TEP logoFirst-Year Teaching Award Recipients Share their Insights « Teaching Effectiveness Program

First-Year Teaching Award Recipients Share their Insights

TEP is pleased to congratulate Erin Hunt, doctoral student in Economics, and Maggie Newton, doctoral student in Philosophy, as recipients of the Kimble First-Year Teaching Award for the 2015-2016 academic year. Named in honor of professor emeritus Dan Kimble, the award recognizes outstanding teaching by graduate student instructors who have demonstrated a commitment to professional development and reflective practice. The annual prizes typically are awarded to one first-time lab or discussion section leader and to one first-time sole instructor.

The Kimble First-Year Teaching Award is jointly sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs, the Graduate School, and the Division of Undergraduate Studies, and administered by the TEP. You can learn more about the award, including eligibility and application requirements, at this link.

TEP asked Erin and Maggie to share the main learning goals they have for students; the resources they turn to for support and to get new ideas or approaches in their teaching; and a few tips for other first-time graduate instructors.

Erin Hunt

Erin Hunt, Department of Economics

Erin Hunt, Department of Economics

I’m Erin Hunt and I’m a fourth year Ph.D. student in the economics department. I taught “Issues in Public Economics” last winter, and am slated to teach the class again this winter and spring. I have a passion for the subject material, and enjoy interacting with the students.

The majority of my students will not become economists, so I emphasize skills I hope will be applicable in a variety of life and work settings. My goals as an instructor are to help my students think critically about current events and public policy, encourage my students to participate in class discussions and activities, and to help my students increase their quantitative literacy.

I use a variety of in-class teaching techniques to encourage participation and to help students feel more comfortable with quantitative material (graphs, equations, tables, and numbers). I also structure my homework assignments and exams to test students on basic understanding as well as more complex applications of material. The teaching strategies and activities that I use most are think-pair-share and I do, we do, you do; I also prompt student effort at the different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and try to work with sound, images, and movement in the classroom to make the material feel more alive to students.

Going forward, I hope to incorporate more active learning in my classroom. I’m looking for ways that I can lecture less and have the students engage with the material more. Several resources have helped me increase the level of participation in my class, including:

  • Trainings from TEP (see TEP workshops)
  • Trainings and microteaching sessions as part of the Graduate Teaching Initiative link
  • Peer teaching observations (using the GTI classroom observation format)
  • Trainings within my department
  • University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching website
  • Supplemental Instruction teaching philosophy website

I used several resources to develop my class material:

  • Textbook and resources from publisher
    • I based my lectures on chapters from the text and used the questions in the book as the basis of the homework and some exam questions
    • I used the publisher’s multiple choice questions to make on-line reading quizzes in Canvas
  • Notes, assignments, and exams from previous course instructor
  • Notes, assignments, and exams from people teaching the course at other institutions
    • My in-class examples are based on homework questions from other instructors
  • Econ teaching websites like Dirk Mateer’s website
  • TEP workshop on how to structure a syllabus

Last, I’ve been asked to share any pearls of wisdom I have with you. Here’s a list of teaching suggestions that I’ve received that have helped me in the classroom.

  • Keep a teaching ideas list on your desk/computer and write down examples or ideas that you could use in the future. I try to save news stories that I think I might be able to use in class.
  • Try to learn your students’ names. This is nice for building rapport, but it’s also nice to refer to students by name instead of using gender pronouns.
  • Use assigned seating during exams to reduce cheating. Dr. Mike Urbancic has been compiling seating chart templates for many of the large classrooms on campus. He may have a template for your classroom, or ideas about how to quickly make one.

I’m delighted to receive the Kimble Award and hope that some of these suggestions can help you in the coming school year.

Maggie Newton

As a philosophy discussion leader, my primary goal is to help my students develop the skills necessary for engaging in critical and meaningful discussions. These skills include a willingness to actively participate in challenging discussions, being able to raise critical questions of the texts we read, and the ability to effectively and generously listen to their classmates’ insights. Although I would love it if all my students ended the term wanting to take more philosophy courses, my real hope is that they—our future medical professionals, lawyers, business persons, activists, etc.—complete the term with the ability to apply the skills they have been practicing in our discussions to other areas of their life.

Maggie Newton, Department of Philosophy

Maggie Newton, Department of Philosophy

I have found that, for me, inventing and implementing various activities (or “games”) has helped me aid my students in sharpening these skills the most. For instance, when classroom participation seems low, or when I only have a handful of students continually speaking, I ask my students to sit in a big circle and I hand them three popsicle sticks each. Leading the discussion with a set of critical questions about the text, I ask them to toss one popsicle stick towards the center of the room whenever they participate. Although the game is simple, and might even seem elementary, quantifying participation in this way reminds the students to put more effort into contributing to the discussion. Moreover, since they only have three sticks each, the game encourages them to put extra thought into the insights they choose to share with the class.

So far, the activity that has been the most successful in my classroom has been what I call “the brain game.” For this game, I ask students to write down one critical question they have about the text. Then, I close my eyes while they pass around, “hot potato style,” a brain-shaped stress ball that I bring with me to our discussion. When I say “stop,” the person holding the brain can either begin our class discussion with their question, or pass to the left. Passing to the left is an opt-out option for those who are truly terrified of speaking in front of the whole class. However, to this day, a student has yet to pass to the left.

Informed by students’ feedback, I have found that this game is effective in multiple ways. For one, it starts our discussion with a student-provided question about the text. Moreover, it also allows students to move around, which is a rare opportunity for students who have already sat through a day’s worth of lectures. Lastly, aside from improving student engagement and knowledge retention, I also believe that playing games together, even just the simple act of passing a ball around, reminds my students that they are members of a small learning community. I take the last point seriously because each year more and more articles report that we, as a society, are becoming progressively more alienated from each other despite the growing use of social media websites that claim to connect us. Even if it is just for one hour each week, I want my students to be reminded that they are all members of a small classroom community, a larger campus community, and an even larger global community that I hope they strive to make better in their lifetime.

Yet, when I’m feeling uninspired, unsure about a particular student-related issue, or I am in need of discussion section related guidance, I tend to seek advice from other graduate employees or department faculty. In a sense, other people have been my primary source of discussion leading guidance, and I have been very lucky to have a supportive graduate community and helpful advisors. Moreover, the Teaching Engagement Program has also inspired my pedagogy with the various theme-based workshops offered throughout the year. Lastly, apart from a few articles on pedagogy I have found online, two books have informed the way I lead discussion the most: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Barbara Gross Davis’ chapter “Discussion Strategies” from her book Tools for Teaching.

Although I can only speak on behalf of my own experience, for incoming graduate employees the advice I would give is this: 1) learn to forgive yourself quickly if your discussion section does not go as planned on any given week—do not let it ruin your Friday—but try to learn from your mistakes as much as possible (while also recognizing that certain situations will be out of your hands). 2) Seek advice from other graduate employees and department faculty. At this university, I have yet to meet someone who was unwilling to offer teaching or discussion leading advice when directly asked. 3) Lastly, try to get the most out of the experience: being a discussion leader can be very rewarding if you let it, and it can also be a valuable space for developing some of the skills necessary for becoming an effective solo instructor.

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