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Most Important Behaviors of Effective Teaching as a Basis for Designing SRI Instruments

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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"Too often instrument items for Student Ratings of Instruction (SRI) are selected without any knowledge of which teaching characteristics and behaviors contribute the most to good instruction and student learning. These instruments may fail to measure effective teaching as perceived by students and thus may be invalid. Instrument items should be selected on the basis of the vast theory and research that have identified several general and specific teacher behaviors, those that are the most important for promoting effective teaching and student learning."


The posting below looks at the most important behaviors of effective teaching as a basis for designing Student Rating for Instruction (SRI) instruments. It is based on Chapter 1: Theoretical basis for SRI - Behaviors and dimensions of effective teaching, in the book, Student Ratings of Instruction: A Practical Approach to Designing, Operating, and Reporting, Second Edition. By Nira Hativa, Email: . The book: ; 226 pp. ISBN: 978-1500300371. Copyright © by Oron Publications, All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Most Important Behaviors of Effective Teaching as a Basis for Designing Student Rating for Instruction (SRI)  Instruments


A major concern in setting up SRI systems for colleges and universities is the selection of items for rating teaching and courses. Too often, items are selected without any knowledge of which teaching characteristics and behaviors contribute the most to good instruction and student learning:

...many of the forms used today have been developed from other existing forms without much thought to theory or construct domains (Ory & Ryan, 2001; p. 32).

Many SRI instruments are not developed using a theory of teaching or learning, a systematic logical approach that ensures content validity, or empirical techniques, e.g., factor analysis (Marsh & Dunkin, 1997, p. 253).

These instruments may lack any evidence of content validity and thus may fail to measure effective teaching as perceived by students. Indeed, there is no comprehensive, well agreed-upon definition of effective teaching nor are there well established criteria for judging effective teaching (Benton & Cashin, 2012; Clayson, 2009). However, clear understanding of the most important behaviors that contribute to effective teaching is a prerequisite for the construction of SRI instruments. Instrument items should be selected on the basis of theory and research of effective teaching and learning.

Dimensions and the most important general behaviors of effective teaching

A variety of research methods were used to identify teacher behaviors that contribute to effective instruction. These include classroom observation, content analysis of letters of recommendation for nominating teaching-award candidates, content analysis of student written comments in SRI forms, reviews and syntheses of related studies, and more. Nonetheless, the method most frequently used is applying the statistical procedure of factor analysis to SRI data. The main factors that were identified in the many studies of this type reveal large variations in number, content, level of generality, and title. We name them here general teaching behaviors.

Some of these factors may be of greater contribution than others to effective teaching. Feldman (2007) identified 28 factors that were in fact general teaching behaviors, as repeatedly appearing in several different factor-analysis studies. He used two different criteria that he named indicators of importance, to establish the differential importance of these factors for their contribution to teaching effectiveness. The two indicators were: The contribution of that factor/teaching behavior to student learning (we would expect student learning to be highly associated with what teachers do in class) and the correlation of that factor/teaching behavior with ratings for Overall Teaching on SRI (high correlation indicates that students perceive that teaching behavior as contributing highly to their satisfaction from the teacher.)

Using both indicators, Feldman identified, out of the 28 factors as above, five general teaching behaviors as the most important for effective teaching as perceived by students. These are:Making the lessons clear, organized, and engaging/interesting; and maintaining interactions (questioning and answering, discussing) and rapport with students (interest in and care/concern about students and their learning, motivating students). These same five general teaching behaviors were identified also in several other studies (sometimes under different titles) as the most important for student learning and their satisfaction from instruction, supporting their validity as contributing to effective teaching.

Furthermore, these five general teaching behaviors were found in the different studies to converge into the same two teaching dimensions (e.g. Frey,1978; Kite, 2012; Lowman, 1995; D'Apollonia and Abrami, 1997; Addison and Stowell, 2012). These are:

A cognitive teaching dimension that refers to pedagogical-instructional skills of communicating the material. It comprises of the general teaching behaviors of clarityorganization, andengaging/interesting presentation.

An affective teaching dimension that refers to maintaining positive relationships with students. It comprises of positive interpersonal rapport and facilitating interactions.

On the basis of all the above, each SRI instrument should include, as a rule, items that represent these most important general behaviors for effective teaching: clarity, organization, interest/engagement, interactions, and rapport.

This model of two dimensions of effective teaching and the related effective teaching behaviors were found to generalize across different academic domains (Kember & Leung, 2011) and across different nationalities and settings. Students from different settings and from different countries appear to differentiate among different behaviors of teaching effectiveness in a similar manner, when responding to the same SRI instrument (Marsh & Dunkin, 1997). What may differ across contexts, cultures, and teachers are the specific teaching behaviors used to achieve the generalbehaviors.

Specific behaviors of effective teaching

Each general teaching behavior can be achieved by using a variety of specific teaching behaviors. These behaviors can be directly evaluated, for example by counting their frequency (e.g., "poses questions to students", or "smiles at students"), or by some low-level judgment (e.g., "writes legibly on the board", "answers students' questions well", "gives good examples", or "shows concern for students and their learning").

Lengthy SRI instruments may include, in addition to items presenting the general effective teaching behaviors that are required, also several items that represent specific teaching behaviors. The rationale for including them is that instructors receiving poor ratings on a particular general teaching behavior usually have no idea of which specific teaching behaviors that they used led to their low ratings, nor do they know what to change in their teaching to yield improvement (Theall & Franklin, 1990). In order to improve performance on general teaching behaviors, instructors must receive information on specific, concrete behaviors that contribute to their ratings for the general behaviors of effective teaching.

Research has identified many dozens of specific teaching behaviors that contribute to teacher performance on each of the general behaviors of effective teaching. For example, several studies identified specific behaviors that contribute to achieving clarity in teaching. Hines (1981) identified 53 specific teaching behaviors that discriminate between high- and low-clarity teachers. The following are 28 behaviors of that list that most strongly discriminate between the two groups of teachers, in decreasing order of discriminating power:

Gives explanations students understand; Presents content in a logical manner; Explains things simply; Teaches at an appropriate pace; Answers students' questions; Asks questions to find out if students understand; Repeats things that are important; Repeats things when students don't understand; Points out what is important to learn; Stays with the topic until students understand; Summarizes the material presented in class; Asks students if they know what to do and how; Distributes time adequately over topics; Explains the assignments and the materials students need to use; Explains and then stops for questions; Tells students what they are expected to do/know; Stresses difficult points; Describes the assignments and how to do them; Teaches step-by-step; Allows students time to ask questions; Writes important things on board or in handouts; Shows how to remember things; Uses examples when explaining; Shows similarity and difference between things; Compares new material with what they know; Goes over difficult problems in class; Explains meaning of unfamiliar words; Explains and stops for students to think about.

Hativa, Barak & Simhi (2001) used classroom observations of four exemplary teachers to identify specific clarity behaviors that they used most frequently, on the basis of their students' ratings. The nine specific clarity behaviors on that list, in decreasing order of frequency of use, are:

Simplifies explanations; Presents questions to check understanding; Encourages students' questions; Answers students' questions well; Emphasizes important points; Writes legibly on board/slides; Provides intuitive meaning of explanations; Gives appropriate examples/illustrations; Links to students' prior knowledge/experience; Repeats/elaborates difficult points; Speaks intelligibly; Explains unfamiliar/difficult terms; Does not make errors/mistakes.

These lists of specific clarity behaviors and additional ones (e.g., Murray, 1985) may serve as a source for improving clarity (Hativa, 1985; 1998). Instructors who rate poorly on lesson clarity may incorporate several of these specific behaviors into their teaching in order to improve on this general teaching behavior.

A three-level model of effective teaching behaviors

Altogether, we may define a three-level model of effective teaching. The first level comprises of the two dimensions-cognitive and affective. In the second level, for each dimension there are the few most important general behaviors of effective teaching: clarity, organization, engaging/interesting presentation, interactions and rapport. Each of these general teaching behaviors comprises of dozens of specific teaching behaviors that form a third level (Hativa, 2001a; 2001b, 2008a, 2008b).

As suggested above, each SRI instrument should include items for all the general effective teaching behaviors. In addition, it can include a few items for specific teaching behaviors that contribute to each of the general teaching behaviors.


Addison, W. E., & Stowell, J. R. (2012). Conducting research on student evaluation of teaching. In M. E. Kite (Ed.), Effective evaluation of teaching: A guide for faculty and administrators (pp. 5-12): The American Psychological Association's Division 2 (The Society for the Teaching of Psychology)

Benton, S. L., & Cashin, W. E. (2012). Student ratings of teaching: A summary of research and literature. IDEA Paper No. 50. Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Center.

Clayson, D. E. (2009). Student evaluations of teaching: Are they related to what students learn? A meta-analysis and review of the literature. Journal of Marketing Education, 31(1), 16-30

d'Apollonia, S., & Abrami, P. C. (1997). Navigating student ratings of instruction. American Psychologist, 52(11), 1198-1208.       

Feldman, K. A. (2007). Identifying exemplary teachers and teaching: Evidence from student ratings In R. P. Perry & J. C. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective (pp. 93-143). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer

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Hativa, N. (1985). A study of the organization and clarity of mathematics lessons. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 16(1), 89-99.

Hativa, N. (1998). Lack of clarity in university teaching: A case study. Higher Education, 36(3), 353-381.

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Hines, C. V. (1981). A further investigation of teacher clarity: The relationship between observed and perceived clarity and student achievement and satisfaction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University. 

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