Penn Graduate Student Center

Navigating the Classroom

About Navigating the Classroom

Navigating the Classroom seeks to help graduate teaching assistants be successful in the classroom through workshops and resources. This program is cosponsored by Penn Graduate Student Center and GAPSA.

The Center for Teaching and Learning and the Library offer extensive programming to assist graduate student teachers in the classroom.

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Call for Applications: Course in College Teaching
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The Course in College Teaching is a ten-session seminar intended to prepare postdoctoral fellows and advanced graduate students to teach college courses and to help them develop as instructors. The course will provide a structured series of workshops and discussions to help instructors with little or no teaching experience or those who might like to think more about their teaching. Please register to receive more information and to indicate interest in the program.

Teaching Workshops

Center for Teaching and Learning and the Graduate Student Center co-sponsor a series of workshops for graduate students, especially TAs, who are interested in learning and improving their teaching skills.

Giving Effective Feedback on Student Assignments
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How can we be great teachers even when we’re doing that most dreaded task - evaluating written work? In this workshop, we’ll discuss how to turn a task that produces anxiety in both teachers and students into a valuable pedagogical exercise. Feedback on essays and other assignments comes in many forms, and we’ll think about the merits and drawbacks of several of these methods. By approaching our task from the perspective of teaching rather than simply evaluating, we’ll discover that giving feedback can not only be less painful but help us meet our classroom goals, whether those are mastery of course material, improvement in students’ writing, or both.

Activities for Discussion
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Many instructors cite “fostering discussion” as a priority in the classroom, but implementing these discussions can prove challenging. How do we encourage students to speak? How do we keep them on task? How do we manage overeager students? Shy students? Students who haven’t done the readings? This workshop will explore a number of different activities designed to engender productive discussions and will address such issues as choosing an activity that matches your goals; preparing for discussion; priming students for discussion; effectively managing activities; incorporating texts/images/data into discussion; and holding students accountable for their role during discussion.

Identities in the Classroom: Yours & Your Students'
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The university classroom aspires to have students from a wide variety of backgrounds and identities so that students’ ideas can be enriched with fresh and different perspectives. These identities – racial, ethnic, gender/sexual, religious, socio-economic, feminist, conservative, immigrant, etc. – run the gamut, and can pose teaching challenges even when they are not the focus of classroom topics. This workshop will enable participants to share various teaching strategies on managing personal sensitivities in the classroom as well as students’ undeveloped ideas about core aspects of other students’ identities. We will also discuss useful resources and various methods of creating an inclusive and safe learning environment that at the same time encourages students to critically examine how their identities impact their assumptions and thought processes.

Helping Students Approach Learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences
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Courses in the humanities and social sciences attract students from a staggering array of disciplines, with equally varied motivations. Some wish to broaden their minds or plump their résumés, others want to explore specific interests not addressed in their home fields, a few seek simply to satisfy requirements. This diversity of academic skill sets and perspectives can be an asset, but instructors also must wrestle with wide disparities in background knowledge. How should we teach students with such diverse intentions, expectations, and starting points? In this workshop, we will discuss teaching strategies and learning objectives in the humanities and social science classroom. What qualities, if any, are unique to this space? What advantages or obstacles might we contend with given our subject matter or disciplinary methods? As a group, we will discuss how we teach writing, reading, note-taking, and critical thinking; how we connect lecture to recitation; and the teaching goals of our particular discipline in both the short- and long-term.

Managing Your Time While Teaching
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How can you balance your own academic goals with your teaching responsibilities? What are the methods for accomplishing short- and long-range tasks while teaching a class or a recitation, holding office hours, and/or grading exams? In this workshop, participants will have an opportunity to explore their own time management styles and take away additional strategies for taking control of their time. Additionally, iOS Apps for time and project management will be introduced.

Managing Student Groups in STEM Teaching
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Group-based problem solving is becoming increasingly popular in science classrooms as STEM fields gain interest in promoting student collaboration and individual academic achievement through active learning. The goal of this workshop is to provide TAs with strategies for managing student interactions to make group work more effective. In this workshop, we will use role-plays to examine different group dynamics as well as to guide students in successful group-based problem solving. Physics TAs are particularly encouraged to attend.

Helping Struggling Students
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Some degree of struggle allows students to learn and experience the intellectual growth essential to their education. In this workshop, we will discuss how to engage in a productive dialogue with students who are struggling. What strategies will help motivate your students to excel, while also creating a classroom where it is safe to make some mistakes? How do you fulfill your role as a supportive & accessible instructor, while simultaneously helping students appreciate that some degree of struggle is essential in college? How and when should you tap into university resources, especially when students seem to have gotten off track? The difficulty of these topics does not detract from the deep satisfaction TAs and instructors can feel when they help a student work through their struggles and succeed. We will also discuss common causes of underperformance and how to effectively respond in these particular scenarios.

Working With Students One-on-One
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Office hours are typically associated with helping struggling students or fending off grade complaints. Additionally, “the worried well” (i.e., students who are doing well, but worry they aren’t) often utilize office hours. Regardless of the reason for students coming to office hours, it is important for TAs to make these designated times as productive as possible. This workshop will provide an opportunity to discuss ways to use office hours to reach students who need them the most and how to take advantage of opportunities for one-on-one work to maximize student learning. Recognizing when students or TAs need additional assistance or services, and when to involve faculty members with the concerns of individual students will also be discussed.

Effective Lecturing
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This workshop addresses what makes for a good lecture and how to develop a lecturing style that works best for you and what you are teaching. Different lecture techniques and tools will be examined as well as tips for planning, pace, and organization. Special attention will be paid to how technology can help or hurt a lecture as well as how to be engaging without crossing the line into mere entertainment. Lecturing is an integral part of being a professor and we'll discuss how to better use lectures to teach, engage, and inspire students.

Teaching to Different Levels of Students
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In many classes it is common to find students who approach the material or the discipline from dramatically different positions, with regard to experience, comfort and aptitude. This workshop offers various strategies for teaching different levels of students in order to ensure that each class is productive for everyone: how to identify different learning styles; how to modify teaching plans depending on students’ levels of preparation and knowledge; how to incorporate different modes of communication; and how to motivate students.

Integrating Group Work Into Your Class
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Student-centered approaches to learning are powerful methodologies that one can use in any classroom. When used appropriately, group work gives students invaluable experiences working with others and finding their voice. These experiences provide skills that can be used as lifelong tools in any vocation that students may pursue in the future. This workshop will focus on discovering what methods have worked well or may have needed tweaking in past personal experiences while also outlining techniques that one could use to give students the maximum benefit of group work.

Helping Students Approach Learning in STEM Fields
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TAs and instructors in STEM fields face a variety of different challenges. Students come from a wide range of backgrounds and with a range of expectations of what STEM classes will be like. This workshop will ask: What different ways can we help students develop the skills they need to solve problems in our fields? How can we inspire students to thrive and stay in STEM disciplines? To answer these questions, we will discuss ways to leverage different teaching tools and techniques to reach the heterogeneous population of learners and help students succeed in STEM learning.

Teaching Sensitive Topics
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The classroom is a place where students and instructors confront different ideas and beliefs about the world. A diversity of viewpoints can provide a strong foundation for classroom discussion by encouraging participants to reflect upon and engage with opinions that are contrary to their own. While the intellectual discomfort that such reflection can instigate is a hallmark of the learning process, that discomfort can also impede learning and critical inquiry. This workshop will cover strategies for leading discussions on politically sensitive and/or controversial topics. We will consider different approaches to building inclusive classrooms, managing “hot” moments, and setting ground rules for respectful debate.

Guiding Students in Writing Papers
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Strong writing skills are a key capability that college students need to develop in order to succeed in a variety of career fields upon graduation. In this workshop, we will examine how to guide students in writing papers, and will focus on developing arguments and conceptual frameworks. This workshop will concentrate on writing research papers (including critical literature reviews) and shorter reaction papers based on course readings. The workshop will focus on pedagogical and revision strategies that instructors can use to improve student writing and argument development and to support them through the writing process.

Common Room Hours:

Monday-Thursday: 9AM-8PM
Friday: 9AM-6PM
Weekends: Closed until mid-Sept

Monday, Sept 7: Closed for Labor Day

Graduate Student Center

3615 Locust Walk
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia PA 19104-6221