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8:The Nature of Classroom Communication

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  • "Be sincere; be brief; be seated."

    (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)

    Franklin Roosevelt was a former president of the United States, and he advised being brief and sincere when communicating. In advising to be seated, he was being somewhat more indirect; perhaps he was suggesting that conversation and dialog would be improved by reducing the power differences between individuals. If so, he was giving good advice, though perhaps it was also a bit misleading in its simplicity. As teachers, we face almost continual talk at school, supplemented by ample amounts of nonverbal 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 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. As you learn to do this, interestingly, much of your communication with students will indeed acquire the qualities recommended by Franklin Roosevelt. 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.

    In this chapter we look at how you might begin to move toward these goals. We describe briefly several major features of classroom communication that distinguish it from communication in other familiar situations. Then we explain several techniques, both verbal and nonverbal, that contribute to effective communication, and describe how these manifest themselves in several common activity settings, which we call structures of participation. As you will see, how an activity is organized— its structure of participation— has a major effect on how students communicate with each other and with the teacher.