Think back to the last time you were travelling on an aeroplane. Over the PA system you most certainly heard messages by the crew about safety, refreshments and flight updates. These announcements were given by the captain or the cabin crew and our interest is in the differences of their voice pitches.
At the beginning of the flight one of the cabin crew welcomed you on board, reminded you to use the seat belt and went on to issue instructions about emergency procedure. Once airborne the same voice invited you to relax and choose what you wanted to have for lunch. All this was performed in a similar voice tone which was high-pitched, with few pauses, wavy and ascended at the end. It sounded as if the speaker was asking a stream of questions instead of informing. The voice was pleasant, cheery and friendly. This is the approachable voice tone.
In the middle of the flight the captain addressed the passengers. He wanted to give you some updates on speed, distances, the route, arrival times and the weather at destination He had a gruffer voice than the purser who spoke earlier. It sounds low-pitched, flat, drops at the end and has many pauses. This is the credible voice.
Now imagine exchanging the voices between cabin crew and pilot. The former would sound almost military when instructing you on safety measures with that flat voice. The pauses would reinforce the authoritarian effect and passengers would not be breathing easily. In fact it would be an upsetting experience.
On the other hand a pilot with an approachable voice would not sound self-confident as if he didn't know exactly where he was going or how to get there, despite the cheery tone. Passengers would feel ill at ease. It is not only necessary to use both voices on the aircraft but also to use them for the correct purpose.
As teachers we can make use of these tones as management tools in class, providing we use them in a timely manner. So what are the proper times for the use of a more credible or more approachable voice in group settings?
A study by Anderson and Klofstad has found that the masculine voice is preferred by most people for leadership, including women leaders. This male voice uses the credible tone. There is an insightful illustration of this clip from the film 'The Iron Lady' about Margaret Thatcher, a UK prime minister, who took voice tone lessons in order to appear more credible to voters. She also appeared stronger, hence the nickname of iron lady.
The implications for teachers is that if we want to send a clear message to pupils when setting homework, instructing the class to settle or transitioning from individual work back to teacher-centred then we ought to use a credible voice. It is flat, paused and drops at the end of the sentence. It indicates one-way information, not discussion, and is near the discipline end of the credible/approachable spectrum. That is, disciplinary measures will be used on those whose homework is not handed in or those who refuse to settle down at the outset of class. It is a clear instructing voice which also sends a warning in the form of preventative discipline. When the credible voice is accompanied by the credible look, explained above, the effect is doubled.
On the other hand, the approachable voice tone is useful in class when the teacher wants the group to participate in answering questions, discussing and brainstorming. It may come, after giving instructions, in the form of “Any questions?” to ensure pupils have understood what is required. Listen in your mind's ear to the natural openness of this question. It is pronounced with a ripple effect and ends on a high note. To endorse the message unmistakeably use it together with the approachable look described in the previous session.
Until now you have read about non-verbals in the visual and auditory spheres. However, auditory also covers what is said as well as how you say it. Language is a means of representing reality to ourselves and our choice of words can support positive management or provoke mismanagement.
Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar revealed that we configure our reality linguistically using three primary sources: Generalisation, Distortion and Suppression. The importance for teachers is that someone may disrupt the class and depress the positive relationship you are working to build by voicing statements couched in these ways. It is of even more importance that the teacher have a quick reply at the ready in order to manage this disruption. The interruption has distracted the class from your agenda and your goal is to obviate the distraction and refocus attention on the lesson. You do this by managing the verbal behaviour, not the person, thereby maintaining the relationship.
Generalisation is a broad statement which affirms that what is true some of the time is actually true all of the time. It is in vogue particularly in political statements like “Everyone knows...” which is not a truth but an induced belief. The aim is to appeal to group-think or feel an outsider if you don't agree with what 'everyone' accepts. As educators we have the opportunity to help our pupils think more precisely.
Notice that your goal is not to engage in a discussion but to get back on task. When you ask the reply question you throw the speaker back on his own resources and they turn inside to find the answer. You then take advantage of this slight lull to smartly refocus class attention on the subject content.
Distortion is about expressing inaccuracy. We process our sensory experience as a misrepresentation. Imagining ghosts, putting things off for tomorrow or not interpreting properly what others said are examples of how we distort reality. Leaders can also use distortions to outline a glowing future.
As with generalisations you may not always hear distorted interjections expressed in front of the group but from individuals when you are overseeing task work. It is just as important to rapidly give the pupil something to think about before refocusing on the task. You are instilling doubt as to their expressed misrepresentations and thus helping them to think straighter. Here are some examples with possible replies:
Suppression is a form of selection.
The brain is asked to process extreme quantities of information minute by
minute and so filters what it is going to pay attention to and what not. We
tend to focus on what appears as the most important items in one specific ti
Notice that the response “Why” is to be avoided since it evokes a sense of the need for justification which may appear as a personal attack. Teachers are not engaging in a verbal battle with their pupils when responding but inviting them to improve their thinking on some point. They are not managing the person, but the verbal behaviour.
The useful responses can be summed up as:
How do you know?
Here are some examples of expressions of generalisation, distortion and suppression you may hear in class. Practise your quick response to each of them.
To grasp this concept please follow this instruction: “Don't think of a pink elephant!” Remember to actually do this: “Don't think of a pink elephant!”
What are you thinking of : a pink elephant? Well, that is completely the opposite of what you were asked to do. So how did that happen?
It seems that the brain cannot process negative statements like the one you just tried to handle so what it does is think of the affirmative form then delete it. The mental process goes something like this: picture a pink elephant then scrub it out.
Positive communication means couching your language in the affirmative. Instead of saying, “Do not scribble on the desk, please!” say, “Write in your notebook!” Instead of bawling out, “Don't shout!” say more softly, “Bring the volume down!” accompanied by a gesture of turning the volume knob down. We are used to seeing signs with “Don't” on them so using negative phrasing comes naturally. However more brain-friendly communication suggests using verbs in the affirmative.
There is a story of two schools whose pupils were careless about tidiness. The two staffs decided to start a campaign to tidy up their establishments. One school reprimanded their pupils on several occasions about how dirty the school was because they had no manners and dropped trash everywhere. The aim was to shame the pupils into tidiness. The other school put out the message that a clean and tidy establishment reflected well on the pupils themselves, thus reflecting cleanliness back on those who tidied up litter. Needless to say the second school achieved its aim of less littering while the other made no progress.
The lesson for teachers in classrooms is to focus positively on what you want, not what you don't want. If you focus on misbehavers, what you don't want, you are directing the group's attention to misbehaving. Direct attention to what you want by encouraging group actions that you approve of. Praising individuals in teenage groups is a delicate decision since you may single them out as pet students in the eyes of their peers so it is recommended rather to praise the group, discretely. Remember that you get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.
Positive communication also relies on the placebo effect. In one study in 2001 researchers found that patients with Parkinson's disease given a placebo released a brain chemical called dopamine, in the same manner as the brain exposed to an active drug would do. Class groups who are encouraged will rise to the level expected from them. This is supported by a famous study done by Rosenthal and Jacobson and know as the Pygmalion effect. They selected a group of students and divided them arbitrarily into two subgroups. They then told the teacher of group one that these were bright children and he should expect them to perform well academically. The second group were allotted to a teacher who was told to expect little from the group who were under-average achievers. When tested at the end of the year the groups' achievements matched the expectations of their teachers. The researchers concluded that their teachers' expectations of their pupils were a self-fulfilling prophecy. In short class groups attain the level, not of their actual ability, but of the expectations of their teachers. (The downside is that when the teacher has low expectations the group will lower its achievement.)
Positive communication takes on a new light following this research. It means that teachers have the duty to expect the highest from their pupils so as to bring out the best in them.
James Gorman writing in a 1993 New York Times<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> article described a language phenomenon which he had noticed in his university students. It was a way of speaking that always ended in a rising tone. Listen to an example.
It was as if all his students were continually asking questions. The only problem was that they were statements not questions. He noticed it particularly in telephone messages “Hello? Professor Gorman? This is Albert? From feature writing?” He coined a word for it: uptalk.
This way of speaking in which the voice rises at the end is, of course, very similar to the approachable voice used by the friendly cabin crew on flights. The problem for teachers is that if that is the only tone used in class then it is highly probable that they will mismanage at some point. That is, they will send an erroneous non-verbal message which pupils will interpret as participative when in fact the teacher may be issuing an instruction. The voice tone which rises at the end invites participation, not obedience to instructions. Thus when you set the group homework in an approachable voice some may not comply because the instruction sounds optional. Over a period of time your mismanagement will confuse the pupils and you will lose their trust. Remind yourself that the core of these management techniques is using non-verbal communication to establish a trusting relationship with the group.
This section on auditory presentation started out analysing non-verbals such as voice tones and ended up on verbal content. It is useful for the teacher to employ these two elements of voice use in a separate fashion in class: use your voice for content and your voice tone for management.
There is a researcher at MIT called Sandy Pentland whose has built a wearable apparatus which he named a 'sociometer'. His intention is to be able to measure and predict people's reactions using feedback signals from their voice tones. His team was called in to help when a call centre in Inverness was receiving too many customer complaints. By using sociometers to capture the voice pitch and tone of the operators the researchers were soon able to predict the success or failure of each call. It appeared that operators who listened more and used sing song voices were better able to sell products to the customers, improving sales performance by 20%. Operator who spoke with little fluctuation were viewed as too pushy and so made less sales.<![if !supportFootnotes]>
The two basic voice tones that Pentland detects with his software describe what we know as approachability and credibility: the wavy as opposed to the flat tone. Neither, of course, is better in the classroom. The charismatic teacher uses both voices depending on the different situations. The teacher can also be attentive to these tone distinctions when managing on task work. When groups are working at a task you can detect in the overall class voice tone when it is time to transition to teacher-centred work. If the voices are generally flat the pupils are on task; if you hear wavy voices they are socialising. In the second situation you can conclude that the task is finished and it is time to recentre attention on you.
Learners with an auditory preference tend to have spelling problems because they rely on their ear to elicit how a word is spelt. This is particularly problematic in English since the way a word is written and how it sounds can be very different. (Think of the sounds of 'though', 'through', 'tough', 'thought'. They are spelt similarly, but pronounced completely differently.)
The most successful spellers use a visual technique so that they can actually check the spelling in their mind's eye. They can visualise the written word. Auditory spellers use a phonetic technique and hear the word in their ear. This means they cannot check how it is written and so often spell it incorrectly.
To enable auditory spellers to be come more proficient Robert Dilts has proposed a strategy to turn them into visual spellers. His aim is to teach the strategies that come naturally to visual spellers to those who using auditory techniques. The strategy is outlined here:
Auditory learners' preferences
Auditory learners tend to speak and read slowly and explain well. They are natural listeners and have a tendency to repeat things aloud. Their thinking is linear which suits them for the school system. They prefer to hear rather than read information. Image summary of auditory learners' preferences