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There are three major components of instruction that you need to know about in order to be a successful Teaching Assistant. In fact, succeeding as a TA can be as easy as PIE:

PLAN what you're going to teach

IMPLEMENT what you've planned

EVALUATE what you've implemented


In any given course or section, there are so many possible goals that, unless you set priorities, time and resources can easily be wasted. General course goals may indicate what topics will be studied, but they don't indicate how students are to demonstrate what they were to have learned. For these reasons, it is important to specify instructional objectives.


Instructional objectives provide both you and your students with "section direction". Objectives may be thought of as explicit statements of what your students SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO when they've completed a given segment of instruction. Since objectives are designed for you as well as your students, you might want to hand your students a list of objectives at the beginning of the quarter. Your objectives will provide students with an accurate picture of what's expected of them and will likely help them focus their energies in studying for the course. In addition to aiding students in studying for the course, you will find that having taken the time to clearly state objectives will prove invaluable when it comes time for you to develop any sort of test (e.g., quiz, midterm, final) for your class.


Usually, there are three steps for producing a well-written objective:

1. a description of what the student should be able to do or produce;
2. a statement of the conditions under which the student should be able to do it; and
3. a statement of the criteria that will be used to judge what's been done.

Your first task in writing an objective is to specify exactly what it is that you want your students to do. Examples:

The reader of this manual will be able TO WRITE an instructional objective. The student will be able TO MOUNT and STAIN a tissue section on a slide.

Remember that you can't peek into your students' minds to evaluate what they know. You can only gauge what they know by observing what they do. Therefore, your objectives should be written in a manner which makes it clear just what behavior(s) you're interested in.

The following table is adapted from Mager, Robert, F., Preparing Instructional Objectives, 2nd Edition , Belmont, California: Fearon-Pitman Publishers, Inc., 1975. Reprinted with permission from the publishers.

to know
to understand
to really understand
to appreciate
to fully appreciate
to enjoy
to believe
to have faith in
to internalize
to write
to recite
to identify
to sort
to solve
to build
to compare
to contrast
to smile

Your second task involves STATING THE CONDITIONS under which the student should demonstrate what s/he has learned. CONDITIONS describe the given materials and resources provided to students in a particular learning situation.


Given a list of...
Given a diagram of...
Given a problem involving...
Without any reference materials...

Your third task is to STATE THE CRITERIA you will use to judge whether or not your students have achieved the stated objectives. This means you need to specify how well the student should perform; i.e., the extent and/or level of expected performance. This may include considerations of student accuracy (number and kind of errors), speed, distance, direction, or quantity, etc.) By adding this component you are indicating what you feel is the minimum acceptable performance for students' mastering your objectives.

The following are examples of criteria statements:

...to write 4 out of 5 instructional objectives which include all 3 of the appropriate components.
...to solve 7 out of 10 problems in a period of 30 minutes.
...to identify at least 75% of the items on the diagrams.

Now that you are aware of the components of a well-written objective, you might want to look at some finished products.

The objectives below are specific enough that anyone reading them would have a clear idea of 1) what the TA (or professor) had in mind, and 2) what the student should be able to do.

Given the appropriate instruments, instructions, and a cadaver, the student will be able to dissect 4 out of 5 of the following organs before passing out: heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and stomach.

Given a course outline and a list of the components of a well-written objective, the reader of this manual will be able to write 10 instructional objectives, at least 9 of which encompass the necessary components.

If you are willing to spend the time to specify the performance expected, conditions, and criteria for minimum acceptable performance, you will discover that you have generated a useful blueprint or plan of action for your classroom activities. Once you are clear about what and how much you expect of your students and you communicate those expectations to them, both your time and theirs can be spent in accomplishing those objectives.

You may feel you can convey your purpose without including all of the components discussed here. While that choice is yours, remember that the more explicit your objectives, the more valuable they are to you and your students.


Once you have your objectives in hand, consider the types of behaviors that your students will need to acquire enroute to attaining these objectives. You can identify a series of PREREQUISITE BEHAVIORS or component tasks for each of your objectives by asking yourself the following question about each objective:

What do my students need to be able to do before they can successfully perform this objective?

By repeatedly asking this question, you will undoubtedly generate many different and appropriate enroute behaviors for your students. For example, suppose a TA for English 1 writes the following objective:

Students will be able to write a paragraph that includes a topic sentence.

If the TA then asks the question posed above, some of the prerequisite behaviors s/he might come up with could include:

Students will be able to:

* write sentences in English;
* identify topic sentences in sample paragraphs;
* distinguish between paragraphs and sentences;
* use the standard rules of punctuation.

Not everyone will analyze a given objective into the same components. Your perception of behaviors for a given objective is likely to be unique-and as long as you've given them considerable thought, your chosen prerequisites should be appropriate to the objective at hand.

The next step would be to MAKE SOME CHOICES ABOUT THE RELEVANCE AND NECESSITY OF THE COMPONENT SKILLS that you were able to generate. Remember, you are not responsible for ALL prerequisites. At some point you will need to make some assumptions about what your students can already do by the time they've enrolled in your section. You can reasonably assume, for example, that our English 1 students (above) will have mastered the letters of the alphabet prior to reaching the University.

After deciding upon some prerequisite behaviors for attaining your objectives, your next task is DEVISING THE SEQUENCE in which your instruction will take place. Your instruction does proceed in some order and certain things will have to come first. But how can you decide what the order should be?

Educators have devised schemes for categorizing the tasks that students perform. Bloom's taxonomy (3) and Gagne's levels of learning (4) are two such classification systems. Prerequisite behaviors to your objectives could be classified by one of these schemes and then presented so that the least complex prerequisites are taught first. If you want more information regarding these classification systems or the sequencing of your objectives, please refer to the references by Bloom or Gagne.


The last part of planning what you're going to teach involves SELECTING, i.e., choosing instructional materials and strategies to aid students in attaining the objectives that you've formulated and sequenced. Although not every teaching technique will work in every classroom setting, there are a variety of techniques and materials to help your students progress through a course of study.

Matching instructional strategies to general objectives is an important part of planning. Below are a few suggestions about the types of techniques you might find useful in helping students accomplish certain types of objectives. 5

To improve student skills, you might:

* encourage lots of student involvement/practice (e.g., have them SPEAK the foreign language, USE the microscope, or DO whatever it is you want them to be able to do!);
* provide them with FEEDBACK on what they're practicing;
* encourage students to WORK TOGETHER to perfect the skill;

To ensure student understanding of lectures/readings, you might:

* provide simplified explanatory handouts (especially good if you can illustrate the STRUCTURE of the lecture/reading);
* pose questions designed to elicit short factual answers from students. This will allow you to assess who's keeping up with the reading and how well they're understanding it;
* create relevant examples which serve to illuminate abstract points in the lecture/reading; or
* encourage students to offer their own examples to illuminate abstract points in the lecture/reading.

To enrich lecture materials, you might do any of the following.

* Use a wide variety of INTERESTING examples. Trade quantity for quality. A student is more likely to remember a single fascinating example than numerous dull ones.
* Encourage students to provide the enrichment examples (you may have to direct them to sources to get them started).
* Use available films or videos from Instructional Resources (2130 Kerr Hall, 893-3518).
* Always discuss (or even better, have the students discuss) how the section material does, in fact, enrich the lecture material.

To promote independent thinking, you might consider the following.

* Hold a student discussion. Discussions can range from closely TA-monitored to an open, non-directive exchange of viewpoints.
* Pose "thought questions" that require students to apply, analyze or evaluate material.
* Hand out the major topic(s) of discussion a week in advance. You might even have students prepare a few remarks in writing and submit them to you.

To plan your instructional strategies, you might ask yourself these questions.

* When should I lecture and when should I hold a discussion?
* When should I be showing students how to do something and when should I encourage them to try it themselves?
* When should I respond to a student question (give information) and when should I encourage other students to respond (give opportunity for students to practice skills)?
* If I see someone making a mistake in lab, when should I correct the mistake and when should I let the student discover it?
* When should I review important concepts orally and when should I use handouts?
* If I need to show students a lot of formulas or graphs, should I derive or draw them during class or prepare handouts/overheads and discuss them myself?
* When should I rely on my own expertise, and when should I seek outside sources (films, slide-tape programs, guest speakers, etc.)?

By considering such questions, you can begin to formulate strategies/techniques which match the general objectives you have set for students.

The PLANNING STAGE of instruction consists of a series of choices:

* choosing the objectives you expect students to attain;
* choosing an appropriate sequence for these stated objectives in your instruction; and
* choosing the materials and instructional strategies to accomplish the goals you've set for your class.

consultation contacts

George Michaelsexecutive director2130 Kerr Hall
lisa berrysenior instructional consultant1130 Kerr Hall
mindy colininstructional consultant1130 Kerr Hall
Mary Lou Ramos database and ESCI administrator1130 Kerr Hall
Aisha Wedlaw ESCI assistant1124 Kerr Hall
Breana Barakoffice manager 1130 Kerr Hall
faxfax: 805-893-5915