The Importance of Eye Contact in the

The Importance of Eye Contact in the
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The Importance of Eye Contact in the
Robert Ledbury, lan White and Steve Darn
steve.darn [at]
Izmir University of Economies (Izmir, Turkey)
Teachers often complain about discipline, about lack of attention, about the use of L2 in the classroom and
many other problems, many of which amount to a breakdown in communication between teacher and
students or between students themselves. It is well known that speech is only one part of communication,
yet teachers often forget about or underestimate the importance of non-verbal communication in their own
and their students’ performance. One aspect of non-verbal communication is the use of the eyes to convey
messages. The eyes are a powerful tool for both the teacher and the learner, yet much classroom time is
spent with eyes firmly fixed on the book, the board, the floor, the window, or roaming randomly around the
teaching and learning environment.
Teachers working in all disciplines in secondary schools have always been advised to develop 'the look’ as
part of their teaching persona. The look’ ranges from 'be quiet please’, through I'm not going to tell you
again' to 'don't mess with me, sonny’, and in this respect is seen as having a disciplinary function.
Meanwhile, the business world has accepted eye contact as an important component of achieving success In
oiving presentations and improving rapport between representative and client, while these days it is possible
to find many websites offering advice on how to forge personal relationships through the judicious use of
eye contact. Researchers and practitioners in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) have brought the notion
of body language and eye contact back to the attention of language teachers, but largely in the context of
providing clues to the nature of the learner rather than in terms of a teaching tool. We have recently had the
pleasure of observing English language classes at the Izmir University of Economics, and have seen a lot of
pairs of eyes performing a lot of functions.
Here are some of the things that we have been reminded of or learnt anew:
e The look’ still works. but don't overdo it or you will become a caricature of yourself,
e Establishing a management role in the classroom involves eye contact from the outset. Be In your
classroom before your learners, and welcome them individually with a combination of eye contact and
their name as they enter the room.
e Talk to your learners, not to the book, the board or the screen.
e Eyes can set the tone of a lesson. As the lesson starts, walk around the room looking to check whether
the learners are ready -- books out, pens and paper handy, mobile phones off. If not, eye contact
should suffice to rectify the situation.
e Try teaching part of a lesson without saying anything. This should remind you of how important
paralinguistics is as well as helping to control your teacher talking time.
e Good eye contact does not mean staring or gazing. Many learners are likely to find this uncomfortable
and consequently avert their own eyes and lose concentration.
e Neither does good eye contact mean eyes darting from leamer to learner around the room — this has
no effect whatsoever. It is recommended that there should be three to five seconds eye contact for
non-verbal communication to take place.
Watch your learners as well as listen to them, particularly while they are performing tasks. Look for
signs of being bored or being lost.
Encourage your learners to make eye contact while they are working logether in pairs or groups. Start
by training them to listen to each other using non-verbal responses only.
Research shows that there 1s a strong link between the amount of eye contact people receive and their
degree of participation in group communication -- in the number of turns taken in à group
conversation for example.
The NLP approach to eye contact is holistic and individualistic, but is soundly based on the premise
that good eye contact increases rapport.
save time and effort with specific messages delivered by eye and facial expression. Show praise,
encouragement often, and disapproval occasionally. Remind learners that they ought to know an
answer or that they could provide a response if they tried.
Use eye contact as a correction technique.
e Nominate and mvite responses by eye. If the nominee is not watching, someone will give him/her a
Eye contact is, fundamentally, time and effort saving.
Much of the above is likely to seem transparently obvious, only natural, and an aspect of human behaviour
either innate or developed over time. But watch yourself, watch your colleagues, and watch your leamers!
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 8, August 2004
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