Teaching Orientation for Engineering Graduate Student Instructors

To help prepare engineering graduate student instructors to teach, the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRLT) hosts orientation sessions at the beginning of the academic term. As a Graduate Student Teaching Consultant I have facilitated sessions at a couple of these events and have enjoyed working with the current graduate student instructors (GSIs) to help them consider how to think about and plan a lesson, assessments, and activities for their students.

To prepare for the session, my co-facilitator and I review a presentation created by a CRLT staff member, and we offer suggestions and edits. These presentations have been carefully constructed based on feedback and observations of the presentations at past orientations. After time to review, we get together to go over the suggestions and collaborate on a final presentation and handouts. I am not authorized to post the full presentation here, but our learning goals for the session include helping GSIs:

  • recognize elements of a good discussion plan and how that plan relates to the science of learning;
  • use strategies to actively engage their students in learning;
  • deploy individual and classroom assessments to check student understanding;
  • identify instructional moves modeled by facilitators.

It’s a lot to present in the time we are given and it offers a continual challenge. In the last orientations where I have co-facilitated this session, my role has been to discuss how to map out a lesson plan.

We begin by emphasizing backwards design, or the Understanding by Design Framework presented by McTighe and Wiggins. I first ask participants to identify the learning goals for their students. We focus on creating observable, specific, measurable, and concrete goals, as outlined by Bloom’s Taxonomy.

After a couple rounds of practice, I then ask participants to explain how their students will demonstrate that they have mastered the learning objectives. We discuss different assessment strategies and I direct them to additional suggestions enumerated in their GSI Guidebooks.

Then I turn it over to my co-facilitator, who discusses and helps participants practice classroom activities that will help students achieve the learning goals.

One of my favorite parts about teaching this session is the metacognition involved on the part of the co-facilitators and participants-students. Not only are the GSIs our students, but they are also watching us to see how we teach, or at least we try to stress that they should. So they are students of the content we are presenting, which is how to do the content they are learning. Yeah. It’s that awesome.

What’s fascinating about learning how to teach is that most people think they can do it because they’ve spent so much time in a classroom being a recipient of teaching. But, as Dan Lortie shows us in Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study (1975, 2002), watching teaching doesn’t a teacher make. Teaching is actually more comparable to putting on a production, like a play. There are lots of goings on behind-the-scenes and by design the audience is not supposed to see those behind-the-scenes preparations. Learning to teach means figuring out how to master the behind-the-scenes bits so that “the show” runs smoothly so that student learning occurs. But if you don’t think that there are behind-the-scenes in the first place you are at a loss on how to teach. Or you teach poorly. Teaching teachers is helping potential teachers recognize the work that must be done before each class. As one of my participant-students said to me, “there is so much to think about before you even get to the first day! How do people do this everyday?!” Very carefully, deliberately, and thoughtfully. One of the goals of my research is to help them to do just that.

In the drop down menu for this page you’ll find feature units from my time teaching: