Wow. What a fun class this was. As much as I want to use this space to talk about all the interesting ways we close read Freddy Krueger, slasher films, and the history of the horror film genre in U.S. cinema, I want to point out important lessons that TAing this course made clear to me. Something to keep in mind was that this was an upper-division elective course within the major, which I think makes a difference in the quantity and quality of willing participation. I want to remember to think about these strategies to improve my ability to foster participation no matter what the circumstance. I also think it is important to be mindful as a TA of how strategies work differently under different circumstances, such as a lower-division general education course.
Teaching Assistant Thoughts:
1. Carve out the last 5-7 minutes of section for a short free-write with some guidance.
I ended (mostly) each class with a prompted free write. Part of the point of this was to hear from students who had not spoken up. I used these free writes, ultimately, in other useful ways. Sometimes, I asked them to reflect on something they learned or wanted to remember from section, something they heard someone else say. I asked them to write about something they wanted to say but did not. I also used this activity to ask the students to tell me what they needed. I did this probably a week 5, which for us is midway through the quarter. I regret not doing this sooner, because it did not leave much time for correction, since the remaining weeks were interrupted by holiday break and an unforeseen strike. Thing to remember: be more consistent about doing this every time. Sometimes, I would let the conversation run-on and forego the writing, but I think I should not have.
2. Vary discussion group sizes / activities.
I kind of already have been doing this as a part of practice. My attempts to have a whole class discussion (33 people) were often times highly satisfactory, but it was not easy to get everyone to talk, and sometimes anyone. Though this is the easiest and least structured form for discussion, it did not seem to be the best for everyone. Once I got a sense of who’s who in the class, I put the students into groups of 5 (ideally, though some had to have 6). I selected the groups with the intent of moving folks around the room, and I put some thought into dispersing strong-voiced students and pairing really sensitive thinkers with those whose ideas were good but would benefit from listening closely to others. I had them meet up in these groups a few times. I would continue to do this because it helps establish comfort and trust.
3. Insist upon discussion “rules.”
One problem I seem to bump into is when the groups have done some discussing and/or when we move to discuss as a large group the conversations tended to bounce back to me, rather than flow around the room. I tried (probably inconsistently) to begin by telling them not to speak only to me but to address each other. I think maybe beginning in small groups and practicing language and cues for doing so would be best. Stepping back but still keeping conversation on track was really hard. I think my willingness to jump in was damaging, because it took away space for others. Maybe demonstrating with a brave soul on the first day would help. Using each other’s names is essential.
4. Balancing section time between open discussion and scaffolding toward assignments.
One problem I see in my disciplines classes is that we don’t teach writing. We work on literary critique, analysis, and theory and evaluate it through writing. So, there is a slight disconnect. In a chemistry class, they don’t teach math but it is a required skill for example. That is a skill the student’s should have formed in earlier course work. However, student abilities to write well vary, as well as their experiences in these formative courses.
5. Carefully Inclusive Administration Stuff
Getting student’s names right is essential to me. Obtain preferred first names and pronouns without making students feel uncomfortable or outed. I think the index card thing, passed out on the first day of section, is the best way to go so I can compile attendance sheets and info. This can be done individually and discretely. After that I can learn names and practice them by watching folks sign in. To jump back a little the index card activity can be used to do more than just obtain information. Thinking about how this works from course to course will be something to do on the fly.
6. Plan B’s
I tend to rely a bit on technology as a visual aid, warm-up activity, and to guide me. I need to always consider what my plan be will “B” in the event of a power outage or some crazy technical catastrophe. AND, I need to get media cabinet codes well ahead of time, so I am not scrambling. Also, any handouts, which is pretty rare for me, must be done the day before, because every printer knows when you are in a rush and will screw your day up.