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Body Language and Expectation in Furthering Assumptions

nina0404's picture

In my time in class and at my field placement I have discovered what has been most interesting to me is the interaction between student and teacher and the unspoken structure and relationship in the classroom. What I didn’t notice until the editing of this paper was the subliminal use of language, body language, and expectation that creates an interpretation and characterization of a classroom.

            In my first day at the field placement my notes had a lot of interpretation that followed what we discussed as “note-making”. In class when we discovered the difference of note-taking and note-making I looked back at my notes and realized I passed a lot of judgments that I assumed were objective observations. I observe two different class periods in my time at my placement.  Each class has different characteristics but the way I described them was very subjective to “normal” class assumptions. The following is a summarization of what my notes described:

The first period was a relatively well-behaved class. Most students listen to Mr. D without interruption and side conversations were short and always students refocused on the teacher. The students are “good” in that they listen to their teachers and are engaged in the lecture. Often students would bring in real life examples from their home or community when discussing the bill of rights and the teacher would engage by helping students analyze their experiences. Students also engaged in these discussions with each other using the teacher as a facilitator. They respect the teacher through their attention and engagement of the material.

The second period is more rowdy than the first. They have many side conversations and often require the teacher to point them out in order to stop. This class is less engaged in the material than the first and don’t engage in many conversations with each other and the teacher that allow for further expansion. Students are often leaning back on chairs and balancing them as well as picking up their desks and banging them lightly on the floor. The teacher has to enforce behavior more, though it is not a very high level compared to other situations I have seen. They respect the authority of the teacher but have less for the material.

After realizing that this was some serious note-making I reflected and decided to try and observe what had made me judge these students in this way. The next time I went to my placement the students were presenting their Amendment projects. I asked Mr. D in the time before class started how the student’s school day went and if they rotated classes with the same students or were mixed? I learned that most groups of students were separated by level with some identified as honors students and the others as regular. I also learned that the first period I observed was an honors group and the second was not.

            When class started Mr. D handed me a rubric and the presentations began. For both periods the rubrics were the same. What I noticed was the way in which Mr. D interacted with both groups of students was different. In the first period, he held all students to the standards of the rubric. Each pair had to explain the amendment and its importance, and give three judicial court case examples of where it was being used. Every group I saw had three cases. In the second period I noticed that every group had two cases instead of the assigned three except for one which only had one case. It wasn’t until Mr. D asked that particular group about why they only had one. He stated “remember that you had to give at least two case examples”. Here is where I saw the difference in expectation between the two periods. Unlike the first period where Mr. D held the students to the rubric, he lowered the work standard in the second period. As an observer I interpret this as expecting less and believing the students are less capable.

            The second difference I saw was that in the first period Mr. D allowed the students to proceed with their presentation, for the most part, uninterrupted. When he would comment or ask questions he would stay seated at his desk on the outside of the desk. Mainly in the first period the students had the floor to present, pose questions, and create short discussions. In the second period it was immediate that Mr. D would have more control for this class. He interrupted more to add points of information and explain the meaning of things. Also for about sixty percent of the time he spoke he would move away from his desk to the center of the room. This difference gave off, at least to me, more authority and command of the room where rather than in the first period he almost fully gave the floor to the students.

            While I am interested if the students observe this among all their teachers, I am most fascinated how the teacher’s body language and expectations of the class impacted the way I looked at the students. Mr. D has a more authoritative presence in this second period. He is quicker to shut down side conversations as well as interject fact and interpretation. In turn when I first observed these two classes I judged the first period as somehow better and that’s because of these subtle ways the teacher treated the class.

            We spoke on how language itself can empower and create agency in students, but in what way does our body language and expectations of student do the same as well as portray to others what we think students are capable of. When going into center city schools or schools with a big  population of minority or poor students we have been conditioned through expectation and others actions that we must present ourselves a certain way and expect from them a certain behavior and level of achievement. These actions on our part present to others that these assumptions are true and then we judge these students based on pre-conceived assumptions that appear true as the teacher has adopted a certain structure that is unwittingly presenting the students as “bad” or “rowdy” or even “less-capable” when in fact these students are following our lead.