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Teaching styles and student interest: three cases.


This article presents the results of a study comparing teaching styles and student motivation. Three history classes, all high school juniors, and three teachers, each with a different teaching style, were the study group participants. The author proposed assessment instruments for measuring teacher effectiveness and student motivation and, together with a paid observer, collected data over a twelve-week period to supplement the data gathered from the assessment instruments. Teacher effectiveness increased with practices that students identified as engendering interest and motivation.

Introduction and Literature review

Case studies are excellent vehicles for generating new hypotheses and new ways of framing old questions. (Merriam, 1988; Yin, 1994; Stake, 1995; Pass, 2004/2005). This article will use a selected-sample of one student teacher, one first-year teacher, and one veteran teacher in order to document their classroom impact upon their students' perceptions of 1) their teaching effectiveness and 2) their ability to increase their students' interest/motivation/sense of value in learning the subject

According to John McMillan, the basic principle that guides the assessment of teachers is that it is a process of professional judgment that uses good assessment (2000). One prerequisite to teacher effectiveness is that the students perceive the teacher as acting in a positive way towards them. This is especially true among minority students and will most likely occur when students are involved in hands-on, inquiry instruction (Payne, 1994; Leonard, 2003). Among regular and gifted students, teacher behaviors such as humor, confidence, showing respect for students, and being creative have been correlated with high ratings of teacher effectiveness (Worrell & Kuterbach, 2001).

"Research on teacher behaviors that actively promote student intrinsic motivation to learn has been relatively scarce." (Patrick, 2002, p. 1) Those teacher factors resulting in good student motivation are: teaching skill, organizational structure, teacher-student rapport, challenging curriculum, and fair grading and prompt feedback (Hammons, 1999). In a study between a traditional and a constructivist approach in the classroom, the students rated the constructivist approach teacher higher because of the active instructional approach (Byer & Dana-Wesley, 1999). But even with a constructivist approach, students must still have self-motivation and teachers, of course, must be dedicated to excellence. "In an ideal school, all students' potential would be maximized to the fullest, diversity among both students and teachers would be highly valued, and opportunities for growth would be created by well-prepared teachers." (Obiakor, F., 2000)


As Robert Bogdan and Sari Bilden explained in 2002, the essence of case study methodology is triangulation (i.e., the combination of different levels of technique, methods and strategies). Upon receiving permission of the teachers, their students, and the students' parents, I spent at least one day a week observing the classes. For the twelve weeks, I paid an observer to visit the first year and veteran teachers' classes once a week (the student teacher had a cooperating teacher in the classroom who volunteered). I trained both the paid observer and cooperating teacher in data collection.

Data Sources

Data were obtained by a variety of methods. Each teacher maintained a daily log and wrote a philosophy of education. Questionnaires were filled out by teachers on their teaching strategies and verified by their students. Each student in the three classes also filled out questionnaires. I also interviewed each teacher along with a randomly selected sample of his/her students. Both teachers and students identified: the teachers' style of instruction; style of interaction among students and between students and teacher; and the nature and frequency of classroom activity. In addition, I looked at information on each student available in the school office and this included grade point average (GPA), which revealed that the classes were similar. I also looked at class assignments, grade book entries, and lesson plans. The two rating scales (of student evaluation of their teacher and course plus the student ratings of their own interest, motivation, sense of value in learning the subject) were given as a pretest-posttest. I also did a time-motion study by charting the room and noting where the teacher was every ten minutes. The younger the teacher, the more there was constant movement. For example, the veteran teacher stayed behind her desk almost the whole time. Finally, both the observers and I wrote observations that we compared for correlation of observations. We only included the observation data if all three of us could document it. The primary purpose of the data collection was to describe each teacher's style and method of teaching with particular focus on those aspects that appeared to be of most significance to the teacher's effectiveness (as noted by the instrument's data).


Participants consisted of 74 students enrolled in three secondary history classes. All were high school juniors. The mean grade point average (GPA) for Teacher A's students was 2.45. The mean GPA for Teacher B's students was 2.34. The mean GPA for Teacher C's students was 2.41. A t-test for unpaired groups was conducted to determine the difference in grade point averages between the students and their scores on the achievement instrument used in this study (and explained under the empirical data collection section) that resulted in a score of 5.31. This was judged statistically significant at the .99 confidence level. These findings indicate that students in the three classes were fairly comparable. The students were enrolled in required courses that the teacher was assigned to and there was no crossover of students between the courses.

Teacher A

Teacher A is a 40-year old Anglo lady who has been teaching over 20 years. Her class activities centered on her lectures, which she spends considerable amount of time, she says, in preparing. She also expects student to maintain notebooks with lecture notes, homework, and other class assignments in them. The atmosphere of her classroom is very formal with her lecturing and the students quietly taking notes. Very seldom does the class engage in discussion or debate. Students are expected to remain in their seats the entire class period. In our time-motion study, she rarely moved from behind her desk and remained seated throughout most of class instruction. Her students were busy every class with reading and writing work took place twice a week (usually in the form of essays or short paragraph answers to a textbook question).

Although formal, she is friendly with her students and interested in their welfare. While some students dislike her strictness, others realize that she is giving them a lot of knowledge. While she does test often, she varies her tests. One week, she will have an essay. The other week she will give a criterion-referenced test (i.e., true-false, multiple choice, and matching questions). This teacher also worked on writing skills. She had students write two-page essays in class once a week. These were peer-corrected and always were on a topic covered that week in her lectures. In addition, students were often asked to do sustained, silent reading from their textbook and answer the appropriate questions at the end of the unit. These are collected at the end of class. She grades efficiently and always returns the graded assignments by the next class, so that students have an immediate sense of how they are doing in the class. Teacher A believes in an orderly, teacher-run class. She expects the best out of her students and will notify parents immediately if a student's grade falls too much. She respects her students. She does realize that (as she puts it) some students do not like her--but they do respect her.

Teacher B

Teacher B is a 22-year old Anglo male who started teaching that year. Assignments consisted of simulations, brainstorming sessions, debates, active discussions, and some role-playing. There were some student presentations whereby the students taught their classmates on a topic. Reading was limited to what students needed to know for their presentations. Writing (about once every week) was limited to short, written answers to questions posed by the teacher, who mainly taught outside of the textbook (a nationally-published book lent to the students for the course). There were also weekly quizzes, and unit tests. In addition, the teacher gave a midterm and final exam. These were multiple-choice. Teacher B placed emphasis on creating a non-threatening, nurturing classroom atmosphere. He did have less classroom control than Teacher A. His students were often talking or walking around the classroom, but they seemed to be on-task. Teacher B is friendly with his students and took it as his first goal in the semester to get to know them and their learning styles as quickly as possible.

Teacher C

This Anglo college senior seemed nervous at first but, by the end of the study, was more relaxed and had managed to build a non-threatening classroom atmosphere. The students made real efforts to cooperate with each other and meet her goals. This student teacher did spend more time lecturing that Teacher B did but less than Teacher A. This is because, as she told me, "the subject is difficult for most students and to learn it demands more information from the teacher." She spent a good deal of time teaching students the laws of economics and, specifically, how to draw them in graphs (and interpret graphs). This teacher spent a good deal of time explaining difficult concepts and using hands-on examples to help her students grasp the abstract ideas. In our time-motion study, she spent most of her time (73%) standing in front of her class teaching. The rest of the time was spent walking around the room. This teacher also did the most re-teaching. She would test the students, evaluate the results, re-taught the material, and reassessed the results of her re-teaching every week. She also spent every class period helping her students with reading and writing skills.

Always, extremely well prepared for the day, this teacher admitted that she spent at least three hours at night preparing for her next day's classes. Both her cooperating teacher and myself were impressed with the creative ways she introduced lessons and taught difficult concepts. Assessments consisted of group work (papers and/or presentations), simulations, brainstorming sessions and learning games. There would be quizzes about once a week and a unit test about every two weeks. Most of these were multiple-choice. However, the teacher included a short essay on the unit test and students could pick a topic from a selection of four.


These teachers displayed many similarities that contributed to student learning. Each of the three teachers demonstrated a willingness to get to know their students as individuals. Teachers B and C tried as much as possible to make the learning activity fit their students' different learning styles. Each teacher tried to increase his or her students' knowledge of the subject matter. Teacher A did it mainly by having the students memorize. Teachers B and C concentrated on the higher thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teachers A and C worked on reading and writing skills. When interviewed, all three conveyed the attitude that students can learn and are expected to learn.

Data Collection

Instrument--Teacher/Course Effectiveness. I did reliability/validity research on an instrument of teacher effectiveness that was developed (but never tested for reliability/validity) by Dr. Jack Fraenkel of San Francisco State University in order to discover how four teachers differed on student ratings of teacher effectiveness (Fraenkel, 1990). Fraenkel asked me to test the instrument for reliability (Frankel, 1998) and I also did a Delphi technique to establish validity. In order to establish reliability, 180 ninth grade students took part in a four-week study in 1999. Two factors were identified with the teacher effectiveness instrument. Factor 1 dealt with student perception of their teacher's excellence. Factor 2 dealt with students' perception of the excellence of the course as created by the teacher. This instrument is reliable with a Cronbach's alpha of .86 for the overall instrument (.97 for Factor 1 and .56 for Factor 2). Validity was established using the Delphi technique with eight teachers and four professors of social studies education. The participants read and traded comments about the instrument and adjustments were made on the items. After a series of exchanges over two months, all reported that the instrument was valid in reporting what it was designed to do; namely, student perception of teacher and course effectiveness.

Instrument--Student Interest/Motivation/Sense of Value in Learning the Subject. I developed the instrument documenting student interest, motivation, and sense of value in learning the subject from the instrument charting teacher/course effectiveness. This writer believes that, by changing the format of Fraenkel's instrument to reflect interest and motivation, an instrument could be developed that could be used by evaluators of student teachers to assess progress in motivating students. I assessed the instrument on usefulness and reliability (in a 2001 study involving 322 eleventh grade world history students) and its items appeared to have strong communalities and acceptable reliability (the standardized item alpha was considered mildly reliable at .5749). From the data, it was deduced that there were three components at work, which clumped the data, and further analysis was done. Communalities for all items were good and a scree plot showed an acceptable "U" curve. The alpha values on all 3 factors were good. Factor One (interest) had an alpha of .6179; Factor Two (how students valued the good that they would receive from learning the subject) was .6857; and Factor Three (student efficacy or motivation derived from deductive lessons) was a .6023. There was good correlation between the instrument measuring teacher/course effectiveness and the instrument measuring student ratings of their own interest/motivation/sense of value in learning the subject. Validity was established using the Delphi technique with four teachers and three professors of education. The participants read and traded comments about the instrument and adjustments were made on the items. After a series of exchanges over one month, all reported that the instrument was valid in reporting what it was designed to do; namely, student perception of their interest.


The data collected on both instruments were analyzed using an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) in which the dependent variable was learner perceptions as measured by the posttest and the covariate were learner perceptions as measured by the pretest. It seems that experience (at least in this case study) had less of an impact on students because the veteran, experienced teacher (Teacher A) was not the highest scorer (Figures 1,2,3, and 4). This might be due to the fact that today's students want to be more involved in their own learning and prefer inquiry-based, active learning.

Teacher/Course Effectiveness. The results of the student instrument on rating of teacher/course effectiveness as created by the teacher can be seen in Figures 1 and 2. The teacher who had the least teaching experience (Teacher C), outscored both Teachers A and B on the posttest. Teacher B had the lowest posttest student ratings. The mean scores on the same student rating of teacher (and course as created by the teacher) effectiveness instrument were: (Figure 1) (Figure 2) See issue website Overall, the data on the three classes was statistically significant (F=15.650, SIG=.000). A Cohen's effect was calculated and produced an alpha of .5526, which is considered mildly statistically significant. A different picture emerged when the teachers' data was paired up. The tests for teacher/course effectiveness were scanned for results and a t-test between pairs of teachers was used to tabulate the mean scores on these assessments. The overall means on the rating instrument indicated that Teacher A had a statistically significant higher difference in student ratings of effectiveness across the ten items (F=14.34, P>.000) when compared to Teacher B. But Teacher C scored statistically significantly higher than Teachers A and B on all ten items on the teacher/course effectiveness instrument (F=6.927, Sig=.001, standardized item alpha=.5024). Both Teacher A's students and Teacher C's students shared that they were confident they would pass the end-of-course exam. Teacher B's students shared that they were not sure of passing that same exam. In this case study, I believe that the students through that teaching students to think is important but giving them the basic skills and re-teaching them until these are obtained is more important.

Student Interest/Motivation/Sense of Value in Learning the Subject There was a statistically significant difference between the three teachers when it came to student self-ratings of interest/motivation/sense of value in learning the subject (F=23.021, Sig.=.000). While student teacher C did start off at a lower rate than the other teachers, on the posttest her students scored her higher. This might mean that, in this case study, students do prefer subject mastery and hands-on, inquiry-based instruction with re-teaching and work on basic skills--although the other teachers also increased their scores (Figures 3 and 4) See issue website


A portrait of the three teachers emerged (Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4). Experience might be less important to students than classroom dynamics that helped their learning. Teacher C had higher scores on both students' ratings instruments. This is probably because she worked on thinking, basic skills and re-taught until mastery was made. Teacher A had the second highest scores but went down on both posttests. I think that this is because she did develop a reputation in her over 22 years of being a good teacher (so students came in to her class predisposed to be interested and motivated). However, students involved in this study did talk with one another before and after their classes. When her students started comparing her teaching to the more hands-on, inquiry-based teaching that the other two teachers were doing, her student rating scores did not go as high as those of the other two teachers. Her students sometimes confided that they were sometimes "bored" in her class and wished that they could do some of the "fun" activities that the other two classes were doing. Teacher B scored the lowest, but he spent the least amount of time working on basic skills and never did any re-teaching.

Looking at the data, Teacher C might have scored higher because she used constructivist, inquiry-based teaching coupled with work on basic skills (e.g., reading and writing) and re-teaching. One drawback to this work is that it was a non-randomly selected case study with limited subjects. There are very few randomly selected, experimental research studies in education because it is very hard to control for variables (Sheridan, 2001). By no means can case studies be used as universal claims. However, case studies can shed some light on classroom dynamics and teacher activity (Fraenkel, 1992; Pass, 2004/2005). The major challenge of this century will be the advancement of teaching. The results of this case study might shed some light on classroom dynamics. As educators, it is our responsibility to measure continuously student perceptions of our classroom dynamics in order to enhance the learning environment (Academic Exchange Quarterly, 2005).


Academic Exchange Quarterly. (2005). Student Perceptions, Beliefs or Attitudes. Retrieved January 20, 2005, from

Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. (2002). Qualitative research in education. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Byer, J & Dana-Wesley, M (Spring 1999). Students' response to active instructional approaches in a social studies methods course. Southern Social Studies Journal, 24,(2), 57-70. Fraenkel, J. (1990). A portrait of four social studies teachers. Social Science Record 50, 67-97.

Fraenkel, J. (April 1992). A portrait of four social studies teachers. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.

Fraenkel, J. (March 12, 1998). Phone conversation to Susan Pass.

Hammons, J. (Spring 1999). Motivators and demotivators of student learning: a faculty view. Michigan Community College Journal: Research and Practice, 5, (1), 29-44.

Leonard, W. (2003). Are you a standards-based teacher? Science Teacher. 6 (2), 33-37.

McMillan, J. (2002). Basic assessment concepts for teachers and school administrators. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association: New Orleans.

Merrian, S. 1998. Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Obiakor, F. (October 26, 2000). Transforming teaching-learning to improve student achievement. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning. Milwaukee, WI.

Pass, S. (Fall/Winter, 2004/2005). Two teachers: documenting the role of experience in the classroom. Theory and Research in Social Education. 19 (2), 88-105.

Patrick, J. (April 2002). Student motivation in the social studies. Paper presented at American Educational Association's annual convention. Chicago: IL.

Payne, R. (1994). The relationship between teachers' beliefs and sense of efficacy and their significance to urban LSES minority students. Journal of Negro Education. 63 (2), 181-196.

Sheridan, J. (May 3, 2001). Lecture on teaching social studies. Houston, TX: University of Houston.

Stake, R.G. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Worrell, F., Kuterbach, L (2001). The use of student ratings of teacher behaviors with academically talented high school students. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education. 14 (4), 236-247.

Susan Pass, Clemson University

Dr. Susan Pass is assistant professor of secondary social studies education at Clemson University. Her research includes exploring constructivism and teacher impact in the classroom.
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Author:Pass, Susan
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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