Teaching advice: Syllabus design and strategies for starting the school year

A view from the back of Carlton Auditorium during the orientation for UF’s new teaching assistants.

by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd at UF TA orientation

In small classrooms or large auditoriums, I like to include ways for students to be active participants in class. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

“A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Classes.”

That was my topic for the the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Florida.

More than 400 new TAs spent the day at the orientation that was designed to help them be better prepared to take on their new teaching duties when classes start next week.

In designing my one-hour session, I wanted to:

  • Explain briefly the components of a syllabus (UF provides specific guidelines) and convey the value of a well-designed syllabus for instructors. I didn’t want to go into too much detail about the syllabus because the majority of the new TAs wouldn’t be designing a syllabus for their first semester of teaching.
  • Demonstrate several teaching strategies, including incorporating peer activities.
  • Offer practical tips, from always having an umbrella and sunglasses in your briefcase (because this is Florida) to finding and trying out your classroom before the first day of class.
  • Include some teaching stories to illustrate teaching advice.
  • Provide the opportunity for the group to ask questions they have about teaching.
Q&A session in auditorium

Three of us with hand-held microphones moved through the auditorium for students to ask questions about teaching. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

I included more text on the slides than I typically would in classroom teaching. At meetings like this orientation, so much information is shared that it’s difficult to process it all. So the slides can be a helpful reference — whether you attended the orientation or not.

A special part of my session was the time for the partner activities — Think-Pair-Share. I asked the TAs to spend just a minute or two talking with a partner about questions they had about teaching. Then I asked them to share some of their questions with the group.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered to ask a question or make a comment. I know that can be intimidating in a big group setting like Carlton Auditorium. (A special thanks to the TA who let me talk with her about her note taking in class as an illustration of on-task student activity that can be misinterpreted by teachers.)

In a separate blog post, I’ll talk about some of the questions that the TAs asked during the session. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please let me know.

For new TAs at UF, be sure to check the page on this blog to UF teaching resources, with links to the 2018-2019 academic calendar, UF’s grading policy, class meeting times, etc.

I appreciate Dr. Winifred Cooke, Director of the Teaching Center, and Dr. Paul Duncan, Senior Associate Dean of the Graduate School, inviting me to be one of the speakers for the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants.

To all the new TAs – at UF and at other colleges and universities – best wishes for a good start of the school year!

2 thoughts on “Teaching advice: Syllabus design and strategies for starting the school year

  1. Julie,
    Enjoyed your article—as usual! And thanks so much for speaking to the TAs again. Evaluation comments not yet added to the report but Scantron sheets show TAs thought you were great.

    • Winnie,
      Always an honor to be asked to speak at the orientation for the new teaching assistants. I appreciate you asking me! Glad to be part of the support that UF provides TAs, including all the great workshops that you and the Teaching Center provide.

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