Inclusion - excellence for all

Pupil behaviour management

Papers & recommended reading | Editorial reviews | Task for trainees

Boys learning MFL
Wheeler, G. (2006)

This report by a lead practitioner in a West Yorkshire secondary school details a project to address boys’ underachievement in MFL. Working on the premise that behaviour not congruent with efficient and effective learning was adversely affecting boys’ attainment, a survey of Year 8 established that gender-based learning styles were requiring address if the behaviour were to be modified”.

“… boys were clearly more in favour of kinaesthetic lessons with visual methods e.g. watching videos and reading cartoons whilst girls were far more tolerant of all ideas. Results were mixed across the ability range. Boys wanted active, challenging, risk-taking lessons that provide instant gratification, whereas the girls were happy to complete worksheets, tolerate traditional teaching methods and be more risk-averse.”

The project originally set out to discover whether single-sex teaching groups would address these differences.

Later the project was extended to neighbouring schools, and the type of strategies that had motivated boys in single-sex classes seems to have enjoyed some documented success with boys – and girls with behaviour challenges – in mixed-gender contexts too.

Thus the focus has moved to considering a wider range of strategies, but with the emphasis remaining on the ‘less traditional’ preferences of boys.

Although not summarised in these terms by the report, variety of approach to teaching and grouping formats and short, entertaining activities in meaningful sequences seem to be the key features of success in terms of changing attitudes. Whether enhanced attainment has resulted is not yet reported.

Click here for the report.


Supporting independence: students' perceptions of self-management
Lamb, T.E. (2006) in Supporting independent learning: issues and interventions Lamb, T.E., and Reinders, H., (eds.), Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang, (2006)

This chapter enjoys two distinct benefits: it is an analysis of research conducted within the UK-based MFL secondary school sector, and it gives “learners an open opportunity to comment on their experiences of learning languages” in a qualitative study.

Although more apparently linked to the issues raised in the domains of Motivation and Learner Autonomy, this chapter of recommended reading is included under the ‘behaviour for learning’ section as the author himself sets the research in a behaviour management context, seeking to invite learners to talk about “what enhances or diminishes their … engagement”. (Rudduck et al., 1997: 74. This prioritisation of engagement is fundamental to the creation of a socially cohesive and emotionally rewarding learning environment in which cognitive development might then take place; it is at the heart of the notion of ‘behaviour for learning’.

The author starts from the premise that language learning in our MFL classrooms tends to be “teacher-centred”, the students “dependent on the teacher”. This is problematic in that research has identified reciprocality in the relationships between motivation, learner independence and appropriate differentiation.

The chapter goes on to discuss three identified levels of an independence continuum along which ‘control’ of learning gradually transfers from pupil to teacher; a typical starting point is limited choice, perhaps a limited number of teacher-set tasks; the next staging post is self-regulation, which might be when pupils assess their own learning; ultimately as pupil confidence rises from being able to choose what they do and ascertain their own level of success, self-direction, where pupils make decisions about the next steps of learning, may become possible. It is maintained that even the initially highly structured choice enhances motivation, and engagement with the study of languages.

And who says so in the research? That most powerful voice, that of the pupils. The rest of the chapter is a fascinating record of, and insight into, the opinions of MFL learners themselves. The lessons are clear: pupils say they value, and respond to any degree of choice and the opportunity to learn independently; they require materials that support all the targeted language skills. When they are offered more complex choices, they need tutorial support for making good choices, and monitoring and assessing their own learning; they need formative, positive feedback from teachers, and help with target setting; they seek appropriate reward criteria that emphasise quality over quantity.

The collective response of the pupils constitutes good evidence that there is indeed a strong correlation between motivation and independent learning, and that provision of such opportunities can be interpreted as establishing the conditions under which ‘behaviour for learning’ can surface and flourish.

Engaging the class 2 (2005) Teachers' TV, 113708/ 2, 115294

This 15-minute archived transmission focuses on a Year 8 low-ability boys’ French class in a West Yorkshire secondary school. The Head of Department and their class teacher, Gill Wheeler, along with her staff, is running an experiment on single-sex setting in order to raise boys’ achievement. Gill’s essential focus is on raising the boys’ achievement by focusing on establishing ‘behaviour for learning’ by addressing identified gender-based needs. The emphasis is on the creation of a motivating and socially cohesive environment; she prioritises process (a competitive team structure) over content (the language learning itself, and thus recognises that extrinsic rewards may be especially important when individuals show no intrinsic interest in a subject. (Zimmerman, 1985).

The basic mechanism for engagement is a ‘football league’ system, the class is split into teams who score goals for good work, and move up and down a league. The expert commentators, Amanda Barton and Terry Lamb, remark on the success of this in that it appeals to the boys’ competitive instincts, yet the team game structure does not isolate individuals in failure.

The teacher’s research skills are of primary importance in the conduct of the project, and its eventual success in achieving its objective; interestingly the single-gender classes succeeded in raising girls’ achievement too.

The commentators lead the discussion on reflection on good practice in terms of clear relevance to beginning teachers: recognition of gender-based learning styles, willingness to listen to learners, clarity of instruction, application of effective differentiation, establishment of good working relationships, scaffolding of the learning, employment of different types of teacher-led and more independent activity, clear structuring and skilful pacing of the lesson, communication of learning objectives, management of in-class pupil groupings, use of varied assessment procedures including peer-assessment, and targeting communicative priorities.

It is argued by some within the ITT MFL community (in particular Lawes, 2003) that reflection may in itself be insufficient, and that a deeper understanding of research-led theory is key to informed good practice. In order to integrate so many features of good practice listed in the above paragraph, the teacher leading the project must have based her strategies in current theory and research; this represents no arbitrary imitation of others’ practice. It follows that the support materials for this transmission on the Teachers’ TV website might underpin the reflection on good practice with appropriate reference to its possible source in educational theory; unfortunately this is not the case. The recommended reading for this section therefore attempts to fill this ‘gap’ for trainees and tutors by proposing literature which emphasises the link between ‘behaviour for learning’ and sociological, psychological, methodological, neurological, historical and philosophical aspects of language learning and education.

Study of this topic addresses aspects of the following QTS standards: Q 30, 31 (new draft standards, Nov 2006 for implementation in Sep 2007).

Click here to access the transmission


A systematic review of how theories explain learning behaviour in school contexts Powell, S., Tod, J. (2004) Canterbury Christ Church (CCC) University College for EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education, University of London

The aim of this systematic review was to inform ITT/ ITE tutors and providers about the theoretical underpinnings of learning behaviours in school contexts, in order to enhance behaviour management programmes. It concludes that critical examination of the theory should be productive in the promotion of the notion of ‘behaviour for learning’, and that findings support the view that researchers perceive that there are generic components of learning behaviours, although some components may be subject-specific. These subject-specific components may explain pupils' differing attainment and behaviours in different lessons. However, a search of section 3 of the large full report reveals that only one study of those sampled is specific to teaching languages; many of the findings from the review are cross-curricular in nature, and will require discussion with trainees as to how exactly they relate to the MFL secondary classroom setting.

Sections 1 and 5 are the particularly recommended sections from a large document: the overarching message is that researchers place value on securing positive behaviours for learning rather than oppositional, disciplinary interventions.

Attainment in school learning is found to be attributable to a combination of cognitive, social and affective factors: however, an emphasis on social interaction is of primary importance in cognitive development, and influences the development of positive learning behaviour in school contexts, particularly with lower attainers and boys. In a MFL context, it could, then, be argued that emphasising motivation via ‘facilitative’ teaching styles and ‘autonomous’ learning styles may hold the key to creating the socially cohesive environments that promote ‘behaviour for learning languages’.

There is useful guidance for providers in relation to considering how a ‘behaviour for learning’ component be integrated rather than ‘bolted on’ to the ITT/ ITE course.

For those with a research remit, there is a section on Implications for research; the lack of subject-specific guidance would signify that any of the suggested strands could fruitfully be pursued within a MFL secondary classroom context.

Click here for a .pdf file of the report summary.
Click here for a .pdf file of the full report.

Motivating the Academically Unmotivated: a Critical Issue for the 21st Century
Hidi, S., Harakiewicz, J. (2000) Review of Educational Research, 70(2), pp 151-179

Prioritising the creation of a socially cohesive and emotionally rewarding learning environment in which cognitive development might take place constitutes recognition that managing behaviour is a prerequisite for good learning.

Though not specifically based in the field of MFL, this article refers to encouraging learning behaviours in the academically unmotivated, seeking primarily engagement with task (process) as a first step to actual interest in the subject (content):
“If students become engaged in academic tasks, there is at least a chance that genuine interests and intrinsic motivation will emerge.”

The article makes pertinent distinctions between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, individual and situational interest, and performance and mastery goals. Making tasks relevant to pupils, setting them in entertaining formats, delegating to pupils at least some responsibility for their own learning, sustaining interest over time, interaction with peers, and achieving for self-satisfaction and/ or to please the teacher, and attaining in terms of criteria set by ‘the system’ are among the topics discussed.

Psychological Process in Cooperative Language Learning: Group dynamics and Motivation Dornyei, Z. (1997) The Modern Language Journal, 81(4), pp 482

This article explores the benefits that cooperative learning brings to the languages classroom. The author claims success in learning gains from two interrelated processes: the unique group dynamics that CL effects, and the motivational aspects brought about by peer cooperation. The author cites evidence from other research in terms of attainment gains; he is more concerned in this paper to consider the psychological aspect of CL and the “key to its effectiveness in the affective domain”. CL sets up a socially cohesive environment in which peer support is a major motivator, and the emotional liberation achieved from steering clear of individualistic competition between students creates the conditions for the kind of higher order thinking that brings about enhanced attainment.

There follows a detailed analysis of the concept of ‘group cohesiveness’, and the implications for teaching styles are briefly discussed. A crucial point is that learning processes are not of secondary importance to content. The paper, by focusing on the relationship of the socio-affective aspects in relation to the cognitive, implies that cooperative learning can be seen as an effective instrument in the policy area we know as ‘behaviour for learning’.

Cooperative Learning, Collaborative Learning and Interaction: Three Communicative Strands in the Language Classroom
Oxford, R. (1997) The Modern Language Journal, 81(4), pp 443-456

If we are to create conditions in which ‘behaviour for learning’ can flourish, it follows that study of modes of learning which depart from the norm of whole-class teaching with its serial one-on-one teacher-pupil communications may prove an effective strategy.

This article explores the detail of the differences between three identified strands of teacher-facilitated learning in the languages classroom. Their crucial common trait is that they establish socially cohesive groups of learners within the classroom, and thus can be said to support ‘behaviour for learning’.

Whilst the purpose of introducing any of the strategies is to increase learner independence, for the teacher it is important to match the level of autonomy to the pupils’ needs and aptitudes, and an understanding of the distinctions between these three strands will assist the appropriate choice of strategy. It is a question of degree; the movement from cooperative to collaborative to interactive is portrayed as one of increasing independence from the teacher; from semi-directed, more structured learning opportunities to less predictable outcomes and activity types accompanied by more pupil choice regarding tasks undertaken or outcomes achieved. The article provides examples of what this means in practice for group organisation and task setting and type in the L2 classroom and learning programme, whilst acknowledging that more is known about cooperation than the more loosely structured strands of collaboration and interaction. A vein of commentary linking the theme to socio-affective-cognitive theory runs through the paper.

Classroom Behaviour Problems which Secondary school Teachers say they find most Troublesome Houghton, S., Wheldon, K., Merrett, F. (1988) British Educational Research Journal, Vol.14(3), pp 297-312

This is not a recent paper, underlining the need for a more contemporary research base from which to generate theory on behaviour-for-learning principles, specifically rooted in the context of UK-based MFL classrooms.

However, research literature is not always rendered irrelevant by age; this paper looks at behavioural issues arising in subject-specific classrooms, and findings resulting from data supplied by teachers reveal three key characteristics of MFL classes with which trainees might easily identify some two decades later: significant numbers of “troublesome” pupils, “talking out of turn” which is disruptive to the lesson’s progress, and incidence of behaviour types which impede other pupils’ learning. The research data suggests that while the study reveals all the subject areas share the common significant areas of unwanted behaviours, MFL classes seem to suffer to a greater degree. ITT MFL tutors’ observation of trainees’ classes, communication with mentors, and response to requests for tutorial support may well provide summary evidence that these factors still account significantly for MFL student teacher frustration.

Whilst the article does not explore the underlying reasons for the discrepancies between the perceived levels of minor disruption in the different subject areas, it effectively opens up a debate on what is different about managing the MFL classroom in comparison with other subject classes, and invites identification, in a practice context, of effective MFL-specific behaviour management strategies.


A bibliography of modern foreign languages and special educational needs (word document)
Wilson, D. (work in progress)

Periodically updated, David Wilson’s A bibliography of modern foreign languages and special educational needs, on his excellent website Diversity and inclusion in modern foreign languages, currently contains over 1400 international print and online references on MFL and SEN. This constantly refreshed and comprehensive resource constitutes an essential map of current thinking on every aspect of MFL and SEN you could possibly imagine.


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