How to manage groups more efficiently – from “Get Better Faster”

I am currently reading a book entitled Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. While a more detailed review will come later, there is one point that is of particular interest. The author suggests that, when monitoring student work, the monitors (in my case myself and the TAs) should go to the fastest groups first. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive: shouldn’t the in-class assistants spend the most time with those groups who struggle the most? Bambrick-Santoyo, however, points out that going to the fastest groups first has two benefits:

  1. The in-class assistants get a good sense of where the students are likely to struggle and what alternative conceptions students have. While I always encourage my TAs to work the problems in advance and while we discuss them in our weekly meetings, these efforts are not always sufficient. By attending to the fastest groups first, TAs in particular get a in-the-trenches sense of where students are likely to stumble.
  2. Attending to the fastest groups first gives those groups who need a little more time the time they need to progress to the point where they are in a position to ask a question or get feedback.

Again, I am sure there will be more to come from this book, but I wanted to share that out.

Graduate Students’ Teaching Experiences Improve Their Methodological Research Skills

Feldon, David F., James Peugh, Briana E. Timmerman, Michelle A. Maher, Melissa Hurst, Denise Strickland, Joanna A. Gilmore, and Cindy Stiegelmeyer. “Graduate Students’ Teaching Experiences Improve Their Methodological Research Skills.” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 1037–39.

I was meeting with Colleen Kuusinen, a new member of our Center for Teaching and Learning on a new project I am pursing as an Honors Thesis mentor. During our conversation, she mentioned this paper from 2011 which indicates that teaching experiences are beneficial to developing graduate students’ research skills. In this paper 95 graduate students’ research proposals were graded in accordance with a peer-reviewed “‘universal’ rubric for assessing undergraduates’ scientific reasoning skills using scientific writing” from B. Timmerman et al., Assess. Eval. High. Educ. 36, 509 (2011). The results were quite impressive as shown in the figures below. I think that these results only further the importance of developing good TA training.

We gave a workshop on GTA training programs based on P691G!

Today, I, along with Jake Shechter and Sara Feyzbakhsh, gave a workshop on developing GTA/TO training programs as part of Diversity Lunch Talk series hosted by the UMass-Amherst Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development. We had a group of people from all over the university from Comparative Literature to Microbiology.

In the workshop, participants thought about the TA-training needs for their specific departments and also what resources might be available as far as implementing their training goals. The workshop ended with participants thinking about designing an activity to facilitate TA skill development.

As part of building this workshop, we completely revamped the P691G portion of this website. This series of pages on our particular course now goes into rather extensive detail and includes a survey of the different pedagogical techniques that we use. The goal is to provide an easily navigable resource for people to gain inspiration for their own programs.

Thanks to Jake and Sara for helping me refine this course as well as in assisting in the development and facilitation of this workshop.

Getting Graduate Students Comfortable with their Power

A little background: within Physics 691G, we do a two-week unit on issues of identity in the classroom. We segue into the unit by thinking about the challenges in evaluating teaching which is done in the context of the new grads observing more experienced TAs. After we explore the challenges of evaluating teaching, the new grads complete an worksheet based upon an exercise developed by Kirsten Helmer of TEFD. In this assignment, the new grads must they explicitly consider their positionality along multiple axes. We then spend two weeks looking at case studies of various interactions within the classroom. During the first week, we investigate situations where the new grads identity as a student is salient. The second week, we move to situations where their identity as instructors is more relevant. In that second week, many of the new grads seemed uncomfortable with the power that being in an “instructor” role bestows.

Continue reading “Getting Graduate Students Comfortable with their Power”