Fall TA Training
This document contains information about fall semester training sessions for teaching assistants in the College of Letters & Science.
Fall 2017 Annual College of Letters & Science Teaching Assistant Training
Thursday, August 31st, 2017 - 9:00 to 3:30
3650 Mosse Humanities Building
At this full-day training event, selected Teaching Fellows from across the disciplines will cover a host of topics that TAs will find useful as they begin their fall teaching appointments. Various campus and college units will also be on hand to discuss strategies and resources to help TAs navigate the first day of class, work within a teaching team, interact with a diverse group of students, understand campus policies as they relate to their TA appointments, and integrate technology into the classroom.
The training is geared towards new TAs in the College of Letters & Science, but experienced TAs are welcome to attend, as are TAs from other UW-Madison schools and colleges. Pre-registration is not required.
For more information on the Fall TA Training, please contact Brian Bubenzer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 265-0603, or Tori Thompson Peters, email@example.com, 890-3850.
Small Group Workshops offered by the L&S Teaching Fellows
The L&S Teaching Fellows are winners of the annual Teaching Fellow Award. These sixteen graduate students specialize in a range of fields represented in the College of Letters & Science. Nomination as Teaching Fellows acknowledges their outstanding success as students and Teaching Assistants at UW-Madison. Each year, the Teaching Fellows develop and lead a series of workshops for new and experienced TAs who attend the Fall TA Training. Those who attend the training will have the opportunity to participate in two small group workshops.
See descriptions of the Fall 2017 workshops below.
What is a TA?
Sarah Edlund, AnthropologyDesigned for all TAs, but most useful to new TAs
On the surface, Teaching Assistants are graduate students who provide instruction often in the form of labs or discussion sections. They convey course information to students. In reality, being an effective TA is a little more complicated than just telling students facts or handing out assignments. TAs are expected to simultaneously embody several challenging roles. You’re an educator, an authority, and a manager. You’re also a mentor, a leader, and a coach caught somewhere between the faculty and the undergraduates. How in the world do you balance the demands of all these roles, inspire students, and cover all the required material before class ends? What does being a TA really mean?
This session will provide some practical strategies to help discover the best TA style for you. We will discuss how communication is key (whether it is with your supervising instructor, your fellow TAs, or your students) and practice incorporating elements of your own personality into your teaching. During this session, you will create your own checklist for each phase of your assistantship and leave with a straightforward plan of attack. With a clear understanding of expectations and plenty of preparation, you will be ready to tackle your first semester.
A Shift in Perception: Learning to Succeed as an International TA
Di Fang, MathematicsIntended for international TAs
It’s hard to teach for the first time, and even harder as an international TA. Why? There are many common concerns such as the language barrier, culture shock and different perspectives on the relationship between students and teachers. However, none of these should prevent you from creating a successful classroom environment.
This session will build up your confidence and change your perception as an international TA. Differing cultural backgrounds should not interfere with teaching; on the contrary, they can be a strength which adds an extra layer of fun and enjoyment into the classroom. We will discuss how to address the language issue effectively and gain students’ trust; become comfortable discussing your personal identity with your class; and discuss proper ways to treat the relationship with students. Attendants will walk away with more confidence and a perspective change on how internationality could contribute to your teaching.
Holding Office Hours: What to Expect and Tips for Success
Kramer Gillin, GeographySuitable for TAs of all disciplines; examples will be from social science courses
Holding weekly office hours is part of almost every TA’s job, but what exactly are you supposed to do during office hours? What will your students and lead instructors expect of you? What if no one ever shows up, or if there are 20 impatient students lined up to see you? These unstructured one-on-one sessions with students can create rewarding opportunities to clarify subject matter and develop rapport, but they can also be the sites of particularly challenging interactions with disheartened, frustrated, or even combative students.
This session will begin with a discussion of pragmatic concerns such as scheduling, choosing meeting locations, and advertising office hours. The bulk of the session, however, will be spent covering scenarios to expect; how to use office hours to inspire, engage, and assist students; and how to responsibly handle difficult situations that may be emotionally charged. Rather than giving you a single model for what to do, this session will outline a small assortment of concrete methods that are often employed so you can choose what is best for your course and your personality.
Surviving Your First Week Teaching a Science Lab
Scott Hartman, Zoology/GeoscienceSuitable for all TAs, emphasis on science lab TAs
Are you teaching your first L&S lab course this semester? Does the first week of class seem intimidating as you plan to set the right tone for the course and engage your students? While preparing for the beginning of any class can be intimidating, science labs come with additional challenges - how do you deal with controversial subjects in class, how can you make your subject matter relatable to their daily lives, and how do you encourage inquiry?
This workshop will explore several strategies to prepare for your first week as a lab instructor. We will examine techniques for creating an open inquiry environment that is welcoming to students of diverse backgrounds as well as highlight simple teaching techniques that increases student engagement with science topics. Finally, we will discuss ways to address controversial topics in science classes, including how to allow differing voices to be heard without sacrificing the scientific integrity of your material.
Engaging Controversial Subjects in Discussion
Jee Jee Kim, SociologyIntended for all TAs
Introducing and addressing “touchy” subjects in the classroom can feel overwhelming. Even experienced TAs grapple with anxiety about what to say or how to say it. But these are also powerful opportunities for creating a professional, inclusive classroom where critical dialogue - responsibly directed - can actively develop. This workshop focuses on how to approach and articulate sensitive subject matter when leading discussion in an undergraduate group setting. We will examine time-tested approaches that work, ways to avoid common traps, and how to manage them when they pop up unexpectedly. You can confidently practice diplomacy and honesty in your work as an educator. Join me for discussion!
Incorporating Technology into the Foreign Language Classroom
Sami Lamine, African Cultural StudiesIntended for TAs of foreign languages
Are you new to foreign language teaching, or are you looking for new ways to engage your students? As we all know, phones and technology can often distract our students and draw their attention away from the topics we are trying to introduce in class. However, in this workshop we will explore ways in which you can harness technology to capture your students’ attention and enrich your existing course materials. These strategies will help you incorporate a more communicative approach into your language classrooms.
This workshop will introduce TAs of foreign languages to a wide variety of online tools, computer software, and smartphone applications which will be helpful in creating a dynamic and immersive classroom. These tools and best practices are derived from personal experience, conferences, and the latest research in the field, and address the four major skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The workshop will include a model classroom activity, as well as small group discussion on ways to incorporate technology and engage students as active learners in the foreign language classroom. You will leave the workshop with knowledge on how to make your classroom interactive, creative, and student centered, as well as the confidence to adapt new technologies to suite your needs and style.
Approaching Difference: Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Classroom Environment
Stephanie Larson, EnglishIntended for TAs of all disciplines
Our current political moment has called educators to deeper reflection on what it means to provide a safe space for all students in our classrooms. Experiencing issues surrounding race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, or politics in the classroom can feel tricky, yet instructors have a responsibility to engage with these difficult yet inevitable moments. This workshop aims to help new instructors cultivate approaches for creating an inclusive environment, regardless of whether or not the content deals explicitly with diversity.
This workshop includes three portions. First, we will discuss how to create an inclusive environment starting from day one. Second, by examining real pedagogical scenarios from a range of UW classrooms, we will generate thoughtful approaches to challenging issues that may occur at any point in the semester. Third, we will review sample diversity and access syllabus statements from UW TAs and faculty, and instructors will draft a syllabus statement of their own.
It’s for Real: Maximizing a 50-minute Section and Mobilizing Foreign Language Use
Lu Liu, Asian Languages and CulturesIntended for TAs of foreign languages
Ideally, students learn a foreign language to use it in everyday, real-life situations that require linguistic improvisation and versatility. This goal, nonetheless, seems a bit challenging for a 50-minute discussion section, especially in an introductory or intermediate level class. At this stage students often have limited command of sentence structures and vocabulary and thus are prone to use the new language only within the context provided by the textbook. The inability and reluctance to going out of their linguistic “comfort zone” also creates a gap when students transfer into a more advanced-level language class that, all of a sudden, seems to require much more sophisticated expressions and communications.
This workshop will share some strategies in drilling and designing activities that prompt students to maximize what they learn, in a non-repetitive, creative, and interactive way. It also will prepare both language TAs and their students for their possible future transference to a higher-level language class. In the workshop, you will experience some teaching techniques and strategies that I have learned in practice, and identify practical activities that would be a wonderful starting point to designing your own language class.
Maintaining Engagement in the Classroom: You’ve got 50 minutes… And, go!
Casey Long, Communication Arts- Film StudiesSuitable for all TAs
Students have any number of stresses, responsibilities, and distractions that are unrelated to the course you are teaching. They may arrive to section not having done the assigned reading, they under-slept, they are worried about the exam in their next class, or they are simply uninterested in the material. How do you work through these common hurdles and get everyone engaged, participating and learning?
This workshop will introduce several techniques for (1) stimulating an interest in the day’s material and (2) maintaining that energy for the full session. To name a few tactics that have proved successful, one might: ask the students about their other classes and activities while taking attendance; provide a run-down of the structure of the session with goals and a clear, logical organization; ask answerable questions; wait a few beats for those reluctant hands to be raised; openly discuss how participation aids learning and memory; and perhaps most importantly, handle each section’s needs with flexibility and an individualized approach. We will begin by participating in a short mock lesson as a group and then discuss the tactics that we observed— analyzing how and why those techniques function to promote engagement and continuous uptake of information.
How to Handle Eighty Students as One TA: Getting to Know Each Student as an Individual
Emer Lucey, History of ScienceIntended for all TAs, although most useful for TAs leading discussion sections
Leading three or four discussion sections can be daunting: every section is different, shaped by the unique personalities of the students in the classroom. How should you get to know each student? How can you understand what interests them? How can you tailor your teaching to best fit the varied student interests in each section? How different can each section be? How can you hold four distinct sections while ensuring that you are teaching the necessary course themes and content in each section? Every student brings distinct interests, abilities, ideas, and challenges to the classroom. Recognizing each student’s individuality gives you the opportunity to design your lesson plans to engage every student throughout the semester.
This workshop will explore how to get to know your students, from the basic—how to learn their names—to the more complex—how to let student interests guide class time while maintaining a standard of learning in each section. We will discuss tactics for holding effective and well-attended office hours and consider the place of such one-on-one engagement in your larger teaching aims. We will address teaching tools that allow your students’ individual voices to shine, from student facilitation to discussion boards and blog posts, and discuss ways to vary assignments and activities to best appeal to the different vibe of each section.
“Why do we need to know this?”: Motivating and Engaging Students in “Impractical” Subjects
Geoffrey Ludvik, Anthropology-ArchaeologySuitable for TAs of all disciplines, but especially geared towards Humanities and Social Science TAs
For some students, it’s easy to see how course content applies to the real world. They might take classes in which they learn practical skills that seem to translate directly to the post-college workplace. However, there are many courses that are equally, if not more, important for providing a well-rounded education that may be perceived as “irrelevant” or “impractical” to students: dead languages, ancient history, philosophy, literature, the Social Sciences and Humanities in general. These classes are central to university education broadly and the Wisconsin Idea specifically. Yet one of the most consistent questions a TA in these courses faces is: “Why do we need to know this?” It is vital that TAs in such courses take action immediately to set a positive tone in a class where students may be tempted to “check out” due to lack of interest or perceived irrelevance.
This session will provide practical tips for new TAs to effectively engage students in “impractical” subjects and help them see the value in these subjects for themselves. It is based around three key to keep students interested and intellectually curious: 1) passion for the subject, 2) understanding student learning styles and responding accordingly, and 3) confident, competent instruction. By discussing these topics using real examples from both Social Science and Humanities courses, attending TAs of any discipline should walk away ready to get their students excited to come to class no matter what the subject is!
Soliciting and Answering Questions Effectively
Mitch McNanna, PhysicsSuitable for all TAs; will have a section specific to labs
You finish explaining a particularly difficult concept to your class, a concept you know only half the class (at best) has understood. But when you ask if anyone has questions, you get nothing but blank stares. Or worse yet, you do get a question but it’s one you’re not sure how to answer. How do you handle these situations, and what can you do to avoid them in the first place?
This workshop will provide strategies to encourage students to ask questions to help guide your teaching so you don’t have to guess what they do and don’t know. I’ll discuss how to present the material and interact with students in a way that makes them more likely to pipe up when they don’t understand something. Furthermore, I’ll explain how to answer the really tough questions (as well as the easy ones) in a way that not only the asker, but the whole class, might learn a lot from your response. The better you are at answering their questions, the more likely they are to ask.
Productive Strategies for Commenting on Student Writing
Naomi Salmon, EnglishSuitable for TAs of all disciplines
Have you ever felt disheartened when a professor handed back your essay dripping with red ink? Was there ever a time when you felt empowered by an instructor’s constructive comments in the margins of your work? Each of these cases highlights the difference instructor feedback can make on student achievement. Comments provide us with a way to connect with each of our students on an individual basis, but there is a learning curve to writing feedback that gives students the tools to succeed in our courses. Our goal as instructors is not to provide as lengthy feedback as possible, but instead to provide our students with a structured sense of how to improve their work in the future.
During this session, we will talk about strategies for providing goal-oriented feedback. We’ll consider the difference between mid-semester comments that prepare students for future assignments and evaluative comments that show students how their work aligns with course expectations. We will look at models of different commenting styles and confront questions such as “When is it most effective to provide an endnote versus a highlighted rubric?” We’ll also consider practical time-management strategies for commenting on student work.
Speak up! The Interactive and Communicative Foreign Language Classroom
Melissa Sheedy, GermanIntended for TAs of foreign languages
Encouraging students to speak in the target language is one of the challenges and rewards of teaching a foreign language class. While some English in the classroom is unavoidable, you can promote a positive environment in which the target language becomes both the goal and the means of communication, starting with the very first day of class. Research has shown that foreign language students learn most effectively by interacting with one another and by communicating in meaningful, culturally authentic ways. Through thoughtful lesson design and emphasis on student collaboration, you can maximize student learning and engagement and also facilitate a community of learners in your classroom.
This workshop will demonstrate some of the ways in which you can cultivate an interactive and communicative classroom atmosphere from day one. Following an overview of some strategies that encourage student participation and collaboration, attendees of this workshop will have the opportunity to begin to develop their own set of versatile activities that they can implement in their classes this semester. This workshop will be of interest to those instructors teaching a first-semester foreign language class, but the strategies and tasks for promoting communication in the target language are easily adaptable for all levels of language instruction.
Understanding Student Expectations: Creating an Adaptable Classroom
Aiday Sikhova, EconomicsIntended for all TAs
Working as a TA is an exciting and rewarding experience for a graduate student as it pushes you to think critically about the subject, sharpens your communication skills, and teaches you how to spread your knowledge. However, the responsibility that comes with it can be intimidating. As a TA you might be responsible not only for leading discussion sessions, but also holding office hours and leading review sessions. This workshop will guide you on how to combine your expectations as an instructor, students’ expectations for the course, and your role in their grasp of the material to ensure that students understand the content well and enjoy their time in the class. First, we will discuss what to expect from/what to cover in your discussion sessions and how to create your first handout. Then we will go over how to better understand students’ needs by requesting and using mid-semester feedback. We will also emphasize how to juggle being a grad student and instructor. This is especially important when deciding how to optimize your office hours schedule under you and your students’ time constraints. Finally, we will touch on how to conduct efficient review sessions. You will walk away from this workshop with your own personalized plan of how to make the class more exciting for you and your students.
Making It Work: Defining Your Classroom
Alisha Zachariah, MathematicsIntended for all TAs
Step zero of this workshop will be identifying our motivation to become a good teacher. We will spend the first few minutes on this because it can be crucial to getting anything out of the rest of the training.
One of the most common struggles I’ve seen TAs face is puzzling over contradicting comments in their TA evaluations: “The group work in class really helped”, “I don’t get anything out of working in groups”. Often the ‘tried and true’ pedagogical techniques like group work, student presentation etc. fail to convert as exercises that all students perceive to be useful. Despite the inherent value of these strategies, without students on board, their purpose can be lost.
One way to address this is by consciously keeping the audience and larger context in mind while you define your classroom environment. It is also equally important to explicitly convey that definition and the reason why you do things the way you do to get your students on the same page.
In this workshop I will draw from my experience both as a TA and also from having evaluated hundreds of other TAs to suggest specific research-supported strategies to define your classroom culture and get your students on board. You’ll walk away with a clear perspective on how to design your discussion: in-class activities, worksheets, quizzes, etc.