Building rapport in the language classroom

Of course, using humor in the classroom really helps to establish rapport.

Of course, using humor in the classroom really helps to establish rapport.

Establishing rapport is something that we spend a good deal of time talking about in K-12, but it is less frequently discussed in higher education settings.  At the college level, it can be difficult to prioritize building rapport when there is so much content to deliver with few contact hours.  But, as we know, building rapport is critically important. In fact, Young and Shaw (1999) said that students and teachers agree that "empathy with students needs" is one of the important factors that contributes to effective teaching. 

According to the IDEA Report to Faculty Members, the following four items combine to demonstrate what instructors do to build rapport.

# 1. Show students that they have a personal interest in their learning
# 2. Identify steps students can take to help them answer their own questions
# 7. Elaborate on the feedback given to students to explain ideas behind their criticisms of student academic work
#20. Invited interaction with students outside of class (office visits, phone calls, e-mail, etc.)

In Neil Flemming's IDEA Paper, Establishing Rapport: Personal Interactions and Learning he provides several valuable suggestions, many of which are actions language instructors probably already take to build rapport.  These include conducting a needs analysis, using pre-tests to determine prior knowledge, avoiding giving students the answers to questions directly, being explicit when giving negative feedback, allowing students to improve their grades on formative assessments, and meeting with students informally outside of class.

While many of these ideas are familiar, it is worthwhile for instructors to consider how they plan to build rapport before the first day of class.  Whitman (1987) suggests being "professionally intimate" to improve relationships with students.  There are a few simple steps that I think instructors can do to aid in developing these relationships.

1. Arrive early (at least 10 minutes) to class.

It's often a challenge on a large college campus to arrive early, especially if meetings, office hours, and other duties are scheduled around classes.  I set an alarm on my phone so that I can try to get out the door in order to arrive with enough time to both set up technology and do a some relationship building with my students. 

2. Use software, apps, or notecards to help remember student information.

One problem I have is that if I'm not careful, I can easily forget fun or useful information that students share with me.  My memory sometimes lapses when I'm chatting with students before class--most of my mental energy is devoted to anticipating the lesson.  I do listen to what my students share, but I have a hard time recalling it.  I think Evernote Hello could help me with this. It's an app that allows users to enter contact information and then add notes to remember important information about their contacts.

3. Track needs analysis results in a spreadsheet

Another way that I keep track of student interests and prior knowledge is by conducting a needs analysis.  If used correctly, this can work to show students that I have a personal interest in each individual's learning. (And I do!) The downside is, often after I collect the needs analyses, the results don't quite "sink in" with me because I don't know students well at the beginning of the semester.  This spring, I entered the results of the needs analysis in a spreadsheet so that I could more easily refer to them and remember student information.  This semester, I might try to streamline the process even more by using Google Forms to conduct the analyses so that I don't have to enter the data manually.

4. Connect with students informally with technology

It's worth mentioning that I have found using Twitter to be very helpful to build rapport with some students.  I think that they value having a way to connect with me outside of class, and it can be meaningful for them to see that I'm interested in seeing photos from a recent trip to Chicago or take the time to share extra learning materials with them.

There are endless ways to establish rapport--this is just a start.  What are some of the ways that you like to enhance learning by strengthening rapport between teacher and student?



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