Evidence-Based Studies


In 2005, Tom Mucciolo joined the faculty of New York University in a part-time role as an educator and researcher. In collaboration with Dr. Leila Jahangiri, a two-year qualitative study of effective teacher/presenter characteristics yielded significant results.

From these findings, assessment tools have been created which measure the level of effectiveness of a presenter (or teacher, trainer, speaker, etc.) relative to specific audiences. For example, attendees at a seminar or conference have very different preferences from those involved a training sessions or hands-on workshops, or even from those attending colleges and universities. Therefore, certain sets of skills are more effective with different audiences.

In April, 2008, this research was published in the Journal of Dental Education, a peer-reviewed publication, and is made available here as a PDF file, reprinted with permission. While the article focuses on effective classroom teachers, the findings are applicable to all communicators in all speaking situations.

Characteristics of Effective Classroom Teachers as Identified by Students and Professionals: A Qualitative Study
Leila Jahangiri, D.M.D., M.M.Sc.; Thomas W. Mucciolo, B.B.A.,
Journal of Dental Education
, April 2008, Volume 72, Number 4, p 484-493

Reprinted by permission of Journal of Dental Education, Volume 72, Number 4, April 2008.
? 2008 by the American Dental Education Association.

NOTE: To view the above document, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader. (follow this link to download the latest version)

This qualitative research study identified criteria for teacher quality preferences as perceived by current and past students. A two-question, open-ended survey asking what qualities learners liked most and least in a teacher/presenter was given to two groups: students (Group A) from medicine, dentistry, and related residency programs; and dentists and physicians (Group B) who had graduated at least three years previously and who attended a minimum of two days of continuing education courses in lecture format each year.

A total of 300 subjects provided 2,295 written responses. Descriptive words within the responses were coded and grouped according to similar relationships, resulting in the emergence of twenty-one defined categories that were further refined into three core categories: personality, process, and performance.

Results showed that the two groups appear to have different preferences in teacher/presenter characteristics. For Group A (students), the categories of content design, content organization, and content development were at the forefront of their preferences. Group B (professionals) overwhelmingly favored elements of speaker self-confidence and expertise. Both groups highly valued expertise and speaking style. These findings can be used to develop curriculum, enhance faculty members’ teaching skills, and plan continuing education programs.



Evaluations are assessment tools that are used to judge performance in many environments. In education, "student" evaluations are used to assess teachers. Similarly, in business, "audience" evaluations are used to rate speakers. But, there are other methods of assessment that include "peer" and "self" which, if used properly, can offer a greater picture of the performance. Using all three methods of evaluation is called TRIANGULATION.

In June, 2008, the following research was published in the Journal of Dental Education, a peer-reviewed publication, and is made available here as a PDF file, reprinted with permission. While this article focuses on evaluation methods for teachers, the findings are applicable to all those who see value in observations from audiences, peers, and self.

Assessment of Teaching Effectiveness in U.S. Dental Schools and the Value of Triangulation
Leila Jahangiri, D.M.D., M.M.Sc.; Thomas W. Mucciolo, B.B.A.; Mijin Choi, D.D.S., M.S.; Andrew I. Spielman, D.M.D., Ph.D.
Journal of Dental Education
, June 2008, Volume 72, Number 6, p 707-718

Reprinted by permission of Journal of Dental Education, Volume 72, Number 6, June 2008.
? 2008 by the American Dental Education Association.

The routine evaluation of teaching effectiveness is important in improving faculty, departmental, and institutional efforts. There are three main categories of assessments: those performed by students, peers, and self. Although each category is independently valid, a collection of data from all three categories leads to a more comprehensive outcome and a creation of a triangulation model.

The purpose of this study was to identify commonly used methods of assessing teaching effectiveness and to suggest the use of a triangulation model, which has been advocated in the literature on performance assessment as an optimal approach for evaluating teaching effectiveness.

A twelve-question survey was sent to all U.S. dental schools to identify evaluation methods as well as to find evidence of triangulation. Thirty-nine out of fifty-seven schools responded. The majority of the schools used student evaluations (81 percent) and peer reviews (78 percent). A minority of schools reported using self-evaluations (31 percent). Less than one in five dental schools reported using all three strategies to achieve triangulation (19 percent).

The three most commonly used evaluation methods (“performed routinely”) were all in the student evaluation category. Less than half of the schools routinely evaluated clinical teaching effectiveness by any means (42 percent). In conclusion, dental schools should implement a triangulation process, in which evaluation data are obtained from students, peers, and self to provide a comprehensive and composite assessment of teaching effectiveness.


Related Research

MediaNet focuses on delivery skills that are both external (body & voice) and internal (mind & heart). Many of these skills are used in theatre training (acting, dance, mime, improvisation, etc.).

The external skills involve the use of physical action. But the concept of body language as a universal expression is not limited to the theatre. Below are several articles that focus on studies done at the University of Chicago.

Following the stories, a number of LINKS are listed to offer further support for the value of nonverbal communication.

This story is from the American Psychological Association's PsycPORT? website...

AScribe Newswire - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Students Use Hand Signals to Show Teachers They Are Ready to Learn;
Teachers Respond to Subtle Gestures Without Realizing

CHICAGO, May 21 (AScribe Newswire) -- University of Chicago researchers have uncovered important clues in gestures that explain how teachers recognize, without even consciously knowing, that their students have reached a teachable moment.

Educators have long been aware that students go through stages of learning as their brains develop and often spontaneously become ready to learn a new skill. Skillful teachers can tune into those moments as times to boost instruction.

A study of gesturing by Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago, shows that teachers may pick up on these moments of teachability from the hand movements of their students. However, teachers most likely are unaware that these subtle clues are the way they become alert to students' receptiveness to new information.

"The children appear to be shaping their own learning environments just by moving their hands," wrote Goldin-Meadow and University researcher Melissa Singer in the article "From Children's Hands to Adults' Ears: Gesture's Role in the Learning Process," in the May issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.

Previous work by Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues has shown that children are poised to move to a new stage of learning when they make mismatches between what they say and their gestures. She expanded this research to determine if teachers pick up on the clues, even though they were not informed about the value of the mismatches, to predict students' abilities to learn new skills.

For the study, the scholars observed 38 third- and fourth-grade students from the Chicago public and parochial schools. The students failed a pretest on mathematical knowledge and were assigned to one of eight teachers who gave them five mathematics problems during 20-minute tutorials. The sessions were videotaped.

The researchers found that 24 of the students made mismatches either during the pretest or after instruction began. The remainder of the students made no mismatches. The researchers defined a mismatch as occurring when a student made a gesture while talking about a problem that did not parallel his or her verbal explanation.

"Consider for example, a child who is explaining how she solved the problem 5 + 4 + 3 = __ + 3. She says, 'I added the 5, the 4, the 3, and the 3 and got 15,' and thus in her speech displays no awareness that the equation has two sides divided by an equal sign. However, at the same time, she moves her hand under the left side of the equation, then breaks the motion and performs precisely the same movement under the right side of the equation," Goldin-Meadow said. The mismatch shows that the student is ready for instruction.

In order to determine if teachers picked up on the subtlety, Goldin-Meadow and Singer studied the tapes to see if there was a difference in the way the teachers responded to children who produced mismatches. They discovered that the teachers gave the "mismatchers" more alternatives in how to approach the problem than they gave to students who did not make mismatches.

Further testing showed that the students who made the mismatches also were the ones to make the greatest gains in learning mathematics.

"Gestures are concrete manifestations of ideas for all the world to see," Goldin-Meadow said. Gestures provide useful clues to teachers because they allow students to express new information without having to disrupt their existing method of communicating, she said. Gestures also help students express ideas before they have connected their thoughts with the appropriate vocabulary.

Goldin-Meadow has published extensively on topics related to gesture. Her new book exploring language creation, "The Resilience of Language: What Gesture Creation in Deaf Children Tells Us About How All Children Learn Language," will be published in April, and another book, "Hearing Gestures: How Our Hands Help us Think," will be published in the fall. She also has co-edited a book, "Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought," which was just published.

Goldin-Meadow is associated with the Center for Early Childhood Research at the University of Chicago, which is supported by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

AScribe - The Public Interest Newswire / 510-653-9400
?2003 AScribe News, Inc.
PsycPORT? is a product of the American Psychological Association created to provide quick access to mass-media information related to psychology.
?2001 American Psychological Association

This story was covered by a number of news agencies, including CNN...

Thursday November 15, 2001, 1:59 PM ET

Gesturing While Talking Shown to Help Memory

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Forget about what mom said about keeping your hands in your lap while talking.

Gesturing while speaking appears to free up the brain to perform other tasks, such as remembering a list, scientists said on Thursday.

In experiments with nearly 100 adults and children, psychologists at the University of Chicago found that gesturing while explaining a math problem improved the recall of a previously memorized list of numbers or letters.

To draw the conclusion, memory test results were compared when subjects were permitted to gesture and when they were told to keep their hands still.

The value of gesturing to convey meaning to the listener has been shown in previous research, but it also may help the conveyor of the information, researchers Susan Goldin-Meadow, Howard Nusbaum, Spencer Kelly and Susan Wagner wrote in a report published in the journal Psychological Science.

They said that even blind people gesture with their hands when talking to blind listeners, suggesting another purpose to all the hand-waving.

``Producing gestures can actually lighten a speaker's burden,'' they wrote. The report suggested that by tapping into a different part of the brain dealing with visual and spatial subject matter, gesturing may make demands on other memory stores and allow the speaker to remember more.

``Whatever the mechanism, our findings suggest that gesturing can help to free up cognitive resources that can then be used elsewhere. Traditional injunctions against gesturing while speaking may, in the end, be ill-advised,'' they wrote.

Here is another version of the same story (from CNN) but with a few more details. This article appeared in the CHICAGO SUN TIMES...

Talking with your hands could boost your brain

November 15, 2001


Gesturing as you talk might actually power up your thinking, new research from the University of Chicago indicates.

In a test of 40 children and 36 adults, researchers found they did better on a memory test when allowed to use their hands as they explained how they had solved a math problem. When they had to keep their hands still as they talked, the subjects didn't remember as well.

"Gesture is very integrally linked to speech. . . . We wanted to ask the question: Does it do any good?'' said Susan Goldin-Meadow, who did the study with three colleagues. "It looks like it makes thinking easier,'' Goldin-Meadow said. "We just don't know how.''

The study had four steps. Adults and children were asked to solve a math problem at the blackboard. Then they memorized a list--words for children, letters for adults. Next, they explained how they solved the problem. Sometimes they were allowed to gesture and sometimes they had to keep their hands still. Last, they all were tested on how much of the list of words or letters they could remember. Both adults and children remembered more than 20 percent more items when they were allowed to gesture than when not allowed.

"Gesturing really helps'' Goldin-Meadow said. In fact, any rule against talking with your hands might not be such a good idea. "I would say, gesture up a storm. It can't hurt you,'' she said.

"Gesture is extremely robust,'' Goldin-Meadow said. Using their hands to help, the subjects apparently could use more brain power on memory. But what if the subjects barred from using their hands spent so much mental capital just keeping still that they had fewer resources for memory?

"It's hard work'' not to give in and use your hands, Goldin-Meadow agreed. In the study, however, some subjects didn't gesture even though they were allowed to. The ones who gestured still remembered more than those who didn't.

Why would wagging a finger or chopping the air, JFK-style, boost the brain?

"We don't really know,'' Goldin-Meadow said.

One possibility is there's a spatial brain track that backs up a verbal track.

"They [could] work synergistically,'' she suggested.

"Producing gesture can actually lighten a speaker's burden,'' the researchers wrote. Still to be tested is how well people who don't normally gesture would fare in a similar memory test.

"If we forced them to gesture, maybe they'd do better. We will do that next,'' she said.

Research also will look at what hand gestures do for listeners, Goldin-Meadow said.

"Just because [gesture] functions for the speaker, doesn't mean it doesn't have other functions.''

A report on the study appears in the November issue of Psychological Science magazine.

For More Information...

One of the most comprehensive sources for details about body language can be found at the Center for Nonverbal Studies, home of the NONVERBAL DICTIONARY --- a very interesting compilation of definitions and expressions, arranged alphabetically with extensive cross-references for easy navigation among related terms!

The following are various other links to existing research and information about nonverbal communication or body language.

The following is a research paper about body language:

This transcript discusses "body language without the body" and relates to social cues in the virtual world:

This is an excerpt from an "instruction manual" of practical techniques for facilitating personal change. At the end of the page there is a link back to the "contents" page of the entire manual:

Here is a brief table of nonverbal behavior and the corresponding meaning associated with the behavior:

This CNN article discusses body language cues that while acceptable domestically, can be misinterpreted in other cultures:

This European web site discusses issues related to use of body language in certain situations:

This collection of "links" may include the above mentioned items:

This is another list of links to web sites and articles on the subject of body language, some of which may be include the above mentioned items:

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