When communicating with your students do you sometimes feel as if you’re speaking different languages? It’s just possible that, to a certain extent, you are. Instructions that you think are crystal clear may elude your students. Praise or critiques may fall short of achieving their aim. Keys to more effective communication are based on gaining a better understanding of your learners. Here are a few ideas to help you foster better communication with your students.

Be available

In order to be a better communicator, one must be available. Your keys to success start with making sure that your students know how to reach you outside of the classroom. Like many instructors, I ask my students to email me during our first class meeting so that I can check my mail and tell them immediately if they were successful. They can use their cell phone or laptop to do this. I also send them a reply with an encouraging message about the course.

Make sure that they know how to reach you by phone, text, or social media if you use those communication methods. Let them know how long they can expect to wait before receiving a reply. They may be online in the wee hours but you don’t have to be.

By the way, if you don’t usually do texting I suggest that you start because that’s what your students use. In a December 2015 article appearing on Questia, of 235 college students surveyed, 99.6 percent owned a cell phone and 98 percent texted daily.

When you do get an email, text, or phone message be sure to at least send some kind of acknowledgement. Let the student know either the answer to their question or when they can expect an answer.

Make the most of interactions with students

A December 2014 Instructor Engagement Survey listed several suggestions to help instructors communicate better.

The list of suggestions included:

  • Get to know your students’ names
  • Talk to them and learn about their life experiences; come early to class and mingle
  • Stop filling in the pauses in class so quickly, give them time to answer
  • Remind students in class that they can contact you for help
  • Make sure your students know that you care about their success

Be conscious of cultural differences

In today’s diverse classroom, it’s important to be aware of cultural differences that have a major impact on effective communication.

In their book, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th Edition, Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki included chapters on providing feedback and assessment, facilitating discussion, and teaching culturally diverse students.

Although all students may be speaking English, there can still be significant differences in what is being communicated. In their chapter on teaching culturally diverse students, the authors offered a number of useful insights.

  • Conversational pauses: While a native Westerner pauses for about a second before continuing to speak, other cultures may pause as long as five seconds before completing a thought.
  • Eye contact: For some cultures, looking away from the speaker may be indicative of more careful attention, rather than a sign of inattention.
  • Asking questions in class: In cultures that value a non-confrontational interpersonal style, asking a question in class can be seen as a challenge to the authority of the instructor.

When presenting examples of behaviors that are fraught with miscommunication due to diverse cultures, the authors also included a, “What You Can Do,” segment with suggestions for tailoring your communication.

How do you foster better communication with your students? Tell us in the comments.

Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J., Marilla Svinicki. 2014.  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th Edition  Belmont, CA Wadsworth Cengage Learning.