So to help ease my concerns, introduce myself to academic teaching, and write a syllabus—which, if you’ve never done it, is really, really hard—I took a two-class, five-hour workshop on Effective Teaching, because besides being a teacher I’m a regular workshop presenter, and I think we can all benefit from honing our craft from time to time.
The workshop was fascinating and I learned a number of teaching devices that I’m going to incorporate into my own class as well as into some of the workshops I do at writers' conferences. And since I know many of you give your own workshops and presentations, I thought I’d pass along some of what I’ve learned. Here are six quick tips to think about when giving a workshop, teaching a class, or speaking in front of a group.
- Use writing as a tool. When asking a question of the class, don’t just throw the question out there. Instead, give your students time to process and think about what you're asking. For example, have everyone begin by writing down three things they are hoping to get out of the class. Give them about five minutes to make the list and then open the room up for discussion by asking if anyone is willing to share some of the thoughts they had. You would be surprised at how giving people the time to think allows them the freedom to answer. It allows those people who don’t think well on the spot time to process and others who are shy time to come out of their shells.
- The three-second rule. Some of you may have heard of this, but it was brilliantly new to me. When asking a question of the class, slowly count to three before moving on to answer it yourself. It’s amazing. In my class I would watch the instructors stand there, counting in their heads, and just as they were about to move on someone would raise a hand, and then someone else, and before long you had a lively discussion.
- If possible sit with the group and even in a circle. Teaching is not preaching and can be so much more effective if you are able to sit together and look at each other. Obviously this might be tricky in a room with 300 people, but very effective in a small group. I know that I for one try to avoid standing behind a podium if possible. I much prefer to get out in front of the table or podium and wander the room a little.
- Allow the students to direct the class, in theory. Each class should have a syllabus or some guideline as to what students should expect, but teachers themselves need to be more flexible. We need to let the style of learning be guided somewhat by the class. If, for example, I was expecting to teach “marketing your book” to a group of published writers and walk in to discover that only five percent of the students are published, I’m probably going to need to adjust my plan in some ways.
- Get people moving and talking right from the start. The sooner you can get your students talking and interacting with you and with each other the livelier and more active they are apt to be throughout the class.
- Students as teachers. Students can learn as much from each other as they can from you. Don’t be afraid to make room for group discussions and don’t be afraid to ask your students to get up and mingle and share their own thoughts on what others are doing.
I’m looking forward to incorporating what I’ve learned into future workshops and of course into my class, which by the way is titled "How to Get Your Book Published." And for those of you in the area who are interested, I believe you can register or learn more at the NYU Continuing Education website.