ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
Digest focuses on verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors
in the college classroom. The Digest reviews research on the
kinds of behaviors instructors (many of whom are graduate teaching
assistants) exhibit, and students' reactions to and attitudes
about those behaviors.
or worse, in most large colleges and universities graduate teaching
assistants (GTAs) teach many of the introductory courses in
a wide variety of academic disciplines. Administrators of academic
departments which hire the GTAs often assume that the GTAs know
both what to teach and how best to teach it. Most GTAs, however,
enter graduate school with no teaching experience, and in many
universities, they receive only the most cursory teacher training.
Investigating how these instructors communicate with students
and what students need and expect from the classroom communication
environment may help in designing effective training programs
and make GTAs and students more aware of the importance of classroom
Perceptions of GTAs
that little is known about how GTAs are perceived and evaluated
by students, Buerkel-Rothfuss and Fink (1993) sought to identify factors which influence
the degree to which GTAs can meet their students' expectations
and to identify those areas where GTA trainer and course directors
might focus their energies to best enhance training. In general,
undergraduate students indicated no strong preference for regular
faculty versus GTAs; they viewed GTAs as being as effective
and as deserving of respect as regular faculty. Students perceived
GTAs as being somewhat more friendly, more creative, and more
to Butland and Beebe (1992), "teacher immediacy" in the classroom (verbal and
nonverbal communication such as smiles, head nods, use of inclusive
language, and eye contact) is perhaps the most salient research
variable to emerge in instructional communication research in
the past two decades. Their research applied implicit communication
theory as a paradigm to explain the increased learning that
results from an instructor's use of immediate behaviors such
as offering praise or feedback on students' work, showing a
willingness and interest in talking with students, addressing
students by their first names, and employing inclusive pronouns
such as "our" class and what "we" must do. Nonverbal immediate
behaviors such as displaying vocal expressiveness, smiling,
relaxing body posture, and varied gestures and movements also
enhanced student learning by increasing students' liking for
the instructor primarily and subject matter secondarily.
of students' motivation to study and instructors' verbal and
nonverbal immediacy was investigated by Frymier (1993). Her research found that students beginning the semester with
either low or moderate motivation to study had increased motivation
to study after being exposed to a highly immediate instructor,
while students with a high level of motivation were unaffected
by their instructors' immediacy behaviors.
of Students and GTAs about Communication Behaviors
process of developing a scale for assessing the perceived communication
effectiveness of graduate teaching assistants, Daniel (1983a) asked students and GTAs to identify effective communication
behaviors. The behaviors were compiled into a scale that was
administered to undergraduate students. The findings suggested
that students perceived as effective those instructors who possessed
(1) organizational stability (answers questions clearly and
concisely, explains guidelines, and points out what is important
in each lesson); (2) instructional adaptability (shows interest
in student opinions); and (3) interpersonal flexibility (does
not put students down or interrupt them).
(1993) investigated the relationships between teaching style
and teaching attitude variables, as well as among gender groups,
teaching experience groups, and age groups. GTAs from all 32
departments in a midwestern university participated in the research.
Results indicated that 50% of the GTAs felt that the personality
of the instructor and interpersonal relationships with students
played significant roles in their teaching. In addition, between
60% and 80% of the GTAs rated friendliness, "communicator image,"
"impression leaving," attentiveness, and "animated" more positively
than other style variables.
of whether graduate teaching assistants in speech communication
were aware of the affective components of their classroom behavior
and of the student responses to them, and whether the instructors'
awareness of the affective dimensions of instruction related
to the student evaluative responses were examined in
O'Hair and Babich (1981). During the last week of a semester,
students were administered the Index of Teachers' Affective
Communication (ITAC). GTAs examined the ITAC and were asked
to predict what the mean student response would be for each
of the items on the measure. While most instructors scored well
on the ITAC according to their students, many of the GTAs were
unable to predict their scores.
attitudes about their GTAs differ depending on whether the GTA
is male or female, and whether the student is male or female.
An interpretation of gender differences in McDowell
(1993) indicates that males use the lecture method, a dominant
and precise style, more than females, while females feel more
committed to teaching and are more informal, friendly, and open
Daniel (1983b) collected data from over 1,000 students and 60 GTAs. Among
the conclusions were that female GTAs were rated more heavily
on their instructional adaptability and interpersonal inflexibility
than were males, and that female students tended to rate instructors
more on those same dimensions. Male instructors were rated more
on their organizational stability.
specificity of GTAs' language use was examined by
Murray (1993). Eight GTAs teaching a basic speech communication
course and seven GTAs teaching a basic history course participated.
The number of gender-specific examples used by the GTAs were
recorded and compared to the gender make-up of each class. The
GTAs adapted their examples to the classroom gender majority.
exist for instructors who want to improve their classroom communication
skills. The Speech Communication Association has published a
collection of essays concerning GTA supervision and training
for their discipline ("Preparing Teaching Assistants for Instructional
Roles: Supervising TAs in Communication" edited by Jody D. Nyquist
and Donald H. Wulff (1992)). Diamond (1983) focuses on improving lecture skills, including vocal aspects
of lecture delivery. Goodwin et al (1983) presents a guide to help instructors improve or reviews
their questioning skills.
For a representative
sample of material on training GTAs, see the annotated bibliography
Feezel and Venkatagiri (1990).
Nancy L. and Donn S. Fink (1993) "Student Perceptions of Teaching Assistants (TAs)," Basic Communication Course
Annual, Volume V, September 1993. Lawrence W. Hugenberg, Ed.
[CS 508 813]
Mark J. and Steven A. Beebe (1992). "A Study of the Application of Implicit Communication Theory to Teacher Immediacy
and Student Learning." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the International Communication Association (Miami). [ED
Arlie (1983a). "Development of a Perceived Communication Effectiveness Scale." Paper presented
at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association.
[ED 233 405]
(1983b). "A Demographic Analysis of Students and Their GTA Instructors." Paper presented
at the Annual Meeting of the Central States Speech Association
(Lincoln, NE). [ED 228 670]
Nancy A., et al (1983). "Improving Your Lecturing." Revised. [ED 285 498]
Jerry D. and Rama Venkatagiri (1990).
"Preparing Graduate Teaching Assistants: An Annotated Bibliography."
Annandale, VA: Speech Communication Association. [ED 355 584]
Ann Bainbridge (1993). "The Impact of Teacher Immediacy on Students' Motivation over the Course of a
Semester." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
Speech Communication Association (Miami Beach). [ED 367 020]
Stephanie S. et al (1983). "Effective Classroom Questioning." Office of Instructional and Management
Services, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois. [ED 285 497]
Earl E. (1993). "An
Exploratory Study of GTA's Attitudes toward Aspects of Teaching
and Teaching Style." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the Speech Communication Association (Miami Beach). [ED 370
Martin G., and Trudie K. Peterson. (1993).
"Diversity in the Classroom: Gender Related Examples." Paper
presented at the Joint Meeting of the Southern States Communication
Association/Central States Communication Association (Lexington).
[ED 361 785]
H. Dan, and Roger M. Babich (1981). "
The Evaluation and Prediction of Affective Response to Graduate
Teaching Assistants' Classroom Communication." Paper presented
at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association
(Anaheim). [ED 209 699].
This publication was prepared (Digest #102, EDO-CS-95-05, June
1995) with funding from the U.S. Department of Education under
contract number RR93002011, and published by the ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading, English and Communication.
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions
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