In a recent article, “The Silent Professor,” Joseph Finckel reflects on his experience teaching on a day when he had lost his voice. Of course, the experience of teaching without a voice is not a singular one; most of us have dozens of examples of teaching while ill or incapacitated in some small way. With the quick pace of the academic calendar, these circumstances are nearly unavoidable.
What does make these experiences useful and interesting to contemplate are the ways in which we can use them to refocus our attention on student-centered learning. There are many ways we can keep the learning center on us as teacher even when we do not have a voice by writing on the board, using power point slides, or the like, but doing that misses an opportunity to realign the learning centered on the students. Here are two activities to consider whether you cannot speak or just decide you will not speak:
Create impromptu student led discussions
Ask all students to write out one open-ended question about the day’s topic and sign their name. Once you have collected all the questions randomly choose one question and write the student’s name on the board. That student is responsible for facilitating the discussion on that question. If the discussion wanes, choose another question. It helps to set time limits on discussions, such as 10 minutes per question, so that students practice their facilitation and discussion skills, while also making time for several questions.
Plan a set of learning experiences that build on one another
Create a set of slides that gives the directions for each task or each part of the experience. The information on the slides may include all of the most important information, but leaves enough room for students to “experience full discovering, struggling with, or working through a question or concept.” Project each slide at the appropriate time in the process to keep students moving through the stages of the experience to the next task.
During these or any other activities you choose to undertake without speaking, using the full range of “physical motions available to you, particularly those that communicate a desire for elaboration or that suggest a relationship between what two students have said” such as nods, shrugs, clapping, snapping, and hand gestures can help you to assist in facilitation or signal something important to students about what they are learning from each other. Additionally, as Finckel points out, “your capacity to observe what happens in your classroom will increase exponentially when you relieve yourself of the pressure to speak.” This gives you an increased ability to read students’ facial expressions and body language, and to listen to what they say to each other. Teaching without talking can change not just the focus of learning in the class, but also might improve your focus as well.
Finkel, Joseph. “The Silent Professor.” The Teaching Professor. 28:6, June/July 2014.
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