Analyzing behavior in the classroom

T. Taeschner, P. Testa, M. Cacioppo and F. Lucchese

Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Rome "La Sapienza", Rome, Italy



An innovative foreign language teaching model for children is being tested in several European countries [1, 2]. The model uses a narrative approach and in the classroom teacher and pupils act out theater scenes. L2 results showed that some teachers were more successful than others, although they had equal levels of interest and preparation. For understanding the problem, videos of teacher-pupils acting out were done. When we viewed the films it was clear that the successful teacher had something ‘magic’ which the other had not. The problem was to find a way of making explicit the feeling of magic the viewer got. In other words: is it possible to observe and classify magic?


We used systematic observation whereby micro-categories of the teacher's behavior were grouped in several classes: gaze direction (gaze towards children, imaginary objects, classroom objects; fixed gaze on the other’s face; closed eyes); verbal behavior (declare, narrate, praise, command, sing, pause); actions (mimic gestures, command gestures, instructional gestures, own body gestures, exortative gestures); smile (presence, absence, no coding); body position (standing, bowing down, to kennel, kneeling, no code). Video tapes were coded with The Observer Video-Pro (analog system). During continuous observation of one focal subject (the teacher), start and end of each behavior was recorded. Recordings lasted on average 30 minutes. Data were graphed as a time-event plot, followed by computation of the percentage of frequently occurring events, nested analysis and lag sequential analysis.


Analysis showed that the magic teacher had a number of behaviors not present or infrequent in the other teacher's behavior. Typical of the magic teacher was the capacity of not interrupting the narrative behavior while the other teacher used to interrupt narration with other kinds of behaviors. As an example, the figure below shows that the ‘magic’ teacher alternates gazing at the imaginary objects with gazing at the children, while the other teacher alternates gazing at the children with gazing out. The table shows that the passage from narrative language to exortative language is not present in the magic teacher's behavior, while frequent in the other's.


  Gaze at pupils
  Gaze at imaginary objects
  Gaze out
  No code

Figure. Time-event plot of the gaze direction of 'magic' teacher B (upper bar) and teacher A (lower bar).


Table. Sequences in the verbal behavior of teacher A and B. The scheme clearly shows how teacher B passes from narration to pause and from pause to narration without interruption, while teacher A goes from narration to pause, next to exortative verbal behavior, back to pause and finally returns to narration.

  Teacher A Teacher B (‘magic’ teacher)
Narration pause 196 162
Pause exorts 75 1
Exorts pause 148 5
Pause narration 135 163



  1. Taeschner, T. (1996). Teaching Foreign Languages to Children. Ablex.
  2. Taeschner, T.; Plooij, F.X.; Uilenburg, N.; Lerna, A. (1998). The European project for teaching a second language to children between 3 and 7 years. Journal of Applied Psycholinguistics, in press.

Poster presented at Measuring Behavior '98, 2nd International Conference on Methods and Techniques in Behavioral Research, 18-21 August 1998, Groningen, The Netherlands

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