Peer Observation Program

The program is structured as a reciprocal peer observation process; TAs observe each other teach and provide feedback.

TAP will provide certificates to graduate students who participate. To receive a certificate, simply email or mail copies of the completed Peer Evaluation Template to us.

To aid participants, we’ve created an evaluative template of factors to observe and discuss with one’s peer.

Two further points are important concerning the evaluation template:

  1. Peer observers should not only critique each other, but provide concrete and practical suggestions for improvement; and
  2. It is intended as a flexible guide, not a rigid specification of necessary responses.

The Peer Observation Program is clearly a program that will benefit TAs who are in the same or similar disciplines and/or teach similar courses. However, it also has the potential for fostering true interdisciplinary interaction. The observer could, in effect, come to the class with an undergraduate’s background in the subject matter but with a pedagogical background on par with the instructor and thus offer a unique vantage point for evaluating the effectiveness of the class.

Creating an Effective Lecture

Combining short lectures with active learning keeps students engaged. This also allows the instructor to provide context and information. Remember, a lecture is not a paper. The types of things that may make for a good paper (e.g., analytic detail and deep engagement with the literature) don’t make for good presentations.

Don’t try to cram all of your knowledge on a given subject into a lecture. Your purpose is to help your students learn. Do this best by limiting the number of points you make and the information you provide. Students will retain more if you provide them with less material.

  • Have one central topic and a few main points
  • Tell students what you will cover and how you will do so
  • Put the material in context (explain how it relates to the course as a whole)
  • At the end, reiterate the main points

In addition:

  • Avoid complex sentence construction
  • Use simple, direct language
  • Offer aural guides along the way (e.g., “The second argument against…”)
  • Use illustrations and memorable examples
  • Don’t simply go over the textbook or reading material

Using “Walk-in Questions”

Quick Tips for Writing Tests

  • Create a few exam questions after each class. You are more likely to design an exam that reflect the central topics of the course.

  • Avoid trick questions.

  • Give clear instructions and indicate point values for each question.

  • To minimize cheating in large classes, create multiple versions of a test, with the same questions in a different order. Make students aware, so they won’t be tempted to copy another student’s test.

  • Avoid student anxiety by testing frequently instead of only giving a mid-term and a final.

  • Students take longer to answer questions than you do. To design an exam that is a reasonable length, allow for students to spend about four times as long as it takes you.

  • Take the test yourself to make sure you are asking what you intend to ask.

Public Speaking Tips

Speaking in public is a common fear, but it’s one that TAs need to confront to be successful. Fortunately, public speaking is a skill that can be learned and which becomes easier with practice. Below are some tips to help you feel more comfortable, and be more effective, as a speaker.

Before the Presentation:

  • Familiarize yourself with your notes.

  • Practice as frequently as you can—in front of a mirror, friends, pets, etc.

  • Familiarize yourself with the room in which you’ll be speaking.
    • Will you have room to move around?

    • How much will you need to project your voice?

  • Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and professional.

  • Bring a bottle of water.

During the Presentation:

  • Don’t read from your notes—use them as a guide;
    • You’re not reading to the class, you’re speaking with them.

  • Concentrate on the audience and your presentation, not your nerves.

  • Take a sip of water if you need a second to regain your calm.

General Tips on Delivery:

  • Make frequent eye contact with your audience.

  • Vary the pitch and tone of your voice—don’t speak in a monotone.v

  • Speak loud enough for everyone to hear you.

  • Vary your volume to emphasize a point.

  • Enunciate clearly.

  • Speak slowly.

  • Avoid repetition of filler words such as “okay,” “like,” or “um.”

  • Allow your enthusiasm for the material to come through!

Accept that you will make mistakes. Remember, public speaking gets easier with experience.

Giving Feedback

The smallest amount of sarcasm or any form of derisiveness can intimidate and demoralize students. This, obviously, is not conducive to learning or to building a productive and engaging classroom environment. Providing constructive feedback well is essential for becoming an effective teacher and valued colleague.

Even in cases when instructors aren’t trying to be hard on students, they may overwhelm them by pointing out every single thing that was done wrong or could be improved. To provide helpful feedback, keep in mind that the point is to help students learn and improve, not simply to identify errors and shortcomings.

Whether you’re writing comments on a paper, responding to a student’s contribution to a discussion, or assessing an oral presentation, the following tips may help you critique your students in ways that are useful, rather than punitive.

  • Let students know what they are doing right, as well as what needs improvement
  • Prioritize your comments
  • Help students figure out how to improve their work
  • When giving feedback orally, use a neutral, relaxed, pleasant tone of voice

If you develop your ability to provide feedback constructively, you’ll be a more effective teacher. You’ll also be better able to help your students achieve the instructional goals of your courses.

A new semester…

A new semester of research, classes, writing, TA/GA responsibilities, conferences and more. It’s a lot. Don’t forget to take some time off.

Stress overwhelming you? Need to talk?

Do you have a teaching portfolio?

If you plan to become a faculty member you should. Find out more about teaching portfolios.

Want to improve your teaching tech skills?

Register for a Teaching with Technology workshop this fall!

Topics include:

  • Basic Web Design
  • Copyright Issues
  • Excel Spreadsheets for Grading
  • Lecture Recording & Podcasting
  • RefWorks & Flow
  • Using Media with PowerPoint
  • Using Sakai
  • and more!

Attend four sessions and earn a “Teaching with Technology” certificate that you can put on your C.V.

Tips for International TAs video