Advice from Other Faculty Members
What seems obvious pedagogically to you is not at all obvious to many of your graduate students as they begin to teach.
Grading is the most difficult and unpleasant part of their task. They need strategies for grading fairly, grading consistently with other GSIs, taking up problem cases (suspected plagiarism and cheating) with their faculty member and/or fellow GSIs. Practical sessions in which they apply information to skills practice can be highly useful. GSIs also need to understand the faculty member’s approach to exam design, exam item grading, evaluating essays, grade norming, distribution of grades (to curve or not?), etc. They need ways to bring these matters up if the faculty member in charge does not.
The GSIs need to talk over what they are experiencing in the courses they are teaching from week to week; the presence of peers and of a dedicated faculty member who is “on their side” provides an excellent opportunity for this. Several pedagogy instructors begin their sessions with “Ts & Ks” (trials and kudos), also known as “TIPs” (teaching in progress).
A frequent organization for these courses is first a unit on practical issues in teaching (running discussions, active and cooperative learning, coming up with lesson goals and plans, grading); second some of the more theoretical issues in teaching (including pedagogical theory and the literature of teaching in your particular discipline); and last developing materials that reflect a GSI’s approach to teaching: a syllabus for a course they might like to teach in the future, a statement of teaching philosophy, and perhaps a teaching portfolio. Throughout the semester, invite speakers from the various resource programs to address the seminar: people from the Student Learning Center, the Title IX Compliance Office, the Disabled Students Program, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Center for Student Conduct, the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, etc.
Some 300-level instructors have their students attend workshops that the GSI Teaching & Resource Center offers through the semester.
Redesign the end-of-semester evaluation form for your course, or use a separate evaluation form, to elicit more useful information for the next version of course: what did GSIs find more useful, less useful; what did they want more of; clarify their needs.
There will often be a few first-time GSIs who feel that the pedagogy seminar is unnecessary for them. Many do not plan to teach after graduate school; some may have taught before coming to Berkeley. Faculty members have addressed this concern in a number of ways:
- The course needs to address practical issues — things the GSIs can apply in their teaching — so that they see its direct usefulness.
- The GSIs have a greater investment in the course if the schedule gives them opportunities to discuss how the teaching is going in their courses. Says a GSI who assisted with teaching a 300-level course, “Having this time to ask about issues that are timely and troublesome often wins [them] over . . . they feel they’re really getting something from the class.”
- When addressing the more theoretical aspects of teaching, consider having the class link these to concrete practices they can consider applying in the courses they teach.
- One faculty member gives the seminar participants two minutes at the end of each session to write down one thing they learned that day and how it might impact their teaching. “These are not anonymous,” she writes; people will put more thought into the exercise if the instructor can identify them with their writing. These two-minute papers “help me figure out what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes I’m surprised that the tidbit I toss off winds up being the nugget for the day for some people.”
- “This semester I started using bSpace* to ‘quiz’ the students about the readings ahead of class time. This had a great impact: it prompted discussion, raised my opinion of the GSIs for their thoughtful responses [and] raised the perceived validity of the course.”
*bSpace was the predecessor to bCourses and also has a Quiz tool.