Teachers’ Affects and Learning

 “…This all means that how teachers look and sound when talking to students can be quite revealing. Participants were asked to rate teachers’ perceptions of students to whom they were speaking with brief (ten-second) audio and video clips. Though the clips only focused on the teachers’ behavior and did not show the students, participants as young as fourth grade were able to successfully differentiate between two types of students being addressed by the teachers: those who were considered to be ‘high’ achieving and those who were ‘low’ achieving (Babad, Bernieri, & Rosenthal, 1991). The teacher interacted with the ‘high’- achieving student more positively than with the ‘low’-achieving student. With less than half a minute of observation, our perception of how others, in this case teachers, feel about students can be readily identified.

As the authors point out in the discussion of their findings, with only ten seconds of film footage, there was barely enough time for teachers to utter more than two words; thus truly it was the manner in which the teachers addressed the students and not the content of their discussion that affected the ratings of how the teacher felt about each student.

Though these findings may seem to speak directly to the so-called expectancy effects, namely the finding that how students perform in class may be largely influenced by how the teacher feels about them (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968), our focus here is more upon student comfort than academic performance. Now more than four decades after Pygmalion in the Classroom thrust the idea of teacher expectancy effects into the professional and public vernaculars (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968), there is still a fair amount of controversy regarding just how strongly teacher expectations of students affect intelligence and performance (Jussim & Harber, 2005).

Rather than wade into these murky waters, we will instead focus on the indisputable points that because detection of emotion is instinctual, teachers must be incredibly careful and conscientious about how they deal with students in a classroom, particularly those who are ‘easy’ and those who are seen as more ‘challenging.’ Given the fact that teacher interactions with students influence how those students are perceived by their peers (Birch & Ladd, 1998), the case for conscious monitoring of behavior cannot be overstated.

It is recommended that educators plan ahead for interactions with students they may consider more trying or challenging than others. Just as the successful teacher plans for contingencies such as having extra supplies for students who may forget of be unable to afford their own, so must she also plan ahead for the possibility of questions, to which answers have already been provided, or other solicitations that could possibly evoke even subtle expressions of exasperation or annoyance.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.

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