Students in a First-Year Writing Seminar

Course Leading: Participant Expectations

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Indispensable Reference

Course Leading: Participant Expectations


All graduate students and temporary lecturers, regardless of experience, work with course leaders. This mentorship serves the goal of collaboration in matters of pedagogy; it also assures graduate students that they will be able to ask knowledgeable faculty members to write letters of recommendation about their teaching when they go on the job market.

The following description of course leader and staff responsibilities should prove useful, whether simply as a review or as new information.

Course leaders

The responsibilities of a course leader, for each semester, are as follows:

  1. In August (or January), before classes begin, to check syllabi and consult with graduate student instructors, to ensure that all sections fall within First-Year Writing Seminar guidelines (5–8 papers; guided revision of at least three essays; at least 25 pages of student writing; no more than 75 pages a week of reading; and so on).
  2. To hold regular meetings at which instructors share ideas with each other such as the integration of the teaching of writing into regular class time and planning essay assignments.
  3. To visit classes taught by the graduate student instructors.
  4. To review each instructor’s responses to student essays.
  5. To be available as a resource for instructors and their students when they need the assistance of a disinterested person.
  6. To review the student evaluations of each instructor’s work at the end of the semester. These evaluations come first to the Knight Institute and are then returned to instructors via their department chairs or DGSs.
  7. To participate periodically in assessment activities related to regional re-accreditation standards.

Visits by the course leader to a graduate student instructor’s class can be made more comfortable for all concerned if certain matters of form are discussed in advance (will the course leader participate in the class, or act as a passive observer? should the course leader be introduced to the class, and in what capacity? etc.). Early staff meetings might cover designing a syllabus (how can the teaching of writing fit in with the sequence of readings? should essays be assigned before, during, or after discussing a text? how much time should be allotted for discussion of rough drafts and revisions?). Other meetings might discuss choosing appropriate paper topics, conducting discussions of texts, correcting essays, and determining (and perhaps even agreeing on) standards of grading

In spring, it is important to meet with prospective graduate student instructors of writing to review the plans they will be developing for reading and writing assignments. An early meeting in spring is especially important if the graduate students will be taking Writing 7100 in the summer. They need suggestions before they develop teaching plans in Writing 7100.

Graduate student instructors

Graduate student instructors, aside from teaching their courses as effectively as possible—which means meeting all scheduled sessions of your seminar, and arranging for an appropriate substitute when necessary — are responsible for attending all meetings called by course leaders and participating in any planned activities such as commenting upon an essay for group discussion. Graduate student instructors should feel free to consult course leaders for help beyond that provided by the regular activities (see item #5 above).

Please call George Hutchinson or David Faulkner if you have questions or if you would appreciate assistance.

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