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TAing Large Classes

Acting as a Teaching Assistant for a large class presents some unique and interesting situations. Below are some pointers on issues related to TAing for a large class, accompanied by video clips of students discussing their perspectives of large classes.

1. Attend Lecture
As one of several TAs in a class with a few hundred students, you might think that your students won't notice if you don't attend lecture. Not necessarily. While your students might not make a daily note of your presence in lecture, they will notice if you appear unsure about exactly what material was covered in a particular lecture. Your students will notice if you aren't aware of announcements the professor made or do not have extra copies of the materials distributed in lecture. Without a doubt, your attendance in lecture in a large class strengthens your role as a link between students and the course and breaks down the wall of anonymity that might pervade a huge lecture hall. Attending lecture solidifies your role as a credible spokesperson for the class and the class material. [Get Attending Lecture Movie]

2. Plan Section
As a Teaching Assistant, your role is to facilitate discussion. This does not mean walking into section and asking "What do you guys want to talk about today?" It is a good idea to have a goal for each section as well as a plan on how to achieve that goal. Your students will appreciate your preparedness and will learn more since you are focusing them on a specific end. Be sure you have completed the reading and understand the lectures before you go to section. [Get Preparing for Lecture Movie]

3. Don't Lecture
While your students may prefer to sit back and take notes during section, this defeats the purpose section. Your job, as a teaching assistant, is to facilitate discussion of the material. Therefore, your role is crucial in a large class. Section performs a function not possible in a large class; to permit students to engage the material in ways other than hearing an instructor talk about it.

4. Address Different Learning Styles
Many students do not learn best from a lecture. In a large lecture class, therefore, the learning needs of many students are not addressed. Section provides a good opportunity for you to cover the class material in ways more suited to other learning styles. For example, section is a good time to bring in visual aids, discuss your own experiences, do group work, etc. In this manner, you can ensure that most of your students' learning needs are addressed. [Get Different Learning Styles Movie]

5. Emphasize Important Material
Most teaching assistants have only fifty minutes with their students per week. There is no time for digression to non-course related materials. It is helpful if you stay focused and keep your students focused. Emphasize important course material. Emphasizing the important class material assists students, especially when they sit down to study for a mid-term or final. Don't try to cover too much in section! [Get Lecture on Related Material Movie]

6. Review the Lecture Material
Section is the perfect time for you to address student questions about the lecture material. Most students do not feel comfortable asking the professor questions in front of six hundred of their peers. Providing the opportunity for students to ask any questions they have about lecture clears up any points of confusion and eases their anxiety. (For a related point, see #1!) The lecture material is probably the material that the professor thinks is important, or s/he would not have selected to address it over all the other possible material. While it may seem basic to you, do not assume that your students will feel the same way.

7. Review the Reading Material
Discussion section provides the perfect opportunity for your students to engage the reading material. Since most of the reading probably is not covered in lecture, covering it in section provides your students with the focus they might need. Also, it provides them with the opportunity to ask questions about the readings. Students often find course readings to be long, dry, and complicated. As their Teaching Assistant, you can think of ways to facilitate their learning through reading. Of course, addressing the reading material in section should not be a substitute for your students actually doing the reading! [Get Answering Student Questions Movie]

8. Know Student Names
Since large lecture classes can be anonymous, a good way to overcome this is to be sure to know the names of your students. One way to learn them quickly is to have your students introduce themselves the first week and have them say their name before they respond to a question or make a point. You can also return papers and assignments by calling out names and take roll the first few weeks. Do this until you feel comfortable with their names.

9. Keep Your Students On-Track
In a large class, students often feel overwhelmed and anonymous, especially since their grade is typically based on two or three assignments. You can use their section time to ensure that your students stay on track and continuously prepare for their assignments. Some students note that quizzes in section provide a useful way to accomplish this. Whichever method you chose, your students will appreciate your participation in preparing them for their assignments. [Get Use of Section Movie]

10. Be Flexible
While it is usually a good idea to plan your weekly meetings with your students, a responsive teaching assistant should allow for some flexibility. Your well-planned activities will not assist your students with the material if what you plan to cover is not the material with which your students are having the most trouble. To this end, you might consider asking your students what their questions are as soon as class starts. In this manner, you can receive feedback from them and determine how much you need to deviate from your plan. Your students will appreciate your responsiveness to their concerns and your ability to adapt to their learning needs.

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