What You Don't Say Makes a Difference
As a Learners Edge Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, I’m constantly prompted to reflect on my classroom teaching career. And, I’m very happy to report, the low moments fade from memory and you get to keep the joy and carry it with you forever. How great is that?
One of my most powerful teaching and learning memories is from a two-day workshop I attended on nonverbal communication in the classroom. I believe it’s true - when the student is ready, the teacher appears! This learning opportunity transformed my teaching. I shared my learning with colleagues and mentees over the years - whenever I had the chance. Today, if I could look you in the eye, stand by your side, and nod my head, you would feel the positive energy I still feel toward nonverbal communication!
Let’s start with some quick links on nonverbal communication components I generated from various sources. Just scanning the list might create awareness of how important this is to your instructional practice:
- Facial Expression
- Gestures - movements & signals
- Paralinguistics - rate (pauses), volume, pitch, and tone of voice
- Body Language and Posture
- Proxemics - space and how we use it
- Eye Contact (Gaze)
- Haptics - touch
- Physical Appearance
Next, here are four fab teaching tips for nonverbal communication in your classroom:
Getting students’ attention is a critical first-step for any lesson. Here’s where expectations and tone are set for all learning ahead. There are tons of strategies for getting attention - with the same goal for students to STOP what they are doing, look at the teacher, and prepare to listen.
1. Freeze Body - for this nonverbal cue, the teacher freezes his/her body and stands still. It sends a clear, consistent message that the teacher is ready to start. Think about it - when a teacher is giving instruction while moving, the nonverbal message (moving) is contradicting the verbal message (stop, look, and listen) and many students go back to what they were previously doing. By simply being still when students are expected to be still, there is a dramatic difference in readiness to learn.
When I learned this tip, I was totally enlightened! In my “well-perfected multi-tasking teacher mode,” I was moving and talking at the same time way too often! And in doing so, creating a negative influence on students who struggle with attention. I knew it was true from the very first time I tried this technique. Wow, such a simple, yet powerful instructional skill!
2. Above (Pause) Whisper- another attention-getting strategy employs powerful pauses and voice volume adjustment. When asking for student attention to shift focus or begin next steps, the teacher:
- sets his/her voice volume just ABOVE the volume of the group
- pauses for a few seconds
- drops his/her voice volume to a whisper for next instructions
- while keeping his/her body still
Again, I was stunned at how my 6th-graders responded to these nonverbal cues of varying voice volume and a perfectly-placed pause. If you know 12-year-olds, you might agree this is nothing short of a miracle!
After lesson presentation, there’s often a task for students to complete. No matter what it is, teachers will give directions - often only verbally. When offering auditory-only directions, students are required to remember a lot of information.
3. Exit Directions- 3-4 written steps posted using fewer words and more symbols. Visual exit directions free up space in a student’s mind to focus on academic thinking and doing as opposed to trying to remember the management steps. Here’s an image for a better picture.
And...another upside: students will spend much less time asking you, the teacher, or their peers if they forget what they’re supposed to be doing. Using graphics with fewer words supports all students with successful learning steps.
4. Color Cues- Check out this online teaching idea from a wise educator who clearly understands the value of nonverbal communication in her art classroom. Using colors as cues to move and learn and collaborate - brilliant!
I never mastered the nonverbal realm of instruction, but I certainly kept my teacher eyes and ears on it - both in and out of the classroom. It was empowering to see how I could positively influence my students without having to choose just the right words! Thumbs-up for the power of nonverbal communication!
For other ways that you can improve your instructional methods in the classroom, explore our Learners Edge Instructional Strategies courses.