Recitations and Labs
Teaching assistants play a number of different roles at the University of Pittsburgh. One role is that of recitation leader. Discussion recitations (sometimes referred to as discussion sections) often accompany large introductory classes. They are small group sessions that give students a chance to discuss ideas raised in the lecture or assigned reading materials. On occasion, recitation leaders introduce new material more appropriately taught in small groups. Problem-based recitations may also accompany large classes. Similar to discussion recitations, problem-based recitations help students to solve questions where the answer is not immediately apparent.
In addition to discussion and problem-based recitations, teaching assistants lead laboratory sections where theories and ideas introduced in a lecture are demonstrated by the teaching assistant and practiced by the students. Teaching assistants who work in labs must demonstrate scientific methods and help students to discover scientific principals.
At the University of Pittsburgh teaching assistant also teach small
language or composition classes where small group instruction is a
vital part of the educational experience.
While not every class will employ the same teaching techniques, there is some advice that is equally applicable to all forms of recitations, labs and small classes.
Thoroughly prepare for class. Whether you are presenting mathematical problems and need to work them through before class or you are leading a discussion on Byzantine art and need to prepare slides, leading a section or teaching a class requires preparation. Keep up with the reading, and prepare questions, examples or case studies before you go to class. If you come prepared for class, your students will follow your example and work harder.
Learn your studentsí names. By no later than the third class meeting, you should have learned your studentsí names. Taking attendance or passing back assignments can help you to get to know your students. Or, if you have a hard time memorizing names, you might have the students make name cards that can sit on their desks.
Take advantage of the small size of your class. For the students, discussion sections, small labs, and language classes are a chance to learn in a small group environment? one potentially less isolating and alienating than the large lecture. Teach in ways that take advantage of this. Encourage students to ask questions and discuss ideas.
Prepare a section syllabus. It is important that you let your students know? from the start? what you expect from your recitation or lab and how discussions, participation and labs will be graded. Do you expect students to do their reading assignments before class or are the discussions to prepare them for the reading? What needs to be included in the lab report? Is your discussion of the homework problems formal or casual (can students jump in with a question or should they raise their hands before speaking)?
Increasingly, graduate teaching assistants are preparing short syllabi for their students that outline important information: guidelines for participating in discussions, lists of assignments, grading scales, office hours and other contact information. Keep in mind that not all students were raised in the same culture and that speaking styles may vary significantly from one ethnic group to another. By immediately establishing a clear standard, you make it easier for every student to participate.
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