Use NameCoach to Learn Your Students’ Names and Pronouns
Making an effort to learn your students’ names and pronouns can have a major impact on their experience in your classroom. For students with marginalized identities especially, it can help combat feeling invisible or like they don’t belong (Kiang, 2004; Kohli & Solórzano, 2012; Sue, 2010). Additionally, research indicates that students’ sense of belonging directly impacts their academic performance (Walton & Cohen, 2007).
While the strategies below detail many ways to practice and incorporate learning your students’ names and pronouns in class, one educational tool that can help is NameCoach. NameCoach is a technology-enhanced learning tool integrated into Canvas that is designed to support inclusive teaching practices. It allows students and instructors to share and store the proper pronunciation of their name. By enabling instructors to easily and more accurately learn student names and pronouns, NameCoach can help instructors build better rapport in the classroom, bolstering students’ sense of belonging.
Here are some strategies to help you learn your students’ names and pronouns:
- Before the semester starts,
- Record your own name in NameCoach (if you haven’t already).
- Using S3 or Canvas, review your students' NameCoach entries. If you keep a hard copy of your photo roster, add the pronunciations, preferred names, and pronouns to it. This will help you begin to memorize the names and identities of your students, and also will serve as a quick reference for you during class time.
- On the first day of class,
- Introduce yourself and your pronouns (e.g. “Hi everyone, my name is Professor Stone and I use she/her pronouns.” or “Hi, you can call me Casey, and my pronouns are “they/them.”)
- Thank the students who have already added their pronunciations and pronouns to NameCoach, and encourage students to use the tool, even if they think their names are easy to pronounce or they identify as cisgender (i.e., their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth). This helps normalize the sharing of this information, rather than drawing undue attention to unfamiliar names or assuming a student’s pronouns.
- Tell your students that you are committed to learning their names. If you are “bad at names,” tell them so and ask for their patience. Try to learn at least a few each day or class meeting.
- Use an icebreaker to learn student names and have them use each other’s names. This could either be a simple introduction (e.g. have each student say their name, major, fun fact), or a game geared towards learning names.
- Please Note: If you are having students introduce themselves to the rest of the class orally, do not require that they share their pronouns. While it is great to normalize the use of pronouns by using them yourself, you also do not want to ‘out’ a student by forcing them to disclose their pronouns on the spot. On the first class especially, students may not yet trust that your classroom is a space where they will not be stigmatized for their gender identity.
- During class,
- In smaller classes, have students make name placards for their names using heavy duty paper and a sharpie, which they can use for the first few weeks. Not only will you be able to call them by name, but they can learn each other’s names as well.
- In larger classes, tell your students that you would like to learn their names. Whenever a student raises their hand, ask them to say their name first and repeat it back when you respond to them.
- If you know a student’s pronouns, use them! If you are unsure, then stick with the gender-neutral “they” (e.g. “I really like what Stacey said. Does anyone else want to add to their response?”).
- Use gender-neutral language when referring to your class as a whole. For example, when greeting, say “Hey everyone/all/folks” instead of “Hey guys.” (For more examples of this, see model inclusive language).
- If you mispronounce a student’s name or misgender them, immediately apologize and say the correct name or pronoun. There is no need to dwell on the mistake (that might make the student feel uncomfortable with the extra attention), but make an effort to use the correct pronunciation or pronoun with the student after class or in the next class.
Kiang, P. N. C. (2004). Voicing names and naming voices: Pedagogy and persistence in an Asian American studies classroom. Crossing the curriculum: Multilingual learners in college classrooms, 207.
Kohli, R., & Solórzano, D. G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: Racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462.
Sue, D. W. 2010. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, John Wiley & Sons.
Walton, G. M. & G. L. Cohen. 2007. A Question of Belonging: Race, Social Fit, and Achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 92, No. 1, 82–96.
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