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Introduction to Communication in the Classroom

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As a teacher, you face almost continual talk at school, supplemented by ample amounts of non-verbal communication – gestures, facial expressions, and other “body language”. Often the talk involves many people at once, or even an entire class, and individuals have to take turns speaking while also listening to others having their turns, or sometimes ignoring the others if a conversation does not concern them.
As the teacher, therefore, you find yourself playing an assortment of roles when communicating in classrooms: Master of Ceremonies, referee – and of course a source of new knowledge.
Your challenge is to sort the roles out so that you are playing the right ones in the right combinations at the right times. Often, you will indeed be more sincere and brief, and you will find that minimizing power differences between you and students is a good idea.
Classroom events are often so complex that just talking with students can become confusing.
It helps to think of the challenge as a problem in communication – or as one expert put it, of “who says what to whom, and with what effect” (Lasswell, 1964).
In classrooms, things often do not happen at an even pace or in a logical order, or with just the teacher and one student interacting while others listen or wait patiently. While such moments do occur, events may sometimes instead be more like a kaleidoscope of overlapping interactions, disruptions, and decisions – even when activities are generally going well. An example of this may be seen on the next slide.
Scenario of Over-Lapping Interactions
One student finishes a task while another is still only halfway done. A third student looks like she is reading, but she may really be dreaming.
You begin to bring her back on task by speaking to her, only to be interrupted by a fourth student with a question about an assignment. While you answer the fourth student, a fifth walks in with a message from the office requiring a response; so the bored (third) student is overlooked awhile longer. Meanwhile, the first student – the one who finished the current task – now begins telling a joke to a sixth student, just to pass the time. You wonder, “Should I speak now to the bored, quiet reader or to the joke-telling student? Or should I move on with the lesson?” While you are wondering this, a seventh student raises his hand with a question, and so on.
One way to manage situations like these is to understand and become comfortable with the key features of communication that are characteristic of classrooms.
• One set of features has to do with the functions or purposes of communication, especially the balance among talk related to content, to procedures, and to controlling behavior.
• Another feature has to do with the nature of non-verbal communication – how it supplements and sometimes even contradicts what is said verbally
• A third feature has to do with the unwritten expectations held by students and teachers about how to participate in particular kinds of class activities – what will later be known as the structure of participation.