Body language may be the key to unlocking barriers in communication. The Progressive Teacher magazine states how body language is a non-verbal, yet powerful form of communication that every individual denotes through gestures, attitudes and facial expressions.* We usually respond positively and negatively to spoken words of an individual as well as react to that person’s body language. It is widely known that the body language of teachers plays a crucial role in delivering effective lessons. It is said that speaking conducted by the teacher only impacts students around 7 percent of the time. The other 93 percent is attributed to non-verbal communication. Part of that 93 percent is the way teachers use their voice, tone, etc. the rest is body language. A teacher’s body language has a strong impression on students. If this is the case, then surely recognising the body language of students can lead to better to communication. Whether we are in class or teaching online, looking out for these key arm signals, can help improve how we respond to behaviour.
Signal 1: Crossed arms on chest
While teaching new words to learners, I am sometimes met with silence and crossed arms. It may be useful to know that at times this can be a student putting a barrier between the person and someone they do not like. It is commonly seen anywhere were people feel insecure or uncertain. Recognising this early on and then aiming to change their attitude from negative to positive will help.
Using more effective warmers to start the lesson or fun ice breakers can always make students that little bit more receptive, especially if you notice more than one learner with crossed arms. I try to call out key words and get the students to race to the board to spell them. With online learning, it is also possible to read body language through the camera. If it appears learners are crossing their arms, I try to get them to look around their house for items that contain certain letters.
Signal 2: Reinforced arm crossing
If a learner has clenched fists as well as a full arm cross then this usually means defensiveness and hostility. It may be that you have invited students to deliver a presentation or work with their peers in different groups and are met with this signal. I have found that a conciliatory approach may be the best to find the root cause of this defensive attitude.
Giving the student something to hold or to do can help students to relax and unclench their fists. When doing debates or question and answering sessions, having a microphone can really help these learners to be more receptive and positive. Passing a microphone around and allowing them to speak, can help them develop a more positive attitude. It can give them some control over their learning and boost their self esteem. When teaching online, they can use props in place of a microphone.
Signal 3: Arm gripping
At the start of every week, I introduce new topics. One new unit this year was based on argumentative essays about bionic technology and the automation paradox. It was a challenge to get students on board at first. At times I noticed the Double- Arm – Grip which means some students were feeling insecure and not buying what I was selling, so to speak. I understood the topic was not of interest to many so I had to make it more fun. The student’s hands in this stance mean they can tightly grip their upper arms and it means they have a restrained attitude towards the tasks.
Introduce an assessment for learning quiz which may assess what they already know on the topic. Encouraging a positive atmosphere with slight competition means that clapping can be encouraged any time a team gets an answer correct. This can help disarm negative body language. If teaching online, it is a good idea to make some revision notes and put them on a podcast or audio file. Tell students to listen with headphones and take a walk around their house, if safe and possible. This way they can work towards more positive feelings and feel comfortable without being forced to face the teacher all the time.
In ‘The Definitive Book of Body Language’, Pease made a point of how most teacher’s pets usually sit on the left side of the class. Although it seems controversial, the Ontario Institute for Education studied teachers and recorded where they were looking in the lessons. They discovered that teachers looked straight ahead 44% of the time, to the left 39% of the time and to the right 17% of the time. Perhaps being aware of our body language as teachers, can help us communicate with all students so then we give them all equal attention.
These are just some examples of how body language may help us communicate better. When you see a ‘no’ before it is said, you can try a different approach. It becomes difficult to reverse a ‘no’ once it is verbalised and knowing this gives time to take an alternative course of action. Simply asking questions to uncover a student’s objections may help get them on board more easily. As “The most important thing in communications is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter F Drucker, 2015.