Document Type

Theses, Masters


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Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) to the Technological University Dublin, 2007.


Behaviour problems in the classroom present a real issue of concern for Irish primary school teachers (Martin, 1997); few matters have more direct and persistent impact on the teacher than managing overt behaviour (Cullinane, 1999a; Department of Education and Science, 1989). A central premise of this study was that the lived everyday experience of behavioural difficulties in the classroom environment is dependent on the interplay between person and context variable across time. Underpinned by the ecosystemic theories of Bronfenbrenner (1979 to 2005) and Molnar and Lindquist (1989) this study investigated the context of teacher-reported emotional/behavioural difficulties in junior and senior infant children. Three connected research questions orientated the study to provide information on children’s behaviour problems in the classroom environment by way of describing firstly, the difficulties ( as reported by and meaningful to teachers), secondly the context of these difficulties, and thirdly, the interaction between the two (impact of context on behaviour). The study was conducted in two phases. In Phase One a random sample of 273 primary school teachers was surveyed using a non-standardised, self-designed teacher-questionnaire that gathered, predominantly, quantitative data o9n children with teacher reported behavioural difficulties. In Phase Two a sub-sample of 18 dyads (18 children and ten teachers) for more qualitative investigation was drawn. Both structural and process classroom variables were measured. Teachers’ thinking about children with behavioural difficulties was elicited through interview; focal children’s behaviour and teachers’ interaction with these children were recorded through observation. In an effort to understand the school context at a macro level, nine principal teachers were interviewed and school documentation such as Codes of Discipline were analysed. Introducing an additional temporal element to data collection, teachers completed a Behaviour Incident Report Form in the weeks following classroom observation. Children’s behaviour was categorised using both quantitative and qualitative methods and its description was remarkably consistent despite the form of measurement used. In keeping with the literature, boys were found to be significantly more disruptive than girls. Children with preschool experience were less deviant from the norm but no different in ratings of disruption than those without this experience, and junior infant children were both more deviant and disruptive than senior infants. Children’s behaviour impacted on many teachers. In Phase Two, by way of affecting their emotional experience of classroom life. Al teachers gave more time to focal children than other children. They used a range of behaviour management strategies and their pattern of use was influenced by their perception of local children’s behaviour and the context. To support them in working with focal children, teachers used school supports/resources on a formal and informal basis. They attributed the cause of behavioural difficulties primarily to family and background factors but also to child-owned problems and desired environmental change at departmental level in terms of a reduction in pupil:teacher ratios and curriculum formality. The study concluded with recommendations for educational practice in terms of the construction of hopeful and positive perceptions of children with emotional/behavioural difficulties and the development of classroom environments that promote behavioural-characteristics reflective of ‘model’pupils. Increased awareness of the impact of the classroom environment, including activity organisation and social relationships, on behaviour, and, the importance of taking a planned approach to behaviour management- reflecting on and in practice-would contribute to more satisfying classroom lives for children with behavioural difficulties and the significant others in their classroom microsystems.


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