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8.7 The Bottom Line: Messages Sent, Messages Reconstructed

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  • As we have explained in this chapter, teachers and students communicate in multiple, overlapping ways. Communications may often be expressed in words— but not necessarily and not completely. They may be organized into lectures, questions, discussions, or group projects. They tend to be expressed in particular language registers that we have called simply teacher talk and student talk. All things considered, communication obviously serves a wide range of teaching and learning tasks and activities, from stimulating students' thinking, to orchestrating classroom routines, to managing inappropriate behaviors. It is an intrinsic part of the parts of teaching that involve interaction among class members.

    Note, though, that teaching consists of more than interaction among class members. There are times when teachers prepare lessons or activities, for example, without talking to students or anyone else. There are also times when they develop their own skills as teachers— for example, by reading and reflecting, or by attending professional development seminars or workshops— which may involve communication, but not in the sense discussed in this chapter. It is to these other parts of teaching that we turn in the next chapter.

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    Chapter summary

    Because communication in classrooms is more complex and unpredictable than in many other situations, it is important for teachers to understand its unique features and functions. It is helpful to think of classroom communication as serving a mixture of three purposes at once: content talk, procedural talk, and behavior control talk. It is also helpful to recognize that classroom communication has elements that are not only verbal, but also nonverbal and unintended.

    To be effective in using verbal communication, teachers need to use appropriate instructional strategies related to content, such as using advance organizers, relating new information to prior knowledge, and organizing new information on behalf of students. It includes strategies that assist students to communicate, such as inquiry
    learning and cooperative learning. To communicate well about procedures and about the behaviors expected of students, teachers need a variety of management techniques, such as those discussed in Chapter 7 and summarized again in Table 19. To be effective in using nonverbal communication, teachers need to use appropriate eye contact, allow ample wait time between speaking turns, and be aware of the effects of social distance on students.

    Structures of participation influence communication by facilitating particular patterns of speaking and listening, while at the same time making other patterns less convenient or disapproved. Four common participation structures are lectures, questions-and-answers, classroom discussions, and group work.

    Key Terms
    Caring community Procedural talk
    Class discussions Questions-and-answer
    Collaborative group work Register
    Communication Social distance
    Content talk Student talk register
    Control talk Teacher talk register
    Eye contact Unintended communication
    Lecture Verbal communication
    Nonverbal communication Wait time
    Participation structures

    On the Internet

    <http:// > This URL offers tips for enhancing classroom communication. It is organized around ten basic topics (e.g. "Organizing Effective Discussions") and focuses primarily on verbal communication. It is part of the more general website for Union University of Jackson, Tennessee.

    < > This website contains over 40 short papers (1-4 pages each) on a variety of topics, including many related to enhancing communication, but also some related to classroom organization and management in general. Some of the papers refer to college or university teaching, but many are quite relevant to public school teaching.

    < > This website contains a thorough discussion of nonverbal communication— more detailed than possible in this chapter, and with photos and drawings to illustrate key points.

    < > This website contains many resources, among which are articles about classroom management and communication, including nonverbal communication. It is intended strictly for public school teachers. Once you get to the homepage, click on their "Newsletter" for the articles.


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