Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I’ve been reading Jim Knight’s book “Instructional Coaching” and finding it refreshing. Despite having read more coaching books over the past 3 years than I can immediately count, Knight’s book offers new perspectives written with a clear, entertaining voice.

In his chapter on communication, he simplifies the idea by describing it as process whereby a speaker expresses an intended message to an audience.
“A funny thing happens to the message on the way from the speaker to the audience, however. Interference messes with the message…Consequently, the audience receives a modified version of the intended message – we call this the perceived message. Unfortunately, the perceived message can be quite different from the intended message, but the audience doesn’t know that and believes the perceived message is real.” (p. 59)
Knight goes on to describe various types of interference, from external interference, such as extraneous noise, to internal interference, such as distracting, off-topic thoughts or preconceptions or lack of prior knowledge.

That intended messages can be distorted by the audience is not new information for teachers. Children misinterpret our communication with them quite frequently. When I worked as a parapro at my college laboratory school I had to reinterpret for a Kindergartener who was fearful after the Kindergarten teacher said, “Line up to go outside, boys and girls. It’s time for us to go get our blood moving around.” After seeing the shocked, disgusted look on the child’s face, I quickly told her, “Sara, he means INSIDE our body! Get the blood moving inside our body.” Another time I inadvertently let down one of my second graders because I told him I’d bring in some pumice, a volcanic rock that floats. After demonstrating what I thought was a quite impressive display of a floating rock in the classroom sink the next day, a disappointed Daniel told me at lunch that he thought the rock floated in AIR and why couldn’t I have brought a rock that could do that?

Of course, these are misinterpretations that I know about, but how many times did I send my intended message only to have it be received very differently, unbeknownst to me? As teachers, we often feel that we’ve done our part by presenting our intended message to our students – here’s how to find the product of two 2-digit numbers, this is the reason Eleanor Roosevelt is famous, here’s the difference between a subject and a predicate. As educators, though, shouldn’t we do more? It seems to me to be the difference between someone who “teaches curriculum” and one who “teaches students”. The latter requires that we be constantly tuned in to our message as we give it, and be ready to adjust it or clarify at a moment’s notice. It’s something I aspire to, and hope to learn to do better.

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