3 ways to improve classroom dialogue to decrease Transactional Distance

Transactional Distance gives us an answer to the question: why is instructing students so hard? 

There exists a psychological disconnection between the teacher and learner. Successful teaching and meaningful learning occurs when we bridge this gap.  The gap is defined as transactional distance or an area of interaction where confusion can arise.  There are three variables that an educator can control to decrease Transactional Distance: dialogue, structure, and learner autonomy. See the last post for more information regarding the rationale for our investigation.

As productive dialogue increases, transactional distance decreases.  Dialogue is more than talking.  It involves listening, responding, and conversing.  Productive dialogue is any interaction that leads to greater student understanding.

The Distance Learning Monthly Newsletter will thoroughly discuss the impact of dialogue on Transactional Distance in TV teaching. This article applies the idea to a traditional setting.  The goal is to deepen dialogue to make it more productive.

1.  Feelings, nothing more than feelings…
Emotion in education is a hot topic.  The brain uses emotion to navigate social aspects of an environment.  An instructor can use emotion to further engage their students in productive dialogue.  When speaking with a single student or whole class, emotion helps encourage a productive conversation and gives dialogue depth.

Using emotional vocabulary is a small change in our teacher strategy.  For example:

Usage of emotional words for your feelings:
“ I was sad to see our activity investigating metamorphic rocks end but I’m excited to get us started today on the rock cycle.”  Act sad and excited.

Vocabulary that invokes emotion to describe things:
“Last time we met, we learned of the murder of 13 year old Prince Alexei during the Russian Civil War.  We continue the story today discussing a creepy and strange individual by the name of Grigori Rasputin.” Emphasize murder, creepy, and strange.

Start by being cognizant about the impacts of emotion on conversation.

2.  Single out…without being intrusive
By paying specific attention to an individual student in a group of students, you give yourself the opportunity for productive discussion.  Try this:

You approach a group of students: “Jen, I like the way you grouped these two sample as igneous rocks.  Do you have any questions about your other samples”

This does two things.  First, it initiates necessary teacher-Jen exchange.  Second, Jen feels responded-to rather than singled out.

3.  Change your personality
Seriously, change your personality.  Become bubbly, warm, and open.  Exceptional teachers comment that their most important characteristic is their personality.  Their students like them, and for that reason, they learn.  Transactional Distance is small for students who enjoy their instructor.  Eliminate friction by keeping your bad days to yourself.  You don’t want to talk to someone in a sour mood and neither do your students.

To summarize:
As emotion increases, connectedness increases. As connectedness increases, transactional distance decreases.

Singling out a student for conversation does not have to be intrusive.  Prioritize creating opportunity for productive dialogue.

Your personality affects them more than you think.  Decrease transactional distance by making an effort to be more approachable and open to conversation.

If nothing else: realize that when you converse productively with a student, you are decrease transactional distance

Thanks for reading.

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