Student–teacher interaction, both in and out of the classroom, is influenced strongly by the teaching perspective embraced by the teacher. Within the instructional communication discipline, teaching can be viewed from two perspectives: the rhetorical perspective and the relational perspective (Mottet & Beebe 2006). Teachers whose student–teacher interaction is governed by the rhetorical perspective communicate with their students as a means to influence or persuade them. Communication is teacher-centered, which means that teachers send a message to students who play a passive role as the recipient of the message. To communicate effectively with their students, teachers focus on teaching clearly, making course content relevant, and acting in an assertive manner. In essence, their in-class communication behaviors center on performing their classroom functions as lecturer and discussion leader and managing the classroom.
Teacher–Student In-Class Communication
Teacher–student in-class communication revolves around the primary communicative roles played by the teacher. Two of these roles are teacher as lecturer and teacher as discussion leader. The lecture enables teachers to communicate large amounts of information organized in a way to appeal to many students at the same time. For the lecture to be effective, it must have the appropriate breadth and depth of content, be organized in a logical pattern, and contain the appropriate amount and type of examples. Teachers must also strive to engage in effective communicative behaviors when lecturing. These communicative behaviors include being clear, making the content relevant, and using humor. When engaged in teaching with clarity, teachers communicate their expectations clearly, stress key points, provide preview and review statements, and describe assignments (Book 1999).
Clear teachers are concerned with not only the clarity of course content, but the clarity of course procedures, course policies, and course expectations. When making content relevant, teachers communicate content relevance through the use of examples, explanations, current events, and experiences. Teachers who are relevant are concerned with making the connection between course material and students’ career goals, personal goals, and personal needs. When using humor, teachers communicate through relaying humorous stories, anecdotes, and jokes, and by exaggeration. Humorous teachers make sure their humor is related to the course content and is used to clarify key points made in the lecture. Thus, by incorporating clarity, relevance, and humor in their lectures, teachers are able to enhance student learning. Additionally, when teachers are clear, relevant, and humorous, students report that they liked their teacher, liked the course, and were motivated to study.
When leading discussion, teachers rely on asking questions as their primary communicative tool. By asking questions, teachers can assess whether students are learning, are interested in the course content, or are simply paying attention. Many teachers rely on asking recall and clarification questions to determine whether students are learning or paying attention, but other forms of teacher questions exist. These teacher questions are exploratory, diagnostic, action, cause-and-effect, and summary (Davis 1993). Exploratory questions ask students to probe known facts; diagnostic questions ask students to probe motives or causes; action questions ask students to develop a course of action; cause-and-effect questions ask students to derive a causal explanation; and summary questions ask students to synthesize content. Whatever the type of questions teachers ask, these questions are designed to challenge and involve students in classroom interaction.
Teacher communication is also central in classroom management. Classroom management refers to the communicative behaviors used by teachers to regulate and control student classroom behavior. Some of the communicative behaviors used by teachers are messages rooted in teacher power and influence and behavioral alteration techniques. Messages rooted in teacher power and influence enable teachers to persuade students to behave in ways that are appropriate for the classroom. Two of these messages include teacher expert power and teacher referent power. Teacher expert power refers to student recognition of the teacher as a content specialist and teacher referent power refers to student recognition of the teacher as a likeable person. When teachers use expert power and referent power messages, students report that they liked the course, learned something from it, are satisfied with how their teachers communicated in the course, and consider their teachers to be competent and trustworthy. Moreover, students are more likely to behave and respond to their teachers’ requests to behave, which emerge in the form of behavioral alteration techniques. Behavioral alteration techniques are 22 strategies used by teachers to gain student compliance using either a positive or a negative tone. When teachers use prosocial techniques, students are more likely to respond positively to teacher influence attempts; when teachers use negative techniques, students are more likely to resist teacher influence attempts.
Conversely, teachers whose student–teacher interaction is governed by the relational perspective communicate with their students as a means of developing a relationship. Communication is mutually created and shared between students and teachers, with an emphasis on the role of shared emotions and feelings used by students and teachers to respond both affectively and effectively to each other. To communicate effectively with their students, teachers use affinity-seeking strategies and immediacy behaviors, are supportive and confirming, and use humor.
Through the relational perspective, student–teacher interaction is viewed as collaborative in that student–teacher interaction is interpersonally driven and relationally oriented. Implicit in this argument is the notion that students and instructors engage in communication in order to develop professional working relationships with each other. The relational perspective can account for student–teacher interaction, which impacts whether and how students are motivated to communicate with their teachers, whether students participate in the classroom, and whether students engage in out-of-class communication with their teachers.
Student Communication Motives
Whether student–teacher interaction occurs may be dependent on whether or not students are motivated to communicate with their teachers. Student communication motives refer to the primary reasons for students to communicate with their teachers. Researchers have identified five communication motives. These motives, or reasons, are relational, functional, participatory, excuse-making, and sycophancy (Martin et al. 1999).
When students communicate with teachers for relational reasons, they are doing so to learn more about the teacher on a personal level. Students may perceive their teachers as having similar interests, sharing the same background, or having the potential to become a potential friend. When students communicate with teachers for functional reasons, they are doing so to acquire needed information about the course. Students may ask questions or use information-seeking strategies to learn about course expectations, to understand the material, or to clarify the requirements for assignments, exams, and projects. When students communicate with teachers for participatory reasons, they are doing so to demonstrate their involvement in the course. Students may answer questions, offer examples, or challenge teachers’ comments to demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in participating in class discussion or class activity. When students communicate with teachers for excuse-making, they are doing so to provide a reason as to why their academic performance is suffering. Students may offer excuses for why they are tardy, why they are absent from class, or why their assignments are incomplete or not finished at all. When students communicate with teachers for sycophantic reasons, they are doing so in order to make a favorable impression on teachers. Students may engage in conversation, answer questions, or appear interested in the course content because they want to be viewed positively by their teachers.
When students communicate with their teachers for relational, functional, and participatory reasons, they report that they liked the course, learned something from it, are satisfied with how their teachers communicated in the course, and are motivated to study. Students who communicate with their teachers for relational and functional reasons also report that they liked the teacher. Conversely, students who communicate for excuse-making and sycophancy reasons do not indicate any positive links between their communication with their teachers and their liking, learning, or satisfaction and this motivation. These findings suggest that when students communicate with their teachers for relational, functional, and participatory reasons, their educational experience is affected positively, whereas when they communicate with their teachers for excuse making and sycophantic reasons their educational experience is not affected at all, whether positively or negatively.
At the same time, whether students are motivated to communicate with their teachers is dependent on the interpersonal communication behaviors used by teachers. Generally, when students are motivated to communicate with their teachers, they perceive their teachers as being approachable, as friendly yet challenging, as responsive yet assertive, and as possessing the communication skills necessary for functional relationships. They are also motivated to communicate when their teachers use verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors and use pro-social classroom management techniques. Moreover, students are motivated to communicate with their teachers when they consider their relationships to be of high quality and unlike the relationships the same teachers have with other students.
Student In-Class Participation
One way in which students’ reasons for communicating with their teachers may surface is through their in-class participation. In-class participation, which is defined broadly as the comments offered and questions asked by students during class time (Fassinger 2000), encapsulates the questions students ask, the clarification tactics and the informationseeking strategies they use, and the challenge behaviors in which they engage.
Asking questions is perhaps the most fundamental process through which students participate in class. By asking questions, students can request help, signal a lack of comprehension, request additional information, and check a point of view. College students generally ask five types of questions: classroom procedures, general inquiry content, clarification, confirmation, and general inquiry teacher (West & Pearson 1994). Classroom procedures questions center on course assignments and exams, the syllabus, and general classroom management; general inquiry content questions are factual and revolve around the subject matter; clarification questions focus on further elaboration of the subject matter; confirmation questions center on student requests for affirmation; and general inquiry teacher questions seek personal information about the instructor. Although it is estimated that 95 percent of students have questions, college students typically only ask three to four questions per hour of class, and these questions are asked primarily to request clarification and inquire about classroom procedures.
Clarification tactics refer to the questions asked or statements made by students through which students indicate they need additional information in order to enhance their understanding of the subject matter. College students use a variety of clarification tactics (Kendrick & Darling 1990). These tactics include: ignoring the problem; asking the teacher to elaborate, provide an example, rephrase the content, or repeat the material; asking the teacher a specific question; indicating confusion via a quizzical look or brief phrase; and checking to determine if the content was interpreted accurately. Other clarification tactics include asking classmates, asking the teacher to speak more slowly, and asking the teacher for written material. Of these clarification tactics, asking the teacher to elaborate, to provide an example, and to repeat the material are the most commonly used tactics, although the use of each tactic can depend on class size and instructional format.
Information-seeking is defined as the process by which students acquire feedback through the use of information-seeking strategies, and is used when they are unsure of how their performance is being evaluated. Five information-seeking strategies used by college students are the overt, indirect, third-party, testing, and observing strategies (Myers & Knox 2001). The overt strategy is the only strategy that involves direct interaction between two individuals; an indirect strategy entails either hinting at the information or getting the target to provide the information without explicitly being asked; a third-party strategy requires an individual to solicit the information from someone other than the target; a testing strategy involves an individual deviating from the organizational or institutional norms in the hopes of being noticed; and an observing strategy requires little or no interaction between the information seeker and the target. Among college students, the overt information-seeking strategy is used the most frequently and the testing strategy the least frequently, although the use of each strategy may depend on students’ perceptions of whether the classroom climate is supportive or defensive and whether teachers use communication behaviors that invite students’ use of each strategy.
Challenge behaviors are strategies used by students specifically in an attempt to reduce their uncertainty about classroom rules, expectations, power, and explanations. Four challenge behaviors used by students are procedural challenges, evaluation challenges, practicality challenges, and power challenges (Simonds 1997). Procedural challenges focus on students testing the classroom “rules,” which may be stated by teachers or included in the course syllabus; evaluation challenges arise when students question teachers’ grading methods, grading scales, or measurement tools; practicality challenges occur when students question the relevance or salience of course assignments or tasks; and power challenges arise when students attempt to exert influence over teachers or other students. All four challenge behaviors are used steadily by students throughout the course of a semester and across all academic disciplines.
Out-Of-Class Communication (OCC)
Out-of-class communication (OCC) between student and teacher is defined broadly as “structured and unstructured activities or conditions that are not directly part of an institution’s formal, course-related instructional purposes” (Terenzini et al. 1996, 150).
These activities or conditions include students’ use of scheduled or impromptu office visits; e-mail messages and telephone calls; running into faculty on campus, at campus events, or off campus; stopping to speak with faculty in the corridor or during class breaks; speaking with their instructors before and after class; and scheduled advising sessions. OCC is initiated primarily by students and occurs most frequently in the form of office visits.
Although the number of students who participate in OCC varies, its content is restricted to several topics. Some of these topics include students inquiring about course related information, engaging in self-disclosure, seeking advice, engaging in small talk, sharing intellectual ideas, asking instructors for favors, discussing future career plans, and discussing campus issues, although inquiries about course-related information are the most frequently reported OCC topic (Jaasma & Koper 2001; Theophilides & Terenzini 1981).
Students who engage in OCC report a better educational experience than students who do not engage in it. Similarly with the research findings on students’ motives to communicate with their teachers, student learning outcomes are linked positively to OCC. When students engage in OCC, they report that they like their teacher, liked the course, learned something from it, are motivated to study, and are satisfied with how their teachers communicated in the course. Students also are more likely to discuss what they have learned in the course with their family and friends, and report that they consider their teachers to be trustworthy, empathic, and as possessing the ability to mentor.
At the same time, whether students are motivated to engage in OCC with their teachers is dependent on the interpersonal communication behaviors used by teachers. These interpersonal communication behaviors include whether teachers are assertive and responsive, engage in verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors, use humor, utilize affinity-seeking strategies, and use functional communication skills.
- Book, C. L. (1999). Lecturing. In A. L. Vangelisti, J. A. Daly, & G. W. Friedrich (eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 333 – 346.
- Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- DeVito, J. A. (1986). Teaching as relational development. In J. M. Civikly (ed.), Communicating in college classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 51–59.
- Fassinger, P. A. (2000). How classes influence students’ participation in college classrooms. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 35(2), 38 – 47.
- Frymier, A. B., & Houser, M. L. (2000). The teacher–student relationship as an interpersonal relationship. Communication Education, 49, 207 – 219.
- Frymier, A. B., & Shulman, G. M. (1995). “What’s in it for me?” Increasing content relevance to enhance students’ motivation. Communication Education, 44, 40 – 50.
- Jaasma, M. A., & Koper, R. J. (2001). Talk to me: An examination of the content of out-of-class interaction between students and faculty. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Communication Association, Washington, DC (May).
- Kendrick, W. L., & Darling, A. L. (1990). Problems of understanding in classrooms: Students’ use of clarifying tactics. Communication Education, 39, 15 – 29.
- Martin, M. M., Myers, S. A., & Mottet, T. P. (1999). Students’ motives for communicating with their instructors. Communication Education, 48, 155 –164.
- Martin, M. M., Mottet, T. P., & Myers, S. A. (2000). Students’ motives for communicating with their instructors and affective and cognitive learning. Psychological Reports, 87, 830 – 834.
- Mottet, T. P., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Foundations of instructional communication. In T. P. Mottet, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, pp. 3 –32.
- Myers, S. A., & Knox, R. L. (2001). The relationship between college student information-seeking behaviors and perceived verbal behaviors. Communication Education, 50, 343 – 356.
- Myers, S. A., Martin, M. M., & Knapp, J. L. (2005). Perceived instructor in-class communicative behaviors as a predictor of student participation in out of class communication. Communication Quarterly, 53, 437 – 450.
- Pearson, J. C., & West, R. (1991). An initial investigation of the effects of gender on student questions in the classroom: Developing a descriptive base. Communication Education, 40, 22–32.
- Simonds, C. J. (1997). Challenge behavior in the college classroom. Communication Research Reports, 14, 481– 492.
- Terenzini, P. T., Pascarella, E. T., & Blimling, G. S. (1996). Students’ out-of-class experiences and their influence in learning and cognitive development: A literature review. Journal of College Student Development, 37, 149 –162.
- Theophilides, C., & Terenzini, P. T. (1981). The relation between nonclassroom contact with faculty and students’ perceptions of instructional quality. Research in Higher Education, 15, 255 –269.
- West, R., & Pearson, J. C. (1994). Antecedent and consequent conditions of student questioning: An analysis of classroom discourse across the university. Communication Education, 45, 299 –311.
Back to Educational Communication.