8 Implementation

Choosing an Instructional Style

Having established goals and objectives and chosen appropriate instructional materials, you now have the opportunity to implement these plans in a variety of ways. It is important to remember that “the instructional strategies and techniques that you adopt as a teacher bespeak your attitudes about yourself and your students and your respective roles in the teaching process” (Crow, M.L., 1980).

  • Differences in teaching styles, and their implications, are described in a number of ways by different authors. One model proposes three potential foci in teaching which include: (Axelrod, 1980)
  • Subject-matter-centered teaching is organized around the goal of helping students master principles, concepts, analytic tools, theories, facts, etc. in a particular discipline.
  • Professor-centered teaching is organized around the goal of helping students learn to approach problems in the field as professors approach them . . . concentrating on transmitting segments of knowledge that are considered “standard” in the field.
  • Student-centered teaching emphasizes the personal development of the whole student, organizing class sessions around the desire to help students develop as individuals along all dimensions. The aim is to improve not only the students’ analytic skills, but also their ability to use their intuitive, non-verbal powers.

These categories are not, of course, mutually exclusive. Over the semester you might use elements of one or another approach depending on what you want your class or section to accomplish. The approach you adopt will most likely reflect your assumptions about the fundamental nature of student-teacher relationships.

Another approach to the discussion of teaching styles focuses on the amount of interaction between students and teachers which is built into the classroom situation. A significant body of educational research has concluded that the more active involvement students have in the learning process (through discussions, question-and-answer sessions, group projects, presentations, etc.), the more information they retain and the more enjoyable they find their experience (Crow, 1980).

Utilizing an interactive teaching style may result in the following benefits for students: (Crow, 1980)

  • Students become active rather than passive participants in the learning process.
  • Students retain information longer.
  • Interactive techniques are democratic processes and thereby give students experience in collaborating and cooperating with others.
  • Problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are enhanced in discussion settings.
  • Some students may learn better in a group situation.
  • Self-esteem is enhanced by class participation.
  • Students are given the opportunity to clarify their beliefs and values.
  • Student motivation for future learning is increased.

In general, there is considerable evidence to indicate that teaching techniques which maximize interaction between students and teachers, and among students themselves, tend to emphasize cognitive tasks at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. So, in choosing an instructional style for your course, it is helpful to keep in mind what it is you feel is most important for your students to be learning. The means through which your objectives are carried out may either facilitate or hinder what you are trying to accomplish with students.

Building a Supportive Classroom Environment

Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986

An important ingredient of teaching is your classroom style. What should the teacher-student relationship be? Our suggestion is that you be natural and honest. The teacher-student relationship is basically another human relationship. Others involve role-playing in which we act according to some set of social standards which seem appropriate for the situation. You are more likely to be a successful teacher if you accept the facts of the situation: you have more experience and knowledge than the students, you are being paid to help them learn, you have chosen to adopt either a formal or informal style, and they are in class for various reasons (which you should try to be aware of). Base your actions on the situation at hand rather than on some extraneous concept of what a teacher is or on the expectations of the class. The following suggestions may be helpful in establishing the kind of classroom environment which will facilitate students’ learning and make your experience as a teacher more comfortable as well (Armes & Archer, 1980).

Learn student names . . .

This may seem like a simple suggestion, but it has profound results. All of us respond to being approached individually and personally, and the logical way of beginning that process is calling us by our names. The immediate problem is how to learn the names of 100 or more students each semester. One way of approaching the problem is telling the students on the first day that they may sit anywhere they choose but that you would like them to sit in the same place for a week or two so that you can learn their names. In smaller classes you can have them introduce themselves and provide some biographical information which may aid you in recalling their names later on.

Biographical information on students can also be gathered by asking them to fill out index cards or to complete a short survey at the beginning of the semester. This information can be valuable in helping you to assess “where your students are” in terms of their academic backgrounds, and may also alert you to opportunities where course material can be made more meaningful by integrating it into students’ personal experiences.

Provide non-verbal encouragement . . .

Provide a secure, reassuring, positive atmosphere. There are several ways of encouraging such an environment that do not involve the spoken word. Maintain eye contact with students. Move around the room. Be animated and expressive in your presentation. Control nervous mannerisms. Fiddling with a tie or with a lock of hair indicates to students that you are not self-confident. This can be particularly unnerving to students. Students react positively to teachers who seem to be firmly in control of the situation.

Avoid judging students . . .

Without realizing it, teachers can exhibit judgmental behaviors that discourage students by making them feel even more inadequate than they already may feel. A behavior to avoid is judging students on the basis of appearance or dress. We must not allow ourselves to be turned off by a student who is unkempt or who is wearing nontraditional clothing. Another behavior to avoid is sexual stereotyping: we may unconsciously assume that females have a certain set of interests and males have another. Age stereotyping is another judgment trap. We may expect certain behaviors from people in certain age groups; for example, we may assume that older students are automatically more self-assured or serious about their work than are eighteen-year-olds.

As much as we may believe that we are not prejudiced, racial or ethnic considerations can cause us to react subconsciously in ways that students find disturbing. For example, do you expect different attendance patterns from certain groups of students? Do you find yourself avoiding certain subjects in the classroom because of the fear of offending somebody? Do you tend to target your examples toward certain groups in your class? Do you assume that students have certain expertise based on racial or ethnic characteristics? Becoming aware of this type of judgmental behavior can help us avoid it.

Learn something personal about each student . . .

This sounds simple, but it requires some effort and energy on the part of the teacher. This strategy is an extension of the suggestion to learn your students’ names; it is one step further in the process of personalizing relationships. Learning how many children a student has, what his or her personal interests and hobbies are, or what kinds of books she or he likes to read can help you establish fairly quickly a warm relationship with that student. Teachers of composition courses might have an advantage here because students often reveal personal areas of their lives in writing, but whatever your discipline, you need to find ways of bringing out students’ personal interests.

Relate to students on a personal level . . .

This is the complementary side of learning something personal about each student. It is important for you to be willing to share parts of yourself and of your personal life with your students if you expect them to share with you. There are a number of easy ways of letting students get to know you. In classroom presentations you can speak occasionally from personal experience. Doing so will encourage students to respond to you not only as an authority figure, but as a person. However, use discretion with this technique; no one wants to spend an entire semester listening to an instructor telling his or her life story.

Provide specific positive reinforcement . . .

Taking the time to compliment a student on some specific task or assignment that he or she has done well can have tremendous payoffs for a teacher. The key here is specificity. Students will sense a lack of genuineness if you compliment profusely and generally, but if you can pick out one particular element of their work or one particular aspect of their attitude that you like, your comment will have much more meaning. A student who has written a paper that is not particularly effective but who has used a striking metaphor, for example, can be complimented on that use. You may compliment a student on the perceptiveness of a question; if you indicate that you remember him or her asking several other perceptive questions, your compliment will be more impressive. One word of caution here: you need to be alert and sensitive to how your students are receiving the words. Some students feel uncomfortable about receiving compliments at all and will become even more uncomfortable if the compliments continue. An understanding of basic body language and facial expressions is helpful in this instance.

Treat your students as adults . . .

Sometimes teachers unwittingly put down their students by treating them as children, by overlooking them, or by exhibiting impersonal kinds of behavior. One example that you have probably seen is a teacher turning away from a student to address a colleague who is walking by. If you do not excuse yourself to the student or introduce him or her to the colleague, you are not treating him or her as a responsible adult. Perhaps the most effective approach is introducing your student to the colleague and then asking the student if he or she minds if you talk with the colleague; you may be able to include the student, at least for a short time.

Another way of making your students feel important is spending time with them. This could be in the cafeteria or in your office. Before and after class you can chat informally with groups. When you meet a student in the hall or on the campus, smiling and giving a personal greeting is very effective. Call the student by name; it makes a great deal of difference.

Make yourself available . . .

Any teacher who is responsible for teaching a great number of students will recognize that this is often a difficult thing to do. However, it is essential, particularly with students who may be experiencing problems. You are serving as a role model to these students, and keeping reliable office hours gives them a sense of your commitment. UF requires that faculty and teaching assistants establish office hours equal to at least one hour per week per credit hour. This includes conferences, of course, and can vary from week to week so long as your overall office hours balance out. When you set office hours, be sure to keep them.

Be on time. Spend as much time in the office as you have promised; if for any reason you will not be able to be in your office on a given day, give your students advance notice. You have, in essence, made a contract with them and you should keep it.

Also, be in class for all of your allotted time. Perpetual tardiness can give students the idea that promptness is not something you care about.

Never humiliate a student . . .

Although you do not intend to humiliate students, you may inadvertently interact with them in ways that are embarrassing or that make them uncomfortable. Even if such embarrassment is subtle, it can discourage a student and make it difficult for him or her to come back to your class. Avoid sarcasm with students, as well as teasing that is destructive in nature. Determining what might be dangerous is sometimes difficult and requires a good bit of perception on the part of the teacher. A general rule of thumb is to respond to students in the same way they approach you. If the students tease you, you can feel reasonably assured about responding in the same way.

Be as positive as possible . . .

This is not easy when you are having a hard day, but there are some techniques that will make you and your students feel positive. Voice quality, for instance, is extremely important. Be energetic and bright in your inflection. A monotone or a deep, tired voice will give away your lack of interest. Be willing to laugh in class, and encourage your students to laugh as well. If at all possible, be available before class for small talk. Sometimes this will be therapeutic for you; if your energy level is running low, a few exchanges with students will energize you.

Read inattentive behaviors . . .

We all have observed inattentive behavior in teaching situations. Some behaviors to look for are shuffling or shifting in chairs, persistent coughing by one or more students, glances at other students or cell phones, stacking books when there are five minutes left in the class period. These behaviors indicate that you have lost student attention. Also notice posture, attitude, and lack of eye contact.

When you notice such behaviors, your response should be immediate and decisive. Silence is often effective in regaining student attention. Calling the student by name to engage him or her in conversation should dispel the student’s inattention. Moving about the classroom can alleviate inattention. If a student senses your presence close by, he or she may become more alert. Changing the pace of the class can be most effective. For example, switching from lecture to small-group activity can wake up the class. Breaking the rhythm of your usual behavior can break the monotony. Another suggestion is allowing breaks, particularly in classes over an hour and fifteen minutes long.

Commit yourself to at least one individual conference with each student . . .

These conferences need not be long when the students do not have significant problems. They may simply be friendly, personal conversations. Yet this kind of conference shows the student that you care about him or her. For those students with significant problems, however, the conference is crucial. Often a conference is the only means of convincing them of your interest. Sometimes you yourself can solve some of a student’s problems, or you can guide the student to someone who can help him or her. Surprisingly, many students are not familiar with the counseling services available at the University.

One word of caution is in order here. Discuss the problem only with the student (or perhaps, if you feel it is necessary, with your department chair or supervisor.) Otherwise, respect the student as an adult and keep information concerning his or her performance confidential.

Contact students when high-risk patterns develop . . .

Examples of high-risk patterns are several missed assignments, chronic absences, and perpetual tardiness. Telephoning, emailing or texting students can be an effective way of reaching them; students are often impressed that an instructor would take the time to contact them.

Devote the first week of class to creating a positive learning environment . . .

Research indicates that students who feel comfortable in the classroom setting and who have some positive rapport with the teacher are much more likely to speed up learning processes as the semester goes on. Students often surpass normal course expectations if they feel very positive about the learning climate. In the long run you will accomplish more learning by devoting the first few classes to creating a supportive environment.

Communication Checklist

Adapted from Jenkins, Gappa, & Pearce, 1983

Faculty and TAs may find it difficult to be aware of the interactional dynamics in the classroom while simultaneously transmitting lecture content or guiding a discussion. To increase your awareness, you might have a friend, teaching assistant or other colleague observe some specific behaviors in your classroom and provide you with feedback. In addition you can arrange to record or videotape some of your classes. Self-analysis of videos or feedback from peers may provide a perspective not available otherwise.

Here are brief summaries of key points arranged in checklist form.

Techniques:

  1. What language patterns am I using?
  2. Is there a regular use of male referencing, or the generic “he” or the universal “man”?
  3. Are stereotypical assumptions about men and women, people of color, or people of foreign origin revealed in classroom dialogue?
  4. Are examples and anecdotes drawn from men’s lives or white culture only?
  5. Can different patterns of reinforcement be detected from the recordings?

Classroom Interactions:

  1. Are you conscious of gender- or race-related expectations that you may hold about student performance?
  2. How do you react to uses of language (accent, dialect, etc.) that depart from standard English or that are different from your own? Do you discount the speaker’s intelligence and information?
  3. What is the number of males versus females or students of various racial or international groups called on to answer questions? Which students do you call by name? Why?
  4. Which of these categories of students participate in class more frequently through answering questions or making comments? Is the number disproportionate enough that you should encourage some students to participate more frequently?
  5. Do interruptions occur when an individual is talking? If so, who does the interrupting? If one group of students is dominating classroom interaction, what do you do about it?
  6. Is your verbal response to students positive? Aversive? Encouraging? Is it the same for all students? If not, what is the reason? (Valid reasons occur from time to time for reacting or responding to a particular student in a highly specific manner.)
  7. Do you tend to face or address one section of the classroom more than others? Do you establish eye contact with certain students more than others? What are the gestures, postures, and facial expressions used; are they different for men, women, people of color, or international students.

Classroom Management

Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986

In most cases you eventually will face students who present various kinds of management problems. A common example is the student who wants to talk too much, frequently about irrelevant material. You can treat these students with respect but make it known that they are overpowering the discussion; by systematically calling on many members of the class, you can often get a very active class. The students seldom want one person to dominate any more than you do.

Frequently it is useful to talk to the offender outside of the class. Students usually respond to your request for less or different participation on their part. Sometimes they lapse back into the old pattern. It is a natural pattern for this kind of student. Remember that these students are seldom deliberately destroying the class; they think that they are adding to the class with their participation. Do not hesitate to remind them politely if they forget their talk with you.

One technique which is often effective with wisecracks and insults is to treat them as straightforward, non-evaluative statements. Treat sarcastic remarks as if they were not sarcastic. Some such remarks should, of course, just be ignored. Either treatment takes the sting out of the comment because you are not responding the way the wisecracker wants you to. Just refuse to play the game. You will be doing the rest of the class — and yourself — a favor.

Resolving Disagreement

Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986

In dealing with disagreement, confrontation, and inappropriate behavior, the new TA should probably seek the advice or guidance of a more experienced person. Department heads and graduate coordinators for teaching assistants have dealt with similar problems and can advise you on appropriate steps. New teachers are often afraid to share problems because they feel that these problems are their own fault or constitute a poor reflection on their teaching abilities. Similar problems arise continually, however, with new or experienced faculty, young or old, outstanding or less capable. In fact, students sometimes sense a TA’s lack of experience and believe they can “get away with” more because of it. For these reasons, and for the reassurance it gives, it is usually best to discuss classroom problems with someone who can help you.

Dealing with a student who disagrees politely, calmly, rationally is a pleasure. If you state your position openly, calmly, and rationally, the two of you are almost certain to reach a reasonable solution. It is with open hostility or conflict that most problems occur. Here are some suggestions for dealing with confrontation:

  • If the confrontation occurs in a public setting, attempt to remove it to a private setting, e.g., an office. Often the confronter relies on the public nature of the attack and the encouragement of other students to press the argument.
  • Listen carefully, openly, and professionally to the full criticism or grievance. Do not attempt to respond to allegations made during the narrative. Let the critic express all existing problems. Repeat the main points of the argument, as you understand them, to be sure both of you see the same issues.
  • Accept any valid criticism and state your intended corrective action. Show a genuine willingness to compromise where you feel it is appropriate.
  • Explain that you have different thoughts on the issue and would like an opportunity to express your point of view. State your opinions, and allow your critic to respond.
  • If it appears that the issue cannot be resolved in a mutually satisfying way, indicate regret that there remains a difference in view. Restate your position, making clear any action you intend to take. Indicate what recourse your critic has to other appeal channels.
  • Move in a polite and professional manner to close the conversation.
  • If the critic becomes agitated, remain calm. Often remaining calm will return the conversation to a more placid tone.
  • It sometimes helps to ask a colleague to join in a confrontation, if the colleague can remain neutral and point out possible routes for solution of the problem. The student can also see the other person as a guarantee of fairness in the proceedings.

Sexual Harassment

The University of Florida takes sexual harassment very seriously; information about sexual harassment can be found online on the homepage for Institutional Equity & Diversity. There you can find information about harassment and procedures for handling harassment complaints (also covered below). You can also visit UF mytraining to take the online sexual harassment prevention training course that UF requires of all employees – faculty and staff and TAs. To find out more information, click the training link and follow instructions.

Contrapower Harassment

Most of us are familiar with the term “harassment.” We tend to think of it as mistreatment perpetuated by people with authority, such as teachers; we tend to assume the victims are their students. Most of us never think of harassment as something that can be done to teachers by students, but this abuse, in fact, does happen all too often. Unfortunately, teachers at UF, both female and male, have also been forced to deal with harassment. And many of these teachers have been graduate assistants.

TAs are particularly vulnerable to harassment because they are often in the students’ age group and seem more approachable than faculty members. While most students respect their teachers’ authority, some students buckle under the intense pressure that can accompany university life and target the authority figures who seem most vulnerable.

What should you do if you have to deal with a harassing student?

File a complaint, following the procedures located on the website of the Division of Student Affairs website. Additional information may be found on the Title IX website.

Any faculty member, teaching assistant, staff member, or student employee (when acting in a supervisory or other responsible capacity) with knowledge of sexual harassment of a student must promptly report the incident to the Institutional Equity and Diversity Office of Human Resource Services, and may be disciplined for failing to do so.

Document all incidences of harassment. Keep all physical evidence of harassment, e.g., letters, essays.

If you want to report an incident of harassment, even if it happened only once, it is your right to do so.

If you feel in danger in your own classroom or lab, you should report the situation to your supervisor immediately. The University is committed to providing you with a safe workplace. Also, your Graduate Assistants United (GAU) contract stipulates that reports of unsafe work conditions must be investigated.

Of course, most of us do not ever want to face a harassment situation, so here are some prevention tips. (Refer to the “Ethics and the Teaching Enterprise” section of this handbook for additional advice.)

Begin including a statement in your syllabus clearly explaining that all students are expected to conduct themselves in a respectful and responsible manner that enhances education. Explain that any conduct that disrupts the learning process may lead to disciplinary action.

Do not let students call you at home.

Students tend to feel more liberated in electronic environments. Remind them that in electronic communication, such as email, chat, and text conversations, the student is responsible for observing the same standards of respect and decorum as in face-to-face discussion.

Using Instructional Media

Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986

Instructional media materials should be used selectively — they are most beneficial when they fit your instructional objectives. Before opting to use certain materials, ask yourself if the information could be more effectively presented in another way? Is there a strong possibility that attitude or behavior change will be an end result? Will the presentation improve recall or help students remember important facts, enhance the quality of discussion, or increase students’ ability to apply information?

Attractive as they may be, instructional media materials are only as good as the planning, thinking, and preparation which precedes their use.

Once selected, audio visual materials (which may include PowerPoint presentations, photographic slides, films, video recordings, charts, diagrams, models, illustrations, or internet sites) may make presentations more effective by presenting new information, eliciting an emotional response, suggesting something new, explaining, raising questions, or opening a whole new world for exploration. Materials which are unique for students keep presentations interesting. If they are not unique, creative use of audio visual materials help the instructor challenge the student with the unexpected. For example, one instructor showed his students only the last few minutes of a video and had them conceive of the portion which they had not seen.

With careful planning and use, instructional media materials strengthen the instructor’s teaching by stimulating student interest and directing their responses and learning. Before the semester begins, you can work with an Instructional Designer at the Center for Instructional Technology and Training (CITT) to help optimize your lesson plans with instructional media. Another great resource is https://training.it.ufl.edu/ where you can register for online and live trainings to help you learn how to implement UF-supported educational technology tools and teaching best practices (check out the Teaching More Effectively TA Workshop Series!).

Videos

Assistance in the selection and use of UF-owned recordings is provided by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Center for Film and Media Studies, Room 4330 Turlington Hall (see on-line catalogue at https://film.ufl.edu/film-and-media-resources/). Teaching assistants who have not previously used the Media Library should bring a letter from their department verifying their employment.

Library West owns a large selection of film and video titles that can be checked out for three days to show to a class. Titles can also be placed on reserve in Library West so that students can view them outside of class at a time convenient for them. Additionally, access to streaming video collections is available at http://guides.uflib.ufl.edu/eresources/streaming. Navigating copyright issues when using film and video in the classroom can be complex; more information is available here: https://guides.uflib.ufl.edu/copyright/video.

In many courses, it is also common for lectures to be recorded. In addition to use in an online course, a Flipped Classroom will also have pre-recorded lectures. If your department does not have its own studio for recording, you can use the CITT Video Studios. It is recommended that you also work with a CITT Instructional Designer a semester ahead of time if you are recording for an entire course. Alternatively, you can use your own webcam and record your desktop with MyMediasite. In a classroom, Video & Collaboration Services offers two course capture options– automated lecture recording using Mediasite and manual recording with the classroom’s desktop and Techsmith Relay.

Classroom Equipment

General classrooms at the University of Florida are equipped with a video projector with sound amplification, computer, SMART Podium interactive pen display and Smart Ink software, Internet connection, DVD player, (BluRay on request), document camera, connections for an instructor-provided laptop computer, and a dry-erase or chalkboard. All rooms over 100 seats also include wireless microphone systems. Larger lecture halls also have a Student Response System installed, iClicker, which allows for electronic polling and quizzing of students. iClicker also offers a Reef version where students use their mobile device or laptop and a classroom receiver is not needed. Likewise, TopHat is another option for online polling. Additional equipment may vary by classroom. More information on how to use this technology as we as a list of software provided on the installed computers is available at https://at.ufl.edu/service-teams/classrooms/classroom-technology/.

Additional Equipment

AT Classroom Support also provides check-out and rental services of data projectors, screens, PA systems, and microphones.  Instructors who check out equipment for a class must pick up the equipment not more than one hour before class, and return it not more than one hour after class each day.  Reservations are required.  A UF ID card must be presented when picking up equipment.  If the instructor cannot pick up the equipment due to time or physical limitations, the instructor may arrange to have a student pick up the equipment before class and return it immediately after class.  Please call (352) 392-6683 or email classrooms@ufl.edu.

Rental of portable equipment is available for UF activities such as participation in conferences, seminars, professional presentations, service events, research and other meetings.  Equipment rental is not available for individuals or for events not associated with the University.  Equipment delivery, setup, tear-down, and on-site support by professional staff and/or student assistants is available for a fee.  An Equipment Loan Agreement Form (available online) signed by a Dean, Director, or Department Chair accepting financial responsibility for the equipment must be received before any rental equipment can be checked out.  Rental fee schedules and billing information are available online at https://at.ufl.edu/service-teams/classrooms/services/equipment-rental/

Printing in UFIT Learning Spaces

Academic Technology printing services, located in all of our learning spaces, provides a variety of printing services to students, faculty, and departments (some departments purchase print credits for course handouts).  Options include black and white, color laser, and large printers/plotters for banners and posters. Various poster samples and templates are available, and most of our locations have staff on hand to assist.  More details (including pricing and location information) can be found at https://print.at.ufl.edu/.

Chalkboard and Marker-Board Use

The chalkboard and the white board (or dry-erase board) are the most common forms of instructional media. Virtually every UF classroom has one, including the computer classrooms. They are useful for organizing your thoughts more clearly and concisely, highlighting key concepts in your lectures, listing major points in a discussion, presenting findings of peer groups, spelling out difficult names or vocabulary, and highlighting critical dates and course information.

Some points to keep in mind while planning a chalkboard presentation are the following: (Adapted with permission from White and Hennessey, 1985)

Students must be able to see and to read what you have written. Illegible or obscured work is valueless. Watch out if you have small handwriting, tend to scrawl, or write too lightly. Before class, write something on the board and then go to the back of the room to see if it is legible. Sit in one of the last rows and take a critical look at your board work. Unless the floor of the classroom is sloped, students in the middle of the room won’t be able to see the bottom of the board. Some instructors like to mark off the “bottom line of visibility” with a chalk line. If there is a desk at the front of the class, keep it clear of objects that might obstruct vision. Additionally, try to keep your work visible for as long as possible. If you are right-handed, fill the right-hand panel first, then move to the panel on the left and continue your writing. In this way, you will not be blocking the view of students copying the writing you have just completed.

Your board work must be organized so that students will be able to interpret their notes later.

First erase the board completely. This step is especially important in mathematics, where stray lines may be interpreted as symbols.

If you are to solve a problem or prove a theorem, write a complete statement of the problem or theorem on the board, or write a precise reference.

Fill one panel in at a time, always starting at the top and moving down.

Make your notation consistent with that in the textbook so that students do not have to translate from one system into another.

Underline, or in some other way mark, the most important parts of your presentation such as the major assumptions, conclusions, or intermediate steps that you plan to refer to later on. Colored chalk or markers/pens may help to clarify drawings.

Erase only when you have run out of space to write. Modifying board work in midstream can be frustrating for students who are trying to transcribe your material into their notebooks. A physics teacher may reach a crucial point in the derivation of an equation and then quickly erase and replace terms. A biology teacher may draw a diagram and then rapidly change first one part of the diagram and then another to show a process. If you are modifying a drawing, use dotted lines or some other technique to show changes.

Remember that students cannot make the same erasures that you do without losing their written record of intermediate steps; you can alter parts of a drawing much faster than they can reproduce the whole thing.

If you find that you have made a mistake, stop. Don’t go back over the last three panels madly erasing minus signs: first explain the error, then go back and make corrections, if possible, with a different color of chalk.

If you are presenting material that you want students to duplicate in their notes, you need to give them time to copy what you have written. They should not be asked to analyze while they are writing. When you want them to make or discuss a point, stop writing. Let people catch up to you (they may be lagging behind by two or three lines). Then begin your discussion. Similarly, if you have engaged in a long discussion without writing very much on the board, allow them time to summarize the discussion in their notes before you begin to use the board or to speak.

Avoid using the chalkboard as a large doodling pad. Students assume that what you write on the board is important. The board should serve to highlight and clarify your discussion or lecture. Used wisely, the board will enhance and underscore your presentation, not diminish it.

Find out if you are using the board effectively.

At some point, ask your students if they can read or make sense of what you have written. Don’t do this every five minutes — an occasional check, however, is in order.

After class, without prior notice, request one of your good and one of your average students to lend you their notes. If the notes seem incomplete or incoherent, ask yourself what you could have done to make your presentation more clear.

View a videotape of your presentation, putting yourself in the place of a student taking notes.

PowerPoint and Other Presentation Software

Adapted from the Ohio State University 2001

Presentation software, especially PowerPoint, is popular among college teachers. These software programs can blend text, diagrams, animation, and audio/visual recording into a single presentation to enhance lectures and initiate discussions. When used effectively, PowerPoint can be a rich educational tool. It can be used to present professional-looking presentations, lecture notes, and handouts.

While there are many ways of embellishing your presentations, be sure that you are using the technology towards an instructional purpose and not just as a gimmick. Just because the software has so many features doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Also, you should keep in mind that PowerPoint presentations are a visual aid, not the instructor. A common pitfall is for instructors to place the whole lecture on PowerPoint slides, overwhelming students and turning them into passive listeners who can barely keep up with the notes. Here are a few suggestions for well-balanced, effective PowerPoint presentations:

To ensure the PowerPoint is only an aid, a good rule of thumb is to follow the 6×6 rule (no more than 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide), but using clear graphics is even better!

Use no more than 15 slides in a 50-minute lecture class.

PowerPoint presentations can cause media fatigue. As in a lecture, be sure to pace yourself, pausing periodically for questions, and making eye contact with the students.

To encourage active participation, try making handouts so that students are not so absorbed in copying the slides, but rather can listen intently to the instructor.

Plan ahead. Make sure all your equipment is working and legible to all before class. Know where all the controls are for focus, color, tint, and volume adjustment.

For readability, PowerPoints should be designed with a 4:1 color contrast ratio (font color to background color) using a san serif font in a minimum of size 20.

Emphasize pieces with bold and sizing (all caps is hard to read and color can be a problem for color-blind individuals).

PowerPoint slides should be designed in the widescreen (16:9) format (all UF classrooms accommodate this size).

Don’t forget to cite your sources! Educational use is one of the four factors for validating a Fair Use claim when using copyrighted material (like an image) but you are still required to provide proper attribution to the copyright holder.

Technical malfunctions do happen. Be sure to have a backup plan for presenting the material that day.

Computers Inside and Outside the Classroom

Computers and software are powerful tools that can assist students in their learning. Many software programs exist for students to use mathematical computations, statistical analysis, graphic design, publications, portfolios, and writing projects.

In addition to providing access to a variety of software applications in the Computer Labs, access is also available from your own device through UFApps. Also, many textbooks come as eTextbooks and/or with companion web sites, which include tutorials, exercises, and simulations.  Furthermore, there are lots of Open Educational Resources (free material and lesson plans) you can include in your course.

University of Florida teachers have a wide array of technologies and technical support at their disposal, most of which are coordinated by e-Learning Support Services (eLS) through the Office of Academic Technology (AT).  The primary tool, e-Learning in Canvas (https://lss.at.ufl.edu/help/Canvas_FAQ), is a learning management system which facilitates the creation of sophisticated, web-based educational environments.  Some of the popular features of E-Learning include discussion boards, calendar, gradebook, student presentations, test administration, assignment posting, and bookmarks.  Many apps an also be integrated with a course in e-Learning like VoiceThread (a commenting and annotation tool for media), Perusall (a commenting tool for readings), and Respondus (commonly used for its lockdown browser or to help with quiz creation).

e-Learning can be used as the framework for an entire online class or just for a portion of a course (e.g. to create a Flipped Classroom experience where lectures are watched at home and classroom time is utilized for Active Learning).  Sometimes introverted students or students who prefer to think a while before responding may feel more comfortable contributing to an online discussion.  You may also want to use computer technology to administer tests and quizzes.  Multiple-choice tests are particularly suitable for computers.  Students can find out their scores immediately upon completion.  Some instructors have students turn in drafts of formal papers and research reports electronically.  Instructors can use e-Learning to set-up a peer review of those drafts and/or respond themselves with specific comments and recommendations for improvement, giving students an opportunity to polish their papers before the final due date.  For additional information about technology support provided by eLS, visit http://elearning.ufl.edu, or call the Help Desk at (352) 392-HELP and select Option 3 for Instructor help with e-Learning (TAs can use this option too).

You will probably find that most of your students are very Internet savvy. Because of the ease of access, 24-hour availability, and the vast amount of information, you may discover that students prefer to use sources from the World Wide Web rather than printed materials from the university libraries. While resources on the Internet tend to be more up-to-date than material in textbooks, not every source will be a valid one for your class. Instructors must show students how to cite Internet sources in reports and projects and must also discuss the quality and accuracy of information on the web.

Some students may want to bring their personal laptops and smart devices to class including cell phones, tablets, etc. The use of these devices during the class period is at the discretion of the instructor and guidelines for using electronic devices should be included in the syllabus.

First Class Survival Tips

Adapted from Case Western Reserve University 2002

You may not be able to control the goals of the class or what your classroom looks like or even what textbooks you get to use, but you do have control over the first impression you give students. Those first few minutes are the crucial time in which students will form their impressions of what you’re like and what a class taught by you will be like.

Be organized. Fumbling for papers, losing your place in your announcements, and flubbing important details may only be the result of nervousness, but students may uncharitably think you do not know what you are doing. Don’t rely on your memory for everything you want to announce; make a list.

Be yourself. Every TA probably has some kind of teaching persona, but it will largely be based on the real you. You can be approachable without being everyone’s best friend. You can be firm without being severe.

Be enthusiastic. Despite how overloaded you may feel, don’t let your frustration show in the classroom. Your enthusiasm may inspire students for the rest of the semester. Your disinterest is sure to turn them off for the rest of the semester.

Be firm. When it comes to course policies, err on the side of firmness rather than laxity. As you are explaining the course policies, don’t start qualifying everything with exceptions. Start out being fair but firm and students should rise to your standards. It’s much easier to ease up a little than tighten up a lot during the semester.

Overcoming Nervousness

Most teaching assistants will be nervous on the first day. Being nervous is a sign that you actually care what happens. Remember, the students may also be nervous as well. The first day may be the one day you can guarantee that everyone sitting in the classroom is attentive and motivated. Recognize that this heightened attention gives you an opportunity–and take advantage of it. Here are some suggestions for calming yourself down:

  • Concentrate on your students and on the subject. If you focus on the fact that you’re nervous, you’ll stay nervous; if you turn your attention to more important matters, you may forget your apprehension.
  • Prepare yourself ahead of time. Teaching is a kind of performance, and any performance benefits from rehearsal. Make notes of what you want to say. By practicing, you’ll make the events of the first day of class more familiar and less intimidating.
  • Visit the classroom ahead of time. You’ll want to be familiar with the space. On the first day you may want to arrive to class early to write necessary information on the board and to arrange desks as you want them.
  • Make sure you’re ready physically. Get plenty of sleep the night before. As you walk to class, take deep breaths to eliminate tension. The more relaxed your body is, the more relaxed your mind will be.

Conducting the First Class

Adapted from Northwestern University 2002

Students are generally interested in the following questions: How much work will the course require? How will the course grade be determined? How will the class be run? Will the course be appropriate for their needs at this time? Who are the other students in the class? These concerns can all be addressed during the first class session. One way to handle them effectively is to divide the period into four main sections. It is helpful to distribute the course syllabus at the beginning of class and draw students’ attention to the relevant information as you move along.

Introduce yourself. Write your name on the board and tell students your preferences for address. Do you want to be called Mr. or Ms.? Or just by your first name? State your office hours, office location, and phone numbers. This technique suggests approachability. Explain why you find your area worth studying and what kind of research you have done. If you are teaching a general requirement course, think about how the course can help people in different fields. Relate appropriate background information.

Introduce the course. At this point you can review the syllabus, highlighting important points like the class objectives, amount of work required, topics to be covered, attendance and tardy policies, missed work penalties, grading standards, special features of assigned material. Try to regularly solicit questions from students during the syllabus review.

Get to know the students. Students respond most favorably to teachers who learn their names. Have each student complete a note card with specific background information related to coursework history, major, career goals, and contact information. If your class is not too large, ask the students to introduce themselves, perhaps telling something about themselves such as hometown, the last movie they saw, etc. To help learn names, you could collect the note cards in order and make a seating chart for use during the first few weeks.

Introduce the subject. Discuss those items of class content that the professor has indicated should be covered in the first meeting. If there are no specific directions, you may want to generally introduce the course. Ask students what they know already about the subject. Allow five or ten minutes for questions.

By the end of the first day, students should have:

Adapted from McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 2002

  • A sense of where they’re going and how they’ll get there.
  • A feeling that the other members of the class are not strangers, that you and they are forming a group in which it’s safe to participate.
  • An awareness that you care about their learning.
  • An expectation that the class will be both valuable and fun.

Skills of a Good Teacher

Adapted with permission from University of Illinois, 1980

N. L. Gage, Director of Research and Development in Teaching at Stanford University, has formulated six characteristics of effective college teaching which may be of interest.

Gage (1976) found that “effective” presentations of college instructors include:

  • Stating objectives at the beginning of a lesson.
  • Outlining the lesson content.
  • Signaling transitions between parts of a lesson.
  • Indicating important points in a lesson.
  • Summarizing the parts of the lesson as the lesson proceeds.
  • Reviewing main ideas and facts at the end of a lesson and at the beginning of the next lesson.

You should be rather satisfied with your initial teaching experience if you can successfully integrate Gage’s six characteristics into your teaching approach. A note of caution must be added, however. Be aware that not all lessons proceed as planned. Allow some class time for reviewing and previewing of material and various unexpected happenings; in other words, be organized and allow for some flexibility in your planning. Instructional skill, like any valuable talent, takes time to develop. Work on one, or at the most, two skills each week. Try not to be discouraged if at first you do not “knock `em off their feet.” Teaching is not an easy task.

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UF TA Handbook by John Jordi; Genavie Cueman; and Jennifer K. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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