Planning and Prepping for your TAship

This is an overview of planning for the course in which you will be a TA, including how to prepare for your first class, ideas for ice breaker activities and supporting your students outside of class during office hours.

Planning Your Course – An Overview

By: D. Fink, University of Oklahoma

Phase 1: Building Strong Primary Components

  • Where are you?
    • Consider situational factors: context, nature of the subject, student and teacher characteristics, special pedagogical challenges
  • Where do you want to go?
    • What are you/your CD’s learning goals/objectives/outcomes for the course?
    • What are the student’s learning goals/objectives/outcomes for the course?
  • How are you going to get there?
    • How will your students acquire knowledge/information/ideas?
    • What types of experiences will they need?
    • What types of reflective dialogue will help them make sense of course content and texts?
    • What resources are needed?
  • How will the students know if you get there?
    • What type of assessment will you use?
    • Or what kind of assessment is the CD asking you to use?
    • What type of feedback will you give?

Phase 2: Assembling the Components

  • What are the major topics in the course?
    • Look at old course syllabi (if available and appropriate).
    • Look at the university course description (usually available online)
    • Identify 3 to 7 major ideas, topics, themes
    • Organize the themes logically and clearly
  • What will the students need to do?
    • What kind of learning activities/strategies can you facilitate learning?: mini-lecture, reading, reflections, problem-solving, collaborative engagement, group work, presentations, debate, etc.

Phase 3: Important Details

  •  How are you going to grade student work?
    • Things to take into consideration: CD requests and requirements, letters/numerical, participation marks, deductions
  • What could go wrong?
    • Students are not interested, disruptive, not submitting assignments, students fail, etc.
  • How will you be able to tell if things are progressing?
    • Build in reflective dialogue, ask for feedback, give feedback, maintain positive environment

The First Class

What can/should you do on the first day of class?

Adapted from the University of Oklahoma TA Handbook (2002)

  1. Involve students quickly
  2. Identify the value and importance of the subject
  3. Set expectations
  4. Establish rapport
  5. Reveal something about yourself
  6. Establish your own credibility
  7. Establish the “climate” for the class
  8. Provide administrative information
  9. Introduce the subject matter

The following has been adapted from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis (1993).

Visit the classroom before the first meeting.

This will enable you to visualize your space as you plan classroom activities. At this time you will also be able to check any audiovisual equipment (microphone, slide or overhead projector) you will be using

Build a sense of community in the classroom.

Make the effort to get to know your students right away. This includes getting to know their names and trying to use them whenever possible. You may think about including a number of activities into your first class to facilitate the ‘getting to know each other’ process. You will find that students will be more committed and motivated to learn and participate.

You should expect some level of awkwardness.

Teachers and students alike will be entering the classroom with a sense of anxiety. Acknowledge this to yourself but do your best to show confidence to others in the class.

Administrative Tasks on the First Day

  • Take attendance.
  • Mention department course policies.
  • Inform students about campus policies on academic honesty.
  • Discuss the course syllabus.
  • Invite students to attend your office hours.
  • Review safety precaution and emergency procedures. This may be of particular relevance to lab settings (e.g. science laboratory, gymnasium).

Establish Expectations

Discuss the CD’s as well as your own objectives of the course/seminar/tutorial/lab. Ask students to identify what goals they hope to achieve but also consider asking them to identify what could prevent these achievements. Describe how you intend to structure class time (e.g. mini-lecture, discussion time, learning activity, mainly student participation).

Consider an Ice-Breaker (for the first class and beyond)

These will help you to set the tone for the day as you ease into course content. They also work to establish a good working energy in the classroom as these activities usually require the use of movement, collaboration, and cooperation.

Information Package

Go around the class and have students answer questions asked by the teacher (pose your questions to allow time for students to write them down if they wish to do so). Begin with a few easy/silly questions (e.g. if you could be doing anything right now what would it be? Last book that you read for pleasure?). Then shift the questions to focus on the topic of the day.

Name Game

Each person introduces themselves and provides a few additional details about their name (e.g. who named them, what their name means, whether they like it, etc). Having these extra details may help in remember student names. You can also take this activity a step further and see if anyone in the class (including you) can remember all of the names.

Introduce your Partner

Have students chat for a few moments with the person on the left or right, and then introduce that person to the rest of the class.

Outside the Classroom

Office Hours

For students who want to learn more about the course material, for students who for various reasons are unable to ask questions in class, and especially for those in serious academic difficulty, the office hour is a place where they can find the individualized help they need to succeed in the course. For you, the office hour is a way to get to know each student’s strengths and interests, and can also help you identify any difficulties or confusion that might be common to the whole class.

Setting up office hours

When setting up your office hours, check with your course director to determine how many hours you should allocate and how they fit in with your overall workload. Try to choose times when students are most likely to be free, perhaps just before or after the class lecture so that they can see you while their questions are still fresh in their minds. You might also indicate to students that they can make an appointment with you if they are unable to make it during those hours.

Encouraging students to come to your office hours

In your tutorial, invite students to drop by and repeat the invitation several times during the term. Offer suggestions on the kinds of things they might want to discuss with you (e.g., clarify concepts and understandings about the course materials, ask questions about assignments, explore career options, etc.). Some students may have the impression that office hours are only for those in need of serious remedial help so you might work to counter this perception by noting the ways in which these discussions connect to what’s going on in class.

Give students a reason to come to your office hours

  •  Review key topics periodically through the term and suggest that those who do not quite understand any of them see you during office hours.
  • Have them pick up or drop off assignments.
  • Allocate specific times for review sessions or mini-workshops that target specific skills (e.g., how to take multiple choice exams, how to develop a thesis statement, exam review, etc.)
  • Have additional information or materials available only during office hours (e.g., sample assignments or tests, special books or artifacts).
  • Invite students to bring in their first drafts of their papers to discuss how they might be strengthened
  • Indicate on students’ assignments that you would like to discuss a certain issue with them during your office hours.
  • If you receive a complicated email from a student, suggest that they come to your office hour to discuss the answer.