Tips for New Graduate Teaching Assistants from Your Experienced Peers

head with light bulb IdeaEach fall, the Teaching Assistant Orientation is offered to new and returning teaching assistants to learn more about their role as a TA and the support services at Northern Illinois University. The Teaching Across the Disciplines panel of experienced teaching assistants is always one of the most popular sessions at the orientation. This year, we asked the panel members, who are experienced TAs, to share some best practices and practical tips of being a graduate teaching assistant.

Q: How do you balance your school work with your teaching assistantship?

Kelsey Williams, English, GTA for 8 semesters: “I know of two common approaches to this.The first is to handle your work as a student and your work as a teaching assistant separately. That could mean designating Friday as your day to get your own homework done, Saturday as your day to get your teaching duties taken care of, and Sunday as your day of rest because, hey, you’ve earned it. The benefit of this approach is that you can set your brain in “student mode” one day and “teacher mode” the next, rather than doing mental gymnastics by switching between the two. It can also allow you to cross whole items off your to-do list. This is my preferred strategy and it has served me well, even unto the third year of my Ph.D.

The second strategy is to do a little bit of student work, then switch to a little bit of TA work, then switch back to student work, and so on into infinity. The benefit of this approach is that you can slowly make progress on your to-do list without feeling overwhelmed or having to force yourself to focus on a single task for too long. You need to take care of yourself as a person as well. The best way to balance student work and TA work is to balance all of that equally with having a life outside of being a student and a TA.”

Q: How do you prepare for class?

Jeanine Clark Bremer, Literacy and Elementary Education, GTA for 6 semesters: “I’m old school – I bought into the notion to read the top five scholars on each topic you will cover, for every topic you will cover all semester long. In a perfect setting, where you know what you will be teaching well in advance, this works. In a minimally perfect situation, you have probably already read a lot of the scholars due to your graduate level work. Looking at this from the daily perspective of prepping for class, two things come to mind. First, read along with your students. You will be surprised at how many more mistakes you will catch that they are making during a discussion, if you have reread the material for the day it was assigned. Concurrently reading with them also helps you better ascertain who is reading ahead and who is falling behind. Second, it may sound silly, but take a few minutes and really try to think through possible questions you might receive on a day’s topic. You may not come up with everything, because their schema is different than your own, but mentally working through options will make you more agile when they throw questions at you that you were not expecting.”

Q: What is the one thing you learned about being a teaching assistant during your first semester that you didn’t know before?

Amanda Schlink, Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Sciences, GTA for 4 semesters: “The one thing that I learned about being a teaching assistant was how much the students can rely on you. In my first semester, I was the TA instructor for a food preparation lab, where the lab was a separate course from the lecture. Therefore, I was responsible for the instruction, including lecturing, preparation of ingredients, grading, exams and everything in between. Going into the first semester, I had never had a course like this during my undergrad and didn’t know that a TA could essentially teach a separate lab, where the grade is completely independent from the lecture course. However, I found that I gained respect from my students early on by acting as the authority figure in the lab, speaking from experience when discussing course topics and showing care about their academic success in my course. This reliance carried on throughout the semester and eventually led to trust that if something didn’t work out, everything was going to be okay.”

 

Tips for Grading Student Work

Amanda Schlink:

  • Be consistent from start to finish, especially with essays, projects or any assignments that do not have a concrete rubric.
  • Avoid grading late at night, as you are more likely to miss errors. I recommend giving all graded assignments a second look over to ensure the grades given are indeed correct.
  • Use the rubrics for assignments if possible. In addition, always be able to justify the grades that are given.
  • For any exams that require a Scantron, double check that the answer key is correct before the Scantrons are submitted for grading.

Tips for Handling Difficult Situations

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always stay professional, especially through email and conversations that occur in person.
  • If possible, discuss difficult situations in private, away from other students.
  • Be observant of your tone and body language, as students can sometimes misinterpret signals.
  • Always remain neutral and do not take sides.
  • Never be afraid to go to your supervisor or faculty supervisor for advice if a situation requires additional assistance.

Jeanine Clark Bremer:

  • Breathe – no matter what, you are in charge and the student will respond to your action/reaction.
  • Listen with an open mind. Really listen to what they are saying so you understand the many facets of the situation.
  • Ask questions in a manner that is not accusatory and is fact-seeking.
  • Be straightforward and honest. Be honest about the actions you have to take (if any).

Tips for Preparing for Class/Lab/Clinical

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always come prepared (unless circumstances arise that are out of your control)
  • Students notice when you are not prepared and will comment on it, even if you think they won’t.
  • Allow more time to prepare than what you think. As the semester progresses, you will likely become more efficient and therefore will spend less time preparing.

Thank you to the experienced teaching assistants that provided these valuable suggestions on how to develop in the role of teaching assistant at NIU.

Congratulations to 2015-2016 Graduate Teaching Certificate Recipients

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graduate teaching certificateThe Graduate Teaching Certificate recognizes graduate teaching assistants (GA/RA/TAs) for their participation in the development programs offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. The certificate acknowledges these individuals’ commitment to effective teaching and can enhance their academic credentials.To qualify for this recognition, a graduate teaching assistant must have attended the full-day TA Orientation and at least five (5) programs of shorter duration offered by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. You can learn more about the certificate at facdev.niu.edu/tacert.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, 10 individuals earned the certificate:

  • Catherine Ausland, Department of Biological Sciences
  • Steven Chun, Department of Geography
  • Brienne Durfey, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Autumn James, Department of Geography
  • Adam Lotito, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Rachel Martiniak, Department of Anthropology
  • Jay Osvatic, Department of Biological Sciences
  • Jennifer Volintine, Department of Anthropology
  • Xiaoying Zhong, Department of Anthropology
  • Yang Zhou, School of Music

It is easy to apply for the Faculty Development & Instructional Design Center Graduate Teaching Certificate! The application form is available online at facdev.niu.edu/tacertapp. If you have forgotten which workshops you have attended, or how many you have attended, you can review your workshop history at facdev.niu.edu/myprograms. Log in with both your A-ID and Z-ID to see all of your programs (if you have used different IDs at different times).

New for 2016-2017, we are offering to provide a recommendation on recipients’ LinkedIn Profiles, to validate the recognition. This was highly valued by TAs who responded to our recent campus-wide survey.

Certificates are sent to the teaching assistants’ department to acknowledge their commitment to effective teaching and present the certificates to them. If TAs need a few more workshops to qualify for the certificate, they are encouraged to check the current schedule of TA programs on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website.

Beyond the Teaching Assistant Orientation

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photo of participants attending the NIU Teaching Assistant Orientation

Over 220 Graduate Teaching Assistants, presenters, and staff attended the 2016 Teaching Assistant Orientation on August 16, 2016 in the Holmes Student Center. The Teaching Assistant Orientation is offered to new and returning teaching assistants each year to learn more about their role as a TA and the support services at Northern Illinois University. However, this isn’t the only opportunity for TAs to develop their teaching skills. Teaching assistants can also attend other Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center programs throughout the year. In 2015-2016, teaching assistants accounted for 40% of program attendance, which equates to almost 600 registrations.

To find out more about TA workshops, look for our monthly calendar of programs. All TAs receive the schedule via their NIU student email.

The TA Orientation is offered each year through the collaborative efforts of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, the Graduate School, and other departments and support units. The annual event helps graduate teaching assistants develop their teaching skills and introduces them to university resources that will support their work. The TA Orientation is always well attended and attendees consistently agree that this event will benefit their students. Although the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center does not require new TAs to attend the orientation, 29 unique academic departments required their TAs to attend. Over 85% of the participants agreed that their objectives for attending the orientation were met.

If you were unable to attend this year’s TA Orientation, you can review the presentations and handouts online.

Finally, the Teaching Across the Disciplines panel of experienced teaching assistants is always popular. We asked our recognized experienced TAs to share more about their role as a teaching assistant with some strategies and tips. For more advice go to: Tips for New Graduate Teaching Assistants from Your Experienced Peers

 

Tools To Go Paperless: Blackboard’s Inline Grading

Continuing with the mission started by the GreenUp NIU initiative, many faculty and instructors are exploring different ways to leverage technology to support a more paperless teaching and learning environment. This also helps to reduce costs for students, as they no longer have a printing allotment in the computer labs or using the Anywhere Printers.

One tool of particular note has been Blackboard’s inline grading feature. Instead of requiring student work to be downloaded to view or edit submissions, faculty and instructors can take advantage of inline grading to review student-submitted files ‘inline’ – directly in the web browser without requiring any special plugins. With this tool users can preview, comment, and grade these assignments without ever leaving the grading page.

inline grading example
Many faculty have already transitioned to using technologies like Blackboard to accept and grade assignments and other work electronically.

 

The inline grading feature also hosts several annotation tools which make it easy to markup digital documents with comments, highlights, and drawings directly online, without needing to download and open the document in a separate program. Currently, the following document types are supported: Word (.doc, .docx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), photos (.jpeg, .png) and PDFs. Any formatting and embedded images in the original document are preserved when viewed inline.

Note that students will not be able to add/edit annotations on their work, but they will see their work in an inline viewer after submitting them. Additionally, if students upload files in unsupported formats, faculty will be prompted to download and view the file.

If you are interested in learning more about the inline grading feature, you can view our Blackboard support page, download a PDF quick guide, or view a recorded workshop highlighting the tool’s features.

Faculty Development will also be hosting a workshop on the inline grading feature next month (November 9, 2016). You can register for the event here.

 

Adapted from a previous post.

Fall 2016 Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Teaching Effectiveness and Using Performance Techniques in the Classroom

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greg justice
Greg Justice

The two-day Fall 2016 Teaching Effectiveness Institute was once again a success! Day one, Fundamental Principles of Effective Teaching, featured 10 presenters who represented a range of departments and offices across campus. Presenters included NIU faculty and staff who prepared informative and engaging sessions on topics including Energizing the Classroom Experience, Establishing and Maintaining Classroom Civility, Assessing Student Learning, Preparing Successful Writing Assignments, and Planning an Effective Course Syllabus.

Instead of printing all of the session documents that include PowerPoint presentations and handouts, this year we created one-page outlines for each of the ten presentations and placed a link on our website where participants can access session PowerPoint presentations and other related resources. Printing fewer paper handouts is one way Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center embraces NIU’s sustainability initiatives. The online resources will remain on our website for everyone to access.

The second day of the Institute, The Art of Teaching: Using Performance Techniques in the Teaching/Learning Process, featured Greg Justice from the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech. Greg explained connections between the performing arts and teaching while sharing techniques for preparing the mind, body and voice, three key tools required for success in the classroom. Participants were led through a series of active learning exercises to practice focusing the mind on the teaching goals, relaxing the body for peak performance, and strengthening the voice for effective communication. Those who attended the workshop were fully engaged and laughed while learning strategies to enhance their teaching skills. Participants enjoyed receiving a copy of a book referenced during the workshop by Kristin Linklater, Freeing the natural voice: Imagery and art in the practice of voice and language by Drama Publishers.

To share ideas for new Institute topics or if you would be interested in presenting at one of our Institutes, please contact Yvonne Johnson, Multimodal Teaching Coordinator at yjohnson@niu.edu, 815-753-2690 or Janet Giesen, Instructional Design Coordinator at giesen@niu.edu, 815-753-1085. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

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