In the article Gesture and its role in classroom communication: an issue for the personalized learning agenda, Wall (2006) argues that even though there has been much research regarding interpersonal communication in the classroom, it has primarily focused on verbal interactions between students and teachers. He contends that further research is needed in the area of nonverbal communication, specifically the use of gestures. For true personalized learning to be effective, the teacher must be able to assess whether or not each individual student understands the material before moving to other topics, the student must be able to understand what is being taught, and the teacher must be able to interpret the student’s classroom behavior. Wall believes that the use of gestures play a crucial role in these three areas. In this essay, I will explore how gestures in the classroom can enhance learning, and how they were applied in my own experience as a technical trainer.
The importance of gauging a student’s understanding seems obvious, considering that most lessons are based upon knowledge gained through prior instruction. If a student has not mastered the prerequisite knowledge, it is unlikely that a teacher will be able to effectively transfer new knowledge. This is supported by Johnson’s (2007) observation that “the ones that I found to be good teachers seemed to know how I was feeling and took the lesson in the direction that I needed to go” (p.60). The teacher’s challenge then becomes how to effectively gauge the student’s understanding. This interaction can occur in several ways.
Verbal cues no doubt play an important role in the communication between student and teacher. According to Wall (2006), a student’s understanding may be signaled by what the child says. This seems especially apparent in technical instruction, when the material being taught is very objective. For example, when teaching math multiplication tables, the assessment of understanding may simply consist of the teacher asking the student to respond to the question, “What is 7 x 8?” If the student responds with the correct answer, his or her understanding is effectively communicated to the teacher, and the teacher can move on to teaching multiplication of double-digit numbers.
Non-verbal cues seem to be more important when teaching subjective concepts, as noted by Johnson (2007) in her experience as a music teacher. A student may be unwilling to verbalize their lack of understanding for several reasons. In American classrooms in particular, if there are multiple students in the classroom, this unwillingness may come because the student that does not understand does not want the other members of the class to know that. If the teacher is effective at interpreting the students’ non-verbal cues, the lesson plan can be adjusted. In some cases, adjustment may not be beneficial. If only one or two students in a class of twenty are indicating a lack of understanding, it may make more sense to continue with the lesson plan and follow up later with these individuals. In order to make this determination accurately, it is crucial that the teacher is in tune with every student’s current state of learning. Another reason students may not verbalize a lack of understanding is that they do not know they do not understand. This is especially true in situations where the lesson is task oriented. For example, when explaining to aircraft technicians how to navigate through complex, internet-based maintenance manuals in a classroom environment, they are likely to indicate understanding, both verbally and non-verbally. However, when the instructor asks them to demonstrate this knowledge, a lack of understanding may become apparent, often through gestures of frustration. If the instructor is skilled at reading these non-verbal cues, the students that need individual attention can be targeted for further instruction.
Johnson (2007) cites a study on...