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    • #4756
      Laura Berlage

      laura teachingYou’ve probably already heard me use the phrase “The Theater of Zoom” in class, but life in front of a camera is a form of performance art.  We come to our devices to be entertained, and this is no less true for any type of interaction on the screen.  In a live classroom, long periods of silence can be enjoyable, or you can play gentle music in the background.  On Zoom, long periods of silence are awkward and painful, and playing music in the background sounds choppy and horrible and is just plain annoying.

      Instead, it is important to find creative ways to “fill” the spaces between your instruction.  Think of instruction time as “pressure-on” in the dramatic arc of your class, and the other spaces as “pressure-off” time–time when students can focus on trying out the new concepts on their own piece.

      “Pressure-off” time is when you put on your storyteller hat, drop your voice lower, and be more social and entertaining.  Give some backstory about how you learned this medium, met your mentors, or experienced first class.  Share interesting bits of info about the subject of your project (here’s some neat facts about foxes, etc.), or share about the history of your medium and where it comes from.

      You can also encourage students to share stories as well during this time.  For instance, if we run with the fox theme, I’ll share a story about seeing a fox on the edge of a lake while we were fishing, and how a momma duck with her string of ducklings quacked loudly and guided them away from the shore, so the fox was thwarted.  Then I’ll ask students if they have fox stories or memories.  Because I shared first, it sets the stage and creates a space.  If no one jumps into the space, offer another one you know or one someone else has shared at some time.

      You can also activate full-on storyteller mode, especially if there is a longer stretch where everyone is working and you don’t need to be actively instructing.  This works great when you couch it in permission to interrupt you with questions if necessary.  My students have come to LOVE story time with Laura in class, and returning students actively ancitipate this part.  It’s part of what keeps them coming back!  I’ll often help students follow my lead into story mode by saying something like this:  “Ok, let’s pause from me showing you what to do at this point, and let’s take a moment for you to try that on your loom and see what happens.  While you work, I’m going to share this week’s story.  But if, at any time, you need my help with something, don’t be shy.  I can always pause the story and pick it back up again once you’re set.”

      The story should have some type of connection to what they’re learning.  If your class is Nordic themed, any Nordic folktale or mythology tale is fair game.  If it’s nature themed, fables or other nature-related tales can fit.  If your class intersects themes of protective symbols, stories that illustrate why you might need those protective symbols can relate.  You can get very creative with this one!  If it also teaches a concept as well–such as why a technique is called “The Penelope Stitch” as they learn the story of Penelope–all the better.  Messages in a story stick in the brain so much better than just stating the facts.  It’s part of how we’re wired as a species.

      Story time can also help with Zoom fatigue.  Pressure-on, and pressure-off time will help students have moments to take in new info, then process it while a different part of their brain is engaged.  Sometimes for story time I leave the camera on my hands working, so students can watch along without having to worry about “reading” my face (though I usually bring it back to my face at the close of the story), but sometimes the story is best when paired with pictures if you want to give students a break from actively working on their peices.

      The stories you tell should be memorized.  I’m always irked when someone reads them from a script, as it becomes jerky and awkward.  Choose stories that live inside of you.  If you need a few outline notes, go for it.  I’m also a musician, so sometimes my stories are ballads or songs, but this is completely optional depending on what is in your own skillset.  Dip in to that which you established earlier is your deep well that you love about your medium.  Draw upon that well and stories that intersect it, especially if you have a longer class or series of classes in a course that give you more time with students.

      As you gain more experience teaching online, you’ll begin to instinctively “feel” when it’s necessary for some pressure-off time.  Usually, this happens when folks seem to have run out of questions and the blank pauses get awkward.  Time to insert some theater!  They’ll be more engaged and ready to carry on with the lesson on the other side.

      Have you used this type of technique in your classes before?  What are your questions about managing pressure-on and pressure-off times during your online class?

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