Guiding Principles for Teaching Fellows

As we return to teaching in person this fall, Teaching Fellows should focus on the following recommendations for the academic year:

Plan

Contact the lead faculty member and any other teaching fellows in your course to develop a plan for the semester ahead. While working together, create a uniform set of expectations for student assignments and participation across all sections. Try to maintain an equal division of work among teaching fellows and faculty members to ensure you experience a balanced workload, per Yale guidelines for teaching fellows. Be as transparent as possible about expectations and norms in your classroom and in the course as a whole, since transparency is an effective way to help all students thrive, but is especially helpful for students who are new to Yale.

Communicate

Communicate with students about their learning goals and course expectations:

  • What counts as participation in lectures and sections?

  • What are the assignment due dates?

  • What format should students use for assignments?

  • How should students submit assignments?

  • How can students contact you with questions or concerns?

  • When will you respond to questions?

Host office hours

You may be planning to hold office hours in person, but remember that Zoom can also be an effective way to reach students.  Plan to have some office hours that are open to one person at a time and some that are open to a group of students. In the group settings, think about how to group students to maximize their time with you and make questions as relevant to the whole group as possible. For a larger group office hour, consider putting students in pairs or groups to allow them to learn from each other.  Cultivate independence in students: Instead of giving students answers, help them to think through their reasoning and rely on the resources the course has provided for them. 

Lead sections

As you prepare to lead a section during the transition back to in-person teaching, think about creating community, being transparent about expectations, giving students a chance to learn in an active way, and getting frequent feedback.  To create community, learn students’ names and help them learn each other’s names; do small group work early and often, and send out an early survey to hear about students’ needs. 

To help students engage actively with the materials, ask them to:

  • Answer a discussion question before class posted on Canvas

  • do reflective writing at the start of class shared with you or the entire class

  • take low-stakes quizzes, do problem-sets, or complete worksheets to provide extra practice

Think about ways to bring technology into the classroom that enhance learning.  Rather than instituting a laptop ban, ask students to use the laptop for well-defined activities and then close them.  For technology-enhanced activities, consider having the class do crowd-sourced research, annotating a text together, or doing collaborative note-taking and finding of resources.

Careful planning before each section will ensure students have a better learning experience. Write out a list of discussion questions or sketching out the logistics of any activity.  Having a well-defined lesson plan will make you feel more confident and will give you room to be spontaneous in relation to the structure you have created.

Keep student well-being in mind during this transition.  As pleased as we are to be teaching in person again, we are still experiencing disruptions and surprises in our academic and personal lives because of the pandemic.  Think about building in structured flexibility into your course: Offer one or two excused absences from section that students can choose when to use; offer one chance to turn in a paper without penalty; think about multiple ways for students to participate meaningfully during and before section.  These are principles that accord with Universal Design principles generally, but they are especially important during this challenging transition.

Get frequent feedback

Create frequent opportunities to get feedback from your students.  Too often, we wait until the final course evaluations to hear from our students.  Instead, think about informal ways to get feedback every week or two, but especially by midterm:  

  • Exit ticket: Ask students to write on a notecard one thing they have learned in section and one thing they still have questions about.

  • Use an anonymous tool to allow students to communicate how the class is going for them.

  • Ask students to fill out a midterm feedback survey.  Pose questions in neutral terms (“What is working well?” “What could work better?”) and include a question about the students’ commitment to the class (“How would you evaluate your own investment in the class?”).   When evaluation includes this metacognitive element, the feedback exercise gives you more useful information and can be a learning experience for students.

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