Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Five Strategies for Managing Your Fear of Public Speaking

Mark Twain identified two types of public speakers: those who are nervous, and those who are liars. Fear of public speaking afflicts us all.

This is not altogether bad. The nerves we bring to our speeches, presentations, and lectures can help focus our attention and can also give an air of gravity to our message.

Yet, as most of us have experienced, unmanaged fear can be an obstacle to effective communication and, in the case of the classroom, student learning.

Luckily, we need not simply accept and live with uncontrolled fear of public speaking. Here are five strategies for calming your nerves.

First, try cognitive techniques. If you’ve ever consulted a cognitive-behavioral therapist about your anxieties, you were probably advised to reinterpret your negative thoughts—to reframe the limiting beliefs you hold about your future. This technique can be highly effective for public speaking. Are you apprehensive about making mistakes? Reframe the thought by telling yourself that your audience will forget whatever mistakes you make, but will remember your best moments. To give another example, we sometimes multiply our nerves by overthinking them (“Why am I so nervous? I’m nervous about being nervous!”). Instead, we might reframe the thought by reminding ourselves that we need nerves to focus our attention.

Second, you might develop a pneumonic strategy. While we do not recommend rote memorization, a certain kind of selective memorization can calm your nerves by giving you a sense of control over your performance. Try memorizing the very first and the very last words of your talk. Starting of strong can build confidence for your entire presentation, and knowing exactly how you will end can provide a calming sense of direction as you move along. In between, try to hold in your memory key pivot points, or pegs, in your presentation. Perhaps these are moments when you transition from one section to the next, or when you emphasize a main point. Memorizing these strategic pegs will help you remain calm and focused throughout your talk.

Cognitive reframing and strategic memorization take practice. Fortunately, there are more readily available techniques you might employ right away. Mindfulness experts tell us that a number of simple physical techniques can help manage our nerves. Try inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly through your nose while counting in your head “1,2,3” as you inhale and “1,2,3” as you exhale. Another helpful technique to use just before your talk is to tighten up part of your body that no one else can see (perhaps a foot or a hand under the table) and then slowly release the tension.

If the room or venue where you’ll be speaking is available before your talk, you might try a visual technique. Stand or sit in the exact spot where you will deliver. Look at the empty chairs and spaces in the room and imagine your audience. Keep this image in your mind later as you prepare. Visualization will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by your audience when it comes time to speak.

Finally, consider an emotional strategy. Sometimes the best strategy for managing your fear of public speaking will be to counteract fearful emotions with positive ones. In the moments leading up to your talk, remind yourself of your genuine excitement about the opportunity to speak. What are the nuggets of knowledge that you are thrilled to leave with your audience? How are you determined to make your listeners a little bit different—even better—for having heard your talk?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Teaching Forum 2014

Registration for the annual Yale Teaching Center forum is now open!

Registration: Please register here.
Location: Sterling Memorial Library (SML) Lecture Hall (Wall Street entrance)
For more details and information, please see our website.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Can daily quizzes aid student engagement?

Marco Bonett-Matiz


I'm in the middle of an explanation, when Claudia turns to John and says: "..[look, John, I think Marco is trying to say that]...the electric-potential is to the potential-energy what the electric field is to the Coulomb force!...". a spontaneous intervention by then common in my class. There was a strong sense of confidence in her words, in contrast to her personality, which was very quiet, in fact. So, how did we get there?

Hola! I am Marco Bonett-Matiz, a PhD student and YTC fellow. I am passionate about teaching, and last summer was the third time I served as the instructor of an introductory physics class. Below, I want to share the results of my experiment: the evolution of quizzes in the course, and their contribution to the sense of camaraderie and rapport among my students.

It all started when, as an undergrad, daily quizzes had a strong influence on my study habits; based on the previous day's lecture, these quizzes forced us to stay on our toes. Right then and there I decided that I would implement them in my classes.

I co-taught the first version of my Phys 181 course with my best friend here at Yale (also a YTC fellow by the way). During the planning stages, one of my strongest suggestions for the class was to implement daily quizzes. In retrospect, I was not totally aware of their effect; my thinking was: this will keep them on their toes and primed for class. Later I realized the quizzes also made them arrive on time: they started at nine sharp without delay and with no make-ups permitted. Everyone was on their seats by the beginning of the lecture and this reduced interruptions due to late comers.

For the second version of the class, I felt confident and daring: I increased the frequency of clicker questions and allowed for Think-Pair-Share (TPS) activities. However, I did not change the structure of the quizzes. I cannot be sure what triggered it, but there was a time after the end of a quiz when I couldn't start the lecture because of the noise. My students were engaged in discussion about their answers. I was so pleased that, when they finally noticed me, I suggested they finish their deliberations without rush. This was their discussion and I was only an observer. Soon after it hit me: "Next summer I will have them submit their individual answers, followed by peer-discussion and then resubmission".

Full of positive feelings and excitement, I was ready to implement some changes into the structure of the quizzes. The third time I taught the class they consisted of: Three multiple-choice questions, four minutes total for individual submission, followed by three minutes of peer-discussion before resubmission. This strategy wasn't without its problems, and at first the students resented me for not giving them enough time. We struck a deal: they would have more time at the cost of staying five minutes later at the end of class. They accepted without hesitation. This third time however, there was a noticeable change: The students felt safe to intervene and engage with the material. As a class, we had pierced through that ice that sometimes prevents students from actively participating.

Having witnessed their engagement in a relaxed environment that we had built together was among the most rewarding moments with this class.

I don't think the quizzes by themselves were the only reason for their engagement. We also had TPS questions, strong encouragement to participate, and in-class activities. But I would dare to speculate that daily quizzes followed by peer discussion planted the seed that fostered a healthy environment for participation. They created an atmosphere where it is ok to be wrong, it is ok to intervene if you think you have the right answer, and it is ok to engage in cordial discourse. The consequence was enthusiastic participation by most, as they asked questions, answered them, or gave a better version if I, as the instructor, was not able to nail it with my answer.

At first, I naively thought all I wanted was for my students to be ready for my lecture. In the process, I discovered a tool that enabled them to engage with the material and helped create a healthy environment where it was safe to participate.

In case you hadn't noticed, I didn't mention the students' motivator...I had to make the quizzes worth 15% of their grade. Without it, the efficacy of the experiment would have been greatly diminished, I'm sure.

Please feel free to share; I'd love to hear your opinion.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Using Film (and Video!) in the Classroom

Claudia Calhoun
Film and Media Studies and American Studies

Everybody loves movies. Teachers across all of the disciplines integrate moving images into their classrooms, whether that means full-length theatrical screenings, television episodes, or videos from YouTube. Incorporating movies is a great way to attract student interest, appeal to different learning styles, and diversify classroom activities. Films can also raise their own questions, deepening content-area discussion.

Every screening, small or large, is also an opportunity to increase students’ visual literacy. Although students enter the classroom incredible knowledge of media, they often have not been asked to look critically, to understand how images create meaning. When you use media, think about encouraging students to develop these critical capacities. This blog post will introduce you to some ways to incorporate visual thinking strategies along with your content objectives.

1. Before you show a video or film, direct students as to what to look for.
Visual Literacy Incorporation Level: EASY.

Films have many elements, and they all move! This can make it hard to keep track. Asking students to pay attention to one aspect of a video will guide discussion toward your learning goals. Let’s say that you’re showing Jimmy Fallon and the Roots’ adaptation of the Sesame Street theme song as part of a lesson within a class on Puppets in Culture. Here are two ways to frame the video:
  •  Pay attention to how the theme is adapted for Fallon’s 21st-century audience. What instruments do they use, and how do they work together?   How does Black Thought’s rap revise the original song?
  • Pay attention to the performance of the puppets.  How are the characters arranged, and what is the impact of their placement? How do the human and puppet characters interact with one another in this non-Street space?
 As you can see, these questions will anchor two very different discussions, so be sure to think about what observations are most appropriate for your learning goals.

2. Have students support their observations with visual evidence.
Visual Literacy Incorporation Level: INTERMEDIATE.

Without specialized knowledge, students can use close looking, prior knowledge, and contextual associations to make strong observations.  In the Fundamentals of Teaching with Images and Objects workshops, we use a worksheet to guide a progressive (or “scaffolded”) discussion, which you can adapt for your own uses. You can download that document here.

3. Integrate film terminology into your discussions.
Visual Literacy Incorporation Level: ADVANCED.

You don’t have to be a film scholar, or even have taken an Introduction to Film course, to gain comfort using film studies terms. Learning the terminology is itself productive, as students gain the ability to express new concepts once they have the language to describe them.  There are a number of videos on YouTube that help to explain basic film terminology. One of the clearest and thorough (yet not overlong!) was posted by user Scott Bradley and is called “Intro to Film Technique and Terminology.

Using scenes from Lord of the Rings, the video clearly illustrates a glossary of film terms. One of the strengths of Bradley’s video is that he also describes the impact of certain choices.  For example, when explaining camera angles, a scene between Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins clearly shows how “Characters shot from low angles tend to be more powerful, commanding” while “Characters shot from high angles tend to be weak, vulnerable” (2:04-3:17).

(If you’re looking for more examples and definitions than Bradley provides, another great resource for film language is Yale Film Studies’ in-depth online glossary, the Film Analysis Guide. )

One note: While The Fellowship of the Ring is a perfect example of “classical narrative” (meaning that all of the formal elements function to support an engrossing story) the film or video for your class may be aggressively un-classical. An avant-garde or ethnographic film, for example, is often not primarily concerned with narrative. Not to worry! The same language applies to non-classical films, and students who come to class with a lifetime’s worth of Hollywood films in their head will be well-prepared to draw out the differences between narrative and non-narrative filmmaking techniques.

To help students dissect an entire film, one strategy that I have had success with is to assign different formal elements to different students in the class. (This is the advanced version of the earlier suggestion, directing students what to look for.)  Before the screening, I will write the terms that we have recently learned on the board (say: lighting, camera movement, editing, sound), and ask students to choose an element on which to focus their attention.  I have found that this greatly improves the quality of the discussion after the film, allowing  us to talk in specific terms about  how each of the elements work together to create meaning – or, even better!,  where elements seem to clash with one another, and that effect that has within the film.

The next time you want to integrate film into a course, consider adding visual literacy to your learning goals. If you ask students what they see, you’ll find out what they think, too!

Have you tried using film and videos in your classroom? What activities did you design? How did students respond?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let's Get to the Point: Implementing Two-Sentence Summaries in Your Classroom

Elizabeth Morse
Cell Biology Ph.D. Candidate, Yale Teaching Center Fellow

It's Tuesday night at 7PM, and it’s time to begin another one of your fantastically stimulating discussion sections. The article you assigned your students to read was, of course, academically intoxicating, and somehow, today, you overcame your research or grant-writing to get to this highly anticipated moment. This article represents a pivotal turning point in your field, a cataclysmic push to a new frontier of knowledge; its significance - clearly world-changing.  
And so you begin.    
“So, who wants to start us off and tell us about this week’s reading?”

Sudden silence. The pre-class chatter about exam results and Facebook and Miley Cyrus has ceased. There are twenty-three faces in front of you, carrying forty-six undergraduate eyes, and not one of them is looking at you. Did you realize how large that stain is on the carpet? Can you believe how many crumbs from dinner are now stuck behind your finger nails? Does the clock on the wall always tick that loudly?
Like most awkward silences, this moment was likely preventable. While I do not claim to have the miracle cure-all that will alleviate all of your symptoms of uncomfortable silence, sustained student disinterest or general academic complacency, I would like to offer you a technique proven (in my hands) to increase student engagement, bolster academic discussion and immediately focus student attention on course material. If desired, this technique can be adapted such that it simultaneously gauges initial student understanding (what the teaching world calls “pre-assessment”), takes your attendance and provides an easy means of encouraging – and grading – participation. It does just about everything but walk your dog.

Intrigued? I give you: The Two-Sentence Summary.

The Two-Sentence Summary: What Is It?

The beauty of the two-sentence summary is its simplicity: upon entering the classroom, students pick-up an index card and are instructed to compose a concise statement (no more than two sentences) that summarizes the main point of an assigned reading. That’s it. After students have had a few minutes to write, you, the instructor, begin class with a slightly altered version of the question above:

“So, who wants to start us off and share his or her two-sentence summary of this week’s reading?”

 Awesome. By giving students time to quietly think, and by making your initial question slightly more specific, suddenly there are hands raised. You have made your expectations clear, and you have given your students space to compose a response that reflects their current understanding of the material. The section begins with a discussion of the most important, take-home message, and you can immediately assess whether your students identified this point (or points) or will need your guidance to do so.

The Two-Sentence Summary: Advantages for Students and Instructors Alike

In regularly implementing two-sentence summaries in my class, a science section that discusses a primary scientific literature article each week, I observed four key advantages to this activity:

1)     A memorable main point – Countless studies have demonstrated that students learn better when they are actively involved in their own learning – through writing, discussing, participating in group work, problem-solving, etc. (i.e. “active learning”). When asked to critically evaluate the main point of an assignment rather than passively receiving this information from an instructor, students are more likely to remember the take-home message. 
2)     Students settle down to summarize – We must acknowledge that this week’s assignment might not be the first thing on our students’ minds when they enter our classrooms. As such, the brilliance of the authors’ experimental methods to determine the infection mode of the bacterium Listeria might not be their current focus. When students enter my class, I typically display a PowerPoint slide with a two-sentence summary prompt and the location of index cards. Without any additional direction from me, students wind down the pre-class chatter and begin to focus on the task at hand. Over time, I even noticed that some students started arriving a few minutes earlier to have more time to review their materials and compose their summaries before class. Ah, the joy of prepared students!

3)     Concise communication – Research from a wide variety of disciplines is often reported in the mass media, on the nightly news or on NPR, in short sound bites. How do we teach our students to accurately – and concisely – summarize important findings, so that no meaning is lost? Practice. Lots and lots of practice, beginning with when they first encounter the pivotal findings of others in our classrooms. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some resistance to brevity. I have had the pleasure of challenging the ninja-like semi-colon that camouflages superfluous independent clauses.

4)     Inclusivity – What I have loved about two-sentence summaries is the environment of inclusivity it creates at the start of class. Students who have struggled with the intricacies of a reading can check their understanding by focusing on the overarching message. As one of my students commented on a course evaluation, “Participation was handled in a way that everyone could contribute even if the information was difficult to understand.” On the other hand, advanced students who have readily digested the material may be challenged to develop the language skills required to concisely craft their statements. 

The Two-Sentence Summary: Adapting to Your Classroom

If you are considering implementing two-sentence summaries in your classroom, here are some adaptations you might consider:

Why, yes, I have attendance records! – Want to monitor attendance without taking extra time out of your class? Have students write their names on their two-sentence summaries and collect them. Voila! You know who was in class (and who did the reading).

Participation: To Grade or Not to Grade? – You might use the two-sentence summaries as an assessment, assigning point values to their completion and/or quality. In a class I taught in which the lead instructor required participation, I used the index card as the physical “ticket” to their participation grade. The first time that a student participated in a given class, he/she turned in his/her index card to me. At the start of class, everyone wanted to get rid of his or her card! This got the discussion rolling right from the start, and also prevented a handful of students from dominating the discussion. As one of my students wrote on the subsequent course evaluation, “I enjoy how my section leader goes out of her way to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate.”
Pre- and Post-Assessment – Have you asked your students to summarize a finding at the start of class to gauge their initial understanding (i.e. pre-assessment)? Why not collect these summaries, and have them again summarize the finding at the end of class, or at the end of a unit, to collect real data on the effectiveness of your teaching (i.e. post-assessment)? Has your students’ understanding evolved? For the true over-achieving teachers, present the “before” and “after” snapshots to your students to encourage them to be cognizant of their own learning (i.e. “meta-cognition”).

The Two-Sentence Summary: A Two-Sentence Summary 

When emphasizing the main point of an assignment or concept, students may be asked to produce a concise summary of the take-home message in two sentences or less. By providing students with time to independently reflect, your students will be more actively involved in their learning, and in your class! 

Tell us about it! If you have tried out two-sentence summaries in your class, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment with your experiences or suggestions on this post. 


Monday, December 9, 2013

Empathy and Teaching

TJ Dumansky

In the Innovations blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Kahlenberg asked: “In higher education, should colleges affirmatively seek to teach students empathy or is doing so inappropriate because it is unrelated to academic achievement and might be overtly political?”[1]  His question responds to a study by a team of social psychologists that suggests that empathy among college students is declining.[2]  The two aspects of empathy that the study identifies as exhibiting the greatest decline are “perspective taking” or “the ability to imagine others’ point of view,” and “empathic concern” or the “tendency to feel and respond to others’ emotions.”[3] 

I teach in the Religious Studies department and in the Divinity School at Yale, and so I am often faced with questions about how students’ desire and ability to understand one another’s diverse religious experiences impacts their learning.  However, I think that the importance of empathy extends to any discipline, given that diversity in terms of economics, race, gender and ethnicity impacts learning in any classroom (note the recent press about gender bias and success in the sciences at Yale).[4]  In this post, I’d like to briefly review some strategies for cultivating empathic practices as a teacher and in one’s students.

One of the big reasons that empathy and education is a hot topic is because empathy is understood as a learned habit, something that can develop through training and practice.  Sara Konrath, one of the authors of the study about declining empathy, links the practice of empathy with better learning outcomes:

“Besides the obvious social benefits, research also links empathy in students with better academic outcomes. Just as empathetic doctors and therapists have patients with better outcomes, empathetic instructors get better results from their students, even on objective measures such as multiple-choice tests.”[5]

Two of the techniques that Konrath suggests using in the classroom to develop empathy are role-playing exercises and exposure to highly empathic role models. 

I’d like to highlight three strategies that feature prominently in the YTC teaching workshops that might already implicitly serve as tools to teach empathy, or could be utilized as empathic teaching tools.

Two of these tools relate to the critical first week of the semester: the policy sheet and the student survey.

First, the policy sheet (or syllabus).
The policy sheet is meant to communicate basic information about the section, frame how the section fits into the class, and set the tone for section.  The analogue for the policy sheet if you are a professor and not a TF is the syllabus.  Both policy sheet and syllabus are key opportunities to communicate expectations for classroom dynamics in addition to standards for things like handing in work on time or grading rubrics.  For example, you might articulate standards for discussion that foster more empathic interaction.  Such as:
  •   Emphasize listening as a core skill in achieving disciplinary excellence. 
  •   Define what counts as respectful, open and safe dialogue.  For example, it starts with something as simple as learning the names of your classmates.  It might also mean interpreting others’ arguments as charitably as possible.
  •   Practice asking clarifying and follow-up questions in response to others, rather than jumping to offer your own opinion or solution.

You might also consider offering a brief written rationale for why these behavioral standards matter for student learning.  This rationale itself is a way of asking students to practice empathy by considering their role in impacting their classmates’ learning.

Second, the student survey.
Before or on the first day of class, or section, it is a good idea to survey your students about their prior experience with the subject, their expectations for discussion, and their reasons for enrolling in the class.  This information can help you craft activities and navigate different learning preferences.  A way that this tool can be utilized to cultivate awareness about the importance of empathy in the classroom is to use it to introduce students to the challenges of accommodating diverse intellectual histories, learning preferences, and motivations for taking the course.

For example, if half the class loves small-group work and the other half loathes it, how often should you assign activities that put them in small groups?  Offer this conflicting data to the class and express your understanding of both preferences; follow this up with an acknowledgement of the challenge that this presents for you as the discussion facilitator and tell the students that you will attempt to make this a good learning experience for all of them but that their patience and understanding are part of the equation.  In this moment, you are explicitly asking the students to practice empathy by seeing themselves and their classmates as both learners and co-teachers, and considering how they might better appreciate the learning preferences of other students.

Third, the mid-semester review.
Typically, the mid-semester evaluation gauges your effectiveness as a teacher thus far in the term.  It is a short, anonymous survey of students’ assessment of various exercises and strategies that you have used in class. 

As a way of teaching empathy, include the opportunity for self-reflection in the mid-semester review.  This can be as simple as one or two questions about the students’ work habits and interpersonal interchanges in the class.  The ability to identify their own work habits and responses to classmates can help them better understand the experiences of others. Questions might include:
  •  What percentage of the time have you completed the reading?
  • Has your understanding of a problem/concept/reading ever been improved by input from a fellow student? When?
  •  Do you feel that your views or suggestions are valued during discussion?

The point of these sorts of questions does not have to be an accurate measurement of students’ feelings – it is, rather, to build into the class an opportunity for them to reflect on the types of empathic communication that promote cooperation and improve learning, and to identify modes of communication that instead foster conflict and isolation.  If it turns out that there is consistency in student answers – positively or negatively – it is also instructive for you as the teacher in determining what empathic learning strategies might be working, or falling short. 

An important component of this process is following up after the reviews are submitted.  Here, you as the teacher have a great opportunity to demonstrate practicing empathy in the classroom by summarizing, paraphrasing and expressing appreciation for student responses, and telling them how you will respond to their concerns in concrete ways during the rest of the semester.  This is a moment for the teacher to model understanding of the students’ experience and engage with them in discussion about what might be the deeper concerns that students have about learning.  If time permits, you could also ask the students to give suggestions for how the learning environment could be improved through better communication practices. 

It is also important to articulate for students what empathic habits they are already doing well: if you notice that students are interpreting one another charitably, asking good follow-up questions, or demonstrating appreciation for another person’s preferred learning style, name these habits out loud.  This practice can take place after the mid-semester review, but you can also do it at the end of any class; it takes less than a minute to do.  The more you point out the sorts of specific empathic practices that foster learning, the better chance you have of fostering these habits in students.

It must be noted: defining empathy is not a straightforward task – for example, there are questions about whether it is primarily cognitive or affective, how it might be distinguished from sympathy, and the differences in studying it whether one is a psychologist, neuroscientist, or ethicist.  Here, empathy has been understood as the disposition that enables one to put her- or himself in another’s place, or to be able to understand and share the feelings of another person.  In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that it is helpful for teachers to view empathy as a practice, as a way to emphasize it as a skill that can be developed (in oneself and in students), and not merely to see it as an emotion that some people naturally possess more than others.  Because it is a practice, teachers can develop concrete strategies to employ in the classroom to increase learning outcomes by fostering empathy.  We’d love to hear about some strategies that you have tried related to empathy and education.

[1] “Should We Teach Empathy in College?” August 9, 2011, http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/should-we-teach-empathy-in-college/30044 
[2] Sara H. Konrath, Edward H. O'Brien and Courtney Hsing, “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, published online August 5, 2010, http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/eob/files/konrathetal2011.pdf

[3] Paul Anderson and Sara Konrath, “Why Should We Care?—What to Do About Declining Student Empathy”  July 31, 2011, http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Should-We-Care-What/128420/