Five Add-ons for the Amazing Teacher: Nonverbal Communication

I have to admit that as I am preparing to teach a lesson, much if not most of my time is focused on the “what” of the lesson. You know, questions such as “What lesson am I teaching today?” “What issues do I need to anticipate?” “What tools will I use to engage the learners in new thought?” But have you ever pondered the critical significance that nonverbal communication can have in your success as a teacher?

Photo courtesy of Kookkai_nak |
Photo courtesy of Kookkai_nak |

In my last post, I reviewed four ways to be amazing to your students. And I believe that is a matter that we as instructors should frequently rehearse and assess in our own minds. After all, if we are not connecting thought and creating meaning with our content, why in the world are we teaching?

And so today, I want to review an article that I recently read that caused me to have a bit of an “Aha” moment as I realized some lack in my own teaching skills. The topic about which I am speaking is nonverbal communication.

In this article, Allan and Pease noted that 83% of communication is nonverbal. This is a critical statistic for those of us who are teachers. Why? Because if we are communicating content that is both relevant and useful and yet are derailing its clarity because of poor nonverbal communication, there is a danger that hits at the very core of why we teach.

The author of the article knew that nonverbals were vital in teaching, but he wanted to quantify the impact that nonverbal communication had on the recall of material.

In the experiment, four identical university presentations were given in four sections of the same class. The length, the PowerPoint, and the content were all identical. The only difference was that the researcher had his instructors employ either effective or ineffective nonverbal strategies for each lesson. Strategies included eye contact, voice fluctuation, position in the room, facial expressions, and hand gestures.

In the experiment, two of the teachers used effective nonverbals and the other two teachers used ineffective nonverbals in the categories listed above. The researcher then tested students on recall of the presented information using the same instrument.

Interestingly enough, the two sections with the teachers who modeled effective nonverbal communication skills scored almost 30% higher over those classes with instructors who utilized poor nonverbal communication skills.

In addition to the objective differences in test scores, student comments were very revealing as well. Those who sat under lessons presented with compelling nonverbal skills actually had higher levels of trust in the instructor as well as the belief that the professor knew what he or she was talking about.

In contrast, students who experienced teachers with the poor nonverbal skills talked about lessons just having “random facts,” and as students, felt unfocused and had difficulty engaging with the lesson.

So don’t overlook these skills- be a master of them. Content is meaningful, but as the author reminds – “Remember you’re saying just as much with your body as you are with your mouth” (York).

Community Input: How do you see the use of nonverbals in the classroom?


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