Landing Your Message: review of a teaching conference session

Today’s guest post comes from Elizabeth T. Craft, a fellow in the music department and participant in the Bok Center’s Teaching Certificate Program.

Written Report on Teaching Conference Session: “Landing Your Message” January 19, 2012

I have never been overly shy about public performance – I sang, danced, and acted in high school and college, leading me indirectly to my present career as a musicologist studying musical theater. And as a scholar, I’ve grown to enjoy delivering conference papers – I pride myself on writing and reading engaging, aurally-friendly papers. Yet I’ve found that teaching differs in key ways from acting or delivering papers, and I tend to be far less comfortable when “off-script” (or improvising from notes). So at the Bok Center’s Winter Teaching Conference, I headed to “Landing Your Message” in hopes of improving my skill at delivering my own material when playing myself.

The goal of this session on active teaching, as presenter Nancy Houfek emphasized, was not getting your message out but getting it in – having students learn. Ms. Houfek led a ball tossing exercise to demonstrate how to land our points, and we discussed (and practiced) eye contact, body language, gestures, movement, and using the voice. Key to landing one’s message, we learned, is to calibrate the material to what students can get or “catch,” evaluate whether they caught it, and experiment with various ways of getting the message across. Much of the material was familiar from other sessions on teaching and from reviewing videos with consultants at the Bok Center; nonetheless, the reinforcement and new material were useful. Some things I took from this session and aim to work on in my own teaching include:

• Speaking/delivering material in manageable segments directed, with eye contact, at various individuals in the room

• Asking “What questions do you have?” rather than “Do you have any questions?” to encourage students to engage

• Using specific, descriptive gestures to complement spoken points. (This was something I found I didn’t do enough of when I watched a videotape of myself giving a lecture.)

• Moving around the room, and doing so with purpose (e.g. when changing topic)

• Physically warming up before class and experimenting with having the whole class do so. (I do this with the choir I direct and love the idea of “warming up” for discussion sections too!)

I was pleased to learn that theater and music have given me a solid foundation for “landing my message” – I have no problem projecting my voice, for instance, and I know how to stand properly. As I continue to push myself “off-script,” I look forward to incorporating these new techniques to meaningfully convey material to my students.

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