On the Importance of Nonverbal Feedback in the Classroom [an Anecdote]

“How might we improve this passage a little more?” I ask my freshman writing class.

A student in the front row, groping for something to say, briefly forms his hands into the shape of square brackets, but then he shakes it off and sits back, folding his arms.

“People in the back, he just did *this* with his hands,” I say. Then I click to the next slide.

“He’s obviously seen writers use square brackets to clarify a pronoun, like *this*!” I say, doing the gesture again.

There’s a flicker of a smile on the student’s face.

If I hadn’t been scanning the room looking for nonverbal cues, I’d have missed that moment to affirm a student’s knowledge.

I don’t generally like teaching with slide decks, but students are used to them. I use a typeface that makes it easy for me to pretend I’m creating Okudagrams for Star Trek: TNG computer displays.