Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985
Since the duties of teaching assistants vary from one department to the next, and often from semester to semester, some parts of this section will apply more closely than others to your assignment. You might have partial responsibility in an upper division seminar, substantial responsibility for two or more laboratory or discussion sections, even full responsibility for a lower division lecture course. Lecturer, discussion leader, lab instructor, test designer, reader and grader...all are roles you may perform at one time or another.
The process you engage in preparing for classes will depend both upon the expectations of your department and the type of class for which you are responsible.
Preparation involves establishing what it is you want students to learn (instructional objectives), choosing instructional strategies (lecture, discussion, lab, individual presentations, group projects, etc.), and selecting the appropriate materials (texts, handouts, films, videotapes, etc.) to achieve those aims.
In your various roles as discussion leader, lab section instructor, or lecturer, you may have the opportunity to use a variety of different teaching styles. The choices you make will depend on your understanding of your students and on what you wish them to accomplish. Regardless of the particular style employed, the process of instruction can be understood to include four basic elements: knowing your students; preparing the course, implementing your plans, and evaluating both your work and that of your students. This section introduces you to our students and to practical pedagogical skills for creating learning environments that serve the needs and interests of our increasingly diverse student population.
Data made available by the University Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
There is, of course, no "typical" Corona student; our campus is a multicultural one in the broadest sense of the term. Even veteran instructors are cautious when generalizing about students, and understand that summary judgments cannot substitute for first-hand knowledge of their students. Nevertheless, it may be useful to you to be aware of some of the characteristics of our undergraduate population, so that you may more effectively assess their needs, expectations, and abilities at the start of each term, and adapt your teaching to the realities of each instructional situation.
Here is some background information on CORONA undergraduates. The following figures represent data from the Fall 1997 semester.
The total enrollment for the university is 24,982 students. 18,113 or about 75% of these are undergraduates. 49% are female and 51% are male. While most undergraduates are between the ages of 18 and 21, the range of ages can be broken down as follows:
Under 18 3.0%
18-21 75.1%
22-25 15.7%
26-40 5.1%
0ver 40 1.0%
Over 96% of undergraduates are full-time students. About 60% of undergraduates live in residence halls on campus; the remainder live off-campus with family or friends.
Geographic Profile
The majority of undergraduates are from Corona (73.1% of first-year students). Other out-of-state students represent 24.3% of the undergraduate students. International and exchange students make up 2.6% of undergraduate students.
Ethnic and Racial Background
The ethnic and racial background of undergraduates enrolled for Fall 1997 is as follows:
American Indian/Alaskan Native .5%
Asian/Pacific Islander 6.8%
Black, Non-Hispanic 5.0%
Cape Verdean .5%
Hispanic 4.6%
White, Non-Hispanic 82.7%
Freshman Academic Credentials
On average, entering first-year students at Corona ranked approximately in the top third of their high school graduating classes.
Mean SAT scores for entering first-year students were 565 Math and 461 Verbal, with the combined mean being 1,126. These scores are above the median for United States high school seniors.
Approximately 65.4% of Corona freshmen who entered in 1989 graduated within six years. The largest number of degrees was awarded in Social and Behavioral Sciences, followed by the College of Food and Natural Resources, Humanities and Fine Arts, and the School of Management.
There are some special characteristics of freshmen students that set them apart from other students and which teachers of freshmen should keep in mind:
• Entering freshmen have been socialized for twelve years into a system of primary and secondary education within which:
• they performed according to a set schedule of daily assignments that are often collected
• many students moved together from class to class and from term to term, forming a continuing and strong support network
• weighted grading systems differentially rewarded performance in courses by level of difficulty
• all of the institution's resources (including the teacher) were right there everyday in the classroom.
• As a result, the expectations of university academic life, emphasizing selfinitiation, independence, and responsibility may be quite jarring for first year students.
• Most often, college is the first extended experience freshmen have had with independent living. The transition from family, town, and school to the newness of independence and the wonders of university life can all too easily overshadow what may be perceived by the student as dull academic responsibilities.
• The very size and complexity of the University can be tremendously confusing and intimidating to students whose entering class is often larger than the population of the entire high school from which they came; whose classmates and even roommates are strangers to them; whose training to be mostly passive receivers of educational services makes them unused to seeking out assistance, especially in an alien environment.
• For the most part, entering freshmen are used to being in the upper halves of their graduating classes, to being widely known and respected by their peers and teachers—in other words to being "big fish in small ponds." At the University, many of them are anonymous, submerged in large classes, and competing with the cream of a number of high schools— very "small fish" in an awfully "big pond." This is often a difficult transition.
• Unlike upperclass students, whose pre-requisites assure some consistent entry levels into courses, the variety of learning styles and the level of preparation of freshman students varies as widely as do their study skills.
Students are often shocked to discover what is expected of them as freshmen. Therefore, as you prepare your course plans and materials try to build in structures and strategies that will help to minimize the difficulties faced by freshmen in your classes. You may find several of the topics in the chapters "Course Design and Preparation" and "Approaches to Instruction" helpful.
Adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992
The characteristics above suggest some of the demographic features of the University of Corona undergraduate population. Equally important to teaching is some understanding of how these students are likely to differ in the ways in which they learn. Two broad categories of descriptive literature on students' ways of learning will be discussed here: cognitive development and differences based on age, gender, disability, or cultural background.
The most widely known work on the cognitive development of college students is Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years by William Perry (1970). Although Perry's study was completed some time ago and was based on a small sample of students from Harvard and Radcliffe, the scheme of development that he described has proven helpful to many in understanding students in many different settings. (The sample for this, and many other studies of adult development, is heavily biased toward males. Important recent contributions that focus on the development of women, although not necessarily college students, have been made by Gilligan, C., 1982, and Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1987.)
Perry concludes that many students move through stages of cognitive development, each of which is qualitatively different and more complex than the previous stage. As students move through these stages, the ways in which they perceive, organize, and evaluate experiences and events in their lives change. Perry (1970, p. 9) describes nine positions, of which the first six pertain most directly to cognitive development. Perry uses the term dualistic to describe the first three positions. Students in the dualistic stage of development are classified with regard to how they account for uncertainty:
Position 1: All information is either right or wrong. Uncertainty is not perceived.
Position 2: All information is either right or wrong, and where uncertainty seems to exist, it is really an error committed by a wrong authority.
Position 3: All information is either right or wrong, but uncertainty is acceptable in areas where experts do not know the answers yet. Someday the right answer will be discovered or found.
Students in the dualistic stage are often confused or hostile in a classroom setting in which multiple points of view are presented. They want the facts, and do not want to hear that there are conflicting opinions. They want the teacher to be strong, authoritative, and clear in the position that is taken. These students are apt to view their roles as passive recipients of a body of knowledge and will often resent being asked to play an active role in class. They regard the teacher as the person who already has the knowledge and may not feel that there is any value in contributing an opinion or listening to the opinions of their fellow students.
Students in Positions 1 and 2 are able to learn (often by memorizing) basic facts and definitions of words and concepts, identify parts of a whole, begin to compare and contrast, and provide an explanation of why they answer as they do. In Position 3, the student can compare and contrast and see multiple perspectives, parts, opinions, and evaluations. The student can do basic analytic tasks but needs to learn to use supportive evidence.
Perry uses the term "relativistic" to describe students in Positions 4–6. During this phase, the students' previous categories of right and wrong are transformed. Knowledge is now seen as uncertain or valid only within a context. The positions are differentiated by the following traits:
Position 4: The student begins to feel that most questions cannot be answered with absolute certainty and when uncertainty prevails, feels that all answers are of equal value.
Position 5: The sense of relativism enlarges and the student begins to form non absolute criteria for making judgments.
Position 6: The ability to make judgments increases and a personal stance or commitment develops.
Students in Position 4 can compare and contrast, do abstract analysis, and do some synthesis. They can do both positive and negative critiques and use supportive arguments well. At this stage, the student is developing the capacity to relate learning in one context or class to other issues in other classes or to issues in real life.
In Positions 5 and 6, the student can relate learning in one context to learning in another with some ease and can look for relationships in learning. The student can evaluate, conclude, and support her/his own analysis and can synthesize various points of view. Finally, the student learns to modify and expand concepts of knowledge, and perhaps generates new ways of looking at a given question or formulates new questions.
Implications for Teaching
Administration of instruments designed to assess cognitive development in terms of Perry's scheme has revealed that, although students of a given age category vary in their cognitive levels, most college student in the traditional age range of 18–24 enter at the dualistic stage and many progress toward the advanced relativistic stage as they go through college. Some enter at higher levels and some will not progress, so one cannot assume homogeneity in a group of a given age. Nevertheless, a general guideline is that most seniors can perform cognitive tasks that most freshmen cannot and instructional expectations should be based on this general guideline.
Widick, Knefelkamp, and Parker (1975) use the notions of challenge and support to draw implications for teaching based on Perry's theory. They argue that students at a given level need to be stretched or challenged to continue to reach higher levels but also need support to handle the challenge. They caution that one cannot expect students to skip over developmental stages; tasks must be at or only slightly above the student's level. Specific recommendations are summarized below:
Students in the dualistic stage can be:
• challenged by employing content diversity in the curriculum; by presenting two or three, but not more than three, points of view; by assigning different kinds of experiential learning activities and encountering content diversity through such activities as structured discussions and group experiences, role playing, and field trips with structured observation guides; by processing experiential encounters in prestructured ways that emphasize differentiation and the use of evidence to support views; by using a variety of media (e.g., print, AV) to convey information; and by incorporating opportunities for the ideas of others to be heard in class
• supported as they work toward other levels, by responding to their need for structure (prestructuring activities, using a syllabus that itemizes such things as specific assignments, policies, due dates, and using outlines of each class or lesson); by preparing handouts that help students to fulfill course requirements (e.g., how to do a bibliography, lab report, etc.); and by personalizing interactions with students (providing opportunities for students to get to know each other and the instructor, using small group work, using feedback techniques such as logs, journals, or response forms, and responding to written work as concretely as possible).
Students in the relativistic stage can be:
• challenged to move to higher levels by providing opportunities to choose positions and defend their choices; by asking them to narrow choices and weigh pros and cons of alternatives; by drawing upon course material that stimulates thinking about personal philosophy and life choices; by setting learning tasks that require students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate from personal perspectives and then progressively more abstract or experiential perspectives and to apply learning from one context to problems in a different context; and by posing activities that ask students to generate new questions or evaluate assumptions inherent in how points of view are constructed
• supported as they move to higher levels by providing choices of assignments and projects and minimizing the structure and guidance provided; by allowing for more flexibility and creativity in formats of written work; and by continuing personalization through group work, opportunities for participation, and peer teaching and learning.
Adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992
Belenky and associates (1986), aware that the sample for Perry's research was largely male, undertook research on female cognitive development and found different patterns in their sample of women. They described an initial level of silence in which women feel powerless and intimidated by male authority and forms of argumentation. Following this are four more levels:
• received knowledge: women at this level are listening to others around them and relying on the voices of authority. They see things dualistically as did the participants in this stage of Perry's study, but identify less with the authority figures. They regard the multiple perspectives they read and hear as increasingly confusing and hard to reconcile.
• subjective knowledge: dissatisfied with received knowledge, women turn to their inner voices and trust their own feelings and thoughts at this level. They believe that all opinions are equally valid and that first-hand experience is the only valid route to knowing.
• procedural knowledge: once again, women listen to outside voices but this time, they are listening about how to think rather than what to think. They are interested and aware of multiple perspectives. Belenky et al. borrow from Gilligan (1982), who distinguishes between two kinds of procedural knowledge: separate knowing that relies on analysis, dispassion, and argument; and connected knowing that is holistic in nature, joining emotion with reason and seeking understanding and interconnection among perspectives. Even connected knowers, however, experience a sense of alienation at this stage since their knowledge is so directed toward the other.
• constructed knowledge: at this level, women are able to integrate their own voices with those of others. They are active builders of a knowledge base and see that "all knowledge is constructed and the knower is an intimate part of the known" (Belenky et al., p.137).
Although Gilligan and Belenky et al. make the point that given types of cognitive development are not exclusively male or female, they do note that the above pattern is found more in women than men. The implications for teaching include the importance of recognizing that women may often feel overwhelmed and silenced by a discourse style that is not comfortable to them; that they may want to trust personal judgment, instincts, and emotions as valid contributions to arriving at a position; and that they may withdraw from argumentation and forced analysis as hostile or unproductive forms of activity. Instructors can help women to progress in their cognitive growth by providing a supportive and nurturing environment, being especially sensitive to "giving women their voice" through moderating discussion to ensure equal levels of participation and encouragement and providing opportunities for personal forms of expression in papers and projects.
Adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992
Another way of describing differences in students is based on the idea that people have different ways of learning. Research in this area has mushroomed in the past several years, producing descriptions of styles based on a variety of organizing ideas.
A few of the dominant schemes are described below.
Field Independence and Field Dependence
Based on studies on perception, Wilkin and Moore (1975) described a central differentiating characteristic of learners based on the way in which they handle information in context. They called learners who perceive in holistic fashion field dependent learners. These individuals rely on external stimuli in approaching a task and have a much more difficult time separating the individual parts within a whole.
These students tend to be more social in their interests and like teachers to structure classroom goals for them. They prefer group work and student discussion in class. Wilkin and Moore describe field independent students as those who try to analyze things into component parts and like to work independently. Field independent students are able to set their own learning goals and prefer the freedom to participate in setting their assignments. They like to work with abstract ideas and prefer to work with a minimum of structure and guidance.
Cognitive Styles and Classroom Learning
Although learning styles are not directly related to race and gender, women, African American, Native American, and Hispanic students often have a learning style referred to as field dependent or field sensitive. They do best working in groups on verbal tasks. Research further indicates that they learn more easily those materials that have humor and social content, and are characterized by the use of imagination.
In learning situations, they are most sensitive to the opinions of others. This particular learning style often conflicts with the traditional school environment, which tends to favor individual and competitive learning processes. Many European American and Asian American students, however, are field independent learners. They tend to perform better on analytical tasks, learn material that is inanimate and impersonal more easily, and will not be greatly affected by the opinion of others as they perform (Anderson, 1988).
Cognitive Styles and Teaching Strategies
The differences in cognitive learning styles have distinct implications for preferences in student instruction and teaching strategies. According to Anderson and Adams (1991), an initial approach for instructors might be to develop a sense of the expectations that students and instructors use in the classroom. Such interactions guide the more formal dimensions of the teaching-learning style dyad.
Teaching in a diverse classroom means that there will be many different learning styles. Effective teaching cannot be limited to the delivery of information, but needs to be based on a model of minds at work. The generative process of learning is more effective when instructors: affirm the presence and validity of diverse learning styles; and maximize the climate or conditions for learning in the classroom (Anderson and Adams, 1991). While instructors are alerted to differences when they identify learning styles with particular groups, they should still use a full range of instructional strategies.
Adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992
Researchers who study learning styles have made observations about the particular ways in which different kinds of students learn most effectively. These archetypes, developed to aid the learning of nontraditional students, can help instructors be more aware of the needs of their students. In order to avoid assuming that all members of a given group display characteristics that have been associated with the group as a whole, however, it is important for the instructor to consider carefully whether group characteristics associated with a group of learners are descriptive of a particular student in the course. A summary of some of the characteristics of different learners is included below.
Women Students
Although women have been part of the college scene for many years now and constitute close to half of the undergraduate population at the University, classroom practices that have arisen through a tradition of male-dominated instructional settings are often still in use and detract from learning opportunities for women.
These practices are described extensively in Hall and Sandler (1982) and include: use of sexist language and jokes, failure to recognize women during discussion or to make eye contact with women, failure to intervene when male students interrupt or deny access to women in discussion situations, holding lower performance expectations for women than men, and routine assignment of dominant roles such as team leader to men rather than women.
Instructors can enhance learning opportunities for women as well as men by trying to incorporate in their teaching the contributions of women and other cultures and recognizing the value of multiple ways of knowing rather than viewing knowledge construction very narrowly. [See, for example, Women's Ways of Knowing, Belenky et al. (1987).]
Older Students
Many older students lack confidence and feel uncomfortable in a college environment still predominantly populated by young adults. Instructors can help them by offering positive feedback as often as they can, by avoiding comparing students, and by avoiding putting adult learners "on the spot" by drawing attention to their age or directly calling on them to contribute when they do not volunteer.
Adult learners, even more than younger students, feel the need for learning to be relevant to their life experiences. They are more likely than younger students to question the importance of a given assignment or body of information (although they may not make their reservations known, since they may lack confidence). They are also more eager to make contributions based on their personal experiences and to use these experiences as the basis for argument in papers and other assignments.
Instructors can enlist the support and enthusiasm of older learners, explaining the relevance of assignments and class activities to the course whenever possible. They can also provide opportunities for older students to draw on their experiences and incorporate new learning through the lenses that past experience provides, helping students learn to derive abstract ideas from these experiences in the process.
Personal responsibilities of adult learners are often more complicated than those of younger learners. They may have a child in the hospital, a major report due at their office, or a leaking roof to fix at the same time as a term paper is due. Often, they are making large sacrifices to attend college and are spreading their effort over many different life tasks. Instructors can try to understand their situations and exercise whatever flexibility they can in helping older learners to be successful.
Especially with much older learners, physical limitations such as poor vision, hearing loss, or diminished memory can impair learning. Time limits and reliance on a single mode of teaching, such as lecture, constrain opportunities for these older students. Instructors can vary the stimuli (using visual as well as auditory approaches) and make whatever allowances for time and recall that they judge possible and fair in the situation.
Disabled Students
Adapted with permission from Gillespie-Silver and Montgomery, 1990
Students with special needs are not a single category. There are those who have physical conditions that require accommodation, such as blindness, hearing loss, or loss of mobility, and those who have one or more of a number of possible learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or developmental aphasia.
Students with physical handicaps may be relying on special transportation and may need special considerations in order to attend. Instructors who are flexible about time and make sure that physical arrangements accommodate these students help them to participate in higher education. Students with physical and learning disabilities may require such considerations as extra time to take a test, a reader to read the text or test to them, or special equipment to compose written work. Instructors can help by notifying the entire class publicly or stating in the syllabus that any student who has need of test-taking or note-taking accommodation should feel free to discuss the matter with them (adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992).
While some students with learning disabilities will identify themselves to you, or have developed effective coping skills for dealing with their disabilities, others may be self-conscious about discussing their situation or have not developed coping mechanisms that work. Furthermore, because learning disabilities vary in type and degree, some students may not be aware that they have a disability until they are put into a situation where their original coping strategies become ineffective.
Your attitude and sensitivity as an instructor can make a difference to learning disabled students. Recommendations to seek screening should be presented in the most supportive possible fashion. Learning disabled students are not less intelligent or capable than your other students, they simply must make specific adaptations in order to meet the demands of the university learning environment. Once such students have been identified, you can support them in this process in several ways: you can present course expectations clearly and in a couple of different forms; give additional individual encouragement and attention, perhaps in the form of conferences or progress reviews; allow taping of lectures; suggest a study group or sharing of notes; develop alternative testing procedures; and allow additional time to complete tests and assignments.
Here are some behaviors that could provide the basis for referral of students to the Center for Counseling and Academic Development for counseling, screening, or diagnostic work. While the instructor is not expected to diagnose learning disabilities, and no one of these indicators alone constitutes evidence of a learning disability, a constellation of factors in one student may be telling. The following list of characteristics often associated with learning disabilities is provided by the Center for Counseling and Academic Development:
• difficulty with written language, such as poor note-taking or organizational skills, poor test-taking skills or spelling
• difficulty forming letters and numerals, and producing legible writing
• low reading level, slow reading speed, or difficulty comprehending material that has been read
• problems with numerical reasoning, as in word problems, or deficits in quantitative abstract reasoning or analytical math skills
• problems with copying or drawing, or difficulty recalling visually presented information
• difficulty with auditory memory, or with discriminating between sounds in words; easily distracted by extraneous auditory stimuli
• organizational difficulties such as problems with completing exams or assignments on time, or organizing ideas and expressing them in written form; difficulty starting projects, studying, or maintaining attention span
• problems with enunciation and grammar; a limited vocabulary or ability to understand and pay attention.
Remember that the principles of confidentiality of student records apply as well to materials and conversations related to students who are disabled in some way, and that these students may be self-conscious about what they perceive to be conditions or circumstances which distinguish them from their peers. Make every effort to address issues of accommodation squarely, but do not allow them to become the exclusive focus of your contact with the student. For more resources please refer to the Appendix.
Students of Different Cultural Backgrounds
Adapted with permission from Chism et al., 1992
Stereotypes about cultural background abound. Assuming that every Asian American student is good at math or that every African American student is an athlete or from an underprivileged background leads to faulty expectations that are communicated to students in subtle ways, often only subconsciously. It is important for instructors to view students from other cultural backgrounds as individuals who may or may not have characteristics of the dominant culture.
Many students whose family traditions are rooted in the cultures of Africa, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Native America exhibit learning styles that emphasize group cooperation, holistic thinking, a concrete rather than abstract orientation, a valuing of personal knowledge, oral over written tradition, and reliance on imagery and expressiveness to provide an affective component to learning. Instructors who recognize the strengths of these cultural orientations and provide opportunities for students to draw upon them not only further the learning of the students but enrich the learning opportunities for majority students, some of whom may share these styles and others of whom can profit through expanding their stylistic repertoires.
Language, either of another country or an American dialect, is often a sensitive issue with students from other cultural backgrounds. Students with language difficulties need to know, first of all, that their language is respected. It is important to remember that all languages are culturally bound. The rules of a given language are determined by usefulness; therefore, it is problematic to impose standards from one context on a language that is part of another, or to denigrate language systems that are not mainstream. Instructors who focus on task or content when this can be separated from language help students to retain self-confidence and cultural pride in a different environment. Using visuals, synonyms, and examples when lecturing or in examination questions helps those with different language backgrounds to understand what is being communicated.
Teaching style expectations are often different across cultural backgrounds. While it is impossible for an instructor to accommodate all teaching style preferences and still be true to a personal style, it is important to work to accommodate different preferences.
Students bring to the classroom a knowledge of the achievements of their cultures and the traditions of their heritage. Instructors who incorporate these achievements into their curricula not only build on their students' sense of pride and self-esteem but also enrich the scope of knowledge available in the course. It is important, however, for the instructor to avoid assuming that a student with a given cultural background is able or willing to serve as the representative of that culture when classroom discussions occur. Calling on an African American student to talk about slavery or a Native American to talk about life on an Indian reservation puts the student in a sensitive position, even if the motivation is student involvement.
Adapted with permission from Sarkisian, 1997
Sometimes it is the teacher as well as the student who is of a different cultural background. If you are an international student, plan to teach, and have not yet observed an American class, you should do this as soon as possible. When you do, you may be in for a surprise. Faculty and graduate teaching assistants from different parts of the world find much that is unexpected their first time in the classroom. Some of these surprises are welcome. But other aspects of the American classroom may be difficult to adjust to, especially if you are teaching for the first time and
English is not your native language.
This Handbook For Teaching Assistants is a starting point for helping you adjust to the culture of the American classroom by outlining teaching techniques that are expected by American students. There is no single right way to teach. But, especially if your English is weak, you should quickly develop strategies to communicate with your students and to enlist their good will.
Many faculty and teaching assistants from other countries have language difficulties in the classroom: the students may have difficulty understanding you, and you may have difficulty understanding students, especially when they speak quickly, when they use slang, or when several people are speaking at once. This can be true for all teachers from other countries, whether or not English is your native language.
Most teachers expect these difficulties. What they do not expect are other surprises. They may not suspect that different cultures have different assumptions about the academic background of college students, about how students learn, about the appropriate roles of teachers and students, or even about the fundamental purpose of a college education. Furthermore, it may come as a surprise that many of their American colleagues take teaching seriously and spend time reflecting on teaching
American students, for the most part, may have difficulty learning from teachers who teach as they themselves were taught in their own countries, especially if the style of teaching reflects radically different assumptions about teachers and students, learning and education. Problems with language and differences in teaching styles can be compounded by the reticence of teachers and students alike in approaching people of different cultures. You may not know how to talk informally to your students; they may be even more uncertain about how to talk to you.
Two campus resources that will be particularly useful to you as a teaching assistant include the Foreign TA Orientation and the Center for Teaching.
The Corona System has sponsored a Foreign Teaching Assistant Orientation program since 1987. New international TAs take part in a mandatory English language oral proficiency test. Those with speaking difficulties (who do not pass the test) participate in a free follow-up program. TAs also participate in a week-long orientation before fall registration. During the week TAs have opportunities to practice their presentation skills, to view their teaching on videotape, to receive critiques of their performances, and to attend sessions on the responsibilities of the teaching assistant. For more information on the Foreign Teaching Assistant Orientation Program, please contact the Training Program Coordinator and Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School.
Beyond this Handbook For Teaching Assistants and the other resources listed in the Appendix, the Center For Teaching has a limited selection of relevant materials for your use. Of particular value is a video and accompanying handbook on Teaching in America: A guide for international faculty and teaching fellows, developed at the Derek Bok Center at Harvard University. In them, international faculty and TAs offer advice to first time foreign teachers to prepare them for teaching in the American college classroom. The handbook and video cover such areas as:
• Starting Out: A quick guide for beginning teachers
• Assumptions That Affect Teaching in the American Classroom
• Bridging the Gap: Approaching your student and helping them approach you
• Giving Presentations That Students Can Understand
• Leading A Discussion: Providing direction and continuity
• Understanding Meanings Beyond Words
Adapted from Marchesani & Adams (1992)
Most students experience a range of adjustments to life in the university. The explicit and implicit norms, values, and expectations in our classrooms can act to make students feel more, or significantly less, authentically a part of the shared academic enterprise. For some instructors, efforts to reflect upon the degree to which their teaching practices and classroom climate are inclusive may prove overwhelmingly complex initially. Therefore, it often helps to break the reflection processes down into smaller, more manageable parts. Marchesani and Adams (1992) offer one model that may prove useful for just such efforts at systematic reflection on multicultural teaching. They suggest that the dimensions of teaching and learning that have particular relevance to social and cultural diversity in college classrooms fall into four key arenas: 1) knowing who are our students 2) instructor self-awareness, 3) course content, and 4) teaching methods.
The social and cultural makeup of college students today is increasingly diverse. For example, our classrooms more frequently then ever before include members of traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic heritages, nontraditional ages, openly diverse sexual orientation, and students with physical and learning ability differences. For some of these students, feelings of isolation, hyper-visibility, or exclusion can cut them off from meaningful intellectual experiences and academic success. It is essential to get to know the students in your class as individual learners and contributors. By becoming more knowledgeable about who your students are, and what strengths and needs they bring to the classroom, you will be better prepared to create teaching and learning environments that include and promote the success of all of your students.
Often, the most useful efforts an instructor can make to enhance the multicultural inclusiveness of their teaching relate to clarifying the personal values, expectations, and attitudes and beliefs that underpin their approach to teaching and learning. For example, what impacts do our world-view, the values and principles embedded in our disciplinary area of specialization, and our personal preferences have on our approach to teaching? What influences form the foundation for our choice of curricular materials? The results from assuming that our values, attitudes, and beliefs are universally shared by our students can result in costly, albeit unintended, consequences for the teaching and learning environment. By operating on false assumptions and stereotypes, instructors can leave students with feelings that range from unarticulated uneasiness to feelings of complete exclusion.
What constitutes curricular excellence is a debate that has raged hotly for the past decade. Marchesani and Adams suggest that it may help instructors to view the creation of a multiculturally inclusive curriculum as a developmental process that stretches from exclusion to inclusion. The CFT offers a range of materials (from print to videos) that can help you to examine the content of your course and to address issues of inclusion and representation effectively. For many new instructors, support for efforts related to this arena can also be found by tapping into resources within your department faculty and peers. Disciplinary-based journals, conferences and organizations often provide good resources as well.
The way in which we teach our course content is also a significant factor in determining our success in a diverse classroom. Typically, we intuitively teach in the style and manner that we are most comfortable with and were most successful in learning in, as well. Marchesani and Adams counsel instructors to stretch themselves to develop a flexible repertoire of teaching strategies and then to consciously match the appropriate strategies to the learning styles and preferences of the students in your course. Utilizing a range of teaching strategies in your classroom can act to help more students to feel welcomed and competent, both as students and as successful members of our academic community.
The faculty and peers in your department as well as the professional organizations of your disciplinary specialty may have resources that can provide important perspectives and support to your efforts. Additionally, teaching consultants at the CFT are available to meet with you to help you to assess your interests, strengths, and challenges as you endeavor to create a more multiculturally inclusive classroom. We have a wide range of print and video resources available for your use and we can offer teaching assessment options to help you gather feedback from students about their perceptions. Additionally, please see page 6 for information on the Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom Faculty and TA Partnership Project as well.