Good organization is important to all phases of instruction, from curriculum development to determining presentation format. Organizing a course does not mean throwing together a conglomeration of lectures, discussions, and hand-outs. From the syllabus to the final examination, every aspect of the course should be focused on defined educational goals, the most important of which is the level of learning you expect students to achieve. (adapted with permission from Farris, 1985)
Your first step in organizing a course (or single lecture, discussion, or lab) should be to establish the level of performance you expect from your students. And this means articulating clear and detailed statements of what it is you want them to learn.
Instructional objectives should be as intelligible and concrete as possible. For example, rather than aiming to teach students to do a chemistry experiment, break this general aim down into its component parts: to formulate an hypothesis, to design an experiment, to collect data, to analyze it, to draw conclusions, etc. Then, break each of these into its component skills. Or, to give another example, rather than aiming to teach students a variety of historical viewpoints, create an inventory of historiographical skills: to distinguish between historical fact and historical opinion, to treat fairly an array of alternative historical interpretations, to apply the criteria of sound historiography, etc.
According to instructional development specialist Bette LaSere Erickson (1978, p.44):
Writing clear statements of objectives is important for at least three reasons. First, writing objectives enables us to communicate our expectations to students so that we may focus and direct their learning and so that they may study more productively. Secondly, writing objectives encourages us to articulate our goals clearly enough so that they become useful guides when the time comes to select teaching methods, learning activities, and evaluation techniques. Finally, writing objectives enables us to communicate our expectations to colleagues so that discussions about what should be learned and how it may be taught are fruitful and productive.
Bloom (1956) has proposed a taxonomy of six educational objectives which move from lesser to greater levels of abstraction and complexity in the thinking processes required of students. Instruction can be organized around one or more of these hierarchically arranged objectives: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Particular teaching styles tend to lend themselves to the accomplishment of certain objectives rather than others. For example, lectures facilitate learning at the lower end of the taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, and application), while discussions or other more interactive teaching styles tend to facilitate higher order objectives (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation). Under ideal circumstances your choice of teaching style should reflect the level of thinking and learning in which you want students to be engaged.
According to General Education Requirements, published by the Provost's Office:
A student's General Education should include knowledge of the historical development of society and awareness both of one's own society...and of societies other than one's own. In appreciation of science and the scientific method is advantageous for survival and participation in the modern world. Also the ability to reason mathematically and quantitatively and the ability to express one's thoughts in writing are essential. Finally...every reasonably well-educated person must have some appreciation of literature and the arts—fields of activity that explore, interpret, and evaluate the life of the imagination.
These dimensions of undergraduate education at Corona are implemented through specifically designed courses in four areas: the "Social World" (Arts, Literature, Historical Studies, Social and Behavioral Sciences); the Biological and Physical Sciences; Basic Math Skills and Analytic Reasoning; and certain designated Interdisciplinary courses. Social World and Interdisciplinary courses may also bear the Social and Cultural Diversity designation; some courses fulfill the Diversity requirement alone.
If you are teaching a General Education course, bear in mind that instructional quality is one of the primary concerns of the program. According to Faculty Senate guidelines:
General Education courses should...involve critical or analytic thinking and should provide contexts for questioning the larger society and the individual's relation to it. The capacity for critical thought also includes the ability to imagine the consequences of one's choices, to articulate those consequences, and to increase understanding of one's relation to the world of nature, work, and politics.
In order to promote these goals, remember that writing and problem solving are integral to the processes emphasized in General Education courses, and that this should be reflected in examination and evaluation procedures. For information on writing and problem solving activities, see the section entitled "Active Learning" in Part 4 of this handbook.
Copies of General Education Requirements, which detail objectives for courses in each of the four principal divisions of the General Education requirement, may be obtained from the Provost's Office or from the Faculty Senate Office.
Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985
Once you have decided upon your objectives for a particular course, lecture, or section, your next step is to choose the means of instruction that will enable students to perform at the level you expect. If you need to cover fifty years of research in ten weeks, you will probably lecture. If students must be capable of applying course material, you will not only have to present factual material through texts and lectures but also will have to show them how to develop generalizations from the background material (through discussion, study problems, and assignments) and provide them with opportunities to apply newly learned principles in novel situations (through labs, writing activities, and examinations). To help match teaching strategies to your objectives, you might ask yourself some of the following questions (adapted with permission from Ronkowski, 1986):
• When should I lecture and when should I hold a discussion?
• When should I be showing students how to do something and when should I encourage them to try it themselves?
• When should I respond to a student question (give information) and when should I encourage other students to respond (give opportunity for students to practice skills)?
• If I see someone make a mistake in lab, when should I correct the mistake and when should I let the student discover it?
• When should I review important concepts orally and when should I use handouts?
• If I need to show students a lot of formulas or graphs, should I derive or draw them during class or prepare handouts/overhead transparencies and discuss them myself?
• When should I rely on my own expertise, and when should I seek outside
sources (films, slide/tape programs, guest speakers, etc.)?
By considering such questions, you can begin to formulate strategies and techniques
which match the general objectives you have set for students.
Adapted with permission from Northeastern University, 1987-88
As a teaching assistant you may or may not have the opportunity to construct your own syllabus. Many TAs will simply follow the syllabus as it has been outlined by their supervising instructor. It is important that you familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures that the professor has outlined since you will most likely be called upon to implement them at some point. Be sure to clarify any policies which are unclear or problematic since you want to avoid a situation in which there is a discrepancy between your actions and the professor's policies. If time permits, some instructors may attempt to include the TA in the construction of the syllabus, making her/his name, office, office hours and telephone number available to students at the beginning of the semester. This practice can be helpful in establishing rapport with students since they will know who you are and where they can find you when they have questions or need help. The TA's responsibilities as a section leader, lecturer, and grader can be outlined here as well, making students aware from the start that the TA's authority as a teacher and evaluator is supported by the faculty member teaching the course.
The first day of class can be an anxious experience for your students. Students enter the first day of class with at least four questions (Ericksen, 1984): (1) Is the class going to meet my needs? (2) Is the teacher competent? (3) Is the teacher fair? and (4) Will the teacher care about me? To this list we would add: (5) What does the teacher expect from me? (6) What will I need to do to get a good grade? and (7) How will I juggle the workload for this course with the workload in my other courses?
While what you do on the first day of class will address many of these questions, your course syllabus can also do much to calm student anxiety. The syllabus addresses the question of whether the class will meet student needs by presenting an overview of its scope and coverage. The issue of competence is less obviously handled by your syllabus; however, the students will make judgments about you based on such syllabus factors as course structure and organization, how well learning activities (e.g. assignments, exams) are tied to course goals, and how clearly you have delineated your goals, policies, and expectations. The issue of fairness is covered by your statements of policies and expectations. Whether or not you care about your students will come across mostly in face-to-face interactions, but your students will also make judgments on how much you care about them based on syllabus contents.
What you expect of your students and what they will have to do to get good grades are covered by your statements of goals, policies, and expectations. Finally, the students' concerns about workload will be addressed by your statements of schedules, assignments, and exams.
The ideal syllabus (either yours or the instructor's) should serve as a basic reference document for both you and your students, and as such should include:
• general logistical information: course name and number, meeting time and place, your name (and/or the instructor's), office address, office phone, office hours, mailbox location
• course objectives: what it is you expect students to learn
• course requirements: homework, papers, exams, discussions, labs, and fieldwork
• course calendar: topic outline; exam, paper, lab, and any make-up schedules
• attendance and late work policies
• grading criteria and the approximate weight of each course requirement in the final grade
• course materials: texts, software, equipment, and whatever students need in order to participate in the course.
Here are some additional suggestions for avoiding misunderstandings about expectations (adapted with permission from Gadlin, 1991):
Rather than assuming that students will automatically share your understanding of what's expected, be as specific as you can. For instance, if collaborative work is part of your pedagogy, be sure to specify the nature and limits of that collaboration. Will students working together on a project hand in the same paper? How should they acknowledge the fact and degree of their collaboration? What is the difference between working together and cheating? Will it vary from situation to situation, or assignment to assignment?
Clarity about what "class participation" means is especially important: is it students' asking the instructor questions, students' answering the instructor's questions, students' responding to other students' comments, or other means of participation?
Despite the most meticulous planning, changes may be necessary as the semester proceeds. If students are to be held responsible for knowing about oral announcements of requirements as the course proceeds, (a risky procedure) they should be forewarned in writing. If changes are made in the syllabus, especially related to requirements, grading, or deadlines, these should be distributed in printed form, with effort made to reach all students in the course.
The Center For Teaching maintains a library of resources relative to course and syllabus design. These materials are available to you by phone or written request.
The supervising instructor for the course in which you are a TA will receive a class roster at the beginning of the semester. A revised roster will arrive later in the semester which reflects the class size once students have dropped and added the course. You may want to make a photocopy of the roster for keeping attendance records in your sections or labs, or for recording grades throughout the semester. It is always advisable to have at least one duplicate copy of your recorded grades in the event that your or the instructor's roster is misplaced.
The use of computer generated spreadsheets may also be an efficient way of keeping track of student grades, attendance patterns and general background information (e.g., telephone, address, class schedule, etc.). Many computer software packages are now available that will run programs which calculate final course grades, thus saving you and the professor considerable time and energy.
Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986
Before your first class meeting, it is wise to check the room where you will be teaching. Occasionally a clerical error occurs, causing a class to be scheduled in a broom closet or a nonexistent room. If this happens, when you get another room, post a sign near where the assigned room would have been directing students to the new location. Some difficulties can also arise regarding the amount of chalkboard space, number of seats, or physical condition of the classroom. If there is a problem, the room can usually be changed by contacting the designated scheduling representative in your department. Do not call the University Scheduling Office yourself.
Once settled, take a look at the way the room is organized. Seating is a prime consideration, and it can do a great deal either to facilitate or hinder what goes on in your classroom. The traditional rule of thumb is to make sure that students are clearly within the instructor's range of vision.
Remember that you may be able to manipulate seating to foster any number of effects from closeness to conflict. There are various ways to arrange seating. You'll want to experiment and solicit suggestions from students. For example, if you want to encourage discussion, place desks or chairs in a circle or horseshoe. This arrangement facilitates the give-and-take of conversation, as students can see one another when they talk. Students are also much more likely to get to know one another in a face-to-face seating arrangement and are more apt to stay attentive throughout the hour, as it is more difficult to withdraw or "space out" from a circle without being noticed. If you plan to lecture, arrange the furniture so that all students can easily see you without straining. Ask your students to comment upon present arrangements and on what would be useful for them.
Good environments frequently are flexible ones. Feel free to have students move their chairs several times during a class. For example, you might have them move into a circle for discussion, into small groups for in-depth exploration of a topic, and back to rows for your lecture. Experiment with different room arrangements to find those which work best for you. (adapted with permission from Ronkowski, 1986)
Having established goals and objectives and chosen appropriate instructional materials, you now have the opportunity to implement these plans in a variety of ways. It is important to remember that "the instructional strategies and techniques that you adopt as a teacher bespeak your attitudes about yourself and your students and your respective roles in the teaching process." (adapted with permission from Crow, 1980)
Differences in teaching styles, and their implications, are described in a number of ways by different authors. One model proposes three potential loci in teaching (adapted with permission from Axelrod, 1980):
• subject matter-centered teaching: teaching is organized around the goal of helping students master principles, concepts, analytic tools, theories, facts, etc. in a particular discipline
• instructor-centered teaching: is organized around the goal of helping students learn to approach problems in the field as professors approach them ... concentrating on transmitting segments of knowledge that are considered "standard" in the field
• student-center teaching: emphasizes the personal development of the whole student, organizing class sessions around the desire to help students develop as individuals, morally and socially as well as intellectually.
These categories are not, of course, mutually exclusive. In the course of the semester you might use elements of one or another approach depending on what you want your class or section to accomplish. The approach you adopt will most likely reflect your assumptions about the fundamental nature of student-teacher relationships.
Another approach to the discussion of teaching styles focuses on the amount of interaction between students and teachers which is built into the classroom situation. A significant body of educational research has concluded that the more active involvement students have in the learning process (through discussions, question and answer sessions, group projects, presentations, etc.), the more information they retain and the more enjoyable they find their experience.
Utilizing an interactive teaching style may result in the following benefits for students :
• students become active rather than passive participants in the learning process
• students retain information longer
• interactive techniques are democratic processes and thereby give students experience in collaborating and cooperating with others
• problem-solving and critical thinking skills are enhanced in discussion settings
• some students may learn better in a group situation
• self-esteem is enhanced by class participation
• students are given the opportunity to clarify their beliefs and values
• student motivation for future learning is increased.
In general, there is considerable evidence to indicate that teaching techniques which maximize interaction between students and teachers, and among students themselves, tend to emphasize cognitive tasks at the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. So, in choosing an instructional style for your course or section, it is helpful to keep in mind what it is you feel is most important for your students to be learning. (adapted with permission from Crow, 1980)
Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986
The first class sets the semester in motion. So it is wise to consider carefully what you want to do in that first meeting. The following is an agenda which may help you structure the meeting and allay some of your anxiety.
If you want to achieve an informal style, arrive early and begin to know your students. This will help you relax and help your students get to know that you are a student yourself. If you prefer a more formal style, wait until the appointed hour and then enter the classroom. Allow a little extra time for "lost" students. Once you begin speaking, try to speak slowly and repeat whenever you feel panicky.
Remember to slow down the rate of speech and focus your attention on what you want to get across instead of how you are saying it or how you appear.
Begin by introducing yourself and writing your name on the board. You might go around the room and ask for names, departments, cities of origin, and the like.
Remember, your students are at least as nervous as you are. Locate each name on the roster and make a point of learning names as quickly as possible.
Let your students know that you are organized. Give them a handout which might include: your name, office hours, times and locations of other class meetings; the professor's name and office hours; your office telephone number; the required text and readings; the number and dates of examinations; information about lab or homework assignments; guidelines for term papers or class projects; a breakdown of how the course grades will be determined; the time and date of the final exam; whether class notes are available; and other information of interest. Much of this information may overlap with the content of the instructor's syllabus, so use your own judgment about what is important to include in your own handout.
Prepare for predictable enrollment problems and procedures. If there is a waiting list, give your students an idea of their chances of getting into the course.
Briefly sketch the kind of material presented in your class and the kinds of activities required of students throughout the semester. Explain why you as a graduate student are excited by the course material. Such feelings can be contagious.
Be enthusiastic! Enthusiasm comes with confidence, excitement about the subject, and pleasure in teaching. Enthusiastic behavior includes facial expressions and smiles, attentiveness to students, movement away from the podium or chalkboard, and eye contact which is long enough to observe students' expressions. It involves vocal inflections to emphasize and contextualize material, and a willingness to listen to students and express interest in their contributions. Students can spot an unenthusiastic instructor very quickly, and may assume that if the subject matter is not of interest to you, the instructor, then it is probably of no interest to them either. (adapted with permission from University of Nevada, Reno)
Finally, ask if there are any questions regarding the course, its requirements, or your role within it. Be sure to pause long enough for them to reflect and formulate questions.
Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986
A most important ingredient of teaching is your classroom style. What should the teacher-student relationship be? Our suggestion is that you be natural and honest. The teacher-student relationship is basically another human relationship. Others involve role-playing in which we act according to some set of social standards which seem appropriate for the situation. You are more likely to be a successful teacher if you accept the facts of the situation: you have more experience and knowledge than the students; you are being paid to help them learn; you have chosen to adopt either a formal or informal style; and they are in class for various reasons (of which you should try to be aware). Base your actions on the situation at hand rather than on some extraneous concept of what a teacher is or on the expectations of the class. The following suggestions may be helpful in establishing the kind of classroom environment which will facilitate students' learning and make your experience as a teacher more comfortable as well. (adapted with permission from Armes and Archer, 1980)
Learn student names. This may seem like a simple suggestion, but it has profound results. All of us respond to being approached individually and personally, and the logical way of beginning that process is calling us by our names. The immediate problem is how to learn the names of 50 or more students each semester. One way of approaching the problem is telling the students on the first day that they may sit anywhere they choose but that you would like them to sit in the same place for a week or two so that you can learn their names. In smaller classes you can have them introduce themselves and provide some biographical information which may aid you in recalling their names later on.
Biographical information on students can also be gathered by asking them to fill out index cards or to complete a short survey at the beginning of the semester. This information can be valuable in helping you to assess "where your students are" in terms of their academic backgrounds, and may also alert you to opportunities where course material can be made more meaningful by integrating it into students' personal experiences.
Show a personal interest in each student. This sounds simple, but it requires some effort and energy on the part of the teacher. This strategy is an extension of the suggestion to learn your students' names; it is one step further in the process of personalizing relationships. Learning how many siblings or children a student has, what her/his personal interests and hobbies are, or what kinds of books s/he likes to read can help you establish fairly quickly a warm relationship with that student.
Teachers of composition courses might have an advantage here because students often reveal personal areas of their lives in writing, but whatever your discipline, you need to find ways of bringing out students' personal interests.
Relate to students on a personal level. This is the complementary side of learning something personal about each student. It is important for you to be willing to share parts of yourself and of your personal life with your students if you expect them to share with you. There are a number of easy ways of accomplishing this. In classroom presentation you can speak occasionally from personal experience. This will encourage students to respond to you not only as an authority figure but as a person.
However, use this technique with discretion; no one wants to spend a semester listening to an instructor telling her/his life story.
Avoid judging students. Without realizing it, teachers can exhibit judgmental behaviors that discourage students by making them feel even more inadequate than they already may feel. A behavior to avoid is judging students on the basis of appearance or dress. We must not allow ourselves to be turned off by a student who is unkempt or who is wearing nontraditional clothing. Another behavior to avoid is sexual stereotyping: we may unconsciously assume that females have a certain set of interests and males have another. Age stereotyping is another judgment trap. We may expect certain behaviors from people in certain age groups; for example, we may assume that older students are automatically more self-assured or serious about their work than are eighteen-year-olds.
As much as we may believe that we are not prejudiced, racial or ethnic considerations can cause us to react subconsciously in ways that students find disturbing. For example, do you expect different attendance patterns from certain groups of students? Do you find yourself avoiding certain subjects in the classroom because of the fear of offending somebody? Do you tend to target your examples towards certain groups in your class? Do you assume that students have certain expertise based on racial or ethnic characteristics? Becoming aware of this type of judgmental behavior can help us avoid it.
See the section on Teaching and Multiculturalism for additional guidelines in handling student differences.
Treat your students as adults. Sometimes teachers unwittingly put down their students by treating them as children, by overlooking them, or by exhibiting impersonal kinds of behavior. One example that you've probably seen is a teacher turning away from a student to address a colleague who is walking by. If you do not excuse yourself to the student or introduce her/him to the colleague, you are treating her/him as less than a responsible adult. Perhaps the most effective approach is introducing your student to the colleague and then asking the student if s/he minds if you talk with the colleague; you may be able to include the student, at least for a short time.
Another way of making your students feel important is spending time with them.
This could be in the cafeteria or in your office. Before and after class you can chat informally with groups. When you meet a student in the hall or on the campus, smiling and giving a personal greeting is very effective. Call the student by name; it makes a great deal of difference.
Provide specific positive reinforcement. Taking the time to compliment a student on some specific thing that s/he has done well can have tremendous payoffs for a teacher. The key here is specificity. Students will sense a lack of genuineness if you compliment profusely and generally, but if you can pick out one particular element of their work or one particular aspect of their attitude that you like, your comment will have much more meaning. A student who has written a paper that is not particularly effective but who has used a striking metaphor, for example, can be complimented on that use. You may compliment a student on the perceptiveness of a question; if you indicate that you remember her/him asking several other perceptive questions, your compliment will have more impact. One word of caution: you need to be alert and sensitive as to how your students are receiving the words. Some students feel uncomfortable about receiving compliments at all and will become even more uncomfortable if the compliments continue. An understanding of basic body language and facial expressions is helpful in this instance.
Provide non-verbal encouragement. Provide a secure, reassuring, positive atmosphere. There are several ways of encouraging such an environment that do not involve the spoken word. Maintain eye contact with students. Move around the room.
It is important that you be animated and expressive in your presentation. Control nervous mannerisms. Fiddling with a tie or with a lock of hair indicates to students that you are not self-confident. This can be particularly unnerving to students.
Students react positively to teachers who seem to be firmly in control of the situation.
Never humiliate a student. Although you don't intend to humiliate students, you may inadvertently interact with them in ways that are embarrassing or that make them uncomfortable. Even if such embarrassment is subtle, it can discourage a student and make it difficult for her/him to come back to your class. Avoid sarcasm with students, as well as teasing that is destructive in nature. Determining what might be dangerous is sometimes difficult and requires a good bit of perceptiveness on the part of the teacher. A general rule of thumb is to respond to students in the same way they deal with you. If the students tease you, you can feel reasonably assured about responding in the same way.
Read inattentive behaviors. We all have observed inattentive behavior in teaching situations. Some behaviors to look for are shuffling or shifting in chairs, persistent coughing by one or more students, glancing at other students or watches, and stacking books when there are five minutes left in the class period. Posture, attitude, and lack of eye contact can also indicate that you have lost students' attention.
When you notice such behaviors, your response should be immediate and decisive.
Silence is often effective in regaining student attention, or you can call an individual student by name to engage her/him in conversation. Moving about the classroom can also alleviate inattention; if a student senses your presence close by, s/he may become more alert. Changing the pace of the class can be most effective (for example, switching from lecture to small-group activity). Breaking the rhythm of your usual behavior can break the monotony. Consider allowing breaks, particularly in classes over an hour and fifteen minutes long.
Be as positive as possible. This is not easy when you are having a hard day, but there are some techniques that will make you and your students feel positive. Voice quality, for instance, is extremely important. Be energetic and bright in your inflection. A monotone or a deep, tired voice will give away your lack of interest. Be willing to laugh in class, and encourage your students to laugh as well. If at all possible, be available before class for small talk, chatting, greeting students.
Sometimes this will be therapeutic for you; if your energy level is running low, a few exchanges with students will energize you.
Make yourself available. Any teacher who is responsible for teaching two or three sections of English composition or for teaching three lab courses will recognize that this is often a difficult thing to do. However, it is essential, particularly with students who may be having difficulty. You are serving as a role model to these students, and keeping reliable office hours gives them a sense of your commitment. If you set office hours, be sure to keep them. Be on time. Spend as much time in the office as you have promised; if for any reason you won't be able to be in your office on a given day, give your students advance notice. You have, in essence, made a contract with them and you should keep it.
Also, be in class for all of your allotted time. Repeated tardiness can give students the idea that promptness is not something you care about.
Commit yourself to at least one individual conference with each student. These conferences need not be long when the students do not have significant problems.
They may simply be friendly, personal conversations. Yet this kind of conference shows the student that you care about her/him. For those students with significant problems, however, the conference is crucial. Often a conference is the only means of convincing them of your interest. Sometimes you yourself can solve some of the student's problems, or you can guide the student to someone who can help her/him.
Surprisingly, many students are not familiar with the counseling services available at the University.
One word of caution is in order here. Discuss the problem only with the student (or perhaps, if you feel it is necessary, with the instructor in charge of the class).
Otherwise respect the student as an adult and keep information concerning her/his performance confidential.
Talk to students when high-risk patterns develop. Examples of high-risk patterns are several missed assignments, chronic absences, and perpetual tardiness. Telephoning students can be an effective way of reaching them; students are often impressed that an instructor would take the time to call them.
Devote the first week of class to creating a positive learning environment. Research indicates that students who feel comfortable in the classroom setting and who have some positive rapport with the teacher are much more likely to speed up learning processes as the semester goes on. Students often surpass normal course expectations if they feel very positive about the learning climate. In the long run you will accomplish more learning by devoting the first few classes to creating a supportive environment.
Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986
In most cases you will eventually face students who present various kinds of management problems. A common example is the student who wants to talk too much, frequently on irrelevant material. You can treat these students with respect but make it known that they are overpowering the discussion; by systematically calling on many members of the class, you can often get a very active class. The students seldom want one person to dominate any more than you do.
Frequently it is useful to talk to the offender outside of the class. Students usually respond to your request for less or different participation on their part. Sometimes, however, they lapse back into the old pattern. It is a natural pattern for this kind of student. Remember that these students are seldom deliberately destroying the class; they think that they are adding to the class with their participation. Don't hesitate to remind them politely if they forget their talk with you.
One technique which is often effective with wisecracks and insults is to treat them as straightforward, non-evaluative statements. Treat sarcastic remarks as if they were not sarcastic. Some such remarks should, of course, just be ignored. Either treatment takes the sting out of the comment because you are not responding the way the wisecracker wants you to. Just refuse to play the game. You'll be doing the rest of the class—and yourself—a favor.
Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986
In dealing with disagreement, confrontation, and inappropriate behavior, the new TA or instructor should probably seek the advice or guidance of a more experienced person. Department heads and coordinators for teaching assistants have dealt with similar problems and can advise you on appropriate steps. New instructors are often afraid to share problems because they feel that these problems are their own fault or constitute a poor reflection on their teaching abilities. Similar problems arise continually, however, with new or experienced faculty, young or old, outstanding or less capable. In fact, students sometimes sense an inexperienced faculty member and believe they can "get away with" more because of the instructor's lack of experience. For these reasons, and for the reassurance it gives, it is usually best to discuss your interpersonal problems with someone who can help you.
Dealing with a student who disagrees politely, calmly, rationally is a pleasure. If you state your position openly, calmly, and rationally, the two of you are almost certain to reach a reasonable solution. It is with open hostility or conflicts that most problems occur. Here are some suggestions for dealing with confrontation:
• If the confrontation occurs in a public setting, attempt to remove it to a private setting, e.g., an office. Often the confronter relies on the public nature of the attack and the encouragement of other students to press the argument.
• Listen carefully, openly, and professionally to the full criticism or grievance. Do not attempt to respond to allegations made during the narrative. Let the critic express all existing problems. Repeat the main points of the argument, as you understand them, to be sure both of you see the same issues.
• Accept any valid criticism and state your intended corrective action. Show a genuine willingness to compromise where you feel it is appropriate.
• Explain that you have different thoughts on the issue and would like an opportunity to express your point of view. State your opinions, and allow your critic to respond.
• If it appears that the issue cannot be resolved in a mutually satisfying way, indicate regret that there remains a difference in view. Restate your position, making clear any action you intend to take. Indicate what recourse your critic has to other appeal channels.
• Move in a polite and professional manner to close the conversation.
• If the critic becomes agitated, remain calm. Often your remaining calm will return the conversation to a more placid tone.
• It sometimes helps to ask a colleague to join in a confrontation, if the colleague can remain neutral and point out possible routes for solution of the problem.
The student can also see the other person as a guarantee of fairness in the proceedings.
Adapted with permission from White and Hennessey
Perhaps the most widely used medium of instruction is the chalkboard. The guiding principle of chalkboard work is: look at your writing as though you were a student in your own class. Almost anything you put on the board will be clear to you. The task, however, is to make your presentation clear to your students. Some points to keep in mind while planning a chalkboard presentation are the following:
• Students must be able to see and to read what you have written. Illegible or obscured work is valueless. Watch out if you have small handwriting, tend to scrawl, or write too lightly. Before class write something on the board and then go to the back of the room to see if it is legible. Sit in one of the last rows and take a critical look at your board work. Unless the floor of the classroom is sloped, students in the middle of the room won't be able to see the bottom of the board. Some TAs like to mark off the "bottom line of visibility" with a chalk line. If there is a desk at the front of the class, keep it clear of objects that might obstruct vision. Additionally, try to keep your work visible for as long as possible. If you are right-handed, fill the right-hand panel first, then move to the panel on the left and continue your writing. In this way you will not be blocking the view of students copying the writing you have just completed.
• Your board work must be organized so that students will be able to interpret their notes later.
• First erase the board completely. This step is especially important in mathematics, where stray lines may be interpreted as symbols.
• If you are to solve a problem or prove a theorem, write a complete statement of the problem or theorem on the board, or write a precise reference.
• Fill one panel in at a time, always starting at the top and moving down.
• Make your notation consistent with that in the textbook or the professor's lecture, so that students do not have to translate from one system into another.
• Underline, or in some other way mark the most important parts of your presentation: the major assumptions, conclusions, or intermediate steps that you plan to refer to later on. Colored chalk may help to clarify drawings.
• Erase only when you have run out of space to write. Modifying boardwork in midstream can be frustrating for students who are trying to transcribe your material into their notebooks. For example, a physics TA may reach a crucial point in the derivation of an equation and then quickly erase and replace terms. A biology TA may draw a diagram and then rapidly change first one part of the diagram and then another to show a process. If you are modifying a drawing, use dotted lines or some other technique to show changes.
Remember that students cannot make the same erasures that you do without losing their written record of intermediate steps; you can alter parts of a drawing much faster than they can reproduce the whole thing.
• If you find that you have made a mistake, stop. Don't go back over the last three panels madly erasing minus signs; first explain the error, then go back and make corrections, if possible, with a different color of chalk.
• If you are presenting material that you want students to duplicate in their notes, you need to give them time to copy what you have written. They should not be asked to analyze while they are writing. When you want them to make or discuss a point, stop writing. Let people catch up to you (they may be lagging behind by two or three lines). Then begin your discussion. Similarly, if you have engaged in a long discussion without writing very much on the board, allow them time to summarize the discussion in their notes before you begin to use the board or to speak.
• Avoid using the chalkboard as a large doodling pad. Students assume that what you write on the board is important. The board should serve to highlight and clarify your discussion or lecture. Used wisely, the board will enhance your presentation, not diminish it.
• Find out if you are using the board effectively.
• At some point, ask your students if they can read or make sense of what you have written. Don't do this every five minutes—an occasional check, however, is in order.
• After class, without prior notice, request one of your good and one of your average students to lend you their notes. If the notes seem incomplete or incoherent, ask yourself what you could have done to make your presentation clearer.
• View a videotape of your presentation, putting yourself in the place of a student taking notes.
Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986
Instructional media materials should be used selectively—they are most beneficial when they fit your instructional objectives. Before opting to use certain materials, ask yourself: Would the information be more effectively presented in another way? Is there a strong possibility that attitude or behavior change will be an end result? Will the presentation improve recall or help students remember important facts, enhance the quality of discussion, or increase students' ability to apply information? Attractive as they may be, instructional media materials are only as good as the planning, thinking, and preparation which preceded their use.
Once selected, audio-visual materials (which may include photographic slides, overhead transparencies, films, videotape recordings, charts, diagrams, models, or illustrations) may make presentations more effective by presenting new information, eliciting an emotional response, suggesting something new, explaining, or raising questions. Varying materials keeps presentations interesting, and the creative use of audio-visual materials can help the instructor to challenge students. For example, one instructor showed his students only the last few minutes of a film and had them conceive the portion which they had not seen.
With careful planning and use, instructional media materials strengthen the instructor's teaching by stimulating student interest and directing their responses and learning. Assistance in the selection, scheduling, and use of films, videotapes, and related equipment can be obtained through the Academic Instructional Media Services (AIMS). Available from this office are 16mm projectors, 8mm projectors, 35mm slide projectors, projection screens, tape recorders, record players, VHS players, and extension cords, as well as an impressive selection of films and videotapes in many subject areas. It is best to preview and reserve the desired materials a week or two in advance.
Ordinarily, AIMS will deliver reserved equipment to your classroom. Teachers of residentially-based courses, however, must arrange their own transportation, as AIMS will not deliver equipment to the dormitories. Fortunately, most dormitory lounges are equipped with VCR-compatible television monitors. Increasingly, faculty members and TAs are using computers and interactive multimedia to make their teaching more effective, powerful, and flexible. Academic Computing supports computer instruction, faculty multimedia projects, and a multimedia resource room. The Center for Teaching provides consultation on using instructional technology to enhance teaching and learning.