Whole Class Work - Research Summary

From OER in Education


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Summary of research

Interacting with the whole class

Whole-class interactive teaching has been identified by researchers as being effective in raising attainment. Early teacher effectiveness researchers in the USA, using classroom observation, gradually started to find patterns which indicated that more effective teachers (i.e. teachers whose students made stronger gains on standardised achievement tests) tended to teach the whole class actively, spending significantly more time than ineffective teachers explicitly lecturing, demonstrating or interacting with the class (Rosenshine 1979).

A British study is that of Mortimore et al. (1988), who collected an immensely rich database with information on children, their classrooms, their primary schools and their individual characteristics, utilising a cohort of children followed through the four years of British junior school education. Generally, Mortimore et al. found, as with Galton in secondary schools, that teachers were spending much more time on communicating with individual children than on whole-class teaching or facilitating collaborative group work.

At classroom level the characteristics of effective teachers were:

  • taking responsibility for ordering activities during the day for pupils, i.e. structuring teaching;
  • giving pupils some responsibility for their work and independence within these sessions;
  • maintaining high levels of interaction with the whole class;
  • providing ample, challenging work;
  • maintaining high levels of pupil involvement in tasks;
  • creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom;
  • giving high levels of praise and encouragement;
  • using a variety of approaches, strategies and techniques.

Pedagogic approach and structuring learning

It has been recognised by contributors such as Olson and Torrance (1998) and others that, to be effective, teachers need to deploy a range of different pedagogic approaches and teaching strategies to meet the needs of the subject, to address the type of objective and to match the maturity of the pupils. Researchers such as Joyce et al. (2002) argue that there is a range of pedagogic approaches that not only are ‘tools for teaching’ but also provide ‘models for learning’. They separate the pedagogic approaches into different families, depending on the type of objective for a lesson or part of a lesson. The information-processing family, designed to meet objectives about acquiring knowledge and understanding, includes approaches such as inductive thinking, concept attainment, scientific enquiry and cognitive growth. The social family, designed to meet objectives about exploring perspectives on a problem and exploring solutions to complex issues, contains role-play, group investigation and social enquiry as approaches. A third family is focused on changing behaviours and includes direct teaching, mastery learning, social learning and simulation. These can help to meet objectives about acquiring new skills, learning procedures, applying ideas and developing knowledge.

These families of pedagogic approaches all have one thing in common: they are all highly structured with distinct stages, or episodes. Research suggests that, when a teacher designs a lesson, each episode in the sequence needs to be planned in advance, even down to the questions the teacher will ask at each point.


Much British research has studied the overall organisation of the classroom.

  • The notable ORACLE study (Galton and Croll 1980; Galton and Simon 1980. Croll, P. (1996) ‘Teacher–pupil interaction in the classroom’. In P. Croll and N. Hastings (eds) Effective primary teaching. David Fulton. ISBN: 1853463949.
  • Galton, M. and Croll, P. (1980) ‘Pupil progress in basic skills’. In M. Galton and B. Simon (eds) Progress and performance in the primary classroom. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN: 0710006691.
  • Galton, M. and Simon, B. (1980) Progress and performance in the primary classroom. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN: 0710006691.
  • Mortimore, P., Sammons, P., Stoll, L., Lewis, D. and Ecob, R. (1988) School matters. Open Books. ISBN: 0520065026.
  • Olson, D. R. and Torrance, N. (eds) (1998) The handbook of education and human development. Blackwell. ISBN: 0631211861.
  • Rosenshine, B. (1979) ‘Content, time and direct instruction’. In P. L. Peterson and H. J. Walberg (eds) Research on teaching – concepts, findings and implication. McCutchan Publishing Corporation. ISBN: 0821115189.
  • Rosenshine, B. and Stevens, R. (1986) ‘Teaching functions’. In M. C. Wittrock (ed) Handbook of research on teaching. Merrill/Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0029803183.