The Power of Verbal and Non-Verbal Behavior

In the article Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity, Jordan and McDaniel (in press) explore how peer interaction influence the ways in which students manage uncertainty. The authors explain how “communication is the primary means by which individuals cope with uncertainty.” (Jordan & McDaniel, in press)

The study on managing uncertainty was conducted with 24 fifth graders who represented the demographics of the school. The research involved three collaborative robotics-engineering projects throughout the school year. The researchers chose to focus on robotics and engineering because “learning to participate in engineering practices is one context in which uncertainty is particularly relevant.” (Jordan & McDaniel, in press, p. 4)

This year, I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development with pre-service teachers to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the classroom. During this professional development we collaboratively engaged in an ill-structured engineering project that focused on building wind turbines. My group consisted of three teachers and one pre-service teacher. I experienced uncertainty during this group project. I was unfamiliar with the tools we were using along with the math and science concepts needed to develop the wind turbine. Reflecting back on the project and the interactions of our small group, the pre-service teacher was willing to take the most risks in communicating strategies to manage uncertainty, which positively supported the development of our wind turbine and our new learning during the professional development. Jordan and McDaniel remind us that “involving students in active struggle can be productive for learning.” (in press)

The authors used a variety of methods to collect data on uncertainty and uncertainty management. They thoroughly explain how they collected data and how they refined their collection of data from Project A to Project C. As a future researcher, I really appreciated the deep insight into what methods the authors used to collect the data and why they chose those methods. I was especially interested in the transcript examples throughout the article and how the authors paid special attention to verbal and non-verbal behavior in both the transcripts and the video. The authors also explained how the data sources were not used in silos. They describe how analysis of one source of data would lead them to go back and analyze another data source. The data collection section of this article was beneficial because the authors listed questions they asked themselves during the data collection process and described how they networked with other experts in the field.

Through the analysis of data, Jordan and McDaniel found that “students’ success at managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving was dependent on the willingness and ability of their peer collaborators to respond supportively.” (in press, p. 26) The authors also developed an easy to read flow chart to support their findings visually. (Jordan and McDaniel, in press, p. 33) As a doctoral student, I feel that I can learn a lot from these findings. I am constantly in a state of uncertainty in exploring new content and unfamiliar tasks. I believe as a doctoral cohort, we have already started taking risks within our community in managing uncertainty and responding respectfully and supportively. This article reaffirms the influence of our verbal and non-verbal communication within our communities of practice and I want to be mindful that my words and non-verbal behavior are supportive and productive.



Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi:10.1080/10508406.2014.896254