Best Practices in Communication in the In-Person Classroom
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Effective communication is essential for every educator. Whether you are giving a lecture or orienting students to the structure and purpose of a group activity, clear and engaging communication can influence what and how students learn. What are some best practices in communication that educators can begin to apply in their classrooms today?
Varied Speaking Style.
The impact of the way you speak should not be underestimated. Simple adjustments such as varying the speed and tone of your voice can keep students engaged. Similarly, projecting your voice, emphasizing transitions between topics, and pausing so students can process an important point can all help with focus and retention for your students.
Engaged Body Language.
Whether in a classroom or online setting, what students see is as important as what they hear. Basic techniques such as making eye contact, maintaining open body language (e.g. don’t cross your arms!), and even moving around the classroom can help students connect more deeply with the information you are presenting.
Stated Learning Objectives.
An easily overlooked best practice is to simply state that day’s learning objectives at the beginning of each class. Instructors may do this at the beginning of a course or semester but then never revisit those objectives again. Consider framing learning objectives in the form of questions that students should be able to answer or skills that students will develop by the end of the class. End the class by revisiting that day’s objectives to see whether students agree that these goals were reached. If so, this can build a stronger sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue learning. If not, this provides instructors with an opportunity to follow up on topics that were unclear or did not receive sufficient time and attention.
Just as important as what you say is how you respond to students. Active listening is a key part of effective communication. Students who feel that their instructors are not receptive to questions or frequently misunderstand their comments and questions may begin to disengage, even subconsciously—not to mention that they may not get their questions answered or may not get clarity on topics they are struggling to understand. Instructors can practice repeating back what students say, building on their comments, and asking follow-up questions to increase understanding and engagement.
Advance preparation is key when it comes to communicating clearly. By taking the time to break complex ideas into smaller parts, providing definitions for jargon, and building space into your class sessions for students to ask questions, you can get ahead of potential confusion. Asking students to rephrase key ideas in their own words or apply new concepts to solve a problem can be effective ways to determine if students are tracking with you.
Make Use of Media.
Using dry-erase boards, slideshows, videos, and audio clips to enhance your message can go a long way. To avoid over-reliance on visuals and audio, instructors can employ several different methods of presenting a key idea—for instance, lecturing on the topic, showing a related video clip, and then asking small groups to discuss a related case study. The change in approach alone can help students process material, since listening to an instructor speak will engage them differently than watching an animation.
Instructors can also consider bringing in content from well-known figures and thought leaders (such as clips from a podcast or interview) or creating their own content by interviewing colleagues and industry experts about a given topic.
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