I started off the quarter nervous about talking in front of a group and worried about what would happen when my students asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to. I was also worried because I somehow managed to get an A in the class, but I wasn’t sure how that happened. Meaning, I didn’t feel like I had a firm grasp of the material. Regardless, I took the position.
For my very first session, I went through the first homework set and figured out how to do all but the last part, which I thought would be simple because it was just algebra. I had ideas on what I wanted to write on the board and how to explain the concepts. I got to the classroom, did my introduction, gave them some time with the problem set, and started writing. I felt like I was tripping over my words and explaining incorrectly the whole time. However, later, some students said they had understood me. I guess the moral of the story is trust yourself, and try not to get to nervous of the first day. Also, later in the week my students spent an entire session on what I had thought would be a simple problem, so don’t over or underestimate your students.
In the beginning of the quarter I would typically start by separating my students into groups based on which problem they were working on and give them some time to discuss in groups. The amount of group time I scheduled in started off smaller, when I was less comfortable with silence, and grew as I grew more comfortable with my position. I would then start from the beginning of problem number one. Once I set up the problem, I would put down the chalk and let the students work on it for a while. Then, I would bring them back together, set them up for the next step and repeat. I think this is a good strategy for the first few weeks when the students are getting used to doing math problems again. It is also helpful for them to use Emily’s recipe for doing a problem set. If you just ask them problem specific questions, they may not be able to do that for themselves come test time. So, especially with some of the students who need more attention, make sure you go through the recipe with them when they ask questions. Usually, they say something about how they don’t understand this part, start telling me what they did, and I realize they are confused because they missed a major part of the question or directions. I tell them to back up, and we go through the recipe together. Then I give them advice on that particular problem if they are still struggling.
Near the middle of the quarter most of the students really began to use the time for group study work on their own. They would come in, I would tell them to work in groups and sometimes I would just sit there and wait for someone to ask a question. After the first midterm I stopped going over one problem with the whole class all together and began answering specific questions each group had. This meant I would repeat a similar explanation multiple times, but I think it is better to cater to the different learning speeds and styles by answering individual questions. Also, when they were just working in their groups I went around to each group to see if they had questions. I usually found that there were questions they wanted to ask, but didn’t raise their hand to ask. I think it is very helpful for the learning assistant to go up to each group and ask if they have questions because they may be too shy to ask and/or may go off on a completely wrong path if I don’t stop them. One thing I hadn’t been expecting is that people sitting next to each other are not always working together, so it is a good idea to check in with every student as you walk around and make sure all of them are comfortable with the problem.