DRAFT 1 - Pretty scary! A small-scale study of how pupils and students, at various stages in their education, experience answering questions and presenting in whole class contexts with a focus on what coping strategies they employ.

Author/Producer ESCalate/Dr Julie Anderson
  • Julie Anderson (ESCalate - University of Bristol)
Published in Presented at BERA Conference 2006
Date Published September 2006
Pages 10


A draft paper presented at the 2006 BERA Conference



Teaching …is very much a matter of teachers talking and children listening … when questions are asked of children, these questions require them either to recall facts or to solve a problem for which their teachers expect a correct answer (Galton et al 1999, p.33).

In any teaching and learning context, pupils and students may find speaking in front of others, such as when answering questions, intimidating. It has been suggested that the common teaching strategy of whole group or class teacher questioning of pupils in front of their peers such as described above by Galton may lead to
an emotional response in learners that includes anxiety, worry and fear. Holt suggests that: “ the trouble is ... that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive of their intelligence and capacity” (Holt, 1964: revised 1982, p.92 - 93).

In the primary classroom, with the introduction of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies a “greater emphasis on whole class work” was placed on primary schools in England from the end of the 1990s (The NLS, Framework for Teaching, DfEE 1998, p.10). As a result, there was evidence that there was an increase in whole class teacher questioning of pupils which suggested that there might be an increase too in tension for pupils and students. Were they then increasingly using coping or avoidance strategies to protect them from the possibility of embarrassment? The concern was that such stratagem may have a negative impact on their learning.

This research has arisen from a PhD thesis where the qualitative empirical work was undertaken in a primary school. Most recently it has underpinned new research with Master’s students at a pre 1992 English university. The methodology was mainly participant observation which “inserts the self of the sociologist into a research setting, permitting him to record and experience events as they unfold” (Rock,1979, p.237). Semi structured interviewing was also extensively used. This was in order that the main voices emerging from these data would be the children or student’s own. Borrowing from the narrative tradition, I use these data to offer a scenario of how a typical teaching session may feel for the learner.

Overall, conclusions from these data suggests that the avoidance strategies of students can be very subtle and difficult to counter because pupils and students of all ages may be extremely adept at hiding it. The data also suggests that there is evidence that far from being an issue with perhaps the timid or shy pupil or students, large numbers of pupils and students experience feelings during whole class teacher questioning and that may have a negative impact on their identity as learner.