For the past three weeks, I have had a severe case of laryngitis and have conducted all of my professional responsibilities, including teaching, holding office hours, and participating in meetings, in silence. This challenge was deeply humbling and made me highly aware of how much I depend on my voice. I thought I would take a moment to write about my endeavors over the past few weeks, particularly the experience of teaching in person without a voice.
I developed a sore throat and cough on January 13th that led me to lose my voice for three weeks due to severe inflammation of the vocal chords. During my recovery, it was necessary for me to modify my teaching strategies so that I could still deliver my curriculum.
During the week of January 20th, I canceled my classes and asked my students to participate in an online peer review activity, which involved giving and receiving feedback on their first paper drafts. When my voice had still not returned the following week, I knew I had to figure out a new way to hold classes. Starting the week of January 27th, I returned physically to the classroom and used a mixture of strategies to lead class without speaking. I'm pleased to share that these modifications were successful, and I have been able to keep my class on schedule, with no significant reduction to the material. Here is a brief catalogue of the techniques I used.
Prepared Messages on PowerPoint Slides
Before class, I decided on the key instructions and prompts I wanted to convey during class time and presented them in large text on PowerPoint slides. I used these PowerPoint messages to inform my students about the day's agenda, to explain instructions before new activities, and to provide transitions from one activity to the next. Here is the first slide from the PowerPoint I used on January 27th.
To get the attention of my students when they were engrossed in small group discussion, I would clap three times. When they heard me clap, they would clap three times in response. We would continue this back-and-forth until everyone was clapping and had quieted down, and then we would be able to resume as a large group. This strategy was highly effective in enabling me to get my students' attention and keep us on schedule as we moved from one activity to the next.
Online Lectures and Videos
During a typical class meeting, I usually spend some time providing a mini-lecture that offers historical context about a course text or explains some theoretical concepts to my students. Instead of delivering these lectures out loud, I posted written lectures on our course website. During class time, I asked students (through written directions on the PowerPoint) to access this written lecture material and read silently to themselves. Students could access the course website from a technological device (such as a smart phone, tablet, or laptop). If they did not have a device in class with them, they could pair up with a classmate to read together. My written lectures included text, images, and videos, so students could receive the information in a few different modalities.
Typing on Empty Slides during Q&A and Discussion
Whenever my students finished reviewing online lecture material, I displayed a blank PowerPoint slide on the projector and asked them if they had any questions. As students raised their hands and asked for clarification on specific concepts that had been introduced in the lecture material, I typed out my answers in a large font size so that the words were visible to all students. Although the pace of conversation was slower because I needed to type out all of my responses, we were still able to get through many robust Q&A sessions this way.
Small Group Work
At various moments during the class, I asked students to participate in a group activity or converse in small groups to explore a specific concept. I was able to indirectly lead discussion by preparing questions and prompts for my students to discuss in small groups. This allowed the students to take ownership over their learning by close reading passages together and collaboratively deepening their understanding of key concepts. As students discussed, they typed out their answers in a shared Google document, which we later reviewed as a large class while group representatives explained their answers and ideas.
While I still much prefer to vocalize my ideas rather than type them out, the experience of teaching without a voice was challenging but thrilling. Many of my students told me that they really appreciated my efforts to provide quality instruction despite my laryngitis. I am pleased that I was able to conduct class effectively despite the new challenges I faced and that my students were able to stay engaged in learning. I feel affirmed that I am innovative and flexible as an educator and am capable of teaching under rather unusual circumstances. Yesterday I entered the classroom with a voice, though not fully healed, for the first time in weeks, and it was an incredible feeling to be greeted by my students with cheers and applause and to be able to converse with them once again. I'm very grateful to them for showing me so much patience over the last few weeks and to have had this unusual experience, which taught me a lot about my own pedagogical abilities and about my students' deep commitment to learning.