Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teacher-Student Interactions and Teacher Competence in Primary Science

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teacher-Student Interactions and Teacher Competence in Primary Science

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to develop and validate an instrument to assess teacher-student interactions in the primary science classroom and to use it to examine associations between these interactions and teachers' perceived competence to teach primary science and explain science words. The measure of teacher-student interactions, the Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction (QTI), was used for the first time in a large number of primary classrooms in Australia. The model on which the QTI is based maps interpersonal behavior on an influence dimension and a proximity dimension. The questionnaire was administered in 121 Australian primary classrooms. Using a sample of 2,371 primary science students, the reliability of the QTI scales ranged from 0.62 to 0.83 and showed acceptable discrimination between the scales. Significant correlations existed between QTI scales and teachers' use of student outcome statements and students' attitudes.


An Australian government-funded inquiry, the Discipline Review of Teacher Education in Mathematics and Science (1989), commonly known as the Speedy report, stated that science teaching in primary schools was in a state of crisis. The report noted that primary science was more honored in its breach than by its presence. While a number of primary teachers implement a highly effective science program in their schools, the majority appear to avoid or minimize the amount or type of science teaching that they undertake. A report of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training, Five to fifteen--Reviewing the compulsory years of schooling (1993) noted that science teaching is not receiving the importance that it warrants because primary teachers lack competence in teaching science. Many primary teachers view the preparation and teaching of science as being too difficult and too demanding (Goodrum, Cousins & Kinnear, 1992). However, a recent study, Matching Science and Technology to Future Needs: 2010 (Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council, 1996) has identified the need to increase science literacy within the Australian community. It is during the primary school experience that many students begin to form ideas and attitudes towards science. Hence it is important to examine the effect that student-teacher interactions and teachers' self-perceived competence has on students' attitudes. A recent study, Foundations for Australia's Future--Science and Technology in Primary Schools (Stocker, 1997, p. 1), stated that "much has been achieved in primary science and technology education over the past ten years but much more needs to be done." Australia's performance in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (Lokan, Ford, & Greenwood, 1996) indicated that, since the previous study, primary students' science ability performance had improved. Students do develop ideas and attitudes towards science at the primary school level, and this study focused on this important primary school level.

Student-Teacher Interactions

Recent reviews (e.g., Fraser, 1998; Fraser & Walberg, 1991) show that science education researchers have led the world in the field of classroom environment over the last two decades, and that this field has contributed much to understanding and improving science education. For example, classroom environment assessments provide a means of monitoring, evaluating, and improving science teaching and curriculum. A key to improving student achievement and attitudes is to create learning environments that emphasize those characteristics which have been found to be linked empirically with student outcomes. However, classroom environment research has been somewhat limited at the primary level compared with the secondary level.

One particular development in classroom environment research occurred in The Netherlands where the focus was on the interactions that occurred between teachers and students. …

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