ERIC Identifier: ED297002
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education Washington DC.
How Do Teachers Communicate? ERIC Digest 2-88.
The last decade has seen a rise in the demand for testing teachers, brought on by a real or perceived decline in student performance, as well as concern over the quality and preparation of people entering the profession. An increased sense of urgency was sounded in recent reports calling for national standards for teachers: the Holmes' Group report, Tomorrow's Teachers (1986); the Carnegie Commission report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (1986); and the National Governors' Association report, Time for Results (1986). In response, many states have adopted formal assessment procedures for teachers, almost all of which claim to evaluate communication abilities. However, the methods of assessment vary from state to state with the result that communication is defined in different ways across the country. Furthermore, the operational definitions found in various state assessment practices often don't correspond with those developed through research.
HOW DO STATES EVALUATE COMMUNICATION?
A significant area in which the nine states differ from each other is in the instructions given evaluators concerning their focus and participation in the assessment process. Some states, for example, set the focus on the teacher's performance only, while others include the teacher's classroom interaction with students and the teacher's use of students' ideas in the assessment. The same is true regarding the role given observers. Some states permit assessors to use professional judgment in making final evaluations, while others confine them to recording behaviors for computer analysis, preventing them from knowing how these will combine to pass or fail a teacher (McCaleb).
In performance tests given by the same nine states, 12 categories of communication were defined: oral language usage, fluency, feedback, speech mechanics, subject knowledge, explaining, emphasis, directing, questioning, using students' ideas, interacting with parents, and enthusiasm and nonverbal communication. Not all the states used every category, but in cases where they did use the same ones, different criteria for judging were found--or if the same criteria were used, they may have been assigned different values, giving different degrees of importance to the same set of skills (McCaleb). The danger in these varied and sometimes superficial approaches to communication assessment is that judgments could be based on an incomplete or fragmented picture of a teacher's communication skills (Feezel).
HOW SHOULD COMMUNICATION BE EVALUATED?
Assessment practices need to take into account additional aspects of a classroom teacher's role, including those that involve persuading or influencing students' behavior and ideas; stimulating self-expression and imagination through creative activities; teaching social rituals such as taking turns and raising hands in class; asking questions, responding to answers, and leading class discussions (Feezel). Evaluations should also include such factors as a teacher's ability to communicate with parents, peers, administrators, and professional leaders. Several states currently have plans to assess teacher-parent communication (Brown).
In addition, assessment officials need to address such issues as validity, reliability, bias and feasibility in the area of oral communication. To be valid, assessments must be based on conceptual clarity and have common objectives for classroom communication. To be reliable, there must be (1) consistent findings among observers monitoring the same individuals, or more training may be indicated to ensure adherence to a common set of standards; (2) adequate monitoring before oral proficiency is determined; (3) equivalence of topics and tasks for rating purposes. To be free of bias, care must be taken to ensure assessments do not favor certain patterns of oral communication. To be feasible, the proposed purchase of any new resource must be subject to a cost-benefit analysis of the time, money, and equipment that would be entailed versus the extent to which the resource would improve assessment of a teacher's classroom performance (Brown).
Furthermore, a distinction must be made in the skill levels that assessments focus on, i.e., facilities (speech mechanics such as clear speech and correct grammar) and critical skills (functions such as explaining, questioning, and giving directions). Putting the focus on critical skills has the advantage of emphasizing the larger goal of instruction while still permitting assessment of instrumental behaviors, but preventing them from becoming ends in themselves (Brown).
DO STATE ASSESSMENTS REFLECT CURRENT RESEARCH?
HOW USEFUL IS THE ATTEMPT TO ASSESS COMMUNICATION SKILLS?
Secondly, it may limit communications skills considered desirable to those currently assessed, with the result that only those educational purposes readily observed by current instrumentation will be regarded as legitimate (Clift).
Third, the current process may lead to valuing form over content. A teacher who shows superior vocal ability but is dependent on textbook explanations, for example, may be rated above another who is able to explain a difficult concept independently but does not do so in a manner conveying enthusiasm or nonverbal communication as specified by some states. South Carolina, for example, describes this as "intense or dramatic expression in gestures, movements, vocal inflections, or facial changes" (McCaleb, p. 21) (Clift).
Fourth, it results in observation instruments that focus more on teacher behaviors than on student actions because the attempts to link teacher behavior to student achievement (process-product research) make teachers responsible for student learning. Research on learning and memory, however, suggests that students themselves must play an active role in the instruction process. In focusing on instructors' verbal abilities, current assessment practices cast teachers into the role of actors or actresses, overlooking the role that is more appropriate for them, that of classroom directors. It also overlooks the teacher's responsibility for developing students' communication skills as well as students' part in their own instruction (Clift).
Fifth, it handicaps teachers assessed by observers who are unfamiliar with their subject but who, nevertheless, must evaluate their ability to communicate it. This might be overcome to some extent if observers could discuss the lesson with teachers before and after a class, giving them (observers) further opportunity to assess interpersonal skills and to understand a teacher's rationale for presenting the lesson in a certain way (Clift).
It is not necessary to abandon completely the way communications skills are presently identified. However, shortcomings in the current system need to be changed, a range of acceptable alternative behaviors identified, and a more flexible system of assessments implemented (Clift).
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