English 6002-February 3rd-Lectures, Technology, and Discomfort

This week I spent plenty of time thinking about the methods I have used, currently used, or can use in my instruction. As a student, I have problems with lectures. I try to pay close attention, but find my mind wanders after about a half an hour. I do not enjoy giving lectures, either. As a future composition instructor, I do not see myself having to utilize lectures as a component of my classes. However, James Lang gives me some good tips regarding the proper use of lectures. I notice that he advocates for the method of speaking for 15-20 minutes and then having a time for questions, writing, or group work. This is a method that I believe works very well, and I see it enacted in some of my graduate school classes. James Lang also discusses one of my biggest weaknesses as an instructor—asking questions. I am not a naturally outgoing person, and I am (probably) abnormally anxious during silences. I do not do well when I am asked questions in courses, as I am self-conscious about my responses being “worth less” than my peers. When I ask questions to students, I wait a very short time before answering the questions myself. I do this to alleviate the tension I feel during the silent time. Lang says that we should wait ten seconds or more for our students to respond to questions. This seems like an impossibly long time. I even tried to ask people I know a question and then time 10 seconds on my phone. Ten seconds feels like forever! After reading what Lang had to say, I realized that even though those ten seconds may feel unbearable to me, they are essential for my students. Giving students time to formulate a question is important, but even more importantly, the time lets my students know that I want them to ask questions. I remember taking an advanced anatomy and physiology lecture during my undergraduate study where I felt that questions were not wanted—even worse they were frowned upon. Not being able to ask questions really hampered my understanding of certain concepts and my overall enjoyment of the subject matter. I also believe that questions are not only a learning experience for the student, but also present a learning opportunity for the instructor. Elaine Showalter describes preparing to teach as a means of research for instructors, and questions present the same opportunity. Sometimes instructors can get so familiar with their specialties that they do not see their specialty through the eyes of a layperson. Questions open new inquiries for expert researchers. At the least, questions can help an instructor prepare for future classes in a better way. I have always heard that if one student asks a question, ten other students have the same question. I intend to make more room for questions in my classroom, even if waiting for students to ask is terribly uncomfortable for me.
I was also interested in how we can use technology in the classroom. Elaine Showalter says that technology should be “carefully planned and thought through; not pedagogical parsley added decoratively to the plate of learning” (57). As a teacher I have seen many PowerPoint presentations that fall under the category of pedagogical parsley—though these presentations were more in conferences and workshops than produced by students. These presentations did little to add to comprehension. In fact, I believe that the composition of some of these presentations made whatever presentations they accompanied more confusing. In a Teaching of Writing course I took in my first semester of graduate school, the professor explained to us that PowerPoint presentations should be clear, concise, and easy to read. This was reminiscent of my previous work in technical writing and desktop publishing—A method termed CRAP. This acronym stands for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity, and I teach it to my current social work graduate students when they are preparing their class presentations. I have also found it especially helpful when teaching high school students. Keeping my presentations concise not only helps my students in note taking, but helps me stay on track. As I have stated above, I tend to get nervous. This can lead to me forgetting my words in presentations. Sometimes looking at the PowerPoint will help me get back on track. I hope that the presentations keep my students minds on track as well.

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One thought on “English 6002-February 3rd-Lectures, Technology, and Discomfort

  1. Deanna, I’ve found that I, too, wait only a very short period of time after asking a question before answering it myself. Determining a length of time to wait for a student to answer a question is a slippery endeavor. On one hand, I’m afraid that, if I don’t give them enough time to think through the question, then I’m robbing them of the opportunity to learn. On the other, of course, if I wait too long, then I’m just making the students feel inadequate. A student once told me that “kids don’t know much of anything and assuming that they do causes them to be even more dumb” (I saved the email, so I can quote it). So, on a third hand, as it were, I’m also anxious about how much I can assume they know. At what point am I boring them by overexplaining? It’s not an easy line to find.

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