Given the right support from their teacher, five to six-year-old children who are struggling at school can be prevented from falling further behind year on year. Whereas most previous research has tended to focus on class size and teacher-to-pupil ratios, Bridget Hamre and Robert Pianta (University of Virginia) looked at the effect of teaching style and emotional support.
Among 910 children at 747 schools, the researchers identified those at risk of struggling either because of their family background, determined by the length of their mother’s education, or because of their poor behaviour in class during their first year at school, including struggling to concentrate, getting into fights and being disobedient.
At-risk pupils who received high emotional support and more instructional teaching performed just as well as their low-risk peers on measures of academic achievement at the end of their second school year. In contrast, at-risk pupils in classes that lacked these teaching styles performed more poorly than their peers at the end of the second year. Specifically, children thought to be at risk because of their background benefited from teachers who provided plenty of literary instruction, and who engaged them in thoughtful discussion and encouraged them to expand their own ideas. Children considered at risk because of their earlier behaviour benefited from a teacher who was sensitive to their individual needs, who was able to manage class behaviour without using many control techniques, and who fostered a happy classroom climate in which the pupils enjoyed themselves, and in which the teacher showed warmth and positive regard.
“Taken together, these findings provide evidence of the potential for schools to moderate children’s risk of academic and relational problems”, the authors concluded.
Hamre, B.K. & Pianta, R.C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first-grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76, 949-967.