Nonverbals are a good deal. Though simple and free, they enliven teaching. Stephen Ceci, professor of psychology at Cornell University, proved this. He taught an identical course—same syllabus, lectures, audiovisual materials, assignments, text, and exams—to two different student groups. But in one class, he added what he called nonverbal expressiveness, a wider range of voice tone and more purposeful gestures.
And students in that class approved. In the end-of-term student evaluations, they rated Ceci’s class with an overall score significantly higher than the typical class (3.92/5 compared to 3.08/5). In fact, the rating in every category of the student evaluations improved. According the students in the nonverbal expressiveness class, Ceci knew more and was more organized. He was also fairer in grading, and even his textbook was of greater quality. But the biggest difference was in how the students perceived Ceci’s accessibility. The typical class rated him at 2.99. But the students who benefited from nonverbal expressiveness gave him a score of 4.06.
When he gestured, students in Ceci’s experimental class got to see meaning, not just hear it. And, as the tones in Ceci’s voice varied, they felt emotion behind the content. No wonder, these students were drawn further into Ceci’s class than the students in his typical class. With his gestures and voice expressions, he had recruited more parts of their brains into the learning process. He had engaged a powerful synergy of body, mind, and emotion.
Some teachers do all this just being themselves. But others of us need to learn how to show students the passions we hold inside. What gestures are helpful? And how can voice be varied to good effect? Watch for further posts.