Learning Names + NameCoach
In 2020, the switch to remote teaching put many of us on a steep learning curve, but one thing Zoom made easier was knowing most students’ names, since they were listed right there on the screen. Although most of us have more experience teaching face-to-face, the transition back to doing it is not without unexpected challenges, and remembering students’ names is among them. Now with faces masked (we hope), it’s also harder to see students’ expressions, so learning names may be tougher than usual.
That said, students report that this simple gesture means a lot to them. Names are a significant part of identity, so calling them by their names helps to acknowledge and connect with them as individuals. It can also increase their motivation and participation in the class because they feel both encouraged and more accountable when they’re not anonymous.
Most of us have a hard time learning names, though, and we may avoid using them if we’re worried we might draw a blank or mispronounce someone’s name. It is indeed essential that we work to say names correctly. Sometimes we have difficulty pronouncing names from cultures or languages other than our own, but showing care for the way a student’s name is pronounced is a way of honoring their identity.
If you invite students to introduce themselves—in class, on Zoom, or on Canvas in a video—you will hear them pronounce their own names, and then you can practice pronouncing them the same way. Another option would be to ask students to write their names and pronunciations on a notecard. Some students go by a name other than the one on your roster, so you can also ask them to share their preferred name either as part of an activity or privately. They can even switch to their preferred names in Canvas. Since students are often uncomfortable correcting their professors, you can also invite corrections, to emphasize that you are invested in getting their names right.
There is also a new tool available in Canvas, NameCoach, that can help. To enable it, go to “settings” in your Canvas course, then click on the “navigation” tab in the menu at the top. NameCoach will be disabled until you turn it on; to do that, click on the NameCoach app and drag it up to your list of visible apps. Don’t forget to click save at the bottom. NameCoach will now be working in your Canvas. When you click it, you can hear recordings of students pronouncing their own names. Since this program hasn’t been widely used yet, there may be only a few recorded names, so you can normalize learning pronunciations by asking students to go in and record theirs, and by recording yours. You can also try NameShouts or other resources.
Of course, in large classes, learning every student’s name may be impossible. When that’s the case, some colleagues assign groups of students to work with TAs or LAs who are able to connect with them and learn their names. Others ask students to share their names when they ask or answer questions, or they encourage students to put name tents on their desks. You can also help students get to know one another, and learn each other’s names, whether through structured in-class activities, encouraging out-of-class study groups, or simply exchanging contact information.
In classes where it is possible to learn names, it can still be a challenge to remember them, so here are a few tips: CMU’s Eberly Center has some great suggestions. You can quiz yourself using the student photos on your roster, make a seating chart, or ask students to introduce themselves in a memorable way in class. Calling students by name can be good exercise for your memory. Knowing their names also makes it easier to get students’ attention during classroom activities, when they’re talking with one another and hopefully using each other’s names, too. Using their names when you refer to points students make in class, or their work on assignments, can also show that you’re taking their learning and their ideas seriously.
If you have a great strategy for remembering students’ names, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.