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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai
THE ROLE OF COMMUNICATION IN EFFECTIVE INSTRUCTIONAL DELIVERY
Sam E.O. Aduwa-Ogiegbaen, Ph.D., and Ede O.S. Iyamu, Ph.D.
The teacher has been identified to be a learning facilitator. He does this largely through the medium of communication, verbal and non-verbal. The quality and effectiveness of such communication have a lot to do with the amount and quality of learning that takes place. This paper explores a number of issues related to communication skills as a factor of effective instruction. It seeks to increase the teachers' awareness and understanding needed for effective communication as a foundation for good teaching. These include adequate preparation for instruction, use of effective language, good organization of materials, avoidance of physical interference and providing for feedback.
The general view here is that civilization, as we know it today has been made possible by man through communication and it will continue to depend on it for its sustenance. There is no aspect of our lives that does not involve communication and with the availability of modern information technologies; the world has been reduced to the proverbial global village. With communication satellites, telephone communication system and the Computer Internet, the whole world is literally brought to our a living room instantly or minutes after any event has taken place.
In our everyday business transactions, in the homes, in the offices, in the classroom and even in the train or buses, we are involved in one communication activity or the other. One may be accused here of overstating the obvious by emphasizing more than necessary the importance of communication in modern society, but think of what life would look like if from the moment we arise in the morning to the time we go to bed in the night, we cannot communicate our thoughts, feelings and needs to our loved ones or even our fellow human. Without communication, we will virtually live in total isolation and a world of boredom.
If we have to belabour the issue of human communication, it is not to undermine the intelligence of readers, but to remind them that some of the things we considered obvious in our lives are often those we neglect most in our daily activities. Effective communication happens to be one of those aspects of our lives we neglect most. How many times have we heard the expressions, "He is not communicating", "I don't understanding him/her", "There is communication breakdown". It is true that many problems in our society today can be traced to failure in communication. In the classroom situation, students may find it difficult to learn if the teacher's communication is defective.
THE CLASSROOM AS A SOCIAL SYSTEM
The classroom, a small social structure, but sometimes large, is a working group of students coming from different socioeconomic background, tribes and cultural affinities, mixing with some friends, some strangers and the indifferent. These differences become complex in pluralistic societies including Nigeria and India. Their common task is learning a given content. It is the teacher who is the enabling agent for these socialization and learning. The teacher is the expert (at most in his field), the leader, the more mature mind and wiser. This is the idea of traditional pedagogy.
A part from the gathering of friends and strangers with the teacher, the classroom as a complete social system itself parallels with the home and it is the centre of activities and decisive action at the lowest level of our national life. In this micro-system, the students are being influenced and guided by the teacher and are in turn influencing each other.
During instruction in the classroom, it is the intent of the teacher to impact information and knowledge to the students and on many occasions such information and knowledge are designed to change the behaviour of the learners. However, before a teacher can change the behaviour of his students, he must not only possess adequate knowledge of the subject matter, he must be able to communicate his massage effectively. The teacher must have the ability to persuade his students to accept his ideas and arguments and not to leave them wondering at the end of the lesson whether to accept or reject them. The teacher should be able to use the classroom as a social system that breads atmosphere for meaningful social interactions and conducive learning environment. This brings us to the question, "What is Communication?"
DEFINITION OF COMMUNICATION
There dare many definitions of communication as there are experts in the field. Oxford English Dictionary defines communication as "the imparting, conveying or exchange of ideas, knowledge etc. (whether by speech, writing or signs). It has also been defined as "the process of attempting to share with another person or other persons, ones knowledge, interests, attitudes, opinions and ideas (Ralph, Hance, and Wiksell 1975:4). Farrant (1980) also defined communication as "the process of passing an understandabley message from one person to another" (P. 186).
One of the problems often encountered when examining the concept of communication is the different view held by scholars. To some, it is a process of conveying a given message to one person or a group of persons while to others; it is an act of sharing. However, whatever position we hold about the meaning of communication will depend on such factors as our interests, perceptions, and philosophical positions of researchers in the field.
One of the major distinctions between the ways we look at communication is in terms of whether we are concerned with just the transmission and reception of messages or with the effect the messages have on people. When we are engaged in the transmission and reception of messages, the significant element is the process of conducting through a given channel the message we create. This is the transmission approach to communication. It is purely informational communication. The post offices, the courier service and faxing of messages best represent the transmission approach to communication. Success is achieved when it is technically feasible to pick up a message in one place and reproduce it faithfully in another location. The only relevant thing in this type of communication is whether or not the message is transmitted and received. It doesn't matter what the message means to the receivers.
In this paper however, we will not be concerned merely with the transmission and reception of message but also with what the message means to the receiver and his/her reaction to the message and the effect it has generated. A definition that is most appropriate here is one that defines communication as "the process of attempting to arouse meaning in the receiver that approximates meaning in the source" (Hance et al 1975: p.4). This definition is based on the premise that effective communication can only take place when the substance of facts, judgments or whatever is in the mind of the originator of the message is adequately perceived by the receiver just as the source intended. This is what communication in the classroom or instructional communication is all about.
In instructional communication, a special contract exists between the teacher and the students and this requires a necessary condition that makes it mandatory for the teacher to impact useful knowledge to the students. The students in turn must be given opportunity to practice what they must learn. Instructional communication is a process of stimulating meanings in the students. It is specifically designed to broaden and extend the field of experience of a learner (Heinich, Molenda, and Russell 1989: p.6). It is a relationship, an act of sharing and a special contract between the learners and their teachers. The major difference between informational communication (transmission approach) and instructional communication is that, in the latter, it is important and relevant to build adequate learning activities around the learners to bring about a desirable change in behaviour. This is the major concern of learning. Learning is an active process that comes from practicing given responses which textbooks and lectures alone cannot sustain. Therefore, it behooves all teachers to "become aware that progress in their classrooms comes about not so much from what they teach as from what their students go about learning; the skills they practice, the problems they solve, the answer they seek" (Schramm and Roberts, 1974: p 41).
In instructional communication, learning can be enhanced when a programme of practice, discussion and individual activities are integrated into the process of instruction no matter the medium of instruction, whether by radio or television or other media. Instructional communication may be wasted if the students are not given the opportunity to practice the useful knowledge that has been imparted to them by the teacher.
COMMUNICATION MODES AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
There are several aspects of communication referred to here as modes through which useful information can be transmitted and received by the learners in the teaching and learning situations. The most important modes of communication in the classroom are oral communication, reading, writing listening, watching, non-verbal communication, and interpersonal communication.
Oral Communication: This involves the use of verbal massages with some non-verbal messages, transmitted through the sound waves. It is the production of signals and massages through the vocal mechanism, directed at the auditory reception system of one or more persons. Oral communication is the primary medium of transmitting information in the teaching and learning processes and it is based on words styled language. A language is composed of verbal symbols which meanings have been agreed on by a group of people or community's language that can be manipulated to convey a a vast array of meanings. Dynamic human relation is made possible by languages, the basic meaning of which is modified and supplemented by the qualities of the vocal sound, pronunciation and enunciation.
In the classroom situation, the teacher's skillful use of language cannot be over-emphasized. This is what is referred to as style. The quality of style can be termed good, bad or indifferent depending on the linguistic choices of the speaker and the manner in which these words chosen are woven together to function in connected speech. Language makes it possible for the teacher to relate meaningfully with his students. Therefore, the teacher should choose a good style of speech, which will assist him/her in getting the students to understand certain concepts and ideas, to believe in him, to remember his message, and to wish to accept his ideas. To promote effective learning a good style of lecture delivery will be clear, appropriate, interesting, attractive and impressive.
Writing: Writing is basically a product of vocal symbols. It occurs when verbal massages are recorded on papers or other semi-permanent recording medium for transmission to the reading public. Writing is speaking with our fingers and it is controlled by the central nervous system which co-ordinates the muscles to produce type or written messages. Written messages are directed to the visual reception system of human beings.
The ability of the teacher to speak and write for the students and the latter's ability to interpret concepts discussed and put them on paper accurately for use later, will depend solely on how much they have developed their usable vocabulary in the language of discourse. Clarity, aptness, interest and memorableness are what we miss when language falls short of students' expectations and what the subject demands. When lectures and notes are devoid of inaccurate and inappropriate language, unclearness, and complexity of structure, effective communication can take place in the classroom.
Listening: Listening involves the use of our auditory mechanisms in any communication situation. It is a major factor in participating in the teaching/learning process. Listening involves much more than learning the sounds of speech. In instructional communication critical listening is an essential ingredient in the understanding of the subject of discourse. Critical listening requires first, attention, and listeners are subject to certain conditions that will control such attention. Critical listening should involve perceiving, a process whereby a listener creates meaningful perceptive moments and harness them to form a larger whole (Bryant & Wallace, 1977). It must involve attaching meanings to what a speaker is saying.
However, many students come to the classroom with the wrong impression that listening will be easy since teachers are supposed to emit strong vocal stimuli to hold and sustain the attention of their students because of their week delivery. In such situation, only students with motivation about the teacher and the subject will muster enough energy to be attentive when a lecture is devoid of a dynamic vocal and visual delivery. One of the basic requirements for successful instructional communication is to control students' attention so as to win and sustain their interest. Students' interest can be won and sustained through the principles of intensity, activity and organization.
In a situation where there are several competing stimuli in a classroom, the more intense and stronger stimulus will be easily identified and absorbed by students. When a voice is clear, firm and strong enough to be head by students, their attention can easily be held than when a voice is weak. A lecture that contains words, phrases, and passages that paint pictures and evoke images of experience, objects and events will readily arrest attention. A teacher must have a good voice that moves through a range of changes in pitches, loudness, and rate. The non-verbal aspects of lesson delivery such as body movements and gestures must satisfactorily compliment what the speaker is saying to reinforce meaning.
Watching: This has to do with the ability to see and interpret verbal and non-verbal messages in communication activities. Watching in instructional communication is just as significant as reading, writing and speaking; especially when practical demonstration of classroom activities is concerned. For students to be able to benefit from such activities, the teacher should use audio visual aids and laboratory exercises, which can be clearly seen by all students.
Non-verbal Communication: When we communicate with other people, usually in oral communication situation, there are non-verbal signals which accompany our language symbols that would stimulate meanings in the minds of receivers. These non-words, which may communicate, include, objects, actions, gestures, shape, colour, space and time. Non-verbal behaviour often compliments verbal communication. In the classroom, the teacher's mode of dress, his facial expression, physical attractiveness, eye contact, bodily movements, and voice quality are those non-verbal aspects of lesson delivery that would compliment verbal messages.
Reading: This is the aspect of instructional communication by which massages already recorded on paper or other recording materials are deciphered. Reading according to Dechant & Smith (1977) "is an interpretation of graphic symbols, a two-fold process which requires identification of symbols and the association of appropriate meanings with them" (p.8). Reading is much more than the simple recognition of the graphic symbols. It is decoding which involves intelligent association of meaning with the written symbol. Adequate comprehension can only be achieved when the reader has adequately perceived the meaning intended by the writer.
The nature of the job of the teacher requires him to read recent journals, books and other research materials relevant to his discipline. The ability of the teacher to comprehend recent literature in his field and critically evaluate the materials will help him prepare his lesson properly for delivery in the classroom. Also there are numerous comprehension skills the teacher can help the students acquire. Such comprehension skills include ability to find the main ideas, ability to use context cues to predict outcome, ability to summarize, organize and generalize. Reading is one of the major avenues through which students can obtain the fastest and practicable extension of their knowledge. As a result of this, the teacher should be able to prescribe adequate and relevant books, journals, magazines and other materials for the students to compliment his efforts in the classroom.
The crucial task the teacher faces in the classroom in his attempt to communicate meaningfully with the students can be appreciated better when one considers the communication variables, which could enhance or mar the instructional communication process. Berlo's communication model best illustrates some of the vital variables that can enhance or mar the communication process.
Apart from integrating vital variables such as source, message, channel and receiver, Berlo brought several elements that will enhance or mar the communication process. These are the source and the receiver's communication skills, their attitudes, knowledge, their social/cultural system. These factors at the different levels of the communication process can enhance or limit the outcome of instructional communication. For instance, the source and the receiver should possess adequate linguistic and communication skills to be able to interact meaningfully. If the teacher is incapable of communicating his message, the learners are unlikely to benefit much from the lesson. Conversely, if the learners do not possess adequate linguistic skills to receive and interpret the message from teacher, effective communication cannot take place.
The attitude of the teacher and the learners is another factor that can enhance or mar the communication process in the classroom. Attitude is a learned predisposition to respond to an object in a favourable or unfavourable way. For instance, a person who had an unpleasant encounter with a dog would react negatively any time he/she sees a dog. A teacher who is harsh, unapproachable and who administers punishment at the slightest provocation will attract negative reaction from students. Students are less likely to establish adequate rapport with such a teacher thereby leading to inadequate interaction between teacher and students.
Teachers' knowledge of the subject matter and a mastery of it can help classroom communication. A teacher can hardly impart knowledge to the students if he has no firm grasp of the subject matter. The social/economic and cultural system under which both the teacher and students operate can enhance or inhibit classroom interact. For instance, students from poor socioeconomic background are more likely to possess limited knowledge and poor communication skills due to their limited experiential background. There are instances in Nigerian schools for instance, whereby students sit on bare floor to learn and some classes are overcrowded leaving little room for teacher to move around.
At the message level, the content of the message, the way it is coded and the manner of discussing or dealing with the subject are crucial in successful classroom communication. A message with a shallow content and treatment can hardly be effective. The channels through which messages are transmitted or received are essentially the senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. The sense of touch is most relevant in laboratory practical exercises and any learning activities which requires practical manipulation of objects makes the most lasting impression.
Though the SMCR model touches on elements vital to classroom communication, it has two shortcomings. The first one is that it does not give a feeling of communication. Communication is a dynamic process and not a static entity. The second shortcoming is that it fails to take cognizance of the concept of noise. Noise is any disturbance that can distort the message at any level.
FACTORS THAT CAN ENHANCE CLASSROOM COMMUNICATION
There are many factors that help the teacher to communicate effectively in the classroom. Some of these factors are
- Adequate Preparation: There is little doubt that some teachers still come to the classroom unprepared hence they often present haphazard and unimpressive lessons. The unprepared lesson is usually recognized by the following features; incomplete subject matter, incorrect facts, lack of detail and illustrative materials and disorderly presentation of information (Farrant, 1980).
The stuff of which a lesson is made depends on the quality of research work done to put it together. Materials for the development of a particular subject are found in textbooks, journals, magazines and encyclopedia and they are waiting to be found and used. Superficial evidence, questionable materials, disjointed organization and a language style devoid of constructive phrases and sentences may characterize a lesson that is hastily prepared. A good lecture is one that has been adequately researched and prepared with well-organized materials, good reasoning process and appropriate style of language.
- Use of Effective Language: One of the distinguishing factors between man and animals is man's ability to communicate with other human beings through words. Words can only be effective in communication if we combine them to make sentences. But sometimes, our use of words may not always be perfect and when we fail to elicit meanings we intended in the minds of the receiver, breakdown in communication can occur. In the teaching and learning situation, teachers are expected to use language and words that are not defective in grammar, usage, and pronunciation. Bad grammar and faulty pronunciation can detract the attention of students as they can draw attention away from meanings intended and probably add untended meanings.
To communicate effectively in the classroom, we must consider not only our choice of words but also the way they are put together in phrases, sentences and paragraphs. Whenever we are speaking or writing, our language should serve us efficiently in assisting the audience to understand our meaning, remember our message, and believe in what is said. A good style of language must be clear, forceful, vivid and appropriate. Teachers should strive to be precise and accurate in their classroom presentation.
- Good Organization of Materials: It is difficult for oral or written messages to come across without proper organization. Man is the most rational of all things created by God. So he prefers order to disorder, organization to disorganization. Therefore, the teacher must organize the lesson for the following reasons: (a) to make sense, (b) to recognize our students' psychological need for unity. Organization simply means the pattern of development or arrangement of communication… The manipulation of the various thought structures of the message into the form that the speaker believes will best accomplish his or her goal (Hance, etal. 1975). It is the recognition of the importance of good organization that the ancient Greeks advocated that speech or writing should consist of at least three parts, namely; the introduction, body and conclusion.
- Avoidance of Physical Interference: One of the problems being faced by teachers and students in the learning environment today is noise from extraneous sources. Classroom proceedings have often been interrupted by the confusion of people wondering in and out of the classroom or people shuffling their feet, usually accompanied by noise, along the corridor. There are occasions when the teacher is going through the task of attempting to teach a difficult subject while just outside in the immediate surrounding, a gardener is mowing the lawn or a carpenter is driving nails into faulty door or other broken down facilities. These could result in loss of concentration by teacher and students. Looking for a quite location or having the lesson when other human activities around the learning environment are limited can avoid some of these disturbances. The teacher should take appropriate steps to reduce noise and its effects on classroom proceedings.
- Use of Audio-Visual Materials: The teacher can enhance his or her teaching skills and ability to communicate by using audio-visual materials and equipment. By using appropriate media such as charts, graphs, diagrams, films, radio and television, the teacher can arrest and sustain the attention of the students. Audiovisual materials can also help to clarify abstract ideas and compliment verbal messages.
- Provision of Room for Feedback: Feedback is the message a teacher gets from the students which may provide information about how the students are processing his message. Feedback increases the accuracy of understanding between the teacher and the students. Activities that the teacher can use to encourage feedback are giving opportunity for students to ask questions, giving them tests, quizzes and assignments. This will reinforce teaching. Instructional communication as a dynamic process rather than a static one or a one-way process.
Perfect communication is near impossible in the classroom because it depends on many variables. However, if the teacher is to be successful, the content of his message should be clear in his mind and be put in suitable code (appropriate language) and transmitted through appropriate media. There is need for a careful sequencing of ideas and the use of vocabulary that is within the experience and understanding of the students. Whatever learning experience the students are exposed to, they should be allowed to practice it. Learning takes place through the active behaviour of the students. It is what the student does that he learns and not what the teacher does. The teacher is only a facilitator of learning. The quality of learning that takes place in any situation, to a very large extent, is dependent on the effectiveness of the teacher's communication. The objectives of a well-planned lesson could be jeopardized by the teacher's inability to facilitate such objectives through effective communication. Therefore, the development of good communication skills should be made part of teacher education at all levels in. Further efforts should also be made to promote them in serving teachers through in-service training, workshops and seminars.
Berlo, D. (1960). The process of communication. New york: Holt, Rhinehart & Winston
Bryant, Donald C. and Wallace, Karl R. (1976). Fundamentals of public speaking. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc.
Dechant, Emerald V. and Smith, Henry P. (1977). Psychology in teaching reading. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Inc.
Farrent, J.S. (1988). Principles and practices of education. Singapore: Longman.
Hance, G; Ralph, David C. and Wilksel, Milton J. (1975). Principles of Speaking. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Pub. Co.
Heinich; Molenda, & Russell (1989). Instructional media and the new technologies of instruction. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co.
Schramm, W. and Roberts, D.F. (1974). The process and effects of mass communication. Chicago; University of Chicago Press.
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Sam E.O. Aduwa-Ogiegbaen, Ph.D.
Faculty of Education,
University of Benin
Benin City, Nigeria.
Ede O.S. Iyamu, Ph.D.
Faculty of Education,
University of Benin
Benin City, Nigeria.
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