Graduate School Meditations

Latina/o/x Expressions in (U.S.) American Literature: TA Reflections

This course surveyed the work of living Latina/o/x writers primarily in the U.S.  We read memoirs, novels, graphic memoirs, poems, watched films, listened to music, and engaged a diverse set of texts by authors such as Daisy Hernández, Gloria Anzaldúa, Junot Díaz, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Alberto Ledesma.  As a Teaching Assistant in this course, I paid a lot of attention to the instructor, her course design, lecture design, and active and inclusive methods for engaging her lecture sections.  The instructor was clearly aware and designed the course to include and encourage students to visit author talks hosted on campus.  This attention to campus events with visiting writers, such as Juan Felipe Herrera, was also an opportunity for students to engage with related texts on display in UCSC McHenry Library’s Special Collections reading room and exhibitions of those texts at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.


Teaching Assistants Tips

As a TA, we often get placed into courses that are distant from the work that we do as developing specialists.  In the case of this class, I paid attention to gaps in my own approach to 20th century U.S. American Literature and looked for things to borrow in my own future practice.

1. Teaching is/as Plaigarism

One of my graduate mentors said this to me, and it has stuck.  Whether we admit it or not, we often teach the way we have been taught.  We also learn and borrow from others, and this should be ENCOURAGED.  Of course, don’t take plagiarize in the nefarious sense.  Build your own practice by testing and trying what you like and see others do, if it is effective.  Try and take a note a day about what you observe in the pedagogical practice of others when you are in a position to experience directly.

2. Attendance and Exit Tickets

The instructor required students to bring index cards to lecture.  This served as a means of recording attendance, checking participation, AND as a means of getting feedback.  Though logistically tricky in a class of 50 students, that’s 50 cards a day, 3 times a week, this activity was effective.  Sometimes folks do not seem to want to be vulnerable and ask questions or make possibly contentious statements.  The cards allowed a space for these questions to be heard and addressed.

3. Lecture Structure

One thing the instructor consistently did was provide an agenda at the beginning of class so that students could see where they were going and what they were doing with the reading they had completed.

The instructor varied activities for the class to break up lecture.  Sometimes this would be group work looking through texts for thematic content, defining keywords relevant to the course concerns in small groups, or using our departments whiteboards (one per student with a dry erase marker and eraser) for doodling and answering questions.

4.  Assignment Prompts

In order to avoid plagiarism and to increase engagement the course assignments were more creative than traditional analytical assignments.  For example, for the memoir module of the course, the students had to use specific techniques of memoir discussed in class to write a short memoir of their own life or to borrow from events in someone’s life that they know intimately.