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Listen Up: How to Communicate Effectively with Students

Student-professor communication can directly affect the success of students. Frequent and repeated interaction between students and professors leads to effective learning and the overall success of the student. Effective communication is essential for a smooth and respectful classroom.

Here are a few strategies that would be of the essence of effective communication between instructors and their students:

  1. Respectful Communication

Respect is the foundation of effective communication, especially in the classroom. Communicate respectfully in the following ways:

  • Be honest and considerate
  • Choose words that are appropriate to the situation
  • Avoid inflammatory or provocative comments 
  • Maintain eye contact with students and focus on the speaker
  • If there are issues – disruptive behavior, playing with a cellphone, talking while you’re teaching, etc., – take the student aside, either during or after class, to address. Private communication and correction can be far more effective than calling them out and embarrassing the student during class time.
  • Avoid continually interrupting students when speaking. Instructors who show respect towards their students have generally more respectful classrooms because students learn and mirror effective behavior and communication skills.
  1. Check for Understanding

An instructor should always check for understanding. Using such common prompts as "Does that make sense?”, ”Any questions?", or "Did you all get that?” will not produce much meaningful information in determining whether or not students "get it”. 

At most students will either nod or sit quietly, the instructor doesn't know whether they understand, or they are too confused to answer, or they are too embarrassed in front of others.

To check for understanding:

  • Students can write down a one-sentence summary of what they think the lecture was about or write a question they have.
  • In a one-on-one conversation, a teacher should ask the student to repeat/summarize the main point or outcome of the discussion. This is effective with teacher-student conversations or student-student check-ins.
  1. Communicate in a Variety of Ways

Let's face it, every semester you will always find some students that would ask you to repeat the same information about an upcoming assignment or test right after you’ve finished announcing it.  Many students don't take in what they hear the first time. Effective communication requires using different techniques in communication. When you want to make a point, consider the following:

  • The use of visual tools will go along with your verbal communication. For example, if you are discussing safety in labs, have a graphical chart handy to help students remember. In a lecture situation, share hand-outs that outline major lesson points and outcomes.
  • Give the student the opportunity to reflect and provide feedback
  • Repeat yourself to reinforce your message
  • Try reinforcing your messages virtually – a reminder or announcement via email, school-LMS, homework software (like McGraw-Hill Education’s Connect or ALEKS), etc. can help strengthen your communication.
  1. Nonverbal Communication

Everyone communicates nonverbally through facial expressions and gestures. Careful use of nonverbal cues such as facial expression, the tone and the pitch of the voice, and gestures is essential for effective communication. Here are some tips for effective nonverbal communication:

  • Avoid rolling your eyes at a student's question or comment.
  • A disapproving stare can negatively impact a student who is unmotivated or off task.
  • A bright smile for a student who is having a bad day means more than they will ever reveal. It means that you are feeling sympathy and also empathy for this student.

Gestures and animated facial expressions also give weight and enthusiasm to what a teacher has to say. Students who see a teacher actively engaged in what they are teaching will be much more engaged.

About the Author

Dr. Murad Odeh is an Associate Professor of Biology at South Texas College (STC) where he continued to devote his career to help students of the Rio Grande Valley succeed since 1999. He became the Chair of the Biology department (2014-2016) and Interim Administrator of the Curriculum & Student Learning since 2017. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His doctoral research was focused on the role of curved DNA in Bacillus subtilis RNA polymerase-promoter interactions. Murad quickly came to love the challenges and rewards of working with students. He worked as an adjunct faculty at the McAllen Branch for the University of Phoenix (2012-2014) and as an online instructor for Excelsior College in Albany, NY (2014-2017). Murad is a digital faculty consultant with McGraw Hill education since 2014 and a frequent contributor and presenter in local, regional, and international conferences. Murad enjoys working cooking, travel, and staying fit. His favorite quotation is, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

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