Friday, November 14, 2008

Call Me Professor

I have just accepted a position to teach in NYU’s Continuing Education program and I’m incredibly excited and nervous all at the same time. First of all, how cool is that? I’m going to be an adjunct professor at New York University! Second, what the heck have I gotten myself into? Sure I’ve taught workshops and this blog is definitely a teaching device, but an entire semester, two-hour classes, grading? I’m nervous.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.



Keri Ford said...

The three second rule as you've described is a new one me. In my neck of the woods, the three second rule is how long you have to pick up a piece of food you've dropped on the ground and still eat it safely. Apparently it take 3 seconds before germs get on it or something.

Course, if you can't get to it in that time frame, it can become a five sec. rule...ten sec. rule, depends on how bad you want what you dropped!

Congrats on getting this position! You seem excited in your post and I'll bet you'll do great!

Kimber Li said...

That is so awesome! Here's another rule, but it may be an underlying one to the others.

Help students feel it is emotionally safe to participate.

It's not just for high school anymore. A lot of adults are used to being treated disrespectfully and will clam up and shut down if the speaker doesn't make a special effort.

Anonymous said...

First of all, congrats on the new opportunity! I've attended your panels at Backspace and read this blog every morning before I begin my teaching day, and I think you'll be great.

Second, all of these tips are tried and true. I always start my class with a question (relating to the lesson/discussion)for my seniors to journal and then we go around the room for a quick "share," followed by my intro to the lesson. I always sit right in the middle of the students at a horshoe I have fashioned out of tables (I never use desks or position the kids in rows). We have lively discussions and the "pause," as I refer to it, works every time.

And this works for almost any subject. I teach Spanish classes and British Literature, which are vastly different in nature, but I use the same methods in my teaching. So...good luck to you! We look forward to hearing about your experiences at NYU.


WendyCinNYC said...

Congrats, Professor Faust. Sounds interesting--I'm downloading the bulletin now.

Anonymous said...

First of all congrats, and secondly how I wish I lived closer. That's the type of class I'd give my eye's tooth to participate in! I bet you'll be a wonderful teacher. Can't wait to read more about it.

Spy Scribbler said...

Fascinating list. I especially love the last one. I learned so much, as a teacher, from taking martial arts, and watching how students teach other. Sometimes we learn more by organizing our thoughts to teach it, than we ever could by studying ourselves.

Congratulations, Professor Jessica!

Mark Terry said...

So, who's your teaching role model?

Professor McGonnegal? (Damn, can't even spell it).

Professor Lupin?

Professor Binns?

Professor Flitwick?

Professor Snape?

Professor Slughorn?

Professor Hagrid?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Good stuff, Jessica. I co-teach a class on mystery writing at the local community college Continuing Ed. program.

I realize I've already incorporated those techniques just from experience of presenting to groups for my day job. I love the personal feel of no desk to hide behind.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, this is great. Thanks. I'm pretty sure I'll be teaching in the next couple of years, and I'd love to hear more about the class as it goes on. I had never heard the 3-second rule; that's even great for 2-hour workshops!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Professor!

If it was a distance learning class, I'd consider taking it. But, since I'm in the DC area, the commute would be a little much :)


Anna Claire said...


And thanks for the tips--especially the three-second rule. I've never heard that and it seems like such an easy-yet-important tool to incorporate into teaching.

Wish I was in NYC so I could take your class!

Anonymous said...

Good for you. No doubt you will make a wonderful prof. Wish I was in your area. I would have signed up in a heartbeat or is it more apropos to say 'in a NY minute?'

haleigh said...

Congrats Jessica, and thanks for the tips! I teach as an adjunct, and did not have the benefit of an "Effective Teaching" course. Just kind of got thrown into the deep end!

But one thing I've noticed my students seem to like is when writing my syllabus, I leave one week or unit blank. I toss out some options of what we might learn that week/unit, they toss out some options, and then we hold a class vote. I list all the possible topics on the board, and everyone gets five votes - they come up and make five check marks. If they're passionate about a subject, they can put all five check marks next to it. If they're unsure, they can give two check marks to one topic, and three to another, etc. Whichever topic wins is what we learn that week.

Jake Nantz said...

Ms. Faust,
Congratulations, and trust me, you'll love it!! The grading can be rough, though. As for the 3-second rule, we've always called it "wait time", but it's the same concept. I'll tell you a couple of other things (take 'em or leave 'em, but my AP English seniors seem to like this stuff):

1) If you are leading a discussion and have some people who are slow to process questions, or just really shy, a lot of times letting them know before class that you'd like to call on them and what you are going to specifically ask them about will give them the time to come up with answers in which they are confident. This then gives them the confidence to speak up on their own sometimes.

2) One AP-specific training thing is, after they've read something on their own, you just sit in the back of the room and don't make eye contact with any of them (and don't answer direct you're invisible to them and vice versa). The uncomfortable silence will linger for a bit, but they will begin to discuss what they read amongst themselves.

The only problem arises when you have those who talk over others, or never stop talking. To combat this, we created the "talking stick" in my class. Any student who has something to say in a "talking stick discussion" must go get the talking stick. That student then has up to 30 seconds where they can't be interrupted by ANYONE. Once the 30 seconds is up, they can keep talking or put it back, but at that point anyone else who has a rebuttal or a different point can take the stick and stop the first student mid-sentence. It teaches people to be concise, but also that others deserve a say in the conversation.

Have fun with the class, I know you'll be great. Wish I lived a little closer than NC, I'd sign up for sure!

Unknown said...

The three second rule is so hard to implement for new teachers. At the beginning of semester I kept finding myself running ahead. But now I've learned to ask leading questions to get the student's to my point. (I teach freshmen composition at the college level.)

Most days I start class with "sharing time." Yes, these students are 18-20 but they love telling stories about themselves, and as storytelling is an important oral tradition -- that makes them feel comfortable talking with the class -- I am more than willing to spend some time on it.

Also starting from the "known" and moving through example and comparison to the "unknown" is a great way to get interaction.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your new position! It's gratifying to know that everything you mentioned was included in my training for one of my jobs, which is a mentor (basically a pseudo-TA) at Portland State University (my school is a bit unique in its program). Though (and it's possible this is a West Coast thing), the 3 second rule is actually more like a 7 second rule here.

Another great way to get your students involved on the first day of class is to have them create "ground rules" for how they would like the course to be run. This can help with nuances on the syllabus like "what does participation mean exactly" (some people would say you have to talk, others would argue for active listening).

Another great suggestion I heard was to get your students talking about the syllabus at the very beginning of class. Split them up into groups and then, before letting them ask questions of you, they can answer each other's questions and bring the big ambiguities to you to ask afterward. This also starts building community among the students immediately.

Nature Walker said...

Hi! Professor!
How did that feel? You are enthususiastic, obviously love what you do and THINK about your target audience. All these are ingredients for a good teacher.

I am an ENT surgeon in India where English is a second language for most High schools. I was lucky to be born to a man who loved to read and read mainly in English. English, thus, became... nearly... a first language for me.

I love the language and love to teach. My hospital recently requested me to start teaching Communicative English to First Year University students of Optometry. It is something I enjoy doing and the students seem to look forward to the class. That is the biggest high one can have in a teaching career!

Love your tips and tricks. Use most of them in my teaching, myself. Especially the three second rule. It works likle magic... all the time. I had not hear it worded likle a rule ever. But it is good to see.

Is there any ONLINE teaching course I can take? I would love to do Early education. I am in India... so my options are severely limited.

I'd love to put you on my blog...

Sharon Page said...

Congratulations on getting the position, professor! Wow, I know a lot of people who would wish they could take a course like this, taught by you!

Thanks for posting what you learned from the teaching course. I've given workshops, and it is really interesting to learn those techniques. Something I can apply when I give my next workshop at the RT convention.

Julie Rowe said...

Another easy teaching technique that allows you and your students process questions is to repeat the student's question outloud.

Doing so gives you a couple of extra seconds to think about how you want to reply and order your thoughts. :-)

Cheers, Julie Rowe

Susan Solomon said...

Congratulations on teaching, Jessica. I have found that course preparation forces me to really stay on top of my game -- looking for the latest tidbits of information to provide the class. As for the classroom, there's nothing like it. Teachers learn so much from their students -- in the US and abroad. Although I'm wrapping up my stint teaching overseas, I'm jumping right back to teaching two classes in California this January.

But most importantly, teaching truly keeps you young-at-heart ... and it's so much cheaper than Botox!

Briane said...

Good for you!

Nayuleska said...

Congratulations from me! Wish some of my university lecturers had employted the 3 second rule...or longer...(I was one of the shy ones).

Barbara Martin said...

Your tips on teaching would work well with a book signing or giving any type of presentation to a crowd.