectively manage classrooms. And accreditation, not the NCTQ, “is the expression of professional consensus on these matters,” she added.

There are still some promising solutions, the council says: The end of the report gives examples of good instruction from several institutions, notably several that use video excerpts to help candidates see and recognize the classroom-management techniques in practice.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.