I received excellent critical & constructive feedback from my students on my last speech. 🙂 There are some areas of feedback in which they disagree &emdash; some felt my intended aim was clear (to motivate more expressiveness and risk-taking, are students “up to the task of pushing the envelope”) – however several were still confused as to what exactly I sought from them. It has me thinking about the role of ambiguity in teaching as well as in the exercise of authority. I’ve invited them to challenge me and each other more, but some still want me to tell them exactly “how” to make these challenges. This is where I become ambiguous, because I think everyone has their own style for accomplishing self-assertion and other-critique. As an authority, I feel the most I can do is try to create conditions in which experimentation can occur.
I was accused of having “too many weird random analogies”, “too many references” that made it “hard…to make sense of the big picture”, that folks “get lost in the fine details”, and these don’t always connect obviously to the thesis. A specific criticism is that I did not provide enough evidence why students ought to take more risks. That’s very useful because it shows my assumption that everyone already knows – and agrees with – the value of taking risks. Also, several students commented on my energy being “too enthusiastic … which translates to dramatics”, that I use “dramatic pauses … a little bit too much,” and so particular points of emphasis get lost because everything is emphasized.
At the same time, some felt that the slower pace of speaking and frequent pauses allowed the information to sink in: “I wish more teachers did it in [their] lectures so we could have time to think about what they just said.” My animation was received as too much and distracting by some, and as complementary and engaging by others: “I follow you around the room to see what you’re going to do next which ultimately makes you pay more attention.”
Finally, the area I’ve been most concerned about &emdash; do I come across as blaming or inspirational? Results are mixed. Some said I did “come across as frustrated and blaming”, and “I would completely agree with this statement,’I worry that I come across as blaming/frustrated rather than encouraging/excited…’”
Others said, “I don’t feel like you’re attacking us”; that I “didn’t seem to be blaming us for our lack of emotion, rather to get us excited about improving”, and that I did “not … [make] incorrect assumptions”. For some, I was “successful in inspiring” more emotion in delivery, and that my perceived weakness of “coming across as more critical than happy about our performance isn’t so much a weakness because she is trying to get us to do something”. Someone even wrote, “I didn’t notice the critical part of the speech…”
A couple of areas of bonus feedback &emdash; meaning above and beyond what I expected – was the suggestion of having a conversation early in the class about how people would feel about receiving critical feedback from their peers: “Yeah, we are being to[o] nice and saying everything is fine, but what happens if we do get too critical. I don’t know if the class is just afraid of saying so or what, maybe at the beginning of class we should have discussed whether or not we care what people told us about our speeches if they really did suck.”
Lastly, regarding the assumption of audience resistance, these thoughtful comments:
“Is [the assumption of automatic resistance] really a weakness…? … I would hope that people would be resistant enough to an argument so that they can evaluate it, try to find its weaknesses and thereby discovering its strengths. I don’t believe that you can, even for the most part, assume open reception. If they are not openly receptive, your argument gets lost to the resistance. If you assume resistance and it turns out that the audience seems receptive and competition is no longer necessary, then it might be easier to tone it down than to beef it up. I’m thinking like this:
audience receptive: start off assuming resistance then move to open reception
all points made are received by audience
audience resistant: start off assuming resistance and maintain
all points made are received by audience
*audience resistant: start off assuming open reception and move to resistance
beginning points aren’t strong enough and are lost on the audience, but the rest is caught*”
I find this thinking extraordinarily helpful. 🙂 It does require reading one’s audience as one goes and making adaptations as necessary &emdash; i.e. deviating from one’s own script! This is probably the highest skill, and it shows in some of the best impromptu moments we’ve witnessed: Mark speaking of his grandfather leaps to mind, and Martin Luther King Jr’s expansion that Elaine pointed out in the latter part of “I Have a Dream”. Are there others?