Um… Like.. Yeah… Right..

It’s mid-semester and my colleagues and I are staring down the remainder of the academic year being mostly online. Our university announced recently that spring courses would be offered in much the same way fall classes were. At our institution, over 80% of undergraduate courses were taught online through asynchronous and synchronous means. Face-to-face instruction was reserved for studio and lab-based classes that could not be easily replicated online. And so far, our campus has navigated the health issues pretty well. Except for a handful of cases across students, faculty and staff, our campus has been mostly COVID free.

Since my colleagues and I are teaching a lot online, it’s creating some interesting conversations on social media. Some are sharing engagement strategies that worked for their synchronous classes. Others are sharing challenges they’re facing with specific technologies or with difficult students. But a recent conversation thread stood out to me as deserving some unpacking here. Let me set the stage a bit.

Many of my colleagues are recording their synchronous lessons so they can be viewed by absent students. While this is a great way to support students who may be experiencing technical or health-related challenges, it is also creating some dissonance for my colleagues. Since they now have access to a recording of their lessons, they’re able to review and analyze their teaching practices. And their reactions are very interesting. One commented that they hated watching themselves teach. Another wrote that she didn’t realize she said “um” so many times, which created a whole thread where colleagues shared the verbal tics that they noticed in their recordings. “Yeah,” “right,” and “like” were definitely trending terms in that thread.

As I thought about the conversation some more, I realized that for some of my colleagues, this might have been the first time they had watched themselves teach. I know my colleagues are really reflective teachers and are motivated to help their students be successful, but I don’t know how many would have recorded their lessons prior to the pandemic. While this is a common practice in most teacher education programs, many of my colleagues were trained as academics. And now they may be viewing their teaching for the first time (or at least some online version of their teaching).

For me, the interesting part of a recorded lesson isn’t the cringe-inducing verbal tics that we all have. Instead, I think recorded lessons present an invaluable opportunity for each of us to examine the pedagogical approaches we’re taking and how effective they are. For example, when reviewing one of my recent synchronous lessons, I was struck by the discourse patterns that I was using in the class. I was taught to avoid initiate/response/evaluate (IRE) patterns of questioning. A teacher’s evaluation of a student’s response usually stifles  rich conversation and discussion. Instead, I was taught to string together IRF discourse chains where I avoid evaluating student responses and ask follow-up questions. This helps to stimulate longer conversations that gets more student voices involved.

At least that’s the plan. As I viewed the recording of my synchronous lesson, I was shocked to see how many times I responded with an evaluation after a student response. I’d say something like “Good job!” or “That’s a great answer.” And to me, that was more cringe-inducing than the “ums” and stammers I said. I’ve spent the last 25+ years in classrooms avoiding these types of responses in my face-to-face classroom spaces. But in my Zoom classroom, I’m so motivated to get any student response or reaction that I want to celebrate it. I also know that’s it’s not great teaching.

I’m going to try to not beat myself up over this. I know we’re all doing the best we can considering the circumstances under which we’re working and living and teaching and learning.  But I also know that every time I hear my recorded self evaluating a student response, I’m also evaluating my own teaching.

And I know I have to do better.

2 thoughts on “Um… Like.. Yeah… Right..

  1. Ollie: As I was reading your description of your “evaluative” comments, I could easily imagine the excitement and encouragement in your voice as you were supporting students. But, as you say, what feels like support and encouragement can actually get in the way of engagement. #2 on the list of “Six ways to discourage learning in the lecture” (Doug Duncan) is the rapid-reward. We have both shared this idea on lots of occasions and yet it remains one of the hardest ones to live by. Good for you for seeing this in yourself and sharing. Cheers

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