TAPD mini-modules week 6: Responding to the poll

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.


The slides are just right. The timing is on lock. This time, this time, I’m going to nail that description of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

The class begins. I launch in, I hit all the right notes, I build to the crescendo of energy conservation. The students are with me every step of the way; I can see it in their eyes.

The only thing left is to a quick check, a quick clicker to make sure everyone is on board. It’s obvious they are, but I should dot the i’s and cross the t’s just because. I give the synthesizing clicker question, through which I’m sure the students will demonstrate that they’ve perfectly understood my crystal explanation.

And that’s when the illusion of understanding comes crashing down.

It’s time roll up my sleeves and teach.


In our tutorials, TAs use the online system Socrative to quiz students. Students answer the multiple-choice quiz questions using their computer or smartphone, and then the TA follows up on the quiz results. This week, we’ll spend time discussing how they might respond to the different answer distributions they might encounter (how they might roll up their sleeves and teach). The goals are for TAs to see what strategies others might have for this, and to recognize the possibility and power of peer discussions.

Mini-module outline:

  1. (15 min) TAs work in small groups, discussing how they might respond to different answer distributions.
  2. (10 min) Whole group discussion about strategies in different situations.
  3. (5 min) Advertise the research-based implementation Peer Instruction flow chart from Vickrey et al.

Post-meeting update:

  • Many were engaged in the small group discussions, but I’m not sure if everyone got into it. One reason may be that only a subset of the TAs run (and have to respond to) the Socrative quizzes.
  • Through the whole-group debrief, several strategies emerged. In particular, a few different people suggested getting the students to talk to each other on questions with a split distribution.
  • Some of the first comments from TAs (in small groups) were that they would “Explain it through fully and carefully” when it looked like the whole class got it wrong. During the whole-group discussion, this didn’t come up, but was replaced by getting the students to discuss, or giving leading hints.

Next time: I would think more carefully about how to better involve all the TAs in the discussion. What aspects of their work might overlap here, and where might they get value from this exercise?

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