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Positive teacher language
Low progress learners
Classroom engagement
Teacher-student relationship
Issue Date: 
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Singapore
Goh, A., Tan, C., & Tan, C. C. (2020). Positive teacher language: Improving teacher-student relationships and engaging low progress students (Report No. AFR 03/16 GEP). National Institute of Education (Singapore), Office of Education Research.
Teachers need to create a safe and nurturing environment, and build strong relationships with students, as these are critical enablers for ensuring that students rediscover the joy of learning in school. Low progress students who perceive high emotional support from teachers are more likely to be engaged in class (Chong, Huan, Quek, Yeo, & Ang, 2010; Martin & Rimm-Kaufman, 2015). Strong teacher-student relationships have also been associated with increased academic achievement and reduced school dropout (Croninger & Lee, 2001; Murray & Malmgren, 2005).

The Responsive Classroom (RC) approach (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2007, 2009) is purported as an evidence-based intervention for the professional development of teachers in primary and secondary students. Studies using the RC approach have reported that both students and teachers had benefitted from this intervention with students improving in reading achievement, math tests, and prosocial skills, while teachers reporting greater teaching efficiency (Baroody, Rimm-Kaufman, Larsen, & Curby, 2014; McTigue & Rimm-Kaufman, 2010; Ottmar, Rimm-Kaufman, Larsen, & Berry, 2014; Rimm-Kauman & Chiu, 2007). Positive Teacher Language (PTL), one of the ten RC practices, emphasizes the careful and conscientious use of words, voice, tone, and pacing by the teacher when talking to students, and together with effective listening skills, will nurture
students to develop self-discipline, build sense of belonging, and encourage student to learn and achieve in an engaging and active way (Denton, 2015).

Many continuous professional development programmes are based on the Training Model (Little, 1994). However, this training model often fails to have any significant impact on teachers’ practice (Kennedy, 2014), as many teachers revert to their old ways when they return to school after attending the professional development programme. In the case of an approach like PTL, which involves changing one’s language, it is expected that teachers’ treatment integrity would be low if no additional support is provided to the teachers beyond initial training. This additional support could come in the form of performance feedback. Performance feedback was found to be effective for increasing the treatment integrity of both general and special education teachers, teaching at the primary and secondary levels, with both academic and behavioural interventions (Fallon, Collier-Meek, Maggin, Sanetti, & Johnson, 2015; Solomon, Klein, & Politylo, 2012). This is aligned with research emphasizing the importance of coaching to increase teachers’ use of such support (Storemont & Reinke,
Project number: 
AFR 03/16 GEP
Grant ID: 
Education Research Funding Programme (ERFP)
Funding Agency: 
Ministry of Education, Singapore
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