If teaching a class were just about giving out organized information, then people could learn by reading powerpoints. Ever been in a class or meeting where people are just standing there and reading their powerpoint presentation word for word? Did you stay awake and remember anything? If you did, then you are the exception rather than the rule. Good communication isn’t matter of words, it is a matter of keeping people engaged and interested.
Most people won’t respond to what you are saying, but how you are saying it. So lets talk about non-verbal communication.
There are any number of good things to do when you are in your classroom and talking to your students. The two simplest ingredients are eye contact and posture. After that, add positions, gestures, and facial expressions, and you will have what you need to reach your students.
The right amount of eye contact is important. Staring for too long at an individual can be considered aggressive, and may make people uncomfortable. Also, a confident stance (shoulders back, head up) is good, but just as important is an open posture. Avoid things like crossing your arms or legs, or closing your hands… You may be surprised how simple things like this can make very big differences.
One other quick note is about your position (placement) in the classroom. Moving about the classroom makes you feel more present, and keeps EVERYONE involved… as opposed to standing behind a podium or a desk, which isolates you from the class and makes you feel less approachable.
The hook: making allies
A classroom is a lot like an interactive stage… and not always a friendly one. So here is my quick psychological trick to get the students on your side: ask the class a question that they want to say yes to, smile, and make a hand up outreaching gesture. “Do you want to ace math this term?”
The psychology: Open handed gestures are seen as invitations and will connect you to to your audience. Next getting people to say yes to you even once will make them more inclined to say yes to you later. And they will also be more inclined to listen to what you have to say.
Inviting participation, and inviting reflection
“Lecture” is often not as effective a tool as having an open discussion about the subject matter. Most of the time, I like to lay out a basic method for a topic, then I will start to work on examples… and here is where we can get people involved more.
Your vocal cues: intone your words upward, like a question. Non-verbal cues: a little head tilt, and reach both hands out to the class, palms up. These are all invitational gestures, and these cues together should get the students talking. The follow through: listen and nod/smile to the student input, and if they are off base pose it back to the student as a question. “Are you multiplying, or adding here?” Most students will jump on the correct answer with minimal prompting, and will feel good for being part of the conversation.
When you want your students to reflect on the material that they’ve just heard, then a different set of cues is called for. Your verbal cues: use a flat, or descending intonation on your words. Non-verbal cues: put your hand on your chin. If you have overparticipators, you may want to also extend a hand outward with palm down.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Too often we will try to cram every moment with information, and students won’t be able to reflect or formulate questions.
One-on-one work, mirroring
One way to engage students while they are working on their own is mirroring their body language. One of the fastest ways to engage in a conversation and to put people at ease is to mimic their own body language and gestures. People instinctively will respond by opening up and sharing, hopefully asking the questions that they really need answered.
Soooo…. that is a crash course on body language in teaching. There is more, but I will have to save that for another day. Or I may just hoard my secrets, doling out the best ones to my disciples and more trusted minions.
Now, please go out and delete your powerpoints. They weren’t that interesting or helpful anyway. Really.