Helping Students Have More Positive Learning Experiences in the Classroom

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Helping Students Have More Positive Learning Experiences in the Classroom, Part 1

Sarah M. Wilde
Former Graduate Assistant
The University Speaking Center
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

This article is the first in a two-part piece, published in 2005, that examines the relationship between a faculty member’s classroom behaviors and students’ interest in learning, students’ responsibility for their own learning, the controlling of poor student behavior, and student evaluations of faculty.

Original Citation:   Wilde, S. M. (2005). Helping students have more positive experiences in the classroom: Part 1, The Successful Professor (4)1, 3-5.

Introduction

During my first semester of graduate school in communication at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), I was enrolled in a communication pedagogy class that served as a seminar in teaching for all of the new teaching assistants in the communication department. One of the major assignments for this class was to create and facilitate a micro teaching lesson on a particular aspect of communication. I chose to research immediacy behaviors. This subject was of particular interest to me because I taught a section of summer school for the introductory, hybrid class in communication at UNCG. As a result of this class assignment, I have co-facilitated workshops at a local community college, a local primary school, and at UNCG, explaining how teachers can help students have more positive experiences in the classroom. I plan on facilitating more of these immediacy workshop sessions.

This article, which consists of two parts, will provide college full-time and part-time faculty and teaching assistants in colleges and universities in all disciplines as well as those professionals who teach in the laboratory, clinic, or traditional classrooms with the materials and knowledge to allow them to start incorporating more immediacy behaviors into their teaching. This submission is especially geared for those faculty and professionals interested in learning how verbal immediacy behaviors and those nonverbal behaviors that constitute the environment and the voice qualities of a teacher affect student interest in learning, students’ responsibility for their own learning, and the controlling of poor student behavior.

Immediacy can be defined as “the degree of perceived physical or psychological closeness between people” (Chesbro and McCroskey, 2002, p. 68). This closeness can be enhanced through both verbal and nonverbal communicative actions. Research has shown that the primary function of teachers’ verbal behavior in the classroom is to provide content to improve students’ cognitive learning whereas the major function of teachers’ nonverbal behavior in the classroom is to improve students’ affect or liking for the subject matter, teacher, and class, and to instill in students the desire to learn more about the subject matter (Richmond and McCroskey 2004).

Verbal

Teachers who practice immediate behaviors learn the names of their students. This knowledge demonstrates the interest of the teacher in his/her students as people and not just as members of a class. Immediate teachers greet their students by name as they enter into the classroom or acknowledge them by name outside of the classroom setting. Immediate teachers pronounce the names of their students correctly and do not just call on their students by saying, “Hey you.”

Immediate teachers are empathetic toward their students. For example, if the university’s computer system is not functioning properly, the immediate teacher prints out the prompts usually posted on Blackboard or similar university or college computer-based discussion boards so as not to frustrate his/her students. Those teachers using immediacy behaviors use verbal behaviors that show openness, friendship, and empathy. Immediate teachers appear approachable. For example, most teachers write their office hours on their syllabi, but immediate teachers appear approachable because they are willing to set up conferences with their students outside of these office hours if there are scheduling conflicts.

Immediate teachers send verbal messages that encourage and praise their students. These teachers avoid comments such as, “I already thought of that.” Students hearing this comment would probably be reluctant to communicate more. These positive teachers encourage their students with such comments as, “I see what you mean; tell me more. Please continue, that’s a good idea. This is a team effort.” The use of “we” and “us” instead of “you” or “you and I” help promote this team effort and encourage students to speak and share their ideas. Finally, immediate teachers provide student feedback which also helps to encourage class participation.

Voice

Immediate teachers avoid sounding monotone, a succession of words and phrases in an unvaried tone or pitch. Sounding monotone is one of the most objectionable behaviors of a teacher. A monotone voice quality projects boredom, a non-caring attitude, and creates a lack of interest in the subject matter and prompts students to like a particular class less. Immediate teachers maintain confidence in their voice tone.

Environment

The environmental component includes temperature, color, sound, lighting, seating arrangements, and furnishings. Ugly environments produce hostile communication whereas attractive classrooms are more likely to keep students and teachers attentive and reduce hostility. Students become inattentive when the environment is unclean, ugly, too hot or too cold, not well illuminated, painted dingy yellow, dark brown, industrial green, or battleship gray. These environments typically lead students to believe that enjoyment does not take place there and that they must sit down and be quite all the time. Immediate teachers redecorate their rooms to make the environment conducive to learning.

If the room is too hot or too cold, students will be antsy or irritable. Immediate teachers attempt to maintain a 64-70 degree Fahrenheit temperature in their classrooms. Many classrooms do not have temperature controls; but if a room is painted a cool color such as light blue, it may seem cooler. Many times teachers cannot control the temperature in their classrooms, but immediate teachers vary the activities so students do not notice the temperature.

They provide students with plenty to do and to think about other than temperature. These teachers have students move around and talk more in the colder months or if the classroom is too cold, and they facilitate group discussions and use activities that direct attention away from temperature during the warmer months or if a room is too hot. Poorly lit or too brightly lit classrooms cause fatigue, eye strain, boredom, and hostility. Immediate teachers strive to maintain appropriate levels of illumination, avoid glare, and maintain balances in brightness so as to avoid sharp contrast in their classrooms. According to lighting consultant Scott Richardson of Light Defines Form, Inc., “Proper lighting is critical to creating focus in the classroom. The key is to design a lighting system that balances task lighting and visual comfort but still allows for appropriate focus between teacher and student. This requires thoughtful study prior to renovation or new construction” (S. Richardson, personal communication, June 5, 2004).

Immediate teachers organize classroom desks or chairs and tables to promote learning. The traditional row and column seating is useful for listening, note taking, and lecturing. Modular seating is useful in student group interactions because it allows teachers to move from group to group to provide assistance. Circular/horseshoe/open-square seating encourages student-teacher discussions. Immediate teachers use these different arrangements in different learning situations to improve student interest and communication between students and the teacher.

 

plepart1Some think that the only good classroom is a quiet classroom, but immediate teachers set up situations in which students can talk without being reprimanded. These teachers set up group exercises, projects, and similar activities to allow students to talk without decreasing the amount of content that is covered in the class. Teachers who are immediate do not use activities for content but instead use them as a means of teaching content. Immediate teachers use talk as a reward. If students sit, listen, and take notes as required, then the immediate teacher facilitates a group exercise or opens up the class for discussion. Allowing time for students to talk gives them a chance to relax and release tension and makes them feel better about the classroom environment. Immediate teachers do not force students to talk nor punish them for not talking.

The more attractive furnishings are taken better care of by students. Immediate teachers improve the classroom by bringing in artifacts and when at all possible use “soft architecture,” chairs that lean back when moved, rounded tables, and comfortable looking classroom furniture, instead of hard chairs, sharp edged tables, and uncomfortable worktables. “Hard architecture” interferes with student attention spans and learning whereas “soft architecture” sends signals of comfort and welcome and encourages student attention and learning. While faculty members can influence some environmental conditions, they cannot control all of them.

[In the second part of this article, Kimberly M. Cuny, Director of the University Speaking Center and Lecturer in the Communication Studies Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, discusses some immediacy behaviors that are more controllable.]

References

Richmond, V.P., (2002). Teacher nonverbal immediacy: Uses and outcomes. In J.L. Chesebro & J.C. McCroskey (eds.), Communion for teachers (pp. 65 -80). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Richmond, V.P. & McCroskey, J. C., (2004). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations. (5th Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Additional Readings

Gorham, J. (1998). The relationship between verbal teacher immediacy behaviors and student learning. Communication Education, 37, 40-53.

Gorham, J., & Zakahi, W. (1990). A comparison of teacher and student perceptions of immediacy and learning: Monitoring process and product. Communication Education, 39, 354-368.

McCroskey, J.C., Richmond, V.P., Sallinen, A., Fayer, J.M., & Barraclough, R.A. (1995). A cross-cultural and multi-behavioral analysis of the relationship between non-verbal immediacy and teacher evaluation. Communication Education, 44, 281-291.

Richmond, V.P., Gorham, J.S., & McCroskey, J.C. (1986). The relationship between selected immediacy behaviors and cognitive learning. In M.L. McLaughlin (ed.), Communication Yearbook 10, Beverly Hills: Sage.

Sergin, C. (1993). The effects of nonverbal behavior on outcomes of compliance gaining attempts. Communication Studies, 44. 169-187.

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