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Developing Communication Skills
An important aspect of learning is for students to be able to communicate what they know, or think they know. The best way for teachers to encourage communication from all students is through classroom discussion or small group work (Rika, 1996). There has always been the notion that you learn best when you actually have to teach or explain a concept to someone else. This means being able to verbalize what you know. So teachers need to encourage their students to verbalize their own knowledge so that they can learn more efficiently. Students on the listening end also benefit from hearing their classmates explanations. When students listen to each other, they often benefit from hearing concepts being explained from different points and in ways that might be closer the students way of thinking. When students listen effectively they generate questions to further everybody's thinking and learning.
In order to have good discussions teachers need to provide problems that have multiple solutions or methods of solution. These types of problems are best in simulating discussion, creativity and risk taking. When teachers are trying to encourage a meaningful discussion it is crucial that they give their students plenty of time to respond and think about what they want to say. Teachers should avoid yes/no questions and short answered question if they want to have a quality discussion. Open-ended higher level thinking questions are the best choice to get students thinking and communicating their ideas. The teacher should stay involved in the discuss to correct wrong information but should be careful when pointing out mistakes. It is very important to create and maintain an environment that students feel comfortable participating.
Another way to encourage students to communicate, especially if they are too shy to speak up, is to have them journal. Research suggests (Terrell Young, 1990 that dialogue journals provide a purposeful activity in which students communicate their thoughts and feelings. It is important that teachers collect these journals and respond to them. The teacher doesn't necessarily need to evaluate them, but she/he could ask the students questions to further their thinking. Such as, "Why do you think that?", "What could be another reason?", and so on. Students can also exchange journals to share their ideas and get responses from others.
Debate is another way teachers can provide their students with the opportunity to practice their communication skills. Research suggests that debate encourages different types of responses, helps students to develop convincing arguments, and allows teachers and students to learn from one another (Leonard, 1999). This also encourages students to back up what they believe and it allows teachers to really get a good idea of what kind of conceptual knowledge students have about certain topics.