Communication May Be Multifaceted And Has Some Impact On Pupils

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The activity chosen for this assignment is number three, unit four, (part two) and can be found on page 37 of the course booklet. The directive asked students to examine their use of communication with pupils in the classroom and suggested that communication may be multifaceted and has some impact on pupils' behaviour and academic performance. Schusler (1971) also cautions against approaching the subject of classroom communication from only one perspective. He suggests that:

"To view the teaching-learning act as composed only of words is to deny that pupils are able to see as well as hear the communicative process that teachers perform as they teach. "

In addition, the activity implies that pupils may receive messages from teachers in different ways and with differing effects. Johnson (1999) suggests that:

"..we have become so involved with delivering the curricula that we fail to acknowledge how we deliver the curricula.."

(pg 1)

To identify what forms of communication may be occurring in the classroom and how this may impact pupils, the activity asked that students video themselves and make observations about their teaching. A video was made of a year four class of bilingual children who were initially being taught whole class, then moved to small group work with teacher guidance where necessary. The class consisted of eight girls and eight boys of which two have a mild learning disability coupled with associated emotional difficulties and a further three are receiving specialist lessons from an educational psychologist for emotional and behavioural difficulties. The class is predominantly made up of mono-cultural children with the exception of four who live in a bi-cultural home. Once undertaken and analysed, the video activity became an interesting and enlightening experience for the teacher. Initially, this assignment will focus on the importance of self-analysis by teachers. Then, the focus of the assignment will be on the classroom environment and the act of communicating itself, including the differentiated responses and miscommunication that may also occur. Finally, the assignment will look at the effect these messages may have on the pupils in terms of both academic and behavioural patterns.

Many researchers (Wang, 2008; Fielding, 1984; Rest, 1974; www.unc.edu; Woods, 1983) suggest that videoing as a form of self-analysis is useful for teachers to undertake, as it raises awareness of, and enables modification of, their behaviour. However, Neill (1989) suggests that caution should be used when analysising stage managed lessons as the teacher may not behave naturally or may 'pose' non-verbal communication at the risk of confusing children to the true meaning or wish of the teacher. In this case though, as the video was to be viewed by the teacher and no one else, she is confident that the communication viewed displayed a true picture. Neill (1989) also suggests that different forms of classroom interaction have varying levels of research dedicated to them, and so the understanding of the teacher based on the research will also be affected. For example: verbal communication is well researched and has numerous well defined classification structures and interpretations (Schusler, 1971), whereas non-verbal interactions are open to individual interpretation and subject to contextual bias, making if difficult to analyse effectively. The video analysis certainly provided a wealth of thought provoking material for the teacher. In particular, it highlighted the teacher's unintentional differentiated treatment of some pupils and how easy it was to misinterpret communication signals by the teacher and pupils.

Woods in Fielding (1984) points out that this form of personal self-analysis is part of an interactionism approach to teaching and it:

"…induces reflexivity and analysis of one's own thought, action and motive, but also draws attention to all participants in a situation and can hence lead to greater self-awareness and awareness of others. "

(pg 90)

Woods goes on to state that people are 'constructors of their own meanings', that is to say for each individual the world is full of 'symbols' that represent something. Although a lot of these symbols and their meanings will be common to the community the individual lives in, there will be cases where individuals may apply a different understanding or intensity of feeling. Woods (1983) goes on to suggest that these symbols are 'a stimulus that has a learned meaning and value for people'. It is through these many symbols that people interact; it is their form of communication. Although communication may take many forms, this assignment will concentrate on the observed communication in the classroom between teachers and pupils. Miler in Johnson (1999) defines communication as:

"..an ongoing process of sending and receiving messages that enable humans to share knowledge, attitudes and skills."

This definition embodies the ethos of the interactionist principles in recognising that communication is a two way process between individuals that may in an educational setting be between either teacher / pupil or pupil / pupil. This is important as the influences that enable pupil cognitive change come from both teachers and peers. In addition, the definition also shows an awareness of more than just curriculum material being exchanged and that for effective communication, the receiver has an equally important role (Johnson, 1999), as a lack of understanding does not complete the send and receive cycle. From an interactionist perspective, for real change, learning and cognitive development to take place, one must learn through interactions with others and so the learning becomes 'internalised' (www.unc.edu) becoming part of an individual's beliefs about the world in general and about themselves. Many researchers (for example: Rest, 1974; Watts & Bentley, 1987; Prawat, 1992) suggest that with new interactions pupils will 're-vamp' their beliefs and it is therefore important that pupils are 'stretched' in their thinking (Rest, 1974). Watts & Bentley (1987) suggest that pupils should be:

"… asked to consider the ideas and theories they hold for a particular topic, to explore these to some extent, to examine some of their consequences, to listen to and consider the ideas of others and to begin to re-shape their own ideas in order to take account of new factors".

(pg 123)

For this to be able to happen, Cobb et al. in Prawat (1992) suggests that the teacher must be instrumental in creating a classroom environment that is:

"..perceived (to be) one in which individuals are free to explore ideas, ask questions, and make mistakes"

(pg 380)

The suggestion that teachers are instrumental in setting the right tone and environment for cognitive change to take place, poses a further question of how do they go about achieving it. Wang (2008) suggests that teachers:

"…control what goes on in classrooms primarily through the ways in which they use language."

(pg 49)

On the other hand, Watts & Bentley (1987) suggest teachers must be aware that both what they say and how they act will influence their pupils. From these two suggestions, it is clear that teacher communication, both verbal and non verbal, is instrumental in creating a classroom environment that enables pupils to develop long term cognitive changes, both academically and in their self beliefs. Miller in Johnson (1999) agrees with Caswell & Neill (1993) who state that:

"The success or failure of any lesson will hinge on the effective use of the communication skills at your disposal."

(pg 3)

Schusler (1971) supports the views of Miller but makes a specific distinction in the type of communication suggesting that 'a mark of a good teacher' is being able to communicate effectively verbally. Kasar & Clark (2000) define verbal communication as 'the act of speaking words for their effect and meaning'. Wang (2008) suggests that the use of the spoken word helps to create an environment where the learner is 'maximally involved'. In addition, both Beaman & Wheldall (2000) and White (1975) state that research demonstrates that verbal 'approval and disapproval acts as a reinforcer' for both academic and behavioural development. White (1975) suggests that the balance though is not equal; he states that positive statements from teachers are usually geared towards academic studies, whilst negative statements are usually made to pupils regarding behaviour. Beaman & Wheldall (2000) go on to say that despite well-documented research in this area, it is somewhat surprising that teachers do not use this form of social control more often. However, White (1975) suggests that these findings are not equal across all age groups. He states that at the lower end of the primary spectrum positive verbal comments about behaviour are being made frequently, whilst teachers beyond third or fourth grade are less likely to use the strategy. White (1975) suggests that there maybe a number of reasons for the findings but the most likely is that teachers are using verbal praise early on to set expectations. Whereas, in later grades, teachers are using verbal praise more sparingly as they wish to maintain a behavioural pattern rather than establish one. On the other hand, White also observes that the pattern may in fact have more to do with teachers own behaviour reinforcement, which he calls ' A Law of Personal Effectiveness'. This law suggests that teachers act according to behaviour that has an immediate effect; so verbal disapproval is used as in most cases the behaviour will be altered right away. However, this behaviour change is more than likely to be temporary and have little long term effect on the overall negative behaviour pattern. In this situation, the teacher could, as an alternative, use praise for desirable behaviour and ignore the undesirable (White, 1975). Observation of the video found that, much to the surprise of the teacher, she was a perfect example of the 'Law of Personal Effectiveness'. During a follow on lesson however, the class did respond well to positive reinforcement of behaviour with the majority of the class carrying out the desired action without being explicitly requested to or without comments of disapproval. The author does recognise though that this class is immature for its age and that peer approval, recognised by White (1975) as a factor changing the teachers' influence on behaviour, is not yet a major issue within the class.

On the other hand, many researchers (Schusler, 1971; Watts & Bentley, 1987; Blyth, 1976; Ben-Peretz & Halkes, 1987) point out that verbal communication is not the only way to send and receive messages, indeed, Blyth (1976) suggests that:

" … alongside verbal education there has always been some kind of awareness that an education based solely on words is defective and perhaps undesirable."

(pg 109)

Schusler (1971) suggests that this is because:

" ..more than just a sense of hearing is involved in classroom learning, he also presents himself non-verbally."

(pg 283)

Non - verbal communication has been classified by many researchers (Blyth, 1976; Woolfolk & Brooks, 1985; Johnson, 1999) as physical body movements such as gestures of hands, feet and posture, as well as facial expression and defining personal space. Sharma (2000) suggests that these non - verbal signals are 'a reflection of our mental state, how we are feeling or observing things'. Whilst Caswell & Neill (1993) suggest that non - verbal communication is 'a more powerful' method of conveying feelings than speech as many non - verbal messages can be sent 'subliminally', consequently pupils often perceive the message to be their own thoughts and feelings and therefore not as likely to 'challenge' them. Blyth (1976) suggests that these non - verbal signals are important as in most cases teachers and pupils 'form firm initial impressions' of each other before anything is said. The only way these impressions can be made is through non-verbal signals and gestures made either intentionally or unintentionally. Blyth goes on to stress that the impressions 'lead to differential reinforcement of verbal lessons'. That is to say, positive impressions lead to an increased impact of verbal reinforcement and vice versa. Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) agree with these views, adding that teachers who manage to engage their pupils in participation and cooperation are more than likely aware of the non - verbal cues they send out and are able to determine if they are sending appropriate signals for the lesson goals. Watts & Bentley (1987) stress that teacher awareness of their non - verbal actions is of great importance as, they suggest, it is easy enough to use cues for social control, but being able to 'display continuing respect that bridges difficult moments and situations' is another matter. They go on to suggest that most teachers do not give their pupils enough credit for being able to recognise the difference between 'manipulated' cues and true feeling that are 'leaked subconsciously' or unintentionally. Feldman, Devin-Sheehan & Allen (1978) state that teachers who were attempting to mask their true feelings 'produced fewer smiles and displeasure with their mouths' than when they were being truthful about their feelings. As a result, the pupils viewed them as 'less happy'. For many pupils, this is an important point when evaluating a teacher, for as Watts & Bentley (1987) state:

'…youngsters view warm, empathic and enthusiastic teachers as being those for whom they would most want to work'.

(pg 128)

Watts & Bentley (1987) also agreed with Feldman et al. (1978) that the 'set of the mouth' was important when pupils were interpreting teacher feelings and they added that 'expressive eyes' were also influential. Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) suggest that this lack of teacher understanding towards unintentional non-verbal cues often resulted in teachers responding to identical behaviours from pupils in different ways or offering some pupils a greater opportunity to participate in a lesson than others, Feldman et al. (1978) suggest that this often occurs at the expense of low achievers. Brophy & Good in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985), state that teachers:

" … waited less time for low-expectation students to answer, gave up more quickly on their wrong answers, called on them less often, paid less attention to them except when they misbehaved, and placed their seats farthest from the teacher."

(pg 516)

Rist in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) also found that low-expectation students were placed further away from the teacher, creating a practical problem that they often had difficulties even hearing them. On the other hand, Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) suggest that pupils' reactions to teachers also has an effect on the teacher / pupil relationship and pattern of communication. Bates in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) suggests that pupils who respond to teachers' positive communication in a similar manner are more likely to be viewed by the teacher as 'higher achievers' and view them 'more favourably'. Brophy & Everston in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) also added to these thoughts by suggesting that these pupils are also more likely to receive 'warnings' rather than be punished and that the teacher was more available to them during lesson time, probably because, unlike low-expectation students, they are more socially aware of when to approach the teacher. However, Feldman et al. (1978) suggest that as many teachers are unaware that they are sending negative non-verbal cues the problem of differentiated reactions to pupils is more acute than most realise, especially as it is often the teachers who feel they can mask their true feelings that can't.

In addition to differentiated cues that teachers send, there are a number of non - verbal cues that are subject to misinterpretation by both teachers and pupils. Jason, a pupil fairly new to the school, is a good example of how some pupils bring different values and beliefs into the classroom which may create a situation where the pupil perceives cues from the teacher and peers differently from other pupils, even interpreting the same event in a different way (Watts & Bentley, 1987; Woolfolk & Brooks, 1985; Blyth, 1976). During the second part of the lesson, he was working in a group situation and took a hand gesture from another child to be a rebuke, when in fact the rest of the group interpreted it as part of the explanation the child was undertaking. The group was left confused and rather upset when Jason responded angrily, refusing to continue until an apology had been made. Caswell & Neill (1993) suggest that this type of miscommunication - a hand gesture - although a universally recognised signal, is also one of the most culturally variable in terms of the message it conveys. Other non - verbal signals that are universally recognised but often take on different meanings according to cultural understanding are facial expressions, body posture and interpersonal distance (Caswell & Neill, 1993). One explanation for this is that each pupil and teacher brings with them an understanding of cues and signals based on their own previous experiences. Galloway in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) states that:

"… in the presence of non verbal expressions that vary from past experiences is to be beset with bewilderment and puzzle'.

(pg 519)

However, as long as teachers 'develop a sensitivity about the messages' (Woolfolk & Brooks, 1985) then miscommunication can be kept to an acceptable level. Johnson (1999) also suggests that using a wide range of communication strategies as possible, both verbal and non - verbal, also helps. Driscoll (1978) and Kaufman in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985), suggest that pupils 'learn more from teachers who are more non-verbally active and dramatic' whilst Kounin & Doyle in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) add that it is the teachers non-verbal behaviour that helps pupils to remain on task for longer. Fred in Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) suggests that positive facial gestures can also aid learning, whilst Neill (1989) adds that in particular smiling and frowning can elicit strong reactions from pupils. In addition, Caswell & Neill (1993) suggests that facial expressions can express both 'negative and positive feelings' and give the pupils clues as to how they should 'respond to what is being said'. However, Neill (1989) cautions that 'pro-social gestures', such as the ones described above, have less effect than more 'threatening gestures', such as tone of voice and proximity of body posture. In addition, and in contrast to earlier suggestions, Woolfolk & Brooks (1985) reported that teachers who used 'serious facial expressions and unfriendly voices' managed to get pupils to produce more work. Classroom layout and use of the space, Caswell & Neill (1993) also suggest, can be interpreted in terms of how the teacher 'intends to run the class'. For example: Miller in Schusler (1971) suggests that a teacher who uses their desk as 'a base' keeping close to it is often an 'insecure and anxious' teacher. On the other hand, a confident teacher moves about the room and between pupils. Caswell & Neill (1993) further these observations by suggesting that this has an impact on the ability of the teachers to deliver and receive communication. For example: standing closer to a pupil will intensify messages of warmth but also may 'increase anxiety ' about what is being said, and in particular be far more effective in delivering a rebuke than simply 'bellowing across the room'; something the video demonstrated the teacher did on more than one occasion.

Although many researchers (Wass, 1973; Woolfolk & Woolfolk, 1974; Woolfolk et al. 1977 in Woolfolk & Brooks, 1985) suggest that teachers' verbal communication carries more influence than non - verbal communication, particularly when the pupils and the teachers aren't known to each other, understanding the differences between verbal and non - verbal communication is valuable. Many researchers (Schusler, 1971; Watts & Bentley, 1987; Ben-Peretz & Halkes, 1987; Caswell & Neill, 1993) stress it is important to understand that they are not two completely separate entities but instead 'interdependent channels of communication' with a constantly changing pattern of 'superordinate - subordinate relationship' (Schusler, 1971). Feldman & Orchowsky in Watts & Bentley (1987) demonstrate this by suggesting that non verbal communication 'facilitates learning' because it 'enhances the clarity of the feedback' given to pupils and as a result 'aids the process of cognitive change' (Watts & Bentley, 1987). In addition, mIn addiotnany researchers (Chaplain, 2003; Woolfolk & Brooks, 1985; Schusler, 1971; Watts & Bentley, 1987) state that pupils use teacher communication to interpret how they 'fit' into a class both academically and socially (Chaplain, 2003). Jackson & Strattner in Schusler (1971) suggest that pupils need to have a 'positive attitude towards school and feelings of self confidence' to be 'effective learners'. Watts & Bentley (1987) also suggest that as a result the importance of understanding and being aware of the effect communication has on pupils becomes clear. Most teachers do not set out to convey to pupils that they are low achievers or that they are not popular but through unintentional negative communication, as described previously, they manage to achieve just this. As a result, over time the pupil may 'incorporate this thinking into his or her self-schema' (Chaplain, 2003). For example: Ann, one of the children from a bi-cultural home, has experienced social difficulties throughout her time at school. She is known to argue a lot with her peers and teachers comment that she is not a likeable character. After observing the video taken as part of the unit activity, it was noticed that the teacher did not smile or physically reach out to her as often as some of the other pupils. It was also obvious that Ann noticed these differences as she often placed herself in a position where she could be touched or spoken to but the teacher ignored her advances. It would not be unreasonable to expect that the other children in the class were unintentionally influenced by the teacher's actions leaving Ann struggling to relate to both teachers and peers. As this may have been her experience for many years now, it is not surprising that she displays low self-esteem and often responds to praise by tearing up her work or throwing it away. In Ann's case it appears that the classroom is a hostile environment where verbalising personal beliefs to enhance her cognitive development is too intimidating for her. On the other hand, Watts & Bentley (1987) suggest that teachers can not be expected to always create a 'non-threatening environment' given that

" ..the less virtuous and normal human attributes of tension, tiredness, irritability, disapproval and altercation are ever present-then perhaps a non-threatening environment cannot be guaranteed for those prime moments of conceptual change."

(pg 133)

In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that communication in the classroom takes both verbal and non-verbal forms. For pupils to develop academically and as individuals with their own well defined beliefs about themselves and others, teachers must have a good understanding of the environment that they are creating within their classroom for it is within this environment that pupils will be asked to develop, challenge and change their long term cognitive thinking. For this to be achieved, teachers must first start by having an awareness of the messages they convey in their communication to pupils, both verbally and non - verbally, for as Caswell & Neill (1993) state this understanding leads to 'effective performance'. But, Watts & Bentley (1987) suggest, that teachers must remember that the 'theoretical discussion of a constructivist conceptual change' is an ideal and often

'…more than can be expected of anyone in the hustle and bustle of everyday school life.'

(pg 133)

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