TA-PD mini-modules week 1: Nailing the intro

This semester, we’ve carved out time from the Teaching Assistants’ normal duties—a half-hour per week—to use for professional development activities. This post series tracks our weekly goals and activities.


My first Teaching Assistant experience came as an undergraduate student in an introductory calculus class. My job was to run quizzes and work example problems in a weekly tutorial, a task which seemed straightforward enough. But, that job description was all the support I was given. The result: I was nervous and sweaty every tutorial.

Aiming to support our TAs in their roles, we begin our PD mini-modules with an activity to provide them a bit of practice and feedback on the very first thing they’ll do: The introduction to the tutorial/lab.

The goals are to give TAs practice giving an introduction to a group, to provide each TA feedback on their intro (making use of the experience in the group), and to build community among the TAs.

Mini-module outline:

  1. (1 min) Brief intro to activity. Describe goals. The plan is for each TA to give an intro pitch (to the tutorial, to the lab, or to themselves) to their small group.
  2. (5 min) Individual time for TAs to plan their key points for their intro.
  3. (20 min) Show time. Split into groups of 4, mixing up experienced and new TAs. Time 3 min each+2 min feedback, for 20 min total. TAs give their intro (or the first 3 minutes of it) to your group, get some quick feedback.
  4. (5 min) Group debrief:
    • Any highlights? Any general principles to use this week?
    • Homework: Practice again before your tutorial.

Post-meeting update:

  • Practice with the intros wasn’t so authentic, because the TAs have a slide deck available with all the info they need in it (but we didn’t have the resources for them to all be able to practice directly from it).
  • Good tips and feedback came through the activity, from general (“be loud and speak” clearly”) to more specific (“put your email on the board, but set conditions on them emailing you”).
  • The activity did get TAs on their feet and interacting, and did start building the community within the course.

Next time: I would keep a similar activity for the first meeting (key to start building community and get TAs feedback), but try to make it more authentic for what they were actually going to to this week. (E.g., could give handouts of the slides and get them to practice talking from them.)

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2 comments

  1. This is a tough one. It is really hard to do an authentic job of communicating, with appropriate enthusiasm, the logistical details and selling of the course component. Plus the extra degree of difficulty due to the TAs having little to no decision-making in what happens in their lab/tutorial

    1. Yep, certainly hard. Given the amount of first-year TAs we have, any practice and prep at this is helpful for them going into the classroom.

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