Preparation is the best response to the nerves that many educators when teaching a course for the first time or meeting a class for the first time. Here are some tips and suggestions from fellow faculty members on what helps them.
If you have a few weeks of lead time:
- Observe a class: For new faculty, this offers a sense of how the SMU small group interactive pedagogy is carried out and how typical SMU students are like. For more experienced faculty, it is a wonderful opportunity to get alternative teaching ideas and perspectives. Find out more about how CTE can arrange for you to observe classes within your schools, or across SMU schools, as part of the SMU Peer Coaching programme.
- Chat with your colleagues about how you plan to teach (especially those who have taught the course before): Aside from its cathartic effect, such conversations also help orientate you into the teaching frame of mind. Articulating your teaching ideas also helps you think through and receive feedback on them.
- Check in with your course coordinator and course administrator: If you are taking over the course from someone else, you would likely have obtained course outlines, as well as indicative learning objectives, content and assessment related information to work with from them. It is useful to touch base again for updates before you are due to teach. They may also be able to recommend colleagues whom you can approach to observe.
- Conduct a diagnostic assessment: This is a form of short low-stakes pre-assessment conducted prior to instruction that allows you to determine what relevant knowledge your students possess coming into your course. The results enables you calibrate your lesson accordingly in terms of the pace, the types of examples you use and the preparatory work your students may have to undertake before coming to class. On a more sophisticated level, it may also provide you with information to enable you to pair or group students together for peer teaching purposes. Ambrose et al. (2010) offers the following example: if your course requires knowledge of a technical vocabulary and basic calculus skills, you could create a short quiz asking students to define terms and solve calculus problems (see the user guide on how to create quizzes in eLearn).
With a few days to go before your first class:
- Review the Teaching@SMU handbook: Refresh yourself on the teaching-related guidelines and policies with the Teaching@SMU handbook. By this subsequent reading, you are likely to have a better sense of what you need and can zoom into specific content areas.
- Brief your teaching assistant (TA): Double check that your teaching assistant has remembered your first class, as well as your expectations and instructions to him / her. The form for engaging a TA is available from the HRFA intranet, or the Dean’s Office. For more guidelines on the scope of engaging teaching assistants, please refer to the Teaching@SMU handbook.
- Visit your lesson venue in advance: Familiarise yourself with the layout and lighting, and test the various SMU classroom technologies you plan to use, such as the wireless mic, doc cam, speakers, projector and screens (and room recording if you wish to use that option). Before you head down to campus, you may check on room availability via the online Facilities Booking System on iNet. In the event that any of the classroom technology is not working as it should, you may contact the Integrated Information Technology Services (IITS) for assistance via the touch screen panel in the seminar room, or at 6828 0123 or via email at helpdesk [at] smu.edu.sg. IITS conducts regular classroom technology sharing sessions on how to operate the equipment in the seminar rooms or classrooms for you and your teaching assistants. Check the main eLearn page for the schedule and other related information.
The night before your first class:
- Familiarise yourself with your students’ names, faces and profiles: In SMU classes, students generally bring their own name tents. But it leaves an impression if you are able to greet at least some students by name, as they walk in through the door or settle in their seats. It helps with both rapport building as well as grading of class participation. If you conducted diagnostic assessment quizzes before your first class, a quick review of those results should give you an idea of how to make minor calibrations in your first lesson delivery, such as whether certain concept or terms require more elaboration.
- Mentally run through your lesson plan: As you run through your lesson plan at this point, the main focus is not on familiarizing yourself with your lesson content (your level of expertise should position you well, relative to your students) but more on how you can best engage your students with the lesson materials. Do you have a teaching narrative that flows through the whole lesson? Will an overview and summary be helpful? Are there points where an example, anecdote or touch of humour might help? Which areas are your students likely to find challenging? Whether you are planning a lesson for the first time, or reviewing an existing lesson plan, it is important to consider the effects of your teaching and assessment on students' learning.
- Check your teaching “toolbox”: It is recommended to put together a kit of your commonly used teaching equipment, such as white board markers of various colours, wireless clicker, spare batteries, a bell and post-it pads. Some faculty maintain a checklist for ease of reference. Regularly ensuring that items are adequately stocked provides a reassuring routine and assures that your lessons will not be disrupted by these elements.
- Review your course outline one more time – this information laden document will be one of the key content that you will cover in your first lesson. You may not have looked over it in great detail since you sent it out to students, but many students will be doing exactly that the night before. Review it again and look out for areas that students are likely to pick up on or query; think about how to articulate the rationale behind various parts in a way that is likely to resonate with students. (Consider the suggestion made here: First Day of Class).
- Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons. (click here to access the e-copy from the SMU Library).