A teacher is better kind than strict-sounding

There will probably be 2 groups reading this post and this study: one group will think that the results are very obvious, and the other group will be very surprised and maybe even convinced the study is wrong. The essence:  Strict-sounding teachers are worse at inspiring the classroom than their kind colleagues, and showed ‘controlling sounding voices’ didn’t gain cooperation from 10-16-year-olds.

For both groups: do read on, and check also this article about the study with comments from Christian Bokhove and Tom Bennett.

From the press release:

A ground-breaking psychological study from The University of Essex and the University of Reading of hundreds of children showed “controlling sounding voices” didn’t gain cooperation from 10-16-year-olds.

It discovered that youngsters faced with a strict teacher were more likely to rebel, their well-being was affected, and they were less likely to reveal they were facing problems — like bullying.

This is because students felt unable to express themselves when confronted with a harsher more controlling tone.

Whereas a supportive-sounding voice inspired a connection to a teacher which increased their intention to cooperate.

Professor Silke Paulmann, Head of the Department of Psychology at Essex, worked with Professor Netta Weinstein at Reading on the study.

Professor Paulmann said: “We often think about what teachers say to their students, but we rarely talk about how they say it.

“But the tone of voice teachers use really matters and the way we modulate our voice can have profound effects on listeners.”

The study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology explored teachers’ tone of voice in children’s education.

Pre-recorded teachers’ voices were played to 250 children who were then asked to judge how the tone affected them.

They were asked to rate how it would affect factors such as competence, emotions, trust and their intention to cooperate.

Children reacted much better to supportive voices while controlling tones made their self-esteem plummet and teachers’ sound exemplars were perceived to be less trustworthy.

The research is hoped to influence teacher training and help boost classroom results. Future studies may head out of the lab and into schools to see where improvements can be made.

Professor Weinstein said: “Tone of voice is a powerful way to convey teachers’ caring, understanding, or openness. “It’s easy to forget when we are stressed or tired, but teachers can provide a positive learning environment when they are thoughtful in how they use their tone of voice.”

Abstract of the study:

Teachers’ behaviours drive motivational climates that shape children’s engagement and well-being in the classroom, but few studies examine how specific teachers’ behaviours such as wording, body language, or voice contribute to these outcomes in isolation of one another.

This pre-registered experiment sought to examine the often-forgotten role that teachers’ tone of voice plays in children’s education. Informed by the theoretical framework of self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness, 2017), conditions manipulated controlling (pressuring, demanding), autonomy-supportive (inviting of choice), or motivationally neutral, tones of voice to explore their effects on children’s self-reported psychological needs satisfaction, well-being, intention to self-disclose to and intention to cooperate with their teacher.

Sample and Method
Children aged 10–16 years (n = 250) heard pre-recorded teachers’ voices holding sentence content and speakers constant across conditions, but varying tones of voice.

We hypothesized a-priori and found that when children heard controlling sounding voices, they anticipated lower basic psychological need satisfaction, well-being, and intention to disclose to teachers, as compared to neutral-sounding voices. We also anticipated beneficial effects for autonomy-supportive versus neutral voices, but pre-registered analyses did not support these expectations. Intention to cooperate with teachers did not differ across conditions. Supporting relational motivation theory (RMT; Deci & Ryan, Human Motivation and Interpersonal Relationships, 2014), exploratory analyses showed that hearing autonomy-supportive sounding voices increased autonomy and relatedness need satisfactions (but not competence need satisfaction), and through doing so indirectly related to beneficial outcomes (well-being, intention to cooperate and self-disclose).

In summary, tones of voice seem to play an important role in shaping teachers’ impact on their students.

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