Critical communication skills

I’ve been thinking about what skills people need to communicate well verbally besides such things as are generally in the syllabi for English composition/ELA classes. (I’m using I am verbal to mean both written and oral words.)

I’ve only come up with a few that I don’t think are study topics in those classes but which seem to be very important. They are the ability to:

  • Recognize when language is being used figuratively.
  • Recognize when the change of a word’s function signals a change in its meaning.
  • Craft an analogy to explain a complex idea.
  • Build a list of three or more items using parallel structure.
  • Condense a complex concept or process into a fraction of its original length without changing its essential meaning.

Can you suggest other communications skills that ought to be on my list?

Boys need help to see patterns

Boys generally are less verbal than girls. Tests find—and educators confirm—that boys lag far behind girls in writing skills.

Veteran teachers (like me) say boys are less able to spot patterns in written material. That means their teachers need to be diligent about teaching pattern recognition in reading and teaching patterns for writing.

Boys also have less patience with verbal work than girls. They need quick feedback. That’s why they can spend hours on a video game but only 5 minutes on a writing assignment.

To teach all students successfully, employ teaching practices that don’t unduly favor verbal students, most of whom are female:

  • Simplify verbal directions.
  • Reduce complicated processes to a few  steps; if you can find or invent a mnemonic for the steps, use it.
  • Teach strategies, which are flexible patterns of behaviors for accomplishing various tasks.
  • Seize opportunities to have boys think about how patterns are useful in out-of-class activities; for example, why is third base always on the batter’s left and never on the batter’s right?  If you run out of ideas, do an online search for pattern recognition training and notice the different fields in which the term is important.
  • Have students describe or predict how writing/reading patterns can help them.
  • Get boys into writing quickly by giving writing prompts that include a thesis statement; spending too much time on any element obscures the overall pattern.

By consciously taking into consideration the differences in the ways boys and girls process verbal material, writing teachers can make keeping up with the girls a lot easier for boys.

[Portions of this post appeared in the August 2008 issue of Writing Points, ©2008 Linda G. Aragoni. Broken link removed 2014-11-29.]]