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The nature of classroom communication: The bottom line: messages sent, messages reconstructed

Module by: Kelvin Seifert. E-mail the author

Summary: Some discussion and lecture notes as examples and guidelines to facilitate effective classroom communication.

As we have explained in this chapter, teachers and students communicate in multiple, overlapping ways. Communications may often be expressed in words—but not necessarily and not completely. They may be organized into lectures, questions, discussions, or group projects. They tend to be expressed in particular language registers that we have called simply teacher talk and student talk. All things considered, communication obviously serves a wide range of teaching and learning tasks and activities, from stimulating students’ thinking, to orchestrating classroom routines, to managing inappropriate behaviors. It is an intrinsic part of the parts of teaching that involve interaction among class members.

Note, though, that teaching consists of more than interaction among class members. There are times when teachers prepare lessons or activities, for example, without talking to students or anyone else. There are also times when they develop their own skills as teachers—for example, by reading and reflecting, or by attending professional development seminars or workshops—which may involve communication, but not in the sense discussed in this chapter. It is to these other parts of teaching that we turn in the next chapter.

Example 1: Year one: Kelvin’s lecture notes

Nature and Purposes of Children’s Play

  1. Introduction to topic: What do we mean by play?
    • excess energy
    • seeking stimulation—relieve boredom
    • escape from work
  2. Six qualities defining play
    • intrinsic motivation
    • attention to the process, not the product
    • non-literal behavior—make-believe
    • no external rules
    • self-governed
    • active engagement
  3. Implications for teaching
    • devise activities with play-like qualities
    • learn by watching children playing

Example 2: Year three: Kelvin’s question-and-answer notes

Nature and Purposes of Children’s Play

  1. Introduction to topic: What do we mean by play? [First ask 1-2 students for their own answers to question.]
    • excess energy [Ask: What evidence is there for this?]
    • seeking stimulation—relieve boredom […or for this?]
    • escape from work
  2. Six qualities of children’s play [Invite students’ definitions, but keep them brief.]
    • intrinsic motivation
    • attention to the process, not the product
    • nonliteral behavior—make-believe
    • no external rules
    • self-governed
    • active engagement
    • [Can you think of examples and/or counterexamples of each quality?]
  3. Implications for teaching
    • devise activities with playlike qualities [What activities have you already seen as a student teacher?]
    • learn by watching children playing [How could you do this? Invite suggested strategies from students.]

Example 3: Year eight: Kelvin’s discussion notes

Nature and Purposes of Children’s Play

  • Discuss possible explanations for play—what do students think are its true purposes? (10 minutes?)
  • Can we define play? Brainstorm defining qualities, with examples. (30 minutes)
  • Important question for all defining qualities: Are there exceptions—examples of play that do not show certain defining qualities, but are still play? (15 minutes)
  • What is important about play for teaching? (10 minutes +)
  • …for the welfare of children? (10 minutes +)
  • Etc. (anything else brought up by students)

Example 4: Year twenty: Kelvin’s guidelines for group work

Nature and Purposes of Children’s Play

  • Make sure you listen to everyone, and not just to the people you agree with the most. Part of the challenge of this project is to include all team members.
  • You do not have to be best friends with someone in order to be partners. But you do have to get the work done.
  • Remember that it takes many skills and abilities to do this project well. Among other things, you need to:
    1. find and understand research and other publications about children’s play,
    2. observe children skillfully when they are playing,
    3. have confidence in describing what you learn to group mates,
    4. write about what you learn, and 5) be tactful and respectful when listening and talking with partners.

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