During my time as an instructor at Western Michigan University, I have taken part in professional development opportunities through the Office of Faculty Development and the Association of Graduate English Students.
Graduate Student Teaching Intensive
The Graduate Student Teaching Intensive is a five-day workshop offered by the Office of Faculty Development designed to help graduate students assess and improve their teaching philosophy and skills. The Intensive helped me refine the fundamental teaching skills I had gained from my previous three years of teaching and the pedagogical training provided by the English department, and I also came away from the Intensive with several new tools or strategies that I used in my redesign of my ENGL 1100 and ENGL 3300 courses:
I began listing explicit objectives at the top of each of my lesson plans, such as "After this class, students will be able to identify fundamental formal elements of Anglo-Saxon poetry" or "After this class, students will be able to compose an argumentative thesis statement." Having clearly defined objectives in mind before planning the lesson helped me ensure that each lesson was actually imparting the skills and content that I considered essential for that class and that course. I also shared those objectives with students at the beginning of each class.
I used Backward Design to redesign my courses. I listed 10-20 items (skills, objectives, content, etc.) that I would like students to take away from that course. I then prioritized them: 3-5 essential items, 3-5 secondary items, and 4-10 minor items. I could then use these prioritized items to inform my text selections, assessments, and daily objectives for lesson plans to ensure that the course I designed would be definitely be successful in delivering the 3-5 essential items, and also to strive to provide the secondary and minor items as well.
I learned about Socrative in the Intensive, a classroom engagement app, and started using it in my courses to deliver quick, effective quizzes at the beginning of class and easy exit quizzes at the end of class. This meant that I always had feedback on student understanding on my phone or computer, easily accessible and all in one place. This, combined with my objectives and Backward Design, meant that I had a very clear understanding of how the course was delivering on my goals for learning. It's also an effective way of taking attendance at the same time as delivering an assessment!
I also took part in a year-long teaching mentorship program that followed and built on the work begun in the Graduate Student Teaching Intensive, with one of the mentors from the Initiative, Dr. Brett Geier of the Department of Educational Leadership, Research, and Technology. Dr. Geier, several other participants from the Initiative, and I would meet monthly to discuss teaching philosophy and pedagogy. I began thinking about and working on my teaching philosophy during these sessions, with Dr. Geier's feedback, which was an invaluable part of the experience.
One of the most valuable aspects of this program was the individualized attention given to us by Dr. Geier and the small group dynamic. If one of us had a problem or question, Dr. Geier could give us guidance based on his deep knowledge and experience of pedagogy, and the other students could weigh in with a variety of perspectives. This came in handy when I wasn't sure how to deal with a student who was dominating discussion. I could tell he was annoying other students and potentially shutting down participation from others. I didn't want to cause him to stop participating completely by critiquing his behavior, though. Dr. Geier and my other group members suggested a private conversation where I explained that, while I appreciated his enthusiasm and his participation, I could not always call on him and that I needed to hear from other people in the course. I did just that during a mid-semester conference, and the situation was resolved without conflict.
I have also taken part in some student-led professional development opportunities, planned and sponsored by the Association of English Graduate Students (AGES). One of these was weekly "Water Cooler" meetings, led by the Vice President of AGES, where a student would give a brief presentation and lead discussion on a topic like "Grading and Assessment," "Lesson Planning," "Classroom Management," or "Designing Assignments." After the formal portion of the meeting, the floor would be open for discussion, advice, trouble shooting, or feedback. These meetings were an invaluable part of the AGES community, and I enjoyed being an older student with several years of teaching who could offer advice and feedback to younger students. Of course, these discussions and my participation in them were also refining my teaching philosophy and giving me ideas to take back to my own courses.
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