Getting students to talk constructively about science concepts beyond, “Yeah, that’s cool!” can be quite difficult. One could argue that perhaps social media conversations have trained our students to talk in code and quick texts – and not very deeply. We need to shift this paradigm and begin reteaching interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills in a way that promotes higher-level, critical thought.
In addition, students need to extend their communication skills to writing about science ideas. Traditionally, scientists and engineers communicate their ideas through various modes – for example, emails, papers, academic journal articles, or more intense grant applications. Developing strong argumentative writing skills can carry students into a large number of careers beyond just those related to science.
As teachers, we know the development of fundamental communication skills in listening, speaking, and writing is critical for our students. In science, it requires effective social skills and collaboration techniques as they work within design groups, discussing trends based on collective data, and providing feedback to team members.
Writing in Science
Selecting the right science program that helps students improve their communication skills is imperative. There should be ample experiences for students to practice and apply argumentative responses, create and defend research documents based on solid data, and articulate design plans for lab explorations.
Student-Led Conversations and Collaborative Feedback
When students are placed into an environment where they can have productive conversations with their peers, they learn to collaborate, receive and respond to key issues of a topic, and collectively become visionary thinkers. Student-led conversations contribute to Social and Emotional Learning as students make their case, use questions and evidence to support their ideas, and respect the perspectives of others. Students will learn their ideas matter and are worth considering. Most importantly, students establish strong work ethics and create positive relationships with their peers.
Prep Your Students for Presentations
Sometimes gentle reminders of speaking and listening etiquette are a good idea. Remember today’s students are Snap Chat, Instagram, and TikTok conversationalists. We have to teach them new habits of interpersonal and intrapersonal communication techniques.
Suggest to your student presenters to:
- Think before they speak! What do they really want to say?
- Annunciate, speak clearly, and loud enough for everyone to hear.
- Be clear on the topic. Use appropriate words that relate to the topic.
- Make sure ideas and opinions are supported by examples and evidence.
- Give your peers credit for their ideas and share how they relate to your presentation.
Share with the listeners:
- Listen closely to the details.
- Recognize interesting ideas with a nod. Don’t interrupt with vocal response, whistles, or other noise.
- Politely ask the speaker to speak up if you cannot hear by raising your hand.
- Don’t interrupt. Wait for the speaker to finish before you begin to, ask questions or make comments.
- Think about your questions and write them down during the presentation. Wait for your turn to speak to ask them.
Tips to Provide Constructive Feedback
While coaching and evaluating your students during their presentations, model constructive feedback to familiarize students with appropriate phrases or sentence stems.
- I thought I heard you say…is that what you meant?
- I am not sure I understand, can you provide another example perhaps?
- What would happen if…?
- How did you come to that conclusion? Can you walk me through it?
- The first time I did…, I forgot to do…, Is it possible you may have done the same?
- Your results are interesting…Is there something you can change to double-check that the results are accurate?
Remember a chatty classroom is a learning classroom just as long as our students stay on topic! Enjoy the laughter, the challenging of ideas, and the excitement of the aha moments that come out of healthy communication. After all, these are future scientists and engineers in the making.