Professional development for graduate teaching assistants

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos and EUS/SPN 4930 students

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos (front row in Gator blue shirt) with his students at the Student Symposium of Language policies in the multilingual European landscape (EUS/SPN 4930), Spring 2019.

by Falcon Restrepo-Ramos
Hispanic Linguistics, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies
University of Florida

Years in grad school might seem like a tremendous endeavor for anyone pursuing a graduate degree. Such experience entails years of courses, research, coffee, and, in my case and many others, teaching.

Precisely, the figure of graduate teaching assistant (GTA) in one of the biggest state universities in the country (Go Gators!) not only carries a great deal of work but also memorable moments and many opportunities for innovative teaching and professional development.

Aside from the many different responsibilities of GTAs, which at times feels overwhelming, there are also grants, awards, programs and funding support that can make the University of Florida GTA experience professionally rewarding.

Here I would like to list two main lines of teaching and professional development that helped me maximize my GTA experience at UF. As you will see below, this list follows incremental steps towards a set of goals.

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Universal Design: Instruction for students with learning disabilities

by Amanda Kastrinos

Amanda Kastrinos

Amanda Kastrinos

The goal of any successful instructor is to teach the course in a way all students will understand. But how can college teachers plan instruction for students with special needs, specifically students with learning disabilities?

With the passage of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act, teachers are required to make necessary accommodations to any student with a learning disability.

As the law states, “No otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity”  (Section 504).

Some of these accommodations could include providing a note-taker, preferential seating, additional time on tests and assignments, providing copies of lesson plans and assignments, or allowing video or audio recording of lectures.

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Effective teaching strategies demonstrated by top graduate student teachers

by Julie Dodd

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos receives the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award from Dean of the Graduate School Henry Frierson and Dr. Constance Shehan, chair of the selection committee. The VanderWerf Award is given to the top of the teaching award winners. Morgan Yacoe also received the VanderWerf Award. Photo by Julie Dodd

Promoting student involvement.

Connecting learning to important issues.

Assigning meaningful projects.

Establishing a supportive learning climate.

These were some of the effective teaching strategies employed by the graduate students who were selected to receive the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teacher Awards for 2019.

As a member of the faculty committee that observes the graduate students nominated for this award, I could feel the energy of those really engaging instructors when I visited their classes. I admired the graduate students’ course design and class planning to create such good learning experiences for their students.

Structuring class activities to get students involved

In the classes I observed that were taught by award-winning graduate students, their students were actively involved. Here are three examples I observed.

The winners of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards for 2019 and members of the selection committee. Photo by Eric Zamora

In a physiology lab, the students worked in teams to review the results of the physiology lab they had conducted independently online.

Talking with classmates in a small group helped them answer some of their own questions about the lab and prepared them to share their experiences and the questions they still had with the class. In addition, after talking in small groups, the students were more confident in speaking in class.

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Provide feedback students will use

by Julie Dodd

“I spend so much time providing my students with helpful feedback on their big project, and they don’t read it.”

I imagine you’ve heard colleagues say that and may have said that yourself.

grading papersHaving grappled with getting my students to read and use my feedback, I’m offering a suggestion:

Provide the most feedback when students are the most interested in receiving it – when they can use your feedback to improve their grade.

Often we provide extensive feedback on a research paper or final project when the assignment is completed. So no matter how useful our feedback may be, the students aren’t able to use the feedback to improve their grade on the assignment.

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Encouraging student involvement in college classes

by Julie Dodd

Why are some students ready to answer every question while other students are silent throughout the class?

Quiet book cover

Susan Cain’s book can help teachers better understand their students who are introverts.

As a member of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Awards Committee, I have the opportunity to observe a wide range of classes, including Mindful Leadership, Cities of the World, and Expository and Argumentative Writing. I’ve observed classes with more than 200 students and classes with fewer than a dozen students.

The eager to talk students and reticent to talk students exist in every classroom setting.

Getting students actively involved in college classes is a goal to promote more effective learning.

So how can you get students to participate?

I recently observed a sociology class with 26 students. During the 50-minute class period, 14 different students talked – asking questions, answering questions, or sharing insights.

The graduate student teaching the sociology class did a good job of getting half the class to participate. Here are strategies she used to promote class involvement:

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How you present yourself in a campus visit plays a major role in whether you are offered the faculty position

by Julie Dodd

I’ve received several contacts by individuals on the faculty job market who have asked me for advice for preparing for their campus visits. I’m sharing a post I wrote from my “Thoughts on Teaching” blog.

Julie Dodd

In Mass Communication Teaching, we’ve spent the semester discussing strategies for effective teaching and promoting student learning.

Each class member has taught class on a topic related to teaching in higher education — promoting group discussion, structuring group projects, promoting academic honesty, addressing the needs of students with learning disabilities, developing multiple-choice exams, etc.

A theme throughout the course has been the discussion of applying for a faculty position. So the final project for the class members is to develop an application package — identify an appropriate job announcement, write a cover letter, develop a teaching philosophy, and write a curriculum vitae.

In class next week, we’ll continue our discussion of that process with the help of two former students in the course both of whom have been on the job market this fall. One recently was hired for an assistant professor position that will start next fall, and the…

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5 New Year’s resolutions for college instructors

by Julie Dodd

As you start a new term as a teacher, you should be considering what your goals are for this new term.

Let me offer a few suggestions:

#1 – Don’t set too many goals for yourself.

If you are getting ready to teach a course you’ve taught before, you’ve probably identified a number of areas that could improved. You want to include a group project. You want to develop your own test questions instead of relying exclusively on the test bank provided with the textbook. You want to include more relevant video clips. You want to update some of the examples you use in class.

All of those can be worthy goals, but you need to consider the amount of time that is involved in each of those improvements.

For example, including a successful group project is much more than simply adjusting the students’ grades to incorporate that assignment. You will need to read about structuring group projects and then make additional small-stakes assignments that lead toward the final group project. You’ll need to include class activities to build group teamwork skills. [Read a previous post about strategies for designing group projects. ]

group project critique

A critique session with the instructor, a subject area expert and classmates is part of the group project experience for Morgan Yacoe’s Art, Body, Health: Visual Arts and Healthcare Collaboration course at the University of Florida.

You want to make improvements to your teaching, but don’t take on so many goals that either you are overwhelmed or you don’t do a good job in what you set out to improve.

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