Rachel Resnick has taken public speaking from a general education requirement to a course that aims to have a lasting impression.
Resnick, adjunct professor in the department of speech communication, joined the University of La Verne in fall 2011. She went from teaching a class once a week to having four sections of speech 100 as well as an intercultural communications course.
“The majority of students are not a fan of public speaking,” Resnick said. “It gives me the opportunity to hopefully change their perspective, which I aim to do not only in public speaking, but just communication.”
While taking a speech class at a community college, Resnick realized that she had a future helping students rid their fears of public speaking.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with impacting people, I just didn’t know how,” Resnick said. “By the end of that semester of speech class I decided I wanted to be a speech teacher.”
Resnick soon made it her first priority to help students escape their public speaking anxieties.
After two years of teaching at Irvine Valley College and Cal State Fullerton, Resnick received an email from John Patrick, adjunct professor of speech communication and a classmate from graduate school, who proposed she share her talent with La Verne.
“We wanted someone who really understood the goals we have for our students,” Patrick said. “To help them grow as individuals by not only imparting knowledge but self discovery.”
Patrick said that Resnick has a different method of teaching from other speech and communication professors, which brings diversity to the department.
Resnick describes her teaching method as a soft approach to communication. As opposed to traditional public speaking courses where three to five speeches are delivered in front of a class and graded by the professor, Resnick has the students take smaller, more comfortable steps.
The students are divided into four to five groups with five or six students in each group. Each student delivers their speech to their small group, which provides a more relaxed setting without having all eyes in the classroom on them.
“I want the students in the class to get comfortable with one another, especially in a setting where they are terrified to get up and speak,” Resnick said.
While one student gives a speech the remaining group members observe the format, content and delivery. Immediate feedback is then given to the speaker.
Meanwhile, a person from each group delivers a speech at the same time, which allows the students to adapt to external noise and distractions.
These small group speeches are graded soley on participation, and not performance. At the end of the semester the students have had practice with the small group speeches, and are ready to give a speech to the entire class for a final grade.
Resnick said that eliminating the grade from the small group speeches gives the students the confidence to take more risks without being limited by the fear of being judged.
“Letting them know that it’s OK to mess up and not get it right just takes a lot of weight off their shoulders,” Resnick said.
Resnick teaches in her class that a requirement of public speaking, as well as life, is to have confidence.
“What I do in the beginning is really get them present or aware of how they see themselves and how that might affect the way others perceive them,” Resnick said. “Once they better themselves as individuals they just naturally become better speakers.”
George Lopez, freshmen business administration major said that his public speaking skills and his confidence have gotten stronger, because of Resnick’s class.
“I went from no confidence at all to talking smoothly to an audience,” Lopez said.
Patrick said that in the speech and communication department, instructors need to be professional and equally approachable because as students learn they realize aspects of themselves that lead to questions.
“Rachel is probably the most approachable person I have ever met in my life,” Patrick said.
Resnick’s knowledge in her field and apparent desire to see her students succeed, is a combination that makes her class appealing to students.
“My biggest goal is to not make them better speakers – because it’s inevitable that at the end of my class they will become better speakers – but to really just make them better people and enhance their overall communication skills so they want to better their life,” Resnick said.
Amanda Nieto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.