Working Well with GSIs: Suggestions from Experienced GSIs
Graduate student instructors from a 300-level pedagogy course made these suggestions for faculty mentors.
- Set up weekly meetings to discuss sections, lesson plans, and material.
- Visit each section at least once and provide a written review of the GSI’s performance.
- Provide extra materials to the GSIs to use in section or on bCourses. In particular, finalized, charts, maps, sound files, etc., that would assist the GSIs’ teaching.
- Give GSIs advice on grading; establish clear grading guidelines so as to ensure a single standard for all sections.
- Give each GSI the option to teach a lecture. If they are willing to work with them to construct and prepare the lecture and provide written comments after the presentation.
- First, meet with me and other GSIs on a regular basis — not just for presenting information on a specific assignment. Provide an opportunity to discuss “teaching in progress.”
- Second, give me more than four days’ notice if I am going to be teaching students a new skill (how to examine sources or how to write a literature review).
- Third, review some of the students’ papers and exams to get a sense of whether what I taught and graded is hitting the marks you find most important.
- Fourth, observe at least one of my sections and provide feedback.
- Fifth (related to “third” above), set up a mechanism whereby I can provide you with feedback on the issues students or I am having. (This could be done through regular meetings, but those meetings would need to specifically allow time for mini summaries of the students’ general progress.)
- Sixth, create space for me to talk with you about things like “how to systematize the teaching of The Literature Review.”
- Seventh, if there is a head GSI, do not expect him/her to handle all of this. A head GSI is still a grad student with limited experience and their own blind spots. The head GSI is not mentoring me.
- Make expectations clear — don’t tell me “it’s your class.” What I can do to help the students, how my section fits into the bigger picture. When you tell us what the assignment is, let us know how we will evaluate it.
- Provide pedagogical freedom — while faculty input is critical to pass [on] institutional knowledge, the faculty should provide the GSI freedom to select the substance and style of the class.
- Provide organizational guidance — allowing the GSI to control aspects of their class provides them ownership, but faculty can assist in the class goals by providing guidance gained through experience relating to organization, e.g., dates, workload, exercises, how to deal with certain situations.
- Vision/Macro-level view — It is assured that the faculty member has taught for more years than the GSI; there they will have insight as to how the class relates to a bigger problem.
- Read our emails (be responsive). Obviously, good communication is necessary (in both directions) but we often are not in a position to address every issue or have the authority to do so and you have to be involved.
- Make [sure] your lecture materials, etc., are available to the GSI — the students expect them to be as much of an authority as the faculty member.
- Make your expectations about the responsibilities of the GSI very clear.
- If there is more than one instructor and/or GSI, have regular meetings to make sure that everything is on track.
- First, the basics: respond promptly to emails and phone calls, read and listen carefully before replying, and explain your pedagogical reasons for decisions when asked.
- Give specific feedback after observations about what was effective and what could be improved on. Demonstrate an effective balance between teaching and research. Check in at least three times during the semester to see how many hours GSIs are putting in, and brainstorm solutions to be more efficient if needed.
- Explain your teaching philosophy at the beginning and middle of the semester.
- Consult with GSIs on their mid-term assessments.
- Look at your plan for assignments that need to be graded during the semester. Try to structure them so that GSIs have some time between assignments.
- Meet with GSIs regularly. Make sure to have an agenda for each meeting. Make sure expectations for such things as section activities, grading, office hours, etc., are clear.
- Go over exams and assignments with GSIs before photocopying them and distributing them to students. GSIs can help identify any potential points of confusion for students that could lead ultimately to difficulties in grading.
- Have a norming session with GSIs after students turn in each graded assignment. Offer tips to save time while grading. Let GSIs know how much time you expect them to spend on each assignment so that they can time themselves.
- Offer GSIs the option of deciding if they would like to grade exams as a group. It can save time for each GSI to grade all of a certain question or a few questions instead of grading the entire exam for each of their students.
- Together with your GSIs, create a grading rubric for each assignment. This will help GSIs save time and ensure fairness in grading across the sections. See GSI Teaching & Resource Center online Teaching Guide for GSIs for directions on how to create a rubric.
- Be cognizant of the time it takes GSIs to grade assignments during the semester so that the workload of GSIs does not exceed the hours designated by their appointment. For example, offering an additional extra-credit assignment may add too much extra grading time.
- Provide GSIs with contact information or materials from past GSIs that they can use in designing their section lesson plans.
- Encourage GSIs to share their materials with each other. Consider setting up a separate part of the bCourses site for this purpose.
- Suggest to GSIs that they review the article Time Management Strategies in the online Teaching Guide for GSis.