Relation between students' involvement and teacher management strategies in French 'difficult' classrooms

  • Vors Olivier
  • Gal-Petitfaux Nathalie

  • Compromises
  • Acceptance
  • Physical education
  • Classroom management strategies
  • Misbehavior


Background: Since 2010, French secondary schools with a high proportion of students in academic difficulty benefit from a compensatory education policy called ‘E´ coles Colle`ges et Lyce´es pour l’Ambition, l’Innovation et la Re´ussite’ (E´ CLAIR). These students tend to behave poorly and frequently disengage from learning tasks, and thus one of the greatest challenges for teachers is to keep them focused and active. The ‘academic learning time in physical education’ is very low, about 14.4%. Purpose: This case study investigates the relations between the students’ motor and social involvement and the class management strategies of four experienced physical education (PE) teachers in a difficult educational context. Participants and Setting: This case study focuses on four secondary school classes with the same characteristics: all are part of theE´ CLAIR program, are taught by experienced PE teacher, with hardly manageable underachieving students in drop-out situations (16 in total, between 12 and 16 years old), and offer four units of gymnastics (for a total of 26 lessons). The classes were organized as group activities, with instruction sheets, with an educational project based on the students’ sense of autonomy and responsibility. Research Design: This research was conducted following a situated approach from the cognitive anthropology framework of ‘course of action’. Data collection: Extrinsic classroom data were collected by observing the students’ and teacher’s activities within the classroom and using audiovisual recordings. Intrinsic data were collected during self-confrontation interviews held after the lessons. Data Analysis: The data were processed in three stages: (a) the structure of students’ and teachers’ behaviors; (b) the dynamic of students’ and teachers’ experience, and (c) the classroom management strategies related to student misbehavior. Findings: The findings reveal that in spite of permanent classroom agitation, working involvement predominated with only short periods of student disengagement. Compromises organize the relation between students’ involvement and teacher management strategies. There is a compromise between work and play time for the students – they mainly remained involved in their work, and were appropriately involved in their task both physically and socially. Then, there is a compromise of acceptance for the teachers, as they use specific management strategies based on controlled short drop-outs as a source of student involvement in work. Conclusions: These findings raise the question of how PE teachers working under the compensatory policy can best manage student misbehavior. The teacher’s acceptance, compromises within the classroom, zone of acceptable responses, and articulation of instruction activity with misbehavior management, are as many factors improving teachers’ professionalization.