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When giving a lecture, I feel that I write too fast on the blackboard. This causes me to have to clarify some letters and symbols after the fact, in order to make them more legible.

I think that slowing down my speed of handwriting at least a little would help. I should mention that I have not received feedback about poor handwriting; rather, the process of writing a symbol in a sloppy way and then erasing or fixing it annoys me and is an issue I would like to fix.

Given that I know this is the case, what are some practical tips or habits to make the change happen?

The present context is lecturing in a fairly big lecture hall.

(As always, answers should draw from personal experience or credible sources in an explicit way.)

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  • $\begingroup$ At the moment undergraduates, but that is not relevant to the question at hand, I think. I know what I want to do, and want good solutions to doing it. $\endgroup$ – Tommi Feb 20 '19 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest stopping from time to time to ask if anyone has a question, but then I saw "fairly big lecture hall", which may not be an ideal place for a lot of back-and-forth with students (students don't ask loud enough for others to hear, might get too many questions, etc.). $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro Feb 20 '19 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe your writing and your talking are two separate processes: you want to write as fast as possible so you could talk about what you wrote. Instead, do it in parallel and include writing in your explaining, spell out what you write, allowing students to follow both by hearing and by reading. They don't need to copy your writings at the same moment you wrote it. Provide a minute or two after each segment for them to copy stuff over, after they listened to what you were saying. You can fill these two minutes with some mildly-related fun fluff, not essential to the lecture. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Feb 21 '19 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @RustyCore Could you turn that into an answer? $\endgroup$ – Tommi Feb 21 '19 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ According to the Help Center, "I am a mathematics teacher and have a question related to my teaching, but it is not specific to mathematics. Can I ask this here? The community welcomes general questions related to teaching provided that they are relevant to teaching mathematics. However, there is also an Academia Stack Exchange for questions about academic life more generally. You may wish to consider if your question fits better there." $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Feb 22 '19 at 14:13
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You might benefit from some deliberate practice. Take 15 or 20 minutes out of every day to give a "lecture" to an empty room (or a room with a colleague who can critique you). During that "lecture", pick some particular aspect of your board work to concentrate on (for example, writing larger, writing slower, keeping your lines straight, &c.—you might even just practice writing particular mathematical symbols over and over again if your concern is having to erase; I once spent an afternoon practicing nothing but circles for a trigonometry class).

Part of the problem with trying to practice these skills while teaching is that you are "on the spot." If you make a mistake or write in a way that you dislike, it is easy to get flustered. Once you mess up once, you are on edge, and far more likely to mess up again. Personally, when I make a mistake, I often start moving a lot faster, too (this is a reaction to stress, I'm sure). This makes it very hard to practice your pacing while in front of a live group of students. Take the pressure off, and practice in some other setting.

Other bits and bobbles of general advice:

  1. Write larger. This not only forces you to slow down a little, but also makes your writing easier to see from the back of the room.
  2. Write in block letters. That is, pick a handwriting "font" that consists only of capital letters which are well separated from each other (though lowercase letters will necessarily show up for mathematical symbols). These letters typically take a little more care to write, but are easier to read.
  3. Write in narrower columns. This might seem like a silly piece of advice, but I find that it helps. When I watch other people lecture, they typically divide the whiteboard in half (roughly), and write a column of text on each half. Because they can't quite reach the right-hand side of the column from the left-hand side, they end up moving back and forth a lot, or writing slanty-wise, or otherwise messing up their board work. Divide the board into three columns. Maybe even draw vertical lines on the board before you do anything else. It will probably make your life easier.
  4. Keep an eraser in your off hand. I know that the question is about avoiding the use of an eraser, but... meh. Typically, no matter how slowly you write, you will be ahead of your students. Moreover, it is very difficult to write in a way that is visible to the students while you are writing. If you write something that you don't like, it is very easy to quickly erase it and correct it before the students even notice. Don't be afraid of making quick corrections.
  5. Mentally separate notes from exposition. You should not be trying to write down everything you say, and your students should not be copying down your words verbatim. For example, if I am relating a theorem to students, I might write four words (i.e. state a hypothesis), then spend a minute or two explaining those four words. If a theorem has a lot of hypotheses, it might take five or ten minutes just to write down a statement of the theorem. The whole statement might take up only a couple of lines, but there will have been a lot of exposition between the lines. At the end of the day, the students need a copy of the statement of the theorem in their notes, and they need to be cognizant of some motivation and explanation (but this doesn't need to be written). I have seen folk try to write down all of this exposition. Don't do that.
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When I feel my blackboard presentation is a little sloppy, and remembering to "just slow down" doesn't help, I try writing bigger. It has the benefit of actually slowing me down a bit, and students sitting far back can more clearly see what I've written.

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