Research Paper: Teacher Perceptions of Student Achievement Based on Student Appearance

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Teacher Perceptions of Student Achievement Based on Appearance

Perception is around us at all times; it was integral in our evolutionary behavior from ape to man; it allowed us to make judgments based on values, prior knowledge, and cultural norms. Perception is really two types of consciousness: phenomenal (observable) and psychological. However, the reality is that both types are often subjective. We may observe something and take away a variety of messages that may or may not be correct about the event; or psychologically, we may have such a bundle of preconceptions that we are unable to get past the historical and act on the present and potential. Our cognitive selves, though, have evolved to make these judgments and search for ways to categorize new objects, people, trends, and behaviors in ways that make sense to our minds and our ability to understand and relate to the newer stimuli (Chalmers, 1997, 25-6).

This is nowhere as evident, and important, as it is regarding the relationship between teacher and student at all levels. For at least fifty years we have known, researched, and debated the way that teacher perceptions of students often bias their learning, that teacher predictions of academic success has a strong correlation to classroom participation and test scores, and more than we thought -- a contributor to the student's own self-identification and actualization process within the classroom (Dusek, 1975). Thus, we will review those clues that provide teachers with ways to evaluate students and what contributes to those evaluations: nonverbal behavior, appearance, attitude, ethnicity, and even prior knowledge.

Non-Verbal Communication - the focal point of perceptions of students and their appearance on their abilities and intellectual level has numerous templates. Certainly outward dress, jewelry, hair style, etc. but, more of the way people are perceived is noted in a combination of those tangible items with the way humans, and therefore students of all ages, communicate messages -- some subtle, some not -- through non- verbal communication.

How we as humans dress communicates a message just as powerfully as oration. Our mannerisms, choice of colors, shapes, etc. all form a part of sending a message to the world. This is called nonverbal communication, and is a part of the process of interpersonal communication that sends messages without using words or phrases. It uses body posture, facial expressions, hand and arm gestures, posture, and even eye contact. For humans it also uses objects that we use culturally: clothing, jewelry, hairstyles and combinations of ways we present ourselves (e.g. using certain jewelry to communicate affluence, or a particular style of glasses to show "hipness," etc.). With speech, we can use rhythm, tone, timbre, style, or emotion to emphasize a message as well. Much of the study of nonverbal communication though is categorized into three major templates: the particular environment, the physical characteristics of the communicators, and the behaviors of those communicators as they interact (Knapp and Hall 2007, 7). In fact, the first scholarly study of nonverbal communication was done in 1872 by Charles Darwin, who argued that animals, too, show emotion and communication in their facial expressions (Darwin 2009).

Nonverbal communication is also culturally based -- expressions taught in childhood in one culture could be offensive in another, or the opposite. It is thus an area of study that focuses on numerous disciplines: sociology, anthropology, psychology, communications, art, music, criminology, etc. As part of the human communication paradgim, nonverbal comunication often defines the communication process by providing a basic template for message. It can also regulate regular verbal communication and provide clues and emphasis -- signals that the listner understands almost implicitly. By the same token, the person communicating looks for signals from the audience -- whether they are bored, interested, antagonistic, or sympathetic (Verckens 2003).

Relationship Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication -- Social psychologist Paul Ekman is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relationship to expressions and nonverbal communication. He believes there are at least six different ways in which verbal and nonverbal communications relate: repeat/enhance, contradict, complement, accent, substitute, and regulate (See below):

Issue

Definition

Comments

Substitute

Use nonverbal instead of verbal

Shaking one's head rather than answering yes or no

Repetition

Use nonverbal and verbal at the same time

Saying "no" and shaking head side to side

Contradict

Opposite meanings

Someone might say, "this will be fun" yet display a facial expression of disgust- this is sarcasm; words are positive, nonverbal communication is negative

Complient

Enhance or emphasize

Someone very tired or worn out might say "I've had a bad day," white simultaneously slumping in posture and looking sad or tired

Accent

Emphasize a part of the conversation or issue

Someone might say, "It was really smooth," while mimicing the smoothness with hands and voice tone

Regulation

Using nonverbal clues to regulate speed, depth, and intensity of communication

Nodding, smiling, looking away, etc.

Source: (Ekman 2007).

Another interesting facet of nonverbal communication is that while verbal communication is more overt, non-verbal is less controllable, and therefore, more honest and truthful. Speaking usually means that some sort of audible or visual message is available and is the target of communication. Once this is written or recorded, it can be used to discuss, reinvent, comment, etc. Nonverbal communication, however, is an impression made and often clues given without the speaker even realizing. These clues, though, are powerful enough to remain with the audience long after the message was sent. This, of course, is particularly true with politicians, performers, and even news reporters (Depaulo 1996).

Nonverbal Macro Signals - Nonverbal communication is extremely important in public speaking, the media, and interpersonal issues that focus on business relationships. While radio can disguise much by just using voice, public speaking and television cannot. This is especially true in news casting, where the way something is said, and the appearance and body posture, etc. Of the anchor or reporter, often communicates more than the message themselves. It is certainly true that how one acts in front of the camera is as important, if not more, than what text is read (Calero 2005). In the popular press, this is especially true within newscasts in which the reporter has just a few moments to communicate the appropriate message. Humans make decisions, usually subconsciously, very quickly -- and when an audience looks at a public figure or newscaster, they "read" the way that person is looking, often translating this behavior into the way a person views their role, or the role of others, in the business world (Knapp and Hall 2005).

From the overall standpoint of what a population sees regarding non-verbal communication, two very clear, and famous, historical examples of this are etched in the annals of history. First, most historians believe that the primary reason John F. Kennedy won the Presidential Election was because of the non-verbal "poor body language" on the television debate with Richard Nixon in 1960 -- especially valid since radio audiences overwhelmingly voted that Nixon had won the debate. Nixon's body language was furtive, he was perspiring, he looked unshaven, and he did not look at the camera -- Kennedy, on the other hand, was jovial, looked at the camera just as if it were a real person, making the home audience trust and feel like he was talking directly to them (JFK vs. Nixon - the 1960 Debates 1960; 1960: The Road to Camelot 2004. The second famous example was in 1963 when the CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, reported to the nation that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. Cronkite had his jacket off, was visibly distressed, and even choked up and had tears in his eyes. Ratings soared for CBS, and even later, people saw Cronkite as a credible, emotionally vested, "real" person who actually cared about the news rather than just reporting (Cronkite 1963).

In the contemporary world, people make even more snap judgments about the credibility of the news based on the appearance of the newscaster. Witness, the Dan Rather and Peter Jennings reports on the Gulf War with both in flak jackets, desert attire, and posed so that the audience saw shooting and the reality of the war behind them (News 1991; Brokaw 2006). Similarly, rather than viewing the actual verbiage from many female reporters, audiences watch what they wear (cannot be do fancy, too contemporary, and must portray a calm professionalism), with their tasteful jewelry, pert but basic hairstyle, and minimalist make-up; coupled with the direction of maintaining non-verbal sincerity above all. For example, Leslie Stahl, Katie Couric, Connie Chung, and others (See: Connie Chung - U.S. Broadcast Journalist 2010; Kurtz 2008).

What is clear, based on these, and other examples, is that within the news profession, non-verbal clues; posture, eye contact, grooming, demeanor, etc. are critical. However, we cannot minimize how the external focus of nonverbal communication impacts the internal -- day-to-day activities with colleagues, teachers, students, etc. The signals given in non-verbal communication are also found to be key in interview situations, from both sides of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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