Sandra L. Christenson, Ph.D, Professor — College of Education and Human Development; and Cathryn Peterson, Teacher — Armstrong High School, Robbinsdale, MN
Revised June 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for school success.
Structure refers to the overall routine and monitoring provided by key adults for youth. Students' success in school is facilitated when families and schools provide a consistent pattern of events and age appropriate monitoring and supervision. Students perform better in school when they understand their schedule of daily activities, directions for schoolwork, rules for behavior, etc.
What Do We Know?
Selected Research Findings
In their review of over 300 studies investigating the relationship between home environments and educational and developmental outcomes for children, Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, and Bloom (1993) reported that there is a positive relationship between children's academic learning and these work habits of the family: (a) the degree of structure, sharing, and punctuality in home activities, including work and play, chores, and an established routine in managing the home; (b) an emphasis on regularity in the use of time and space, including a balance for sleep, meals, study, reading, and play; and (c) a priority given to schoolwork, reading, and other educative activities (e.g., regular homework schedule) over television and other recreation. High achieving students lived in homes where there was a regular family routine and priority was given to schoolwork, that is, there was adequate time for reading, studying, and completion of schoolwork.
Monitoring the use of children's out-of-school time and daily activities is a positive correlate of higher student achievement (Clark, 1983) and has been demonstrated to be critical for reducing adolescents involvement in substance abuse (Baumrind, 1991). Establishing clear and consistent limits about student behavior and monitoring the type and amount of out-of-school activities differentiated the home experiences for high and low-achieving poor, African American secondary level students (Clark, 1983).
Walberg (1984) has demonstrated better academic outcomes for students whose parents engage in monitoring and joint analysis of television viewing. It is important to note that the results of the research on the effects of television viewing on student achievement are contradictory. In their meta-analysis, Williams, Haertl, Haertl, & Walberg (1982) found a significant, negative association between achievement and the amount of television viewing that became negligible if social strata and IQ were controlled. Other researchers have found a strong negative relationship between watching large amounts of television and achievement (Comstock & Paik, 1987; Fetler, 1984). Effects of television differ across social strata, where increased television viewing in upper-class families has been associated with a relative decrease in academic performance. In general, students who view a great deal of television (more than six hours a day) have significantly lower achievement scores in reading, math, and writing, and small amounts of viewing (two to three hours per day) have been shown to increase achievement for disadvantaged students (Fetler, 1984). Effects of television have been shown to depend on the child's age, where up to four hours per day may have a positive effect on the achievement of younger children; one to two hours is reported as optimal viewing for 13 year olds; and the effects of television viewing becomes more negative around age 17. As homework demands increase, television viewing needs to decrease to ensure an adequate amount of time for reading and studying (Keith, Reimers, Fehrman, Pottebaum, & Aubrey,1986). The key factor appears to be the degree to which there is parental monitoring related to providing a structure for learning.
Student grades are significantly and positively related to parental monitoring of homework completion and keeping close track of students' performance in school (Clark, 1983; Cooper, 1989; Fehrmann, Keith, & Reimers, 1987). The structure provided by the home, especially a quiet place to study, discussion of schoolwork, and parental recognition of child progress, has been identified as a reason for the achievement gains demonstrated. Monitoring of school behaviors by parents has been found to be positively related to school success (Campbell & Mandel, 1990; Ramsey, Walker, Shinn, O'Neill, & Stieher, 1989).
Middle schoolers’ test scores and grades in writing improved when their families participated in TIPS learning activities, an interactive homework program (Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997). In TIPS, parents monitor, interact, and support their children; however, they do not teach the content or direct the assignment. The more TIPS homework completed by students, the better their grades in language arts. Henderson and Mapp (2001) report two other relevant findings: 1) Controlling for the amount of homework completed, TIPS students grades in science were significantly higher than the control group, and 2) Although no significant differences were found in posttest math achievement, students assigned interactive homework in math were significantly more involved in math homework than students who were not assigned this type of homework.
Authoritative parenting, which is characterized by establishing clear standards, enforcing rules, and encouraging discussion and joint decision making, is positively associated with student achievement for elementary and secondary students (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987). Parental discipline characterized by setting clear standards, enforcing rules, and encouraging discussion, negotiation, and independence is associated with positive academic outcomes (Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1992).
In contrast, permissive (under control) and authoritarian (over control) parenting are negatively correlated with student achievement, as measured by grades and standardized test scores.
Parent involvement is even more likely to benefit "students' school success when it occurs within an authoritative parenting style...typified by parental acceptance and warmth and by behavioral supervision that allows for some degree of democracy and autonomy on the part of the child” (Gonzalez-DeHass, Willems, & Holbein, 2005, p.121). For example, the more parents were involved in monitoring, enforcing or helping with homework, the more students reported being extrinsically motivated and dependent on external sources for academic guidance and evaluation; teachers rated these students as showing less initiation, autonomy, persistence, and satisfaction in doing their school work. When parents reacted to their child’s grades with extrinsic rewards, reaction was related to an extrinsic motivational orientation, whereas encouragement and praise provided an intrinsic motivational orientation. When students perceived that parents valued the importance of effort and academic success, students had higher perceived academic competence and placed a high priority on their academic ability, effort and grades.
Based on a review of 145 empirical studies where 108 studies examined the link between parent involvement and student achievement, six types of involvement seem to be very important for promoting achievement gains (Baker & Sodden, 1997). These are: a stimulating literacy and material environment, monitoring of TV viewing and homework completion, joint learning activities at home, emphasis on effort rather than ability, promoting of independence and self-reliance, and high expectations and moderate levels of parent support and supervision. With respect to the latter two, it appears that the authoritative parenting style (i.e., demandingness and responsivity) corroborates these practices. Moderate levels of support and structure are important to avoid “doing the work” for the adolescent or adopting an overly protective stance.
Some researchers have found a negative relationship between achievement (grades and test scores) and parent supervision, involvement with homework, and contacts with school (Catsambis, 1998; Fan & Chen, 1999; Finn, 1993; Shumow & Miller, 2001). Researchers tend to explain this relationship as a function of the timing of parent involvement to assist students; namely, that parents become more involved when students are struggling in their academic work. Also, there may be more direct involvement in supervising homework completion, rather than using motivational support (Finn, 1993) or advising and guiding teens academic decisions (Catsambis, 1998). “The most effective types of parental involvement are not those geared towards behavioral supervision, but rather, those geared towards advising or guiding teens’ academic decisions” (Catsambis, 1998, p.24). Finn (1993) found that engagement was associated with discussions about school, less monitoring of homework, and greater academic resources in the home, whereas disengagement was associated with the opposite characteristics. These data suggest that motivational support for learning, specifically structuring the home environment and emphasizing children’s efforts to succeed, appear to be important in facilitating academic achievement, perhaps more so than direct assistance and monitoring of homework.
Regardless of their ethnic background, social class or family structure, adolescents whose parents are accepting, firm, and use an authoritative parenting style earn higher grades in school, are more self-reliant, report less psychological distress related to symptoms of anxiety and depression, and are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior (Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991). In addition, youth who describe their parents as warm, democratic, and firm are more likely than their peers to develop positive attitudes and beliefs about achievement, and therefore, are more likely to do better in school (Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989).
Children aged 8 to 17 with the greatest parental monitoring of activities and best self regulatory skills were the most resilient, which was defined as a lack of behavioral problems, lack of mental health symptoms and both a high level of functioning and competence in daily living. Fifty-three percent of the 155 youth interviewed were girls and their ethnic/racial profile was mixed with many of the families experiencing homelessness in the past. To measure parental monitoring, the mothers were asked how often they knew where their children were and with whom they were with, when their children were away from home.
Youth do best in school when parents provide predictable boundaries for their lives, encourage productive use of time, and provide learning experiences as a regular part of family life. Redding (2000) labeled this family practice routine of family life; it consists of such practices as a regularly scheduled study time; routine that involves eat, sleep, work, study, read, and play; and family interest in educational activities. When families set aside time each day for studying and learning, especially for adolescents, rather than asking them to study only when required to do so by teachers, they learn that studying and learning is valued by the family.
Highly structured, interactive instruction has been associated positively with achievement gains and active participation for students. The instructional structure is teacher-directed, academically focused, and follows a demonstrate-prompt-practice-prove instructional sequence. Clear lesson explanations, carefully sequenced materials and tasks, supervised guided feedback, sufficient independent practice (classroom and homework), and evaluation of student performance are provided. Monitoring occurs at all points throughout the instructional sequence (Good & Grouws, 1979; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). A high degree of teacher-student interaction, maintained by teacher questioning and student responding patterns, and by providing students with informative feedback, is associated positively with student achievement. To the extent that students are younger, have little or no prior background knowledge, and have difficulty learning, instruction is more effective if it is highly structured and overlearning of skills is emphasized (Rosenshine, 1983).
Brophy & Good (1986) identified many characteristics of effective classrooms. High achieving classrooms are often characterized by: (a) frequent student initiation of academic interaction, (b) whole class instruction, (c) clear instruction, (d) a non-evaluative, relaxed, task-focused environment, and (e) a lack of disruptions. In addition, they identified several links to achievement that are within the control of the teacher. These links are: the importance of the quantity and pacing of instruction; emphasis on academic instruction and expectation that students will master the curriculum; brief transitions and minimal time wasted on disruptions; providing an instructional match; employing elements of active teaching such as demonstration, instruction, discussion, and recitation; using advance organizers and overviews; helping students link curriculum to something familiar and relevant to their lives; redundancy, clarity, and enthusiasm in delivery of instruction; and effectively using wait time. McKee and Witt (1990) also emphasize the importance of clarity, active teaching, and connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge or schema.
Although there is a moderate and positive relationship between rate of academic engaged time and student achievement (Fisher & Berliner, 1985; Karweit, 1983), the relationship between academic learning time and student achievement is stronger (Marliave & Filby, 1985). Academic learning time is the time spent by a student engaged in an academically relevant task with a high rate of success. The central issue is not simply time, but also the nature of the task (e.g., means to achieve intended instructional goal and student success rate for completion).
The implementation of a few, essential behavioral rules and organizational routines (e.g., how to find materials) in the classroom has been positively associated with students' engagement rates (Good, 1983; Karweit, 1983). The systematic use of effective classroom management strategies has been positively associated with student achievement gains for regular education students (Anderson, Evertson, & Brophy, 1979; Doyle, 1986) and special education students (Englert & Thomas, 1982).
Teacher Evaluation Study, Marliave and Filby determined that for guided or initial practice opportunities a student's success rate should be at least 70%; a success rate of 80% or higher on initial tasks is often preferred. On independent activities, it was recommended that students complete the assigned task with 90-100% success.
Teacher monitoring of student progress toward the intended goal influences student achievement. First, Waxman, Wang, Anderson, and Walberg (1985) have demonstrated that the academic performance of low-achieving students in adaptive instruction classrooms is higher than that of low-achieving students in traditional classrooms with less systematic monitoring, feedback, and use of adaptive strategies. Second, Gettinger (1984) has demonstrated that providing students with the time needed to learn a specific task or skill is a stronger predictor of academic achievement than is IQ.
When teenagers perceive that community monitoring of behavior exists (e.g., someone to notice when appropriate or inappropriate behavior occurs), they are less likely to participate in negative or high risk behaviors such as drug use (Garbarino, 1995).
A study of 7664 diverse students in the suburban San Francisco Bay Area found that community variables were the only good predictor of grades for African-American students. The quality of the community that the African-American students lived in had a more powerful effect on student grades than family status variables, and in fact, weakened the influence of the individual family on the youth (Dornbusch, Ritter, & Steinberg, 1991). Dornbusch and colleagues also found that the influence of the individual family was weakened for white children when they lived in more mixed communities. The Search Institute has found that the greatest differences between the most healthy and the least healthy communities were associated with the strength of community institutions such as churches and schools, rather than the strengths associated with families and peers (Blyth, 1992).
The Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents of the Carnegie Council (1989) made several recommendations for creating positive environments for middle grade students. They recommended the following conditions as helpful: (a) small communities for learning, like schools within a school or teams of teachers and students; (b) an academic program that teaches youth to think critically and lead a healthy lifestyle and reinforces literacy and emphasizes the sciences; (c) success for all students orientation by eliminating tracking, using cooperative learning and making modifications to instructional time and strategies; (d) teacher and administrator control of decisions; (e) a staff of middle grade teachers who have been prepared to meet the needs of this age group; (f) an environment that promotes good health amongst the students, and provide counseling and health services; (g) opportunities for families to be involved in their child's education; and (h) community connections with schools (e.g., service, health and social services, and constructive out of school programs).
Focus Group Comments
- "Or just asking if you have homework or saying to do it. I'm glad she still reminds me to do it." (Consistent High School Student)
- "Probably you know when you have homework to take home and your parents don't let you go outside until you do your homework and get it done." (Inconsistent Middle School Student)
- "Teachers take control and make the kids interact. If they're going to sleep call on them." (Inconsistent Middle School Student)
- "If you ask a question or something and you ask it more than once, then she gives you clues, not just blurting out the answers." (Consistent Elementary Student)
How Do We Do This?
Education as a Priority
- Schoolwork and other educational activities are given priority over television and recreational activities.
- Television viewing is limited to no more than two hours per school night.
- Parents ensure that their child attends school each day.
- The child understands the importance of completing homework and is provided with a structured time for learning (e.g., set aside uninterrupted time for homework each night).
- Routine daily events such as eating dinner together, completing homework and bed times are reinforced.
- Each day a block of uninterrupted time is provided for completion of schoolwork.
- Parents are aware of how their child spends his/her time and provide guidance and supervision (e.g., call your child if you are not home when they arrive home from school).
- The daily routine in the home provides sufficient time for the child to complete homework.
- Each day the parents ask the child about school (e.g., encourage the child to call grandma and talk to her about a favorite activity at school).
Monitoring and Supervision
- The child's behavior is consistently monitored by the parent and age appropriate supervision is provided.
- Parents monitor and/or supervise the child's out-of-school activities (e.g., have your child invite friends over for movies and pizza).
- Parents are informed of and monitor the child's school progress (e.g., parents communicate with the child's teachers).
- Weekly, parents and child review the child's schoolwork.
- Parents help the child to organize his/her work and to use his/her time efficiently (e.g., help your child organize his/her homework into color-coded files).
Consequences, Accountability, and Parenting Style
- The child clearly understands the rules of the household (e.g., be firm about bed times, curfews, etc.).
- The child is held accountable for completing his/her household tasks/chores.
- The child understands the consequences for not following the household rules.
- Parents follow through with consequences and enforce the household rules.
- Parents understand the most effective ways to discipline the child.
- Parents use negotiation and an authoritative parenting style when communicating with the child (e.g., ask the child's opinion in a discussion, emphasize reasons).
- The rules of the classroom have been discussed with the student and they are understood.
- The teacher handles disruptions promptly so the classroom remains efficient, orderly, and positive (e.g., redirect unengaged students without disrupting the entire classroom).
- The student knows what to do when he/she has completed the assigned task (e.g., read a book at his/her desk, spend time in the computer lab, etc.).
- Student behavior is consistently monitored by the teacher and appropriate behavior is reinforced (e.g., circulate throughout the room to keep students on task).
- The student understands the consequences for not following the classroom rules.
- Directions for an assignment are clear and concise.
- The lesson sequence provides teacher demonstration, guided practice, checking for student understanding, relevant materials, and review opportunities.
- Important classroom rules are posted, communicated, and reinforced (e.g., few essential rules are understood and practiced).
- The classroom rules reinforce and are congruent with the school rules.
- The student clearly understands what behavior is and is not acceptable (e.g., teach pro-social values, helping activities, etc.).
- When communicating rules and procedures, the teacher provides the student with both examples and non-examples of the rules and procedures (e.g., demonstrate the difference between "indoor" voices and "outdoor" voices).
- The rules and procedures are clearly communicated at the beginning of the school year or new term (e.g., the teacher verbally reviews the rules and posts the rules in the classroom).
- The teacher uses eye contact with students.
- When a student behaves inappropriately, the teacher takes the opportunity to re-teach rules and reinforce expectations and standards (e.g., the teacher discusses the rule and what should be done in a situation).
- Teachers remind the students of behavioral expectations and standards prior to unique or novel activities (e.g. field trips, assemblies, guest speakers etc.).
- Teachers use non-verbal cues (e.g. eye contact, proximity) to refocus students while helping other students or working with the class.
- Teachers provide the student with specific, academic feedback (e.g., written comments on an assignment that identify which adjectives were particularly descriptive in order to enhance the writing).
- The procedures for classroom routines (e.g. bathroom breaks, etc.) are understood and followed.
- The space in the classroom is well organized and used efficiently.
- The classroom materials are easily accessible to the student (e.g., students can reach the books on the shelves and the crayons in the cupboard).
- The student knows what to do to receive assistance on a task (e.g., raise hands, approach the teacher's desk).
- Lessons are well organized and planned in advance by the teacher.
- The teacher ensures that the class or lesson begins and ends on time.
- Transitions are short, to the point, and prewarned (teachers warn students when an activity is coming to a close and provide transition time..."I will give you the next minute to finish up your discussions on air pollution").
- Classroom disruptions and interruptions are infrequent and handled promptly.
- The teacher reviews prior learning and knowledge before teaching new content (e.g., ask some factual questions to ensure understanding).
- The student is provided with background information on the subject and understands the relevance of the knowledge being taught (e.g., teacher provides students with examples of how they may use a new skill outside of the classroom).
- Specific objectives for what is to be learned from the lesson are clearly communicated to the student (e.g., an outline of the lesson is written on the board).
- Teachers focus and maintain student attention throughout the lesson presentation.
- The classroom environment is focused on a specific academic area or focus.
- The teacher uses concrete examples when presenting the lesson.
- Teacher-directed instruction is used often when presenting skill and content.
- The teacher clearly communicates the important features of a new skill or concept.
- The lesson is filled with a sufficient amount of detail and information.
- The main terms and concepts are clearly communicated to the student during the lesson presentation.
- The instructional pace of the classroom reflects the needs and abilities of the students (e.g., consider the attention span of the students).
- Information is structured to enhance student learning (e.g. advance organizers, review, guided practice, independent seat work).
- Background information that is relevant to student interest and experience is used in lesson presentation to enhance understanding (e.g., make comparisons to sports, types of music, etc.).
- Advance organizers are used to communicate what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, and why it is important (e.g., write the objectives of a project on the board).
- The teacher clearly and specifically teaches the student the key terms and ideas.
- Teacher instructions are clear and appropriate in length and detail.
- The teacher repeats the instructions and emphasizes difficult and important points.
- The student understands the procedure to gain assistance if he/she is confused.
- The teacher monitors student engagement and attention for cues about understanding or confusion (e.g., vary presentation format, lecture, videos, etc. to gain interest).
- The teacher communicates the necessary thinking skills (e.g., memorizing, reasoning, evaluating) required to complete the task.
- Modifications are made to assignments to allow for successful completion of the task (e.g. length decreased, concrete aids and cues are provided.)
- Student performance and achievement are monitored consistently (e.g., ask questions to check for understanding).
- The student does not waste time before re-engaging after a break (e.g., give students a two-minute warning when a break is coming to a close).
- The size of the class does not interfere with student opportunity to respond to questions.
- The composition of the class does not interfere or conflict with student needs or the amount of interaction time necessary for student achievement.
- The community has a feeling of cohesiveness and a collective sense of well being and physical security.
- The community provides an environment that monitors and supervises the behavior of its youth.
- Communities monitor behavior of youth and notice if youth do something inappropriate or wrong.
- Youth in the community are involved in interesting, challenging programs that allow and promote productive use of time.
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Using natural and logical consequences — Get step-by-step instructions for using natural and logical consequences and see examples of this strategy in action.
Learning — Review with the research says about learning, and how children's school success is facilitated when they are provided with various tools for learning and when key adults in their life communicate with each other. Part of the Research on the factors for school success series.