Teaching skills


The following are suggested by Vanderbilt University.

Speaking with confidence

One of the most important things you can do to establish a good tone in your class is to speak with confidence. Some tips that may help:
  • Remember that the students want you to do well.  They have chosen to come to your class to learn and they want you to be successful.
  • Remember to try and conceal any signs of nervousness or anxiety.  Much of the nervousness you feel is not usually seen by others.
  • Concentrate on your topic.  Come to class prepared with an outline of the lecture.  This should not be a written speech, but an outline that you can freely speak from rather than read from.
  • Think positively instead of focusing on your fear.  Positive thinking is a step in overcoming nervousness.
  • Make strong eye contact with your students and use good body language to convey your confidence.

Asking & answering questions

Dealing with student questions is a recurring challenge for ITAs in the classroom, lab, and during office hours. Knowing certain phrases that are often used to used in structuring a question can help you identify students’ questions and to ask questions to students.

Asking questions
Here are some useful opening expressions that lead up to questions:
  • I wonder if you could tell me….(I was wondering if you….)
  • I’d like to know….
Often, when you ask a question, you may not get enough information in reply, or not get the answer that you intended/expected.  This result means you will have to ask for additional information or to ask your question in a different way (rephrase it) so that it is better understood.  You could say:
  • Could you tell me more about….?
  • Would you mind telling me more about….?
  • I’d like to know more about….
  • Something else I was wondering about was….
  • Sorry, that’s not really what I mean. What I’d like to know is…

“The biggest challenge for a new ITA, in my opinion, is understanding on the students’ questions, especially those raised during you are giving a lecture. American students usually speak fast and use a lot of ‘new’words” (which are very common in their daily life but you may not be familiar). That can cause you to be confused about what they are asking and what they expect you to answer.  I suggest all new ITAs, when doing self-introductions, put an emphasis on the language problem, to tell the students ‘I am still learning a new language’, and each time you don’t understand a student’s question, try to rephrase the question using your own understanding and your own words, and ask them whether it is what they intend to ask, instead of just asking them to repeat the question.”
– ITA, Physics & Astronomy
When you are asking a question, it is important to give students 7-10 seconds to answer.  You may have to restate the question or offer other prompts or tips in order to direct them.
You should ask your students questions throughout your lesson. Don’t wait until the end of your lesson to learn if your students have understood the topic you’re teaching. Pause at the end of each main idea and ask them a few questions to see if they can apply what you’ve taught them. Ask them to provide an example, to work a sample problem or to supply some missing information.
Answering questions.
There are a number of conventions that can be useful in answering questions. For example, you may need to delay answering a question while you think for a brief moment or look at your notes, etc. Here are some expressions for when you need to delay your response:
  • Well, let me see…
  • Well now…
  • Oh, let me think for a moment….
  • That’s a very interesting question.
If you do not know the answer, you may want to say:
  • I’m not sure. I’ll have to check…
  • I’m not really sure.
  • I can’t answer that one right now.
  • I’m sorry, I really don’t know.
  • Let me get back to you (on that one).
Or, if you think the question is not directly on topic:
  • That’s something I’d rather not talk about just now.
  • I wonder if you’d hold that question for later?
  • Let’s go back to _____
  • To get back to our initial question, …
Or if you do not understand the question:
  • I’m sorry, but would you mind repeating that?
  • Excuse me, but I didn’t quite follow that.
  • Would you say that again in a different way?
  • Are you asking me to explain ______?
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