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Leading quiz sections

Quiz sections provide students with an opportunity to dive deeper into their learning. Before they start to prepare to teach a quiz section, TAs clarify with a supervising faculty member what the TA’s role will be and the overall goals for the section. Possible goals for quiz sections may include any one or combination of the following:

  • Clarifying difficult concepts from the lecture and/or reading (through alternate examples, explanations and discussion)
  • Responding to students’ questions (about the lecture, reading, and/or homework)
  • Providing practice for and/or beyond homework
  • Applying theory presented in lecture through further discussion or problem solving
  • Reviewing for exams
  • Taking quizzes

Here are a few teaching and learning principles we have seen work particularly well for quiz sections at UW:

  1. Communicate to students how section meetings relate to the lecture and course as a whole. Since sections meetings are usually attached to larger courses, students are better prepared to learn when the links between these parts of a course are clearly defined. To help communicate these links:
    • Use the syllabus, course web site, and first day of class to show how various components of the course – for example, lectures, assignments, sections, online discussion, tests – are designed to work together.
    • TAs and the supervising instructor should meet regularly to discuss lecture and section connections.
    • Watch for opportunities to draw connections between section and to lectures. For example: At the beginning of class, TAs can write out key points that were discussed in the lecture, and outline how these relate to what the TA will be discussing in today’s quiz section.
  2. Communicate to students what they can expect in your section meetings. Quiz sections may vary in purpose from one course to another, so it will help students to know what the particular TA’s intended purposes are. Otherwise, students are likely to base their expectations for your course on experiences in other courses.
    Expectations to clarify for students include:

    • Content: Will sections be primarily for review of lecture material, presentation of new material, discussion of selected readings, work on class projects?
    • Participation and interaction: To what extent will section meetings be based on discussion, group work, or student presentations?
    • Use of Time: What is a typical agenda or schedule you plan to follow for each section meeting?
    • Grades and exams: How will individual and group work in sections be assessed? Will sections be places for test preparation and review? Taking tests or quizzes?
    • Availability: How will you establish appropriate levels of accessibility and rapport with your students? How will office hours, e-mail, and study centers be used?
  3. Help students develop strategies for successful learning in your discipline and in your course. In many courses, students are exposed not only to new information, but also to new ways of learning and thinking about that information. To help them learn successfully:
    • Assess students’ preparation for learning. What do they already understand and what will be challenging to them?
    • Help students connect new material to what they already understand. Be ready with familiar examples, analogies, and connections to students’ prior experience.
    • Provide frameworks that help cognitively organize the material: outlines, clear connections, and help in ordering and prioritizing material.
    • Show students how you think about (prioritize, organize, integrate, assess …) the material. Create opportunities for students to practice analytical skills that are useful in your discipline.
    • TAs can frequently assess student progress and understanding to fine-tune their teaching from one day to the next.
  4. Help students become monitors of their own learning. In many courses, part of what students are learning is to assess their own level of understanding or the quality of their work. To help them develop these skills:
    • Provide prompt feedback on tests and assignments so students can see how you assess their learning.
    • Help students use study guides or review questions to assess for themselves how effectively they have studied.
    • Ask students to reflect on their learning, and provide them with opportunities to apply, analyze, or extend it beyond points presented in class.

Additional reading

Ambrose, S., Lovett, Marsha, Bridges, Michael W., DiPietro, Michele, & Norman, Marie K. (2010). How learning works : Seven research-based principles for smart teaching (First ed., Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.