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Children’s temperament and teachers as mediators

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A new article in Child Development reports on a Finnish study of children’s temperament and their maths and reading development, focusing on whether teachers' interaction style acts as a mediator between pupils’ temperament characteristics and their skill development.

The study followed 156 Finnish children, each from a different class, during their first year of primary school (equivalent to Year 3 in the UK). The participating children completed maths and English tests in October and April, and parents and teachers completed questionnaires about the child’s temperament. Teachers also answered daily questionnaires over a one-week period about their interaction style with the target child.

There were four components of the child’s temperament: Task orientation (activity, persistence, and distractibility); inhibition; positive mood; and negative emotionality. There were three components of teacher’s interaction styles: Affection (a positive and warm daily relationship with the child); behavioural control (the degree to which the teacher aimed to directly influence the child’s behaviour); and psychological control (teachers expressing disappointment and appealing to guilt).

The authors found different results for reading and maths. Although children's low task orientation and negative emotionality were negatively associated with the children's initial reading skill level at the beginning of the year, temperament did not predict children's subsequent reading skill development during the year. The authors suggest this may reflect the relatively late school starting age and the consistent nature of Finnish orthography.

In contrast, the study indicated that for maths, temperament does play a role, perhaps reflecting the different learning process. The results showed that the impact of children's low task orientation and negative emotionality on maths skill development was mediated by teachers' behavioural control and, among girls, also by psychological control. However, the negative impact of children's inhibition on maths skill development was not mediated by teachers' interaction style.

Source: Children's Temperament and Academic Skill Development During First Grade: Teachers' Interaction Styles as Mediators (2015), Child Development, 86(4).

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