The impact of attributions on the understanding and management of challenging behaviour in schools

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Emma Fitz-Gerald
Submitted: June 2017


Although attribution theory has been well documented within the literature and applied to teaching, learning, and behaviour in the classroom, there has yet to be a systematic review of the literature pertaining to teacher attributions of challenging behaviour. This literature review set out to combine the evidence based in a systematic and critical way in order to answer the following questions: What attributions are teaching making around challenging behaviour in the classroom? In what way do these attributions impact on their management of behaviour in the classroom? Seventeen studies were included which explored causal attribution alongside controllability, types of behaviour, teacher factors, interventions, and referrals. Results indicate that teachers mainly make causal attributions which are external to themselves, which are mediated by perceptions of control, responsibility, and self-efficacy. In particular behaviour was seen as most difficult to manage when teachers attributed it to pupil or home factors, pupils were perceived to be in control of their behaviour, and the behaviour was thought to be stable over time. Limited links between attributions and referral decisions were found. Implications for EPs were discussed, in particular supporting teacher self-efficacy for classroom management.

Pupils displaying challenging behaviour are the population included in mainstream schools with the least success, with their behaviour regularly leading to fixed-term exclusions or placement in alternative provisions. Research has found the attributions teachers make about the causality of pupil behaviour can impact on subsequent behaviour management strategies in the classroom. However, attempts to understand the complexity of attribution processes has yet to be explored in a satisfactory way. In addition, the beliefs and attributions of the pupils themselves have remained largely unexplored. This study examined the perceptions of 10 secondary school staff teachers and five pupils, through semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis yielded six major themes within the data corpus relating to behaviour, behaviour management and the use of fixed-term exclusion. Results revealed four clear causal attributions for challenging behaviour in the classroom, which alongside mediating factors, such as self-efficacy, time and effort needed, and, remorsefulness, were related to either a helpless or hopeful discourse. Within the staff data set, conflict between static and flexible systems for managing behaviour was also seen. Implications for EPs are discussed in relation to building the resilience of teachers and schools in order to maintain the support for these pupils within mainstream settings.

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