Can Self Assessment Lead to Behaviour Improvement

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Behaviour management strategies have been always seen by both theorists and practitioners as an important part of the educational process as they aim to establish learners' self-discipline and encourage achievement and positive behaviour. This then would suggest that lecturer's effectiveness, learner's attainment and behaviour are somewhat interlinked to successful classroom management. The aim of this paper is to create a body of knowledge for small scale research in the field of behaviour management strategies used by Further Education (FE) lecturers working primarily with vocational learners at Halesowen College who tend to show a high frequency of disruptive behaviour.

Behaviour management is considered by some to be controversial, as linked to the general effectiveness of frequently used strategies. Research has suggested that many of the existing debates are not limited to existing tactics, but also include psychological analysis of learners' behaviour in the classroom extending to their general development and to the very description of educational aims in this area. Many strategies to do with behaviour management often lead to differences in opinions. However, the one thing that most lecturers would agree on is that excessive interruptions due to off task behaviour significantly impacts on the effectiveness of teaching and learning, as well as learner attainment.

Due to issues that I have experienced in my own teaching and strategies that I have employed over the years in both FE as well as Secondary Schools, behaviour management have been always a subject of great personal interest. , which became more than ever justified with the introduction of The Increased Flexibility for 14-16 year olds Programme (IFP) in many FE Institutions. The IFP was introduced by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2002 and was intended to

`create enhanced vocational and work-related learning opportunities for 14-16 year olds who can benefit most'.

(National Foundation for Educational Research 2005)

This entailed FE colleges working in partnership with schools to offer GCSEs (more recently BTEC Level 1 & 2 as well as the 14-19 Diploma's) in vocational subjects to Year 10 and Year 11 school pupils'. Personal experience of working in a FE college allowed me to observe first hand that the predominance of disruptive behaviour occurs during the classes attended by Year 10 vocational (collegiate) learners. Along with the acknowledgement that the learners' disruptive behaviour could have been caused by a multiplicity of factors and influences, the research will focus mainly on the analysis of lecturer's view of current behaviour management strategies employed by the college and using a self-assessment approach for preventing disruptive behaviour among the collegiate learners.

Firstly, the research will present a comprehensive review of the literature regarding behaviour management strategies used in the British educational system and draw sets of implications from literature on vocational learners within the FE environment. Secondly, this paper will aim to focus on the three main enquiries of the research:

What are lecturers' views on behaviour of learners' such as Health and Social Care?

Can a self-assessment interventional approach be used for assisting 14-16 year old learners, showing disruptive behaviour, to reach their optimal learning level and to be more successful academically and socially?

Does self-assessment intervention have a positive effect on learners' behaviour and consequently on their overall achievement?

Self-assessment as part of behaviour management strategy is not new concept to educational research. There are many researchers and practitioners who have discussed the benefits of teaching learners to self-assess not only in mainstream settings but also settings that cater primarily for learners' with some form of additional needs. Some of the benefits are said to include: (a) increasing learners' self-reliance, (b) decreasing learners' over-reliance on parents, carers, lecturers, and external controls, and (c) sanctioning lecturers to spend less time on classroom management and more time on instructional tasks (McDougall, 1999). Self-management extensively documents the effectiveness of improving behaviour (Nelson et al. 1991; McDougall, 1999) and typically involves a combination of two or more of the following strategies: self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and positive reinforcement. In fact, why this approach is favoured by educationalists is that effective programmes focus on a combination of learners' taking responsibility for their own behaviour, as well as academic performance (Young et al; 1991), which in itself is an appealing strategy, which helps to improve behaviour of all learners in the classroom.

The study revealed that behavioural self-assessment first was discussed in US literature in the early seventies. Glynn, E (1973) attempted to compare the effects of learners' self-assessment by recording on-task and off-task behaviour during lessons, as well as the usage of positive reinforcements. The results indicated that self-management produced more effective improvements in behaviour than positive reinforcement (ibid.). According to Oliviere (1998) more extensive research in this area took place during the nineteen eighties. However, one notable change did occur in terms of the vocabulary used as it no longer referred to as self-assessment but self-control. The nineties saw further development researchers began to explore self-determination, a program that extends the concept of self-management to include choice-making and self-advocacy skills (Mitchem, 1993: 46). As the research revealed, self-assessment programmes comprised a variety of different forms including self-monitoring, self-recording, self-instruction to name but the main emphasis in such programmes is put on the self-evaluation component. In relation to behaviour aspect, self-evaluation refers to the process of assessing one's behaviour, comparing it to a standard, and then rating that behaviour against the standard (Mitchem, 1993:44). This definition almost certainly makes researchers realise the type of problem they might encounter when dealing with behaviour issues, such as making decisions regarding what is and what is not considered a standard. Therefore, the research would suggest that different self-assessment programmes vary in the extent to which determination administration of reinforcement is incorporated in each programme in relation to its particular standards. A valuable point of view was suggested by Black and Wiliam (1998), who stated that to achieve improvement in learners' learning and behaviour

"a culture of success is needed, backed by a belief that all can succeed" (ibid: 5). The study suggests that utilising the learners' voice in order to devise a set of methods and strategies for improvement can give even most rebellious learners the tools they need. As Black and Wiliam (1998:100) further suggest: "Learners should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main points of learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve"

As indicated previously there are a number of benefits associated with the self-assessment approach. One of the main benefits is that this approach can be very flexible in regards to the range of resources, types of learners and physical environment. In recent years, Mooney et al; (2005) tried to answer the question of whether self-management influences the academic achievement of learners with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). One of the main findings was that self-management intervention led to a positive outcome in regards to learners' academic achievement. The research identified a range of self-management interventions including: self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self-instruction, all of which all demonstrated positive impacts on learners'. The study found little evidence to suggest that self-monitoring and self-assessment strategies have been widely investigated by mainstream educational settings but more extensively will be used in Additional Educational Needs settings. This view is further supported by Mitchem (1993) who states that self-management has been used with learners with learning disabilities, behavioural disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and congenital and physical disabilities.

However with the change to the education system and more emphasis on inclusion (normalisation) many FE Institutions will ultimately come under pressure to meet the needs of learners with a range of disabilities. Some researchers endeavoured to review the use of self-management in a wider context rather than a setting for special education needs with an emphasis on those variables that moderate, enhance, or inhibit treatment value (McDoughall, 1999). It is important to emphasise that learners with and without disabilities can learn to use self-assessment and self-management components to monitor and control their behaviour. The research has found that self-assessment strategies increase on-task behaviour, decrease inappropriate classroom behaviours and improve academic performance in creative writing (ibid).

This additional study will attempt to carry out a detailed analysis of previous research in this field with the purpose of creating a sound basis for conducting a small-scale practitioner research regarding the effectiveness of self-assessment approach on learners' behaviour.

In terms of methodology, the study has taken a general approach of "action research", as the ultimate aim of the study was to suggest effective practical recommendations for educational practitioners. The term "action research" is generally accredited to Kurt Lewin (1946) who provided a classic definition of the term:

The research needed for social practice can best be characterized as research for social management or social engineering. It is a type of action-research, a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action, and research leading to social action. Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice (Lewin cited in Smith, 2001)

Another definition of action research was suggested by Kemmis (1986: 42), who imply that this type of research is a

"form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social (including educational) situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out."

According to Cohen and Manion (1994), the principal reason for the use of action research in the school context is improvement of practice through

"a small-scale intervention in the functioning of the real world and a close examination of the effects of such intervention." (ibid:192)

Somekh (1995: 340) reminds us that

"action research begins with a felt need to change a situation."

Following the above perceptions the study concluded that though the majority of theorists view the researchers' dynamic involvement as the main constituent of the "action research", they have different beliefs regarding the actual purpose of this approach. Whereas some theorists tend to view action research as research aimed at the improvement of direct practice (Carr & Kemmis 1986; Cohen & Manion, 1994), others see it as the process of collecting data with the purpose of bringing about social changes (Lewin, 1946; Bogden & Biklen, 1992). The research conversely sees the two perspectives as closely interlinked and almost impossible to separate as the process of bringing about social changes seems to be the natural progression from the improvement of direct practice.

The method of "action research" has been considered the most appropriate for the purpose of a follow-up study as it allows lecturers to actively participate in all stages of the research and to translate the results of such research into practical strategies that can be used within the specific learning environment. The main idea of the action research is that it is carried out by the practitioners, and therefore it is related to their everyday professional life and concerns their usual context or environment (Campbell et al, 2004)

There have been two types of research methods suggested for the purpose of the current study: using a literature review as a secondary source of information along with the primary qualitative data derived from the completed questionnaires (behaviour charts), which will be translated into quantitative form and presented as graphs. Questionnaires are seen as a quite favoured research tool which is widely used in educational research. Macionis and Plummer (1998) describe questionnaires as a series of written questions a researcher supplies to subjects, requesting their response. Researchers use a variety of designs for their questionnaires (closed questions, open questions, rating scales, tick lists, etc.), which directly affect the quality of the collected data. For the purpose of the present study a tick list was considered the most appropriate form of questionnaires due to the time limitations that the lecturers encounter during the course of lessons. The study also believes that questionnaires are used in educational research mostly for collecting, so to say, constrained data, which makes the research somewhat "mechanical". A number of researchers see this as an advantage of this method since it helps the researcher to maintain objectivity through keeping the data clean and clear of the muddying influence of human thought, emotion, and value judgment (Guba and Lincoln, 1989), however the authors also admit that remaining distant from the participants can turn the researchers into human research instruments (ibid). In contrast to this opinion Holliday (2002: 10) thinks that "a new insight is gained when the researcher actively engages in a "learning culture" through making use of participant observation, structured interviews and literature studies."

As the research revealed it is often beneficial to incorporate into one study both qualitative and quantitative types of data. The study suggests that this allowed combining together more than one set of insights in present investigation, which is described as triangulation of research methods. As stated by McFee (1992: 216),

"Triangulation within a method brings two more more viewpoints on a particular occasion e.g. those of a teacher, student and observer "with a view to accommodating all of their viewpoints""

According to Patton (1990), triangulation usually involves the comparison of data collected using qualitative methods with data collected through the use of quantitative methods. To strengthen the qualitative design of the research the method of a checklist as a form of a highly-structured participant observation has been used during the course of the current project. The lecturers involved in the project had been asked to carry out a series of observations that involved completing checklists of disruptive behaviour during each lesson (behaviour monitoring cards) and assess each learner's behaviour using a simple point's scale. According to Seal and Silverman (1997: 379),

"checklists have played an important role in conferring respectability on qualitative research and in convincing potential sceptics of its thoroughness."

Due to the fact that I planned to use a number of lecturers, it was important to come up with some form of criteria as to what they would constitute disruptive behaviour and from this a list was devised of behaviours they considered disruptive for the purpose of this research:

Being late for the beginning of the lesson

Ignoring lecturer's directions/instructions

Using mobile phones during the lesson

Talking along with the tutor

Not listening to the lecturer's explanations

Refusing to work in class


Using bad language

Interrupting the lecturer or other learners

Whispering, laughing, giggling in no relation to the content of the lesson

Getting up/walking during the lesson

Eating food

As mentioned before, the lecturers were asked to observe the learners' behaviour and to complete the behaviour monitoring cards (checklists) for each individual learner during every lesson. The research implies that using checklists along with the methods already mentioned above not only allowed all participants to identify clearly what was and what was not considered disruptive behaviour (for the purpose of this study) but also helped to address the issue of results validity by using more than one method of data collection to answer the research question.

By and large the study has taken into account an explanation of a research structure developed by Richards and Rodgers (1982). They describe a research project as an arrangement of three levels: approach, design, and procedure. The approach to the study has been described above as action research. Regarding the study design, the collection of primary data has taken place at Halesowen College, in large class of 15-16 year old learners who attend the college for a full day, one day a week to study for the Level 2 Society, Health and Development Diploma. As mentioned before, the research has also involved participation of four lecturers/ teachers who were required to monitor the learners' behaviour on a daily basis using a structured questionnaire (behaviour grading scales). Regarding the "research design" (Richards and Rodgers, 1982) it would be useful to incorporate at this point the timeline of the project. The research was carried out over a period of nine weeks). The sample was comprised of a group of five learners (five fifteen to sixteen year old girls), who have been identified by their lecturers/ teachers as having an ongoing tendency to exhibit disruptive behaviour during the classes.

At the beginning of the project a number of ethical issues had to be considered. The research made sure that the experience throughout the project was educational and a pleasant experience for all participants. The learners and their parents received letters explaining fully the purpose of the research and its implications. No learner participated in the research without an informed written consent from both the parent/guardian and the learner. The lecturers/ teachers were consulted at each stage of the process, as well as my line manager. According to BPS (2004) "Ethical principles for conducting research with human participants", participants have the right to expect that information they provide will be treated confidentially and, if published, will not be identifiable as theirs. In line with these principles, the participants' personal information was kept private and confidential, and their real names were not revealed at any point of this research. Referring back to the definition of research methods by Richards and Rodgers (1982), the procedure of the research involved collecting data over three phases of the research. During the first phase (the first three weeks) the "initial indicative" data was gathered through the completion of behaviour monitoring grading-scales (questionnaires) by the lecturers/ teachers and further calculation of weekly averages using the following grades of the charts:

Excellent behaviour - 1 point

Good behaviour - 2 points

Acceptable behaviour - 3 points

Unacceptable (disruptive) behaviour - 4 points

The learners attended college one day a week for three lessons a day (Tuesday) and the weekly data comprised an average of three grades from three different lecturers/ teachers per individual learner. The numeric average of points for each learner was translated into the percentage form and entered onto the line diagram produced for each learner. This data represents the Initial Indicative Line (Blue line) on the 9-week line graph.

The next phase of the research (following three weeks) involved using the self-assessment intervention approach. This phase of the research engaged every learner in a self-assessment process through the completion of individual grids with separate scale charts for each lesson over the period of three weeks. At the end of each lesson the learners received the grids to enable them to self-assess their own behaviour throughout the lesson in a form of a bar graph with a scale from zero to ten points (from 0 points for unacceptable behaviour to 10 points for outstanding behaviour). Simultaneously the data continued to be collected from behaviour monitoring questionnaires completed by the lecturers/ teachers and once again - further calculation of weekly averages were entered onto the learners' individual line charts. This set of data represents the Self-Assessment Indicative Line (Green line) on the 9-week line graph.

The last phase of the project involved collecting final indicative data over the next three weeks. The data again was generated by the behaviour monitoring charts completed by the teaching tutors. Once this data had been translated into the percentage form it was entered onto the learners' individual line charts as Line 3 (Pink line) - Final Indicative Line.

Through the detailed analysis of the line graphs along with other types of collected data the study attempted to prove that the intervention of the self-assessment strategy can have a positive effect on the learners' behaviour which would lead to the overall reduction in disruptive behaviour within the group.

Below are the line graphs showing the number of cases of disruptive behaviour for each of the five learners as shown on their behaviour monitoring cards for the period of three weeks.

Figure 1

Due to time and the nature of the project, individual personal variables were not considered in this research. I did however; try to limit the number of variables to an absolute minimum as these would have added undue complexity.

The initial indicative line on the graphs shows that every learner displayed certain amount of disruptive behaviour throughout the first three weeks of the research. Though the number of cases of disruptive behaviour varies, the graphs show that four out of five learners displayed disruptive behaviour only four times in at least one of the weeks with the highest score for disruptive behaviour being seven in one week (Learner A1). The initial indicative line indicates that each one of the five participants is capable of keeping their behaviour under control, but also demonstrates inconsistency. It is noticeable that the learners' behaviour dropped dramatically during the second week with the exception of learner L. However, learner L. had an authorised absence during the second week, which resulted in a lack of data for these two days on her behaviour monitoring chart. During a discussion with the teachers it came to the attention that the Collegiate Course Co-ordinator was absent during week 2 of the research, which might have affected the learners' behaviour in a negative way, as the learners may have assumed that their disruptive behaviour during that week would have no consequences. On the whole, the data are consistent with the original recognition of irregularity in the learners' behavioural pattern, hence justifying further introduction of self-assessment strategy. Phase two of the research learner was asked to complete an individual grid with separate scale charts for each lesson over the period of three weeks. At the end of each lesson the learners had to assess their own behaviour throughout the lesson in a form of a bar graph with a scale from zero to ten points (from 0 points for unacceptable behaviour to 10 points for outstanding behaviour). As the Self-assessment Indicative Line shows on the graphs, this phase of the research resulted in a definite improvement in the learners' behaviour. During the three weeks of self-assessment, disruptive behaviour of four learners fell below their initial indicative data. However, the pleasing results of this phase of the project were diluted by the fact that during the first week of the observations the learners were given more active learning (practical) activities. This could have affected the learners' behaviour, though they did seem to be genuinely interested in the self-assessment scheme and were enthusiastic about gaining control over their behaviour. As the line graphs show, learner S. was the only learner whose behaviour remained disruptive during the second phase of the research. The data generated in the final phase of the research in a way disproved the initial predictions. During the last three weeks the learners were not involved any more in completing the self-assessment charts; however the lecturers/ teachers continued collecting data on them using their behaviour monitoring cards. The original prediction was that the learners' behaviour would deteriorate once the self-assessment phase was over, however, this was proved wrong. On average four out of the five learners significantly improved their behaviour showing no disruptive behaviour at all during at least one of the weeks in the third phase. The initial thinking was that self-assessment may be successful for most learners, but then had to look at the validity of these results. Could the behaviour improvement have been down to some other social experiences? Could it have been a sign of increased autonomy (lecturer facilitated) afforded by the opportunity to self-control their behaviour? Or have the results been entirely determined by the intervention of self-assessment strategy?

The research revealed that during the last three weeks of the project a number of other incentives were thrown into the mix, namely the course co-ordinator had a discussion with the learners regarding their behaviour, during which she had mentioned giving each learner an opportunity to go to a Theme Park at the end of the Academic Year if they were able to collect the target number of points on their behaviour cards. This fact led the study to the conclusion that the results were in all probability a combination of the reward of a trip, coupled with the self-assessment strategy. I then questioned learner S's results as they were inconsistent with both of the above assumptions (graph 5 shows the worst result in the final phase of the research). During an informal conversation the learner was asked about why she made no effort to aim for the prize through improving her behaviour. The learner's response was quite straightforward: "I hate theme parks!" This simple and, in a way, humorous situation significantly demonstrated how complicated the research process can be, and especially so for a small-scale project. The main problem of a small-scale study is that care must be taken in drawing definite conclusions, as results can only be considered valid if they have been replicated with several different groups and in much larger studies. This naturally leads to the discussion of the overall validity and the outcomes of the present research. The research suggests that complexity of human individuality will always make it impossible to achieve validity in educational research that is 100% beyond all possible doubt. Therefore it is a daunting task to try to create a set of rules to be followed by educational research for it to be considered valid. As Phillips (cited in Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 21) argued,

"there are no methods that will yield sound data or true conclusions regularly. The formulation of truth is not simply a matter of finding and following certain analytic procedures".

The present research recognises that learners are individuals with widely differing backgrounds, culture and histories. These variables in addition to the variables in approaches and processes in teaching and learning, different environments and diverse individualities of the staff make the conclusions of the research hard to prove and validate. The scientific validity of the research has been also affected by the sample size, which is one of the most critical factors in any type of research. The study accepts that the small sample size of 5 learners has not provided enough precision to make any scientifically valid statements about the research data. As Herbert (1990:49) puts it in a simple way:

"The smaller the sample the larger the error!"

In view of the above, the research does not claim to have made any scientifically proven conclusions, however it argues to have provided a number of potentially significant results:

Throughout the project the learners cooperated well in charting their progress and appeared positive about taking control of their behaviour.

The self-assessment strategy instigated many spontaneous thoughtful discussions in class where learners openly discussed possible reasons and antecedents of their positive and negative behaviour.

The results of the third phase of the research showed a significant improvement in the behaviour in most of the learners, which is believed to be a result of both the self-assessment strategy and the incentive of a trip.

Consequently, analysis of the results led the researcher to believe that using self-assessment strategy as a part of behaviour management programme can have a number of potential benefits, such as:

Raise learners' awareness of their behaviour and allow them to initiate necessary changes.

Learners can develop a positive dependence on the routine of using self-assessment strategy on a daily basis.

Learners become more autonomous in making decisions and taking control over their learning experience.

Overall the results appear to suggest a pattern confirming that self-assessment strategies to teaching and learning are preferred by the learners in terms of a need for interaction, participation and self-control. The focus of self-assessment approach is on how learners gain control over their behaviour and learning experience. This has been effectively documented by Paris and Byrnes (1989) in their study on the application of Self-Regulated Learning strategies, where the focus was on increasing autonomy and responsibility by taking charge of own learning: "Self-regulation relies on three inter-related processes: self-observation, self-evaluation and self-reflection. Understanding these processes is the "metacognitive" part, where the learner is asked to think how best they learn, and think about strategies for improving their performance. It is not only what you can do as lecturer but what the learners can do for themselves." (ibid: 170)

Referring back to the purpose of action research embedded in what Bell (1999) refers to as "real and meaningful outcomes", it is important to reflect on the implications of the present study on teaching practice There is a number of key areas that have influenced personal ways and perceptions following the project. The general areas relate to the need:

to differentiate more carefully when planning lessons to ensure that all learners stay motivated and actively involved in the learning process;

to perceive the learners' educational experiences as not only a process of acquiring new knowledge but also as a process of self-discovery and self-regulation.

On the whole the general perspective of the study can be exhaustively summarised by using the view of Verma and Beard (1981: 40):

"It is apparent that educational research can take many forms. … the most important point to be remembered is that the focus of educational research must be education, and that the foremost function is to assist lecturers, administrators and all concerned in the field, with the aim of improving the quality of the educational process, and thus enhancing the quality of life."

At this point it is useful to recap on potential implication of the research within the college and the curriculum framework. The main conclusions of the study can be applied to the role of a lecturer within an FE college and specifically within a classroom environment of 14-16 year old vocational learners. The research suggests that both the learners and the lecturers will benefit if the learners are allowed more freedom in assessing their own behaviour and making decisions on how best they can improve. The research further argues that using self-assessment strategy in class can potentially lead to a decrease in disruptive behaviour if used in conjunction with suitable reward programmes.

As McDougall (1999) rightly observed, transferring responsibility for behaviour management from the lecturer to the learner promotes generalization and permits lecturers to spend less time on classroom management and more time on instruction. It is hoped that this study has provided a basis for further investigation in the area of behaviour self-assessment that would suggest a more in-depth look into the methods of dealing with learners' disruptive behaviour as well as into the ways of encouraging learners to take responsibility for their behaviour.