What class size do teachers prefer

Educational studies : The teacher-student ratio as a success factor

A more than ten-year-old study on the question of what makes a good teacher has returned to the public debate with the publication of new findings. One of the people who ensures that Jürgen Baumert's COACTIV study is discussed again is educational researcher Olaf Köller at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) at the University of Kiel. For years, Köller is convinced, a very important finding from the study was neglected: It is about the effect that the enthusiasm and motivation of the teacher can develop on the learning success of the students.

The COACTIV study, which was carried out under the direction of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in 2003 and 2004, examined the influence of various teacher characteristics on student performance in mathematics. The school performance of the pupils who took part in the PISA survey in 2003 and who were tested a second time in 2004 were also used for this purpose.

When the first results of the study were published two years later, they caused quite a stir - but from a different perspective than today. At that time, the focus was on the knowledge that a high level of didactic and technical knowledge of the teacher significantly increases the learning success of the young people. After the poor performance of the ninth graders in the tests, the PISA accompanying study resulted in the importance of specialist knowledge being emphasized in teacher training and strengthened in some locations.

The teacher's enthusiasm for teaching increases the children's motivation

"That was a very shortened reception of the study," says Köller today. Subsequent analyzes of the COACTIV study, which were carried out by Baumert's working group, would have shown that, in addition to professional knowledge, enthusiasm for teaching and the subject taught have a decisive impact on learning success. They are just as much a part of the professionalism of a good teacher as technical and didactic knowledge. "If a teacher is highly motivated and worries about the learning progress of the students, then the motivation of the children and thus the performance increases", says Köller, explaining the connection proven in the COACTIV study.

The fact that this point is only now coming more into focus in the study is also due to the fact that various international studies have now examined and proven a similar connection. One of the best-known studies is the meta-meta-study "Visible Learning" by the New Zealand scientist John Hattie, which caused a bang worldwide with its publication in 2008 and, at the latest with the German translation in 2013, is also being lively discussed in this country. Hattie evaluated 800 variables in 700 meta-studies to show which teaching characteristics have the greatest effects on learning success. The result: school structures, class size or certain didactic methods only have a minor impact on the performance of the students. In contrast, individual feedback (effect size 0.73) and a trusting relationship between teacher and student (0.72) are at the top of the list of the most important success factors for good teaching.

Conversely, motivated children have a positive effect on the well-being of the teacher

In the meantime, there are further studies that take a closer look at the long-neglected teacher-student relationship. As one of the most recent, educational researcher Köller cites the so-called Aldrup study from 2018. The team of authors includes Karen Aldrup and Uta Klusmann from the IPN. What is special: In contrast to the previous studies, the focus was not on the effect of relationships on learning success. Rather, it examined how a good relationship between teachers and students conversely affects the well-being and motivation of the teachers themselves. “If the children are unmotivated and undisciplined, it increases the teacher’s emotional exhaustion. That shows how important a good relationship is for both sides, ”said Köller, summarizing an essential result of the study.

In view of the numerous empirical findings on the importance of pedagogical relationships, it is time to give this aspect more importance in teacher training, says Köller.