By teaching as I do with my tablet notes displayed on a screen behind me, I can continuously monitor my students’ expressions. So as soon as I see a frown, I might ask, “Are you getting this?”
One time years ago I found that the frowning student was in physical pain, not because of my lecture (ha ha), but because of an old service related injury. It was hard not to react to this student’s continual unavoidable negative expression but that is another story. More often the frowns come from students’ squinting attempts to see the math written on the screen. They forgot their glasses, lost their glasses, never had any glasses or don’t use glasses out of vanity. My notes were just a blur to these students though my lectures were predicated on their seeing the steps as I wrote them. I have often thought that all students should have an eye (and ear) exam as a condition for admission to college.
Speaking of hearing, this TED talk on designing classrooms with acoustics in mind has sensitized me to the aural aspects of a classroom. During the term I feel like I am always yelling, always speaking from the diaphragm. This may be in partial compensation for poor room acoustics and my students’ responses.
In the Ted talk, Julian Treasure mentions in passing that Introverts need quiet to think. I am of the introvertish persuasion so students talking over my lectures really bother me. My standard response to this situation is to explain to the talkers just this fact and expect them to be polite. I like to play music in my class but now do so with trepidation. For a subset of students, my fellow introverts, I am impeding their learning processes. I use music to set a tone before class starts, at least it generally makes me cheerful. I am now more careful about playing music in class particularly during quizzes.
One last thing. A classroom with a lot of visual clutter or aural clutter is not conductive to learning for many students whether they are conscious of it or not. I try to keep my lectures orderly and neat and write big and, often as I help students with homework, point out sloppiness and disorganization that can confuse their brains.