ERIC Identifier: ED297002
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education
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?
Most states use
standardized written examinations and many use performance tests, as well. In
1986, 31 states administered some form of the National Teachers Examination
(NTE), while many of the others gave their own written exams. In performance
testing, 2 states developed and administered their own standardized speaking
tests, 16 required the Listening Section of the NTE Core Battery Exam, 9 used a
variety of procedures, and 10 others are developing such tests or considering
doing so (McCaleb).
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?
should be designed and implemented according to a valid and coherent conception
of the complex process of classroom communication. Assessors need to focus on
the many aspects of communication instead of stressing the informing function of
explaining and questioning. Other forms of communication skills need to be
assessed, particularly interactive ones such as those required in one-on-one
conferences and interviews, organizing small group tasks, and leading class
discussions. At present, assessment practices emphasize two distinct roles and
sets of skills: the teacher-as-speaker (in performance testing) and the
teacher-as-listener (through standardized testing). Interactive communication is
not adequately assessed, despite the fact that communication is a transactional
process, i.e., teachers respond to feedback and alter their explanations since
student perceptions require clarification (Brown).
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
DO STATE ASSESSMENTS REFLECT CURRENT RESEARCH?
There are a
number of concerns in this area. One is that behavioral checklists do not
accurately reflect the complex data obtained from teaching research, presenting
the possibility that the complexity of teaching will be obscured and false
conclusions drawn about what makes teachers effective. Another is that research
findings are being used in teacher assessment instruments without appropriate
regard for context, such as grade level, type of student, and objective, i.e.,
the educational purposes the instruction may be designed to serve. A third is
that findings are currently used in teacher assessment instruments without
regard for the curricular area being measured, viz., basic skills as opposed to
conceptual/aesthetic understandings. A fourth is that the research base may be
misused or findings diluted in a simplistic effort to fit an assessment purpose.
These shortcomings impose a serious limitation on current assessment instruments
(Book and Duffy).
HOW USEFUL IS THE ATTEMPT TO ASSESS COMMUNICATION
The effort to assess communication skills is commendable but the
current process carries risks and drawbacks. In particular, it creates the
impression that teachers can guarantee successful teaching by simply following
certain research-identified behaviors. The phrase, "research says," is often
used in an authoritative fashion in professional conference presentations,
training sessions for assessment observers, and briefing sessions for teachers,
without benefit of research qualifications or critical reviews (Clift).
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).
Many of the following references--those
identified with an EJ or ED number--have been abstracted and are in the ERIC
data base. The journal articles should be available at most research libraries.
The documents (citations with an ED numbers) are available on microfiche in ERIC
microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents also can be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service. Call (800) 227-3742 for price
and order information. For a list of ERIC collections in your area or for
information on submitting documents to ERIC, contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036, (202)
Allen, R. R., and K. L. Brown. 1976. Developing communication competence in
children. Skokie, Ill.: National Textbook.
Book, L. and G. Duffy. 1987. A critique of the research base for assessing
communication skills of teachers. How Do Teachers Communicate? A Review and
Critique of Assessment Practices. McCaleb, Joseph L., ed. Teacher Education
Monograph No. 7. Washington, D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education.
Brown, K. L., P. Backlund, J. Gurry, and F. Jandt. 1979. Assessment of basic
speaking and listening skills. Boston: Massachusetts Department of Education. ED
Clift, R. T. 1987. Is assessing communication an exercise in
miscommunication. How Do Teachers Communicate? A Review and Critique of
Assessment Practices. McCaleb, J. ed. Teacher Education Monograph No. 7.
Washington, D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education.
Cooper, P. J. 1986. Communication competencies for teachers: A CAT
subcommittee report. Chicago, Ill.: Speech Communication Association. ERIC SP
Duffy, G., L. Roehler, and G. Rackliffe. 1986. How teachers' instructional
talk influences students' understanding of lesson content. Elementary School
Journal 87 (no. 1): 3-16.
McCaleb, J. L. 1984. Selecting a measure of oral communication as a predictor
of teaching performance. Journal of Teacher Education 35 (no.5): 33-38.
McCaleb, J. L., ed. 1987. How do teachers communicate? Washington, D.C.: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. ED 282 872.
McCroskey, J. C. 1977. Quiet children and the classroom teacher. Annandale,
Va.: Speech Communication Association/ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and
Medley, D. M., H. Coker, and R. S. Soar. 1984. Measurement-based evaluation
of teacher performance. New York: Longman.
Morine-Dershimer, G. 1985. Talking, listening, and learning in elementary
classrooms. New York: Longman.
Rubin, R. B. 1983. The communication competency assessment instrument. Falls
Church, Va.: Speech Communication Association.
Rubin, R. B., and J. D. Feezel. 1986. Elements of teacher communication
competence. Communication Education 35: 254-268.