Contributed by Julia Gabriel




Communication is the process we use to create or share meaning. We do this in conversation, through group interaction, by speaking to an audience, or presentation through auditory or visual media.

The communication process is complex because it includes the participants; the context (physical, social, historical, psychological or cultural) in which the communication takes place; the messages and their many forms; the sensory channels we use to send and receive verbal signals and non-verbal cues; any external or internal interference or noise present; and the feedback received. There is so much to master!

Communication in our Lives
Communication is at the heart of how we relate to one another. By nature we are social animals and need other people just as we need food, water and shelter. Talking with acquaintances, friends, family or colleagues meets the need to contact and connect with another person. Through our communication we enhance and maintain a sense of self, by learning who we are, what we are good at and how people react to us: We see ourselves through others. We communicate to fulfill social obligations (Hi! How are you? I'm fine thank you) and to develop relationships. Some may grow and deepen, while a lack of communication leads others to stagnate and drift away. Daily, we share countless exchanges that involve passing of information, and it's doubtful that a day goes by when we don't try to influence others, through convincing or persuading them, in communication.

We create the impression that we are competent communicators through the messages we send and the nonverbal behaviours that accompany them.

Recipe for Communication Competence
For children to become competent communicators they need three key ingredients:

" Motivation to communicate and the confidence to do so. This means unconditional acceptance of their right to speak and be heard, which creates positive self-esteem.
" Knowledge of self and awareness of others, and
" Skills, or goal-oriented actions, that they can master and repeat. The more they have, the more likely they are to be able to structure messages appropriately:

What are these skills?
1. Clarity of speech, or specific, concrete, precise words to help the listener picture our thoughts accurately
2. Command of language, and grasp of a range of registers of formal and informal usage, in thinking, speaking, listening, reading, writing and viewing
3. Politeness, or the ability to relate to others in ways that meet their need to be appreciated and protected
4. Empathy, or the ability to identify with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of others
5. Paraphrasing to enable us to reflect understanding of another person's message and discover the speaker's motivation
6. Perception checking skills to clarify the meaning of non-verbal behaviour
7. Access to emotions and ability to put an emotional state into words, to teach others how we would like to be treated
8. Assertiveness to be able to stand up for ourselves effectively, by exercising our personal rights, while respecting those of others
9. Ability to describe the basis of conflict to help others understand problems fully
10. Brainstorming skills to generate free exchange of ideas through an uncritical, non- evaluative process
11. Problem-solving skills to arrive at a conclusion about a fact, value question or policy question
12. Speech writing ability to create the exact response you want from an audience
13. Skills of research. evaluation, recording and reporting data
14. Enthusiasm; using voice and physical communication to show excitement and passion
15. Vocal expressiveness; using contrasts in pitch, pace, inflection, volume and tone quality to convey meaning
16. Spontaneity to enliven a repeated or rehearsed speech, so it is perceived as fresh and lively
17. Eye contact to strengthen interaction
18. Physical control and understanding of the use of physical energy in communication
19. Cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity

How Do Children Learn?

Research tells us that:
" Children learn actively, by doing, touching, experimenting, choosing, talking and negotiating (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1991). Relationships with adults determine their social, emotional, language and cognitive development (Vygotsky 1978).
" Children need collaboration, support, reflection, instruction, modeling, direction and co-construction of meaning from the adults around them (Berk and Winsler, 1995). In other words children need adults to "scaffold" the learning, helping children to work it out for themselves.


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