Ideas from Faculty on Working Effectively with GSIs
Plan a pre-semester course orientation.
Know your GSIs.
Meet weekly with GSIs to talk about teaching.
Build into the weekly meetings specific pedagogical goals.
Encourage your students to keep a teaching journal.
Observe your GSIs in the classroom.
Encourage GSIs to be video-recorded in the classroom.
Set up a peer observation program.
Encourage your GSIs to get ongoing feedback on teaching and learning from their students.
Encourage your GSIs to draw on campus and field-specific teaching resources.
View your course as one step in helping GSIs to prepare for their own future roles as professors.
Take part in programs the GSI Center offers for faculty.
Use this meeting as an opportunity to get acquainted with GSIs, to provide an overview of your course, and to clarify GSI responsibilities. GSIs benefit from knowing faculty members’ course objectives and goals for students and the role GSIs can play in helping to achieve those goals. A pre-semester orientation also provides GSIs with a chance to examine the syllabus and plan ahead for labor-intensive teaching or grading weeks.
Graduate students bring various levels of experience to their roles in your course. Many graduate students listed as “new” UC Berkeley GSIs actually may have substantial prior teaching experience from other settings. Such GSIs can often offer valuable suggestions and input, as well as teaching ideas that work, from past experience. Other graduate students, including those well along in their graduate programs, may never have set foot in classrooms as teachers. Gathering information about GSIs’ teaching histories at preliminary planning meetings can provide a much better sense about the resources GSIs may bring to bear on your course and the type of assistance they may need to improve their teaching.
Use these meetings to discuss not only course logistics but also the teaching that takes place in the lecture, section, or lab. Discuss your approach to teaching and why you make the pedagogical choices you do. GSIs benefit from hearing you reflect not only on “what” you will be teaching but also “how” and “why.” Use the meeting to brainstorm ways for GSIs to teach a particular topic. For example, one UC Berkeley instructor wanted to encourage her GSIs to use discussion sections to hold a formal debate on a controversial topic in her field and presented the idea in the weekly teaching meeting. Collaboratively, the GSIs and the instructor developed a successful format that the instructor and her GSIs now use each time the course is offered.
For example, in weeks 1–4 you may wish to discuss with GSIs specific approaches to teaching, e.g., group work, participatory discussion, role plays, debates, and lecture. In weeks 5–8 you may wish to work with them on ways to assess teaching and learning, e.g., journals, Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), midterm evaluations, peer observation, and videotaping (see below). In weeks 9–12, you may wish to work with GSIs on how to grade tests and written assignments and how to help students improve their writing. In weeks 13–15 you could work with the GSIs to begin to develop a statement of teaching philosophy and other aspects of a teaching portfolio based on the reflection they have done on their teaching over the semester. You might wish to have the GSIs collaboratively construct a course portfolio for the entire semester that provides reflection on and assessment of all aspects of the course.
Ask your GSIs to reflect on the following questions in writing after section:
- What worked well in this class and why?
- What didn’t work well and why?
- Where did students seem to have difficulties?
- Were there any noticeable points where the students seemed very engaged?
- What should I change the next time I teach this?
Faculty are sometimes reluctant to observe GSIs in the classroom because they fear this will change the tone of the section, make the GSI inordinately nervous, or be misunderstood as “checking up on” the GSI. We encourage you to rethink what observations are all about and to see the observation as a way for you to collaborate with the GSI in the spirit of improving teaching rather than as a means of evaluation. When conducting an observation, faculty should meet with the GSI on the day prior to the observation and discuss how the section is going, what the GSI would like feedback on, and what he or she will be teaching on that day and how. After the observation, the faculty members should meet with the GSIs to discuss how the class went. Together, they should formulate two or three areas of teaching that the GSI would like to work on to improve and devise specific ways to accomplish those goals. Most graduate students need to have a letter in their dossiers that addresses their ability to teach. If you observe GSI-led sections, you will be in a position to write such a letter for a candidate. For guidelines on how to conduct a classroom observation, see Conducting Productive Classroom Observations of GSIs.
Encourage GSIs to be videotaped in the classroom and work with a trained consultant to improve teaching. GSIs benefit greatly from having the chance to observe a recording of themselves teaching and identify areas they would like to improve. Some departments have formal programs in which GSIs are videotaped and receive feedback from a peer consultant. If your department does not have such a program, GSIs can contact the GSI Teaching & Resource Center for this service.
Set up a peer observation program where your GSIs visit one anothers’ classes. GSIs can learn a great deal from watching one another teach. Much like the classroom observation conducted by the faculty member, this should be seen as a means to learn more about one’s own teaching by observing another. Guidelines for classroom observation can be obtained from the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.
While end-of-semester evaluations can summarize the students’ overall responses to the class, this input comes too late to be of use to the GSI during the current semester. Many faculty members have their GSIs conduct mid-semester evaluations [add link to our page on mid-term evaluations of teaching] to get early feedback on teaching and learning. About three or four weeks into the semester, have GSIs ask students to write down three things in the section that are helping their learning and three things they would like to change about the class in order to increase their learning. GSIs sometimes distribute the input they receive to the class to show them differences that exist in student learning preferences. GSIs can also let the students know what they will be changing as a result of the feedback they have received from students. This can be done at various points in the semester. Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) enable GSIs to get feedback about the learning that has transpired in a particular class period or as a result of a specific activity. The most commonly used CAT is the “one minute paper,” in which students might be asked to address the following questions:
- What was the most important thing you learned during the class?
- What question do you still have about the topic?
GSIs can then review the student responses to understand what needs to be elaborated or clarified in the next class session or online between sessions.
GSIs do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to ideas for teaching. In addition to departmental resources, many GSIs benefit from the teaching ideas developed by GSIs who have won the Teaching Effectiveness Award. These one-page essays can be found on the GSI Teaching & Resource Center website. Disciplinary teaching journals can also help GSIs stay apprised of current, field-specific directions in teaching and learning. GSIs can also enhance their teaching skills through workshops offered each semester by the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.
For many graduate students, your course may provide their only teaching experience prior to assuming roles as faculty members themselves. While GSIs certainly need to learn how to grade papers, conduct labs, and lead discussions, these activities alone are not sufficient to prepare them for future teaching careers. GSIs can also learn a great deal about course design, delivery, and instruction through discussions with faculty instructors. Offering your GSIs regular opportunities to discuss with you goals for the course, teaching strategies, ways to improve student success in the course, and how well goals are being reached, allows GSIs to view the teaching process from a perspective inaccessible to them in their roles as lab/discussion leaders. Likewise, working with more experienced GSIs on preparing and delivering a guest lecture for your course can provide them with valuable experience in this role.
Each year the center sponsors a three-week seminar for faculty on teaching with GSIs. The seminar addresses such topics as connecting the work of section to the larger course, conducting classroom observations, guiding GSIs in the grading process, and helping GSIs teach in keeping with how students learn. The Center also offers consultations for faculty on working with GSIs. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the GSI Teaching & Resource Center at 642-4456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.