Department of Religious Studies

During the Course

Logistical support, discussion sections, teaching observation, drafting assignments and exams, feedback on grading, teaching assessment, and regular meetings.

Logistical Support

At the beginning of the course, teaching assistants may offer instructors assistance with logistical issues relating to the course. These include but are not limited to: making sure books have arrived at the bookstore; updating the course's Canvas page; ensuring that readings will be uploaded to OCRA. In general, it is desirable to avoid making last-minute or unreasonably time-sensitive requests.

Discussion Sections

Early in the semester, as enrollments stabilize, is when teaching assistants and instructors usually discuss any issues relating to potential discussion sections. These issues might include assigning students to sections, for example, or deciding which sections the teaching assistants or instructor will lead. Teaching assistants, generally, should lead no more than two discussion sections.

It is also important to discuss the purpose and goals of discussion sections. For instance, possible aims may include reviewing material covered in lectures, introducing supplementary new material to the students, having the students work independently on the material, or some combination of these. Some discussion may be devoted to outlining the role faculty and TAs each have in determining what takes place in the sections.

Particularly in cases where students are teaching out of their principal area of expertise, it is often helpful for the faculty member to provide specific suggestions for discussion topics for the first couple of section meetings.

TAs are also strongly encouraged to have some form of mid-semester evaluation of the discussion sections. The Sheridan Center has many relevant resources for this process. 

Teaching Observation

Recognizing that classroom teaching and student grading are skills that improve with practice and constructive guidance, instructors may arrange to provide TAs with feedback regarding their teaching and grading. In addition to observing any lectures that TAs deliver (note: if an instructor must be absent for a TA's lecture, the instructor may consider having the lecture video recorded), instructors ordinarily attend at least one meeting of each TA's discussion section. Observing teaching is a complex activity, and faculty are urged to consult appropriate resources prior to observing the TA. Valuable resources can be found at

It may also be helpful to implement some or all of the following guidelines in preparation for the observation of TA teaching sessions:

  • The faculty member and TA could meet prior to the observed session to discuss the TA's expectations and goals for the class meeting, how that session fits into other parts of the course, and considerations around the specific dynamics of that group.
  • During the section, the TA or faculty member will usually inform the students that the faculty member is there to observe the TA and should, as much as possible, be ignored by the students.
  • Faculty should attempt to be as inconspicuous as possible; for instance, sit somewhere unobtrusive.
  • After observing a lecture or attending a discussion section, instructors discuss their observations with the TA. The latter meetings should provide the TA with a chance to reflect on her or his own perspective as well.

Drafting Assignments and Exams

If appropriate, and at the instructor's discretion, TAs may be integrally involved in drafting paper prompts, exams, and any other assignments. The experience could serve as an important part of their training as instructors, and TAs often have a strong sense of the undergraduate students based on their performance in discussion sections.

Feedback on Grading

As students turn in their assignments, instructors should strive to communicate clearly with their TAs regarding grading rubrics and standards, and may also periodically review samples of work that TAs have graded. Students particularly value the opportunity to talk with faculty about expectations for comments and about grading standards. By reviewing TA grading, instructors can assess their TAs' teaching more comprehensively and can ensure equitable grading of all enrolled students. Having faculty review even 5-6 papers with comments and tentative grades (across the grading scale) can be very effective. 

Teaching Assessment

Instructors are generally encouraged to solicit student assessment of the course during the semester; when soliciting such assessment, instructors should make sure to provide students with an opportunity to assess their discussion sections and TA performance. Instructors may also consider sharing and discussing student feedback with the TAs.

Regular Meetings

TAs and instructors may meet regularly throughout the semester to discuss the course material, the progress of the course, topics with which students are having difficulty, and any other issues or concerns that arise. It is helpful to schedule periodic face to face check-ins, rather than rely exclusively on brief conversations on the way in and out of class. Ideally, TAs should expect to meet with the faculty member several times over the course of the semester. During these meetings, instructors may invite TAs to offer their feedback on the progress of the course. This also aids faculty as they generally maintain and awareness of how much time the TA is spending on the course and make sure that it is not interfering with the TA's other required work.

Introductions, Course Design, and Pedagogical aspirations and expectations.