By Teachers, For Teachers
Teaching is, above all, a profession of communication. It is the teacher’s responsibility to use classroom management to communicate ideas, content, instructions, feedback, and standards effectively to students. When teachers do this well, students are put in a position to succeed. However, sometimes teachers – myself included – inadvertently make communication errors within their classroom management plans that inevitably lead to gaps in student understanding.
Here are some common flaws that can appear regarding teacher communication with students.
Failure to communicate: The first and most disastrous communication error is to not communicate at all. The teacher who fails to communicate is the teacher who puts students and other stakeholders in a position likely to produce frustration.
Assumptions within communication: Often we make assumptions about what students know or can do while we communicate. We assume they understand what we’re referring to; we assume they are listening; we assume this interests them. The more we understand the assumptions we make within our communication, the better we can account for those assumptions and make appropriate improvements to what we say.
Incomplete communication: Teachers can typically see the big picture in their heads, but it’s difficult to transfer that same picture to all students. At times, teachers might communicate part of that picture effectively, but then leave other parts out. Incomplete communication will only give students part of the idea, but leave their learning and opportunities only partially fulfilled.
Ineffective communication style: Most teachers have a particular style of communication that suits them. This is natural and appropriate; however, each teacher must also consider what forms of communication also best befit their students. Relying on one strict style or mode of communication may inhibit all students from fully understanding what it is they need to know.
One-way communication: Finally, we must remember that communication is a two-way street. While teachers often believe that it is their job to communicate to students, it is more beneficial to think of their job as to communication with students. Communication involves listening as much as it involves speaking.
Based on the types of communication errors listed above, here are four sample errors teachers might make with their communication. Consider which of the following you might have made from time to time, or think about other weaknesses in your communication you might be able to improve.
Failing to communicate purpose: We know that “Setting the purpose” for any task improves engagement and understanding of that task for our students. Yet many times teachers might fail to communicate that purpose. Failure to do so may result in students misunderstanding what the purpose is, or worse, never seeing a purpose in the activity at all.
Teachers cannot assume that students implicitly grasp a task’s purpose. Instead, they must consistently connect all work to the overall purpose it is meant for. And the more meaningful that purpose is to the student, the more likely the student will be to engage authentically in the task. Communicating purpose clearly and consistently is a must.
Emphasizing the grade over the feedback: Grades themselves are a form of communication. However, by themselves grades communicate relatively little. Students can use grades as feedback to make improvements, but the more important part of a teacher’s communication regarding student work comes from the written feedback. Since the grade is what is calculated and put into the student’s academic record, it is far more tempting for the student and the teacher alike to put the bulk of emphasis on the grade rather than the feedback.
The effective teacher will be the teacher who communicates the importance of the feedback over the raw grade outcome. How will you make sure students are looking at, understanding, and applying feedback for their growth?
Assuming students know the teacher cares: Teachers can’t help but to care deeply about their students and their outcomes. Unfortunately, this is not a message students always hear loud and clear. It is important that teachers actively communicate that they do, in fact, care about each and every student. If teachers assume this has been communicated to students, then they run the risk of students never actually knowing about their teacher’s care.
Teachers can communicate care through their words and tone. But their respect and responses to students are important, as is the way they use time and attention, genuine feelings, personal connections, and empathetic interactions to show they care. Gestures, deeds, and objects can all be used to demonstrate the care a teacher feels towards their students. Without these, students may not feel truly accepted or cared for in the classroom.
Sharing incomplete or insufficient information about homework: When we send students home with homework, we must make sure we have equipped them with sufficient explanation and support to successfully complete that work. If we share only part of the total picture needed for them to complete their work, then we are essentially setting students up for failure.
Once students begin work on their own, we must consider what resources and details they would need to comfortably complete that work, since we cannot physically be there with them. This communication requires an anticipation of student need and a full understanding of what we want students to demonstrate. If we communicate these expectations through a variety of means, then students will be more likely to catch the full picture of what they need to do.
There is no doubt effective communication is essential to our task as teachers. The breakdown in our communication can lead to a breakdown in student success. What are the shortcomings, assumptions, or ineffective methods of communication that you might be doing? Think more deeply about how you communicate, and your students will inevitably benefit from your improvements.
What are other common ways teachers might fail to communicate effectively? Share your thoughts with our TeachHUB.com community in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.