Edfest: Swinson

Jeremy Swinson is speaking to a packed room about his research on reducing low level disruption, specifically the relationship between teacher verbal feedback and pupil engagement. His research showed that there were small variations between urban and rural schools; wider variations among areas; and considerable variation among teachers within the same school. However, this variation is not to do with the students, but seem to be related to teacher feedback.

High rates of positive feedback have high engagement and low disruptive incidents (Paula Loro, sitting by me, points out this is the halo effect). Positive feedback, though, is generally related to work; behaviour receives mostly negative feedback. Jeremy references Harrop (1974), Wheldal and Merrit’s Batpack and Batsack, and his own work carrying out research on Assertive Discipline from 1995. He found that if teachers applied the positive feedback, they didn’t need to use the disciplinary element of the program. With his colleagues, Melling and Cording, he published the four essential steps.

To begin with, ensure whole school commitment with the full backing of SLT and an established behaviour policy. Then, assess current performance by observing classes. Then the steps:

1. Make your instructions and directions absolutely clear.

2. Look for the students who are doing what they’re told, and acknowledge them.
Remember to repeat the instructions as part of the acknowledgement. Whole class acknowledgement and praise works particularly well with difficult groups.

3. Frequently acknowledge them.
Make sure the feedback is descriptive and individualised. Tour the class. Give more positive feedback if a class becomes unsettled, rather than reverting to negative feedback. Telling kids off does not work, so why bother?

4. Always know how to deal with inappropriate behaviour.
This falls into three categories: non-disruptive, low-level and severe. Non-disruptive is off task, looking out of the window and so on. It can be easily dealt with by a look, proximity, proximity praise (repeating the desired behaviour whilst praising students either side of the student off task). It’s important to keep calm.

Jeremy shares data to show improvements in on-task behaviour following the implementation of these steps, from 70%ish to 90%ish, and shares details of his book, Positive Psychology for Teachers.

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