Teacher Development: Learning about learning and helping others learn

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Lehigh Culture & Community / Teaching

Alicia: Like many teaching fellows in the English department, my primary background is in English. I have taken classes and done work outside of English departments but I’m sure that over time I’ve slowly adopted some English-specific habits or ways of looking at the world. You may notice that your students, who often hail from disciplines other than English, have slightly different ways of looking at the world. This is splendid, but challenging. I turned to the Teacher Development Series because I was looking for a way to gain greater insight into other discipline’s ways of thinking so that I could work more productively with my students. Added bonuses: free food, coffee and general teaching tips.

My favorite part of the series was the variety of speakers and their abundant enthusiasm (perhaps you are in the midst of discussing enthusiastic and memorable teachers with your English 1 students?). The speakers are great teachers and they bring their A-game. It was fun to be one of their students and watch them totally go for it for an audience of tired grad students, like that time a professor mocked and coerced us into putting on 3D glasses to think about new presentation methods or the math professor who blew our minds through his simple manipulation of board space. I also really valued the opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary audience of grad students. I learned almost as much about how people learn from watching my fellow audience members’ reactions to speakers as I did from the speakers themselves. During participation sessions I could also test out ideas on a business or engineering grad student and receive a different kind of feedback on what worked or didn’t than from my fellow TFs.

Here are additional thoughts on the series from fellow English department attendees:

Dashielle: I found the teacher development series to be particularly helpful in my first few years of teaching. During my first semester in the classroom, I found that any opportunity to work on my pedagogy helped ease my teaching nerves, and it of course made me a more thoughtful teacher. Most recently, I attended the event on constructing writing prompts. This gave me great ideas for future types of assignments (short writings, longer essays, etc.) and how to tailor the prompt to the scope of the paper. Plus, Greg Reihman may be one of the best teachers I’ve met, and he’s definitely the best teacher of teachers I’ve encountered, in terms of giving practical advice and workshopping skills.

Laura: I avoided the Teaching Development workshops for a long time, assuming they would only apply to engineers or to the sciences or to anything other than English. It’s true that they are broad enough to address teaching fellows and assistants in a wide range of fields, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t learn from them, too. I attended at least five of the six last semester, and I found them incredibly helpful. Not everything was relevant to the writing classroom, and some sessions were more useful than others, but I found that just thinking a little differently than the very specific way that we learned to teach writing could help me think of other possibilities to incorporate into my classroom. The range of session-leaders is diverse and includes faculty and staff from different levels and experiences. As such, the types of presentations vary—some are straightforward lectures, while others included a lot of participation and discussion amongst participants. The latter were the most useful to me. I found that, after listening to a particular principle, talking through practical ways of implementing it in the classroom allowed me to walk away with lots of great ideas for activities and assignments.

Emily: You can’t match our department’s pedagogy workshops for English-specific aid and advice, but the Teacher Development Series is a unique opportunity and productive use of time for graduate students out of coursework or with a strong teaching emphasis. The series provides time to process and brainstorm teaching strategies, informs you of the pedagogical concerns and strategies of others in the university community, and leaves you with a tangible record of your involvement. Most of our workshops are only 50 minutes, while the TD series sessions are an hour and a half. The extra time allows for more activities to be incorporated into the lesson; you can exit the seminar with assignments already drafted. While some of the sessions aren’t as directly applicable to our class structure, putting aside an hour-and-a-half to reflect on your teaching–what is working, what you would like to improve on, what skills you bring as an instructor–is a valuable exercise, especially as the busyness of the semester can interfere with this type of big-picture analysis. Plus, you get to meet other grad students and faculty from across the disciplines; learning the didactic goals of other disciplines helps you to understand what unites instructors and what distinguishes the work we do as Fellows in the English Department. (And we get to represent the English department and demonstrate the value of our training and experience as we contribute to group discussions.) Finally, the time you spend in the series will be acknowledged by a certificate and a letter to your advisor and department chair. While the most important way to demonstrate your pedagogical commitment is to be able to talk specifically and clearly about your teaching experience, the presence of this certificate on your CV or resume is a tangible representation of your willingness to devote time and energy to improving and developing your teaching skills. As with all opportunities, the Teaching Development Series is what you make of it, and I would strongly encourage all graduate students to consider carving out the time on Thursdays to talk about teaching. I will be completing my Level II certificate this semester, and I hope to see you there.
Alicia: The schedule for the Fall series is posted below. You can register for the series on the GradLife website. http://gradlife.web.lehigh.edu/programs/teacher-development The Spring series covers a different set of topics with different speakers and concludes with a symposium which highlights innovative and experimental courses that took place at Lehigh during the year and is open to all grad students and faculty. Here’s more on the symposium:
Laura: If you do not have a chance to attend any of the regular workshops (though I hope you do), I would recommend trying to make the symposium at the end of Spring semester. It will expose you to a lot of different projects happening around campus involving technology, community outreach, and non-traditional assignments.

Emily: The end-of-the-year symposium is a highlight, as it brings together faculty and staff for brief presentations concerning innovative and experimental pedagogy. I learned more in that one day about what goes on outside of Drown Hall than I had learned in my several years at Lehigh before that.
Alicia: I know we are all busy people and already spend lots of time on teaching but I really find this series and the symposium worthwhile and truly learned a lot. If you are interested but not able to attend, some sessions are also videotaped and can be accessed through the GradLife website. You might also find the taped sessions valuable if a teaching demo is in your near future. We hope you get to take advantage of the series and we welcome further posts and comments on free professional development opportunities at Lehigh.

Session 1: Presentations and Communications
When: Thursday, September4th, 2:30-4:00 pm
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: An opportunity to learn more about–and practice–effective presentation skills.

Session 2: Classroom Management and Organization
When: Thursday, September 18th, 2:30-4:00 pm
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: How do effective teachers manage a classroom, motivate students, and deal with difficult classroom situations?

Session 3: Crafting a Lecture
When: Thursday, October 2nd, 2:30-4:00 pm
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: How do effective teachers prepare a lecture? What are the best ways to deliver a lecture effectively? What do effective teachers keep in mind when teaching large groups of students?

Session 4: Engaging Students
When: Thursday, October 16th, 2:30-4:00 pm
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: How do effective teachers engage and inspire students? How do they ensure content mastery and promote higher-order thinking?

Session 5: Strategies for Active Learning in the Classroom
When: Thursday October 30th, 2:30-4:00 pm
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: How do effective teachers get students to think and participate during class? How do they invite and respond to questions? How do they start conversations and facilitate discussions?

Session 6: Course Design Workshop
When: Thursday, November 13th 2:30-4:00
Where: Lewis Lab 316
Topics: How can we design classes, pose questions, present material, and design assignments so that students learn more deeply and retain what they’ve learned?

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: What’s Happening: January/February 2016 | Drown Unbound

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