Cleveland State University
Teaching Assistant Handbook

College of Graduate Studies

Helping Yourself Become a Better Teacher

There are many materials and resources available to help you become a better teacher. Many resources and suggestions are listed in this handbook. Be sure to seek assistance from your supervisor and outstanding teachers in your department. You can ask other faculty members if you can visit and observe their classes. You can also invite another faculty member to observe you teach and provide feedback on your teaching. Share and discuss your teaching strategies and materials with other teaching assistants and seek their input. Also, be sure to seek feedback n your teaching regularly from your students.

DEVELOPING COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR TEACHING

Be aware of your initial observations and impressions of the students. Note any difficulties they may have understanding your verbal communication. On the first day of class, discuss any specific language challenges you have with your students.

The following strategies will be helpful:

  • Write your name on the board and pronounce it for the students


  • Speak at a moderate rate of speech


  • Pronounce your words clearly


  • Ask students if they need clarification of any words or terms you use


  • Ask students if you are speaking too quickly


  • Use the pitch and volume of your voice to emphasize specific words or concepts


  • Invite students to ask you to repeat or use other words to clarify a topic or statement that may be confusing to them


  • Be confident

PREPARING FOR YOUR FIRST CLASS PRESENTATION

Prior to the first day of class, there are several tasks that should be accomplished. These include:

  • Check the time of the class and visit the assigned classroom to determine the size, furniture arrangement, lighting, electrical outlets, etc.

  • Check with the department secretary, or your supervisor, for the policies relating to obtaining needed audio-visual equipment, supplies, etc.

  • Determine policies on taking attendance, constructing and administering tests, grading, and reporting of grades.

  • Prepare and practice what you are planning to say to students, especially if you are nervous about beginning this class.

  • Plan to arrive early on the first day of class and begin to get to know your students as they arrive.

FIRST DAY OF TEACHING

How you spend the first day of class will set the tone for the entire course. There are many important things you can do on the first day that will help establish rapport with the students, prepare them for the course's work, and generate excitement about the subject matter.

Research shows undergraduates want to know two kinds of information on the first day of class. First, they want to learn as much as possible about the class so they can decide whether to stay in the course and estimate the work requirements for the entire course. Second, they are curious about the teacher as a person. They want to know if you will be reasonable and fair, if you care about them as individuals, and if you care about the course itself.

A well written syllabus, distributed during the first class, promotes a positive attitude in students, because it shows the teacher cares about the course and has made an effort to plan it carefully. A syllabus should contain course goals, topics, texts, grading and examination procedures, reading assignments, attendance policy, and your office location and appointment hours. Comments you give in class about the textbook are important since students are judging if they need to buy it and how closely they will have to read it. Stressing your availability during office hours and staying after class to answer questions and deal with problems both suggest your accessibility.

The first day of class affords a variety of opportunities to establish rapport with your students and to provide the kinds of information you and they want in that initial class. By meeting these needs, you can increase their motivation and achievement and enhance your own effectiveness.

(Excerpt from: The First day of Class-Setting the Right Tone, CSU Center for Teaching Excellence. Additional information is available at http://www.csuohio.edu/offices/teachingexcellence/)

Information and procedures for the first day of class include:

  • State the course title, course number, and the location of the course.

  • Pronounce your name; how you expect to be addressed (Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.); office information, including phone number and office hours; and a brief overview of your background.

  • If class size permits, take attendance and begin to associate names with faces. Make eye contact with students.

  • Invite students to introduce themselves to the class or, in the case of very large classes, to the students to their right/left. If time permits, students can tell why they are in the course, their academic program and their year in their academic program.

  • Review course prerequisites, description, goals, content, evaluation procedures, attendance policies, and academic policies. Use the course syllabus as the source of this information and refer students to specific information in the syllabus.

  • Review required textbooks, laboratory manuals, web resources and library reserve readings.

  • Discuss any additional course fees for equipment, materials, field trips, etc.

  • Preview the style and activities that you will be using in your teaching. For example, will lectures, small group discussions, projects, or recitation sessions be used?

  • Discuss policies affecting student grades, including attendance, assignments or late assignments, exams and make-up exams, group projects, class participation, plagiarism and cheating.

  • Plan on covering content-related material the first day. Do not simply dismiss the students after introductions and the discussion of the syllabus have been completed.

  • Tell students why you are excited about this class or subject. Enthusiasm is contagious.

  • Plan on learning students' names as quickly as possible. This can be done by using seating charts, returning papers to each individual by name, or taking attendance each day. In reasonably-sized classes you should set a goal to know students' names by the end of the second or third week of class. To assist you with learning students' names, you can get your class rosters with student photos included. Directions for "Class Rosters with Photos" are available on the website for the Center for Teaching Excellence at http://www.csuohio.edu/offices/teachingexcellence/.

USING ACTIVE LEARNING TO ENHANCE YOUR CLASS

Lecturing is a common teaching method in college classrooms. Lectures can convey large amounts of factual content to large numbers of students in a set amount of time. However, lectures do not address the diverse learning styles of students or the amount of information accessible via technology and the media. Research shows that active learning is the equal of lectures in helping students master content and is superior in developing students' thinking and writing skills. It also finds students prefer active-learning strategies. Active learning responds to the well-known philosophy of learning, "Tell me and I'll listen. Show me and I'll understand. Involve me and I'll learn." Active Learning changes the student from a passive recipient of information to a full participant in learning the material you think most important.

To increase active learning in your class, you can implement alternative styles of lecturing, such as:

    1. Feedback Lecture- two mini lectures separated by a small-group study session.

    2. Guided Lecture- a half-class lecture with no note-taking, followed by a short period of individual student recall, in turn followed by small-group activity (such as reconstruction of the lecture with instructor assistance).

    3. Responsive Lecture- one class each week devoted to answering open-ended, student-generated questions. Questions may or may not be submitted in advance.

Additional modifications to lectures include:

  • Pausing to enhance retention and comprehension because it focuses on clarifying and assimilating the information
  • Using frequent tests and quizzes, including some that are ungraded. They help students retain almost twice as much information.
  • Using demonstrations to stimulate curiosity and improve understanding of difficult material

    Teaching strategies that can be used instead of or in addition to lecturing:

      1. Think-Pair-Share - A problem is posed. Students think about it alone for five minutes or less, then pair up to discuss their views. The pairs share their conclusions with the rest of the class.

      2. Minute Paper- Pause after 15 minutes of class and ask students to take a minute to write a two-sentence summary of what he or she has learned so far. Depending on how much time you want to devote to this, the students could pair up and help each other better understand the material for a few minutes or a few could report to the class.

      3. Jigsaw - Choose learning material that can be divided into parts, such as an experiment, a list, or several articles on a similar topic. Divide students into groups equaling the number of parts. Ask each group to read, discuss, and learn the material. Next, form jigsaw learning groups composed of one member from each of the initial groups. Each new group will contain an expert on each part of the material, so that together the group will learn all of the material. Reconvene the class to go over the material. You may also ask the jigsaw groups to answer questions based on their accumulated knowledge.

      4. Roundtable - Students divide into groups to answer a query. Each group is given only one pen and one piece of paper. Each group member in turn writes down his or her response on the paper. The results are examined and placed on an overhead for class discussion. There is more accountability for each student if he or she has to explain the written remarks.

      5. Voting - A show of hands to keep students involved and to determine what the class believes as a group. This exercise works well in large classes. It refocuses the students' attention. It can clarify larger issues into smaller subsets. It requires students to engage the material. Start off with a general query, i.e., "Who thinks the British caused the Revolutionary War? Who thinks the colonies did?" and then explore the subject further.

      6. End of Class Query - In the last three minutes of class ask the students to report anonymously two things they learned and what questions remain.

      7. Trade a Problem - Divide the class into teams and have each team construct review questions. Each question is written on an index card (each team can have a different color). The answer to each question is written on the back of the card. The teams then trade cards. Without looking at the answers, one member of the team reads each question. The team decides by consensus on an answer. If the team's answer does not agree with the original answer, they should add their answer on the back of the card as an alternative. Cards continue to be traded. The teacher may then want to conduct a whole-class discussion on the questions with more than one answer.

      8. Concept Map - Divide the class into groups and give each group a pen and a large piece of paper or a transparency. Each group should write down the topic being studied in the center of the paper inside a circle or rectangle, then place key examples or related concepts inside smaller shapes and connect them to the main topic. There are many possible models of the relationship among concepts, i.e., chains, spiders, or more complicated ones.

      9. Diagnostic Learning Logs - Tell students you will be asking them to keep records of what they learned from class, readings, tests, etc. Ask students to keep a Class Log with main points they learned, points that were unclear, and what need to know to make them clear, or a Homework or Test Log in which they are to describe assignments, give examples of errors, and tell how they would do it differently.

CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

Successful classroom management is essential to successful classroom teaching. Classroom management induces order in the classroom and encourages students to comply with the expectations of the instructor and other students.

Successful Classroom Management

Consider the following steps toward successful classroom management:

    1. Establish expectations and routines
    • Prepare a clear and comprehensive syllabus
    • Prepare a clear beginning and ending of your class
    • Invite and monitor class participation
    • Follow established procedures for turning in assignments
    • Get to know your students

    2. Plan for instruction
    • Organize course content
    • Connect the students' prior knowledge to the objectives for the course
    • Design meaningful learning experiences

    3. Manage class time effectively
    • Start classes on time
    • Write the agenda for the class on the board so students know what to expect
    • Vary the learning activities during each class session (20-30 minutes per activity)
    • Allow breaks during long classes, or let students know whether you will allow them to leave the room

(Adapted from Teaching: Classroom Management and Strategies by Dr. Susan Rakow, CSU)

GUIDELINES FOR DE-ESCALATING CONFLICT

Successful classroom management and teaching can prevent conflicts in your classroom. It is important to build goodwill in your classroom by taking time to develop rapport and trust with your students. It is important to demonstrate interest, reliability and reason in the classroom. Be aware of your own emotions and how to manage them so they don't interfere with your judgment or behavior. Consider the following suggestions to prevent conflicts in your classroom:

Professional Demeanor

    1. Model professional behavior for your students. Be calm and reasonable.

    2. Speak in a normal tone of voice. Don't raise your voice or shout.

    3. Minimize unnecessary conversation and movement.

    4. Demonstrate interest in your students' comments and concerns.

Professional Verbal Communication

    1. Speak in clear, precise sentences.

    2. Avoid choosing words that sound challenging or demeaning.

    3. Don't minimize or exaggerate a problem. Be "matter of fact," but concerned.

    4. If you're not sure how to respond to a student, it is permissible to say that you need to "think about the situation for a minute." Silence may be appropriate.

(Excerpt from Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education (CRETE) Program at CSU, Dr. William Newby, 2009, from the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution.)

ASSESSING YOUR TEACHING PERFORMANCE

It is important to assess your teaching performance throughout the course rather than waiting until the end of the semester to receive feedback from students. It is equally important to use the feedback you receive to improve your teaching and document your effectiveness as a teacher. Use information from the evaluation of your teaching to make adjustments to your strategies, materials and learning activities with the ultimate goal of improving your students' learning. Consider the following sources for feedback on your performance:

    1. Other TAs

    2. The Professor in charge of the course

    3. Informal written feedback from students (via questions at the end of tests or comments on index cards distributed at the end of class)

    4. Course evaluations

    5. Video or audio tapes of your teaching

Consider inviting feedback from students on the following aspects of your teaching and interaction in the classroom at the midpoint of the semester:
  • Giving clear directions
  • Including a variety of learning activities
  • Assigning the right amount of work outside of class
  • Allowing enough time to complete assignments or tests
  • Providing extra help if needed
  • Inviting students' opinions
  • Treating students equally and fairly
  • Determining grades fairly
  • Respecting students
  • Establishing reasonable expectations
  • Making the class interesting

(Excerpt from Friendly Feedback by Jim Harmon, CSU Office of Field Services, 2004)

TECHNOLOGY AND YOUR CLASS

You will need to consistently use technology in your class to enhance your teaching and keep your students actively engaged.

Remember the following suggestions when selecting technology for your class:

    1. Your students are technologically diverse.

    2. Technology can add effectiveness and efficiency to your teaching.

    3. You will need to choose technology to match your goals.

    4. Be sure to plan thoroughly.

    5. Check and recheck the working order of your technology.

    6. Provide resources for student assistance.

You will need to check out the equipment from the Integrated Media Systems and Services Department (IMS). Equipment can be reserved by calling X3855 on campus. Media Services maintains a wide variety of audiovisual equipment to meet the multimedia and presentation needs of the instructors.

Televisions with DVD and VCR capability, overhead projectors, combo units (laptops and LCD projector on a rolling cart), film projectors, public address systems, and more can be scheduled for classroom use. Some classrooms are equipped with LCD projectors and computers, but you will need to check that the equipment is in working order. Note that IMS does not provide laptops.

The main location for equipment distribution is in the Main Classroom Building, Room 201A. Another office is located in the Monte Ahuja College of Business, Room 18.

An equipment distribution substation is located in the Library Multimedia Services Center (RT 301). If your class meets in Rhodes West, this equipment subcenter on the third floor of the Library will save you much time. Simply make your equipment reservations as before, by calling X3855. When you pick up your order from Multimedia Services in RT 301, you will receive a key allowing you easy access to the RT West classrooms, also located on the third floor of the building.

The following suggestions will help you to reserve equipment through IMS:

    1. For your first visit, you will need to provide your name, CSU ID#, department and office extension.

    2. You will need to claim the equipment before class and return it afterward.

    3. You can reserve specific equipment for a regular time slot all semester if needed.

    4. IMS will be the primary source of most of your instructional equipment needs - with the exception of a laptop. (If a laptop is needed, you can check one out from the Student Center, check the possibility of borrowing one from your department or college, or check to see if one is available from the Center for Teaching Excellence.)

Some helpful suggestions for preparing to use computer projection are:

    1. Check your time and route between IMS and your classroom.

    2. Review your knowledge of connectivity and controls.

    3. Check the projection surface.

    4. Check lines of sight for students.

    5. Note the type size for content of the presentation.

Additional information and listing of services is available from IMS at (216) 687-3855 or http://library.csuohio.edu/ims/equipment.html.

USING THE ELECTRONIC COURSE RESERVE (ECR)

With CSU Library's Electronic Course Reserve (ECR) system, course reading materials are available to CSU students and faculty at all hours and anywhere there is Internet access.

You can submit ECR items to the Library's Digital Production Unit. The materials are prepared in several different ways. Files already in electronic format are easily put into the system. Printed documents are scanned and processed before being placed on ECR. Most materials on the ECR system are PDF (portable document format) files, which require using the free Adobe Acrobat ™ Reader.

Your students may choose to search for the reserved item by your name, by course number, or by subject. Then the item may be read from the monitor, printed, or saved to a disk. Printing is available within the Library for a nominal charge.

All items published on this site are for use by Cleveland State University faculty and students only. With the right hardware, software and proper configuration, users can access ECR from any computer on or off campus which has access to the Michael Schwartz Library's Web Page.

Be sure to allow sufficient time for your documents to be prepared on the ECR system. You will need to help your students through the process of accessing these materials the first time.

For assistance, contact Joanne Cornelius, Course Reserve Supervisor at j.cornelius@csuohio.edu or 216-687-6954 .

Additional information about ECR and instructional support for Teaching Assistants provided through the Michael Schwartz Library is available at http://library.csuohio.edu/services/grad-services.html

USING BLACKBOARD/WebCT CE6

Blackboard is a course management system that offers you and your students an interactive instructional environment. You will need to set up your class on Blackboard through the Center for eLearning at 216-687-3960 or http://www.csuohio.edu/elearning.

The following options are available for courses using blackboard:
  • Posting the course syllabus
  • Posting materials
  • Online quizzes and self-tests
  • Hyperlink "hotlists"
  • Online discussions
  • Online assignment submission

For assistance with Blackboard and eLearning, contact Janet M. Raycher at 216-802-3140 or j.raycher@csuohio.edu.

Suggestions for using Email with your class:

    1. List your CSU email address at the top of your syllabus.

    2. Use your CSU address as your main Email for your students.

    3. Respond within 2 working days to any student Email.

    4. Insist that your students monitor their CSU Email address.

    5. Contact students through CSU Email.

Additional information and resources are also available at the Center for Elearning at http://www.csuohio.edu/elearning.

(Excerpt from Technology and Your Class by Dr. William Beasley, CSU Center for Teaching Excellence)

THE CSU WRITING CENTER

You should discuss the importance of writing skills in evaluating student work with your supervisor or the instructor. It is important to apply your standards consistently. You can help students improve their writing skills by commenting on their writing errors even if you don't include writing quality in your evaluations. It is helpful to provide students with a handout which explains grammatical correction marks. You may have the time to comment on the word-by-word, line-by-line, or sentence-by-sentence level of your students' writing, or you may choose to comment on the overall structure, organization and style of their papers is desirable. A handout of grammatical correction marks is available from the CSU Writing Center (RT Library 124).

Students should be encouraged to use the CSU Writing Center. Assistance and tutoring in composition are provided to all students. If it is clear that a student is having difficulties with writing, be sure to refer the student to the Writing Center for assistance. Appointments at the Writing Center can be made by students by calling 216-687-6981.

The Writing Center also has many valuable resources to support instructors' and students' writing across the curriculum including tutorials, handouts, workshops and personal assistance. Their on-line resources are available at http://www.csuohio.edu/academic/writingcenter/.

engaged learning

Mailing Address
Cleveland State University
2121 Euclid Avenue, PH 227
Cleveland, OH 44115-2214
Campus Location
Parker Hannifin Hall, 227
2258 Euclid Avenue
Phone: 216.687.9370
Fax: 216.875.9933


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