Undergraduate Physics TAs–I love this class

Here is a reflection from one of the undergraduate TAs enrolled in my teaching and learning seminar.

This week I discovered upon reflection that most of the questions I asked were very convergent. So, what I thought had been a fairly good dialogic conversation, was just a disguised univocal one. Last Friday I also noticed that I tended to have a lot of teacher-student-teacher interactions. So as Wednesday approached I tried to remain conscious of this and aim for more divergent questions and group discussions.

One of the biggest things I did differently was that when I noticed a student seemed unsure of themselves about an answer I’d just tell them to try explaining their reasoning to a random member of the group. This usually easily got discussion going and allowed me to avoid the usual teacher-student-teacher interaction. Other than that I got less timid about posing questions to groups and I found questions I initially found barely worth asking provided more discourse than I thought. This helped to remind me that I have to keep in mind that all of this material is entirely new to these students and trivial questions may very well still be worth asking.

A specific interaction I had in which I tried to engage in dialogic discourse using the questioning technique actually resulted because I was not prepared for the question. It was one of the QODEC multiple choice questions that I had looked over, but not really thought about. So, I initially just asked them to explain why they thought the answer they had picked was correct. After that, we were all still a bit unclear as to which answer would be correct, so I suggested we go through each answer and try to see what it would mean if it were correct. Doing this resulted in most of the members of the group talking to one another about why they thought certain answers were good candidates for the correct answer or not. Eventually, in this way we narrowed the answer down to two questions and I got a bit excited and accidentally gave the answer way. I did not realize that I had done so until I asked them why they chose the answer they did and they responded that thats what I picked. Luckily, this did not get them out of having to justify this answer to themselves before they could bring themselves to actually submit it.

Overall, I found that it was actually a bit of a challenge to listen carefully enough to figure out where students are having problems so I could ask appropriate kinds of questions to help lead them to a discovery. I hope to think more about the questions before this next lecture so that I can perhaps have some anticipated question sets prepared.

I love how this student is able to “sop” up ideas from our readings and discussions and use them as lenses on his own experiences in the classroom. I love how honest and reflective he is about what’s happening around him–what he thinks is going well, and what he’d like to improve, what’s it like for him, and what it’s like for students. I love the fact that he writes about being with student in terms of an inclusive “we”–as in “We were all still unclear as to which answer would be correct”. I love that he is managing to keep his mind on sooo much–discussion, questioning, listening to students, soliciting reasoning, etc. I love how at the end he invents the idea of proximal formative assessment, as a challenge he has faced and wants to pursue as a goal.

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