New Faculty Workshop — Working with Graduate Students

Last Tuesday new faculty met to discuss supervising teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate students in various disciplines. The workshop was co-sponsored by the UH Commission on Women, Human Resources, and the Center for Teaching Excellence.  Dr Julia Wellner of Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Dr. James Zebroski of the Department of English, and Ms. Aymara Boggiano of the CTE shared their experience working with graduate students over the years. 16 other faculty attended this discussion in the Faculty Senate offices in 306 M. D. Anderson Library.

Dr. Wellner emphasized that faculty should establish a firm, yet open relationship. She explained that a strict professional engagement that shared concerns about the graduate student’s community worked best for both parties. Sharing one’s interests is different than sharing one’s life, for example. She also stressed that students should be encouraged to lead when they need to lead.

Dr. Zebroski suggested that teaching assistants and research assistants be introduced to the CTE’s learning modules to address many concerns with classroom management and teaching strategies. Dr. Zebroski addressed the benefits of a first-semester orientation course that demonstrates research-based teaching methods. He also recommended that faculty should not make surprise observations for teaching assistants, but schedule a pre- and post-observation meeting to discuss plans and reflection on the classroom time. When mentoring teaching assistants, faculty should have the TA focus on just one or two items and encourage the observation of other TA’s in the department. Finally, he encouraged reflection for both the TA and the supervisor — “making visible what is going on in their head.”

Aymara Boggiano, Director of TA Resources in the Center for Teaching Excellence presented this slide presentation, with commentary.

Supervising Graduate Students


UH CTE announces new pilot program in faculty-to-faculty peer mentoring: Project TEACH (Teacher Evaluation and Classroom Help)

Project TEACH

Prof. Frank Holt and the CTE Division of Faculty Resources are pleased to announce a new pilot program in peer mentoring called Project TEACH.

The purpose of this CTE initiative is to improve teaching and learning by providing free consultation and support services for UH faculty on a confidential case-by-case basis. The process is entirely voluntary and is conducted on a first come, first served basis. UH faculty members may choose a number of options, from a targeted assessment of one or more specific issues (course and syllabus design, lecture skills, managing group dynamics, testing, active learning, etc.) to a full evaluation of all aspects of teaching and learning (including observations in the classroom) followed by a personalized action plan to address all needs.

The process begins by contacting the current Project TEACH coordinator for an initial brief discussion and assessment to map out a services plan. Depending on individual needs and available mentors, this plan may require only a few sessions to complete, or it may stretch over an entire semester if, for example, a preliminary and follow-up classroom observation is warranted. Assessments of each element in the consultation process will be used in order to measure in detail the program’s effectiveness.

The current Project TEACH coordinator is Frank Holt (History).  If you are interested in a consultation for yourself, or further information, please contact Prof. Holt at or 713-743-3127.

Please attend our “Making Technology Work For You, Not Against You” workshop this Friday, 2/24, 1-2:30

For more information, please contact Frank Holt ( or James Garson (

See you then,


VIA Community College Spotlight: Why it’s hard to fix remedial ed

The more time I spend reading about the challenges faced by Community Colleges, the more certain I am that the problems they’re tackling are the same ones we’re facing, because we’re increasingly teaching the same pool of students.  One fascinating titbit that fell out of this little blog post was the difficulty of evaluating college-readiness in any predictive way:

Among students with the same remedial test scores, those who start in college-level classes do as well or better as students who take remedial classes, they write. “But without a remedial screening system, college-level courses would be flooded with underprepared students.” Instructors fear they’d have to fail large numbers of students or lower standards.

Recommendations were pretty standard:

Colleges should design accelerated remedial classes that include “targeted support” for students’ weaknesses, they suggest. In addition, remedial courses should be linked to fields of study, such as “developmental math for business and accounting majors.”

These both seem fine as recommendations, but I think that for 4-year universities (as opposed to CCs) to implement them, I wonder how easy it is to devise “targeted support” that does not count as classes under our current state-enforced efficiency and accountability regime?  But I think we’re currently trying some things like this in a variety of ways. I will be interested to see how well they work.


Thanks to all who attended our DTAR Workshop on Error Correction and Leading Discussion, 2/17/12

On last Friday, 2/17, the UH Division of TA Resources hosted a workshop on Error Correction and Leading discussion.  Ms. Aymara Boggiano led discussion with TAs from a number of departments, including English, History, Economics, Biology, and Hispanic Studies, among others.

Ms. Boggiano began the discussion by talking about the embarrassment of making errors as both teacher and student, and how that embarrassment sometimes led to panic rather than learning.  The biggest danger comes when students (or teachers) become afraid of asking for help.

To help make her point, she referenced this TED video from Kathryn Schulz, which is about a phenomenon she calls “error blindness,” the inability to recognize when we are mistaking mistakes:

Ms. Boggiano asked TAs at each table to talk first of all about the types of errors they encountered, either in writing or in discussion.  Responses included:

  • failure to follow instructions
  • failures of processing, or sequencing
  • lack of practice
  • failure to make transition from lower- to higher-order understanding of material
  • difficulties learning how to “think like an expert,” or taking on the vocabulary, concepts, practices of the discipline being taught

Ms. Boggiano then asked TAs at each table to name some of their favorite techniques and strategies to address these kinds of errors:

  • try to identify the small part of the process that students are getting wrong, to pinpoint what’s missing in their solutions
  • try to mix assignments between “process,” where students can be rewarded for practicing solutions without penalties, and “product,” where students can practice for high-stakes projects, like Engineering projects, that demand a consistently high performance across the board
  • provide students with self-checking or self-monitoring protocols or strategies, so that they can learn how to check for their own errors
  • ensure that students are using the appropriate, discipline-specific vocabulary introduced by reading assignments
  • recasting oral errors in restatement, so that other students can hear the correct formulation; this is best done with leading questions addressed to erring students, so that they can be the ones to restate their initial, incorrect formulation

Finally, Ms. Boggiano asked the group to consider how to target which errors to correct?  Do we correct all errors?  If not, what is the criterion to intervene?  TAs came up with the following suggestions:

  • lead students to reexamine their thinking by asking, “why?”  Often this work of explanation leads students to recognize their own errors; so request clarifications when it seems like student thinking is fuzzy
  • monitor small group discussion, and if necessary ask groups to rethink and redo a particular exercise; easier in groups than with individuals
  • in large or whole group discussion, be prepared as with small groups to elicit the correct formulation, lead students to correct themselves
  • remember the importance of trust throughout: students who trust their teacher will accept correction much more easily; for this reason, make it clear that you can accept correction when you make mistakes, as teachers inevitably do
  • there is an interesting overlap between practices of correction and those of classroom management, because they are both about how the teacher makes and enforces rules in order for learning to take place; your ability as a teacher to maintain fairness, consistency, and high expectations helps to create a positive learning environment that allows students to volunteer answers and receive both encouragement and correction whenever necessary.

The workshop broke up around 12:45.


Faculty Workshop: The Art of Managing Graduate Students Tuesday 21 February 12:00-12:50pm

The Center for Teaching Excellence, in association with UH Human Resources and the University Commission on Women, will present an open workshop for new and all faculty on the “Art of Managing Graduate Students.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

12:00 – 12:50 p.m.

in room 306, M. D. Anderson Library

Experienced faculty and Human Resources professionals will present strategies for developing successful graduate experiences that include setting expectations and gaining commitment, effective communication, inspiring and motivating through burn-out and crisis, and impacting future work ethics.

You are welcome to bring your lunch with you. Cookies and beverages will be provided. Please R.S.V.P. to 713-743-9182 or email  

VIA Inside Higher Ed: “When Black Men Succeed”

This article about the research of Shaun Harper into the academic success of black men at college, and this cogent response from the Dean Dad blog, got me thinking about how we usually talk about “student success,” and how even the most well-meaning programs and services are organized around the presumed deficits or failures of the students.  I should say that even the baldly stated title of the IHE article unwittingly reinforces this set of assumptions.

Harper’s counter to this deep problem in framing and background assumptions about black male students was to look closely at successful students’ histories, to see what they might be able to tell us.  Unsurprisingly, the story is largely about the enormous impact of parents can have on their kids’ academic attitudes, largely in terms of setting expectations, and also about the surprisingly large impact of the conscious mentoring that these students received at some critical point in their education. Though these mentoring moments were felt by the students as “serendipitous” and unplanned, they had a considerable influence on students’ later directions:

Parents weren’t the only supporters who pushed and encouraged them. “The participants’ early schooling experiences almost always included at least one influential teacher who helped solidify their interest in going to college,” often going beyond simply teaching them to help get them information or access to services that would help them prepare for college.

Many of the research subjects “considered themselves among the lucky few to have had teachers who, for some reason, thought they were worth the investment” —  and often for reasons that were unclear to them. It was not, most believed, that they were academically high-achieving; fewer than half had taken an Advanced Placement course in high school, and fewer than one in five had participated in a gifted and talented program.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
From a teacher’s perspective, the challenge then becomes how to reexamine one’s attitudes towards mentoring.  Who have we reached out to in this fashion, and could we do this kind of mentoring work more consciously, and more broadly, since the stakes are so high for our students?