TA Training Exercise

Yesterday, we tried something new – a training session for the 15-122 TAs. While not exactly a novel concept, I think it was a really useful exercise and one that we should continue.

We began the session with an experienced TA teaching a concept for 5 to 10 minutes, followed by a group discussion on various aspects demonstrated in his teaching. He then did another 5-minute presentation which was full to the brim with examples of arguably “bad” teaching, such as reading off of dense PowerPoint slides, refusing to work through an example for a complicated concept, not listening to student feedback, casually dismissing errors on slides, and digressing into rambling about a vaguely-related topic. While these examples were useful, and somewhat amusing, teaching is best learned by doing it. So we did a hands-on exercise, where each TA taught a topic for 5 to 7 minutes, while the rest of us pretended to be students, peppering the presentation with questions that 15-122 students might have on the material. After each demonstration, we gave the TA feedback, highlighting the good points as well as areas to improve upon.

Everyone has a different style of teaching, and while I already knew this, yesterday’s exercise really highlighted the contrasts, with multiple people presenting their unique take on similar material. Some great teaching practices (from different people) included the creative use of analogies, projecting a contagious enthusiasm for the subject, clean detailed diagrams, and large clear handwriting on the blackboard. Of course there were some flaws as well, the most common ones being sub-optimal order of presentation of content (jumping around or missing out on critical content), allowing questions to distract from the main idea, and speaking too fast or too softly – things that are best learnt by experience. I feel that the feedback benefitted everyone, and that everyone did a great job overall!