Know Your Audience


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A Little About Learning Styles

How do I reach them? In any university classroom, you’re likely to find a broad mix of under- and upper-classmen, majors and non-majors, and full and part-time students. The professor is teaching to what he/she believes to be the “appropriate level,” so you should consider the TA’s job to be “fine-tuning” the pace set by the professor.

Address different students’ needs. Every student learns differently, and in one discussion section you’re likely to have students with all different learning styles.

  • Visual – learning by seeing
  • Auditory – learning by listening
  • Reading/writing – learning by processing text
  • Kinesthetic – learning by doing

(More about "Interacting with Students")

If It's Important, Do It 3 Times

Address major learning styles, particularly for important topics/ideas.
In addition to leading the discussion (for auditory learners), try writing things on the blackboard or using PowerPoint (for visual learners). For those kinesthetic learners, use activities like pair/share, and have the groups write down their conclusions (for those who learn best through reading/writing) before they share them with the class. Remember that few students learn something the first time they read/hear/see it - repetition is key to students' learning.

Be creative, not repetitive.
Bringing the same information to your class 3 times doesn't have to be boring and repetitive. Keep things interesting by drawing out the information from your class, encouraging interaction, making good use of technology like PowerPoint and handouts, and bringing real-world relevance to abstract topics. Not only will you help your students learn, but you'll also show them how much you care that they really LEARN the material, not just memorize it for the exam.

Motivate and Inspire!

Get to know your students. Learning a little something about your students will go a long way to encouraging them - not only to come to class in the first place, but also to look to you as a source of encouragement and motivation. Find out something about each of your students. It may seem daunting at first, but here are some methods used by successful professors and TA's:

  • Try taking Polaroid photos of your students on the first day, then work on memorizing their names, hometowns, majors, etc.
  • Try having students put name-cards in front of them during the first few weeks of class - this way, you can learn their names and they can get to know each other.
  • Try setting up a situation to encourage individual students or small groups to come visit you during your office hours.

Ask provocative questions. Don’t be afraid to challenge students as to what they think and why they think it. Be careful not to judge any student’s opinion, but ask they to back up their opinions and assumptions with relevant evidence.

Recognize obstacles to learning. If you encounter a student who appears unmotivated, try to determine if the lack of motivation is due to low value (why should he/she put any effort into learning something if he/she doesn’t see the point?) or due to low expectations (why try really hard to learn something he/she feels certain he’ll/she’ll fail at anyway?). Once you figure out the cause for the lack of motivation, you can figure out what to do next…

Easy tasks tend to require low motivation, while very difficult ones require too much – try to find the middle road that’s the right blend.

Awaken students’ curiosity. It’s important to address why a class or subject should “matter” to students, particularly with general education courses students take just to fill their schedule. Your challenge is to make seemingly uninteresting material relevant and interesting to your students.

Try giving your students a key "question" to follow throughout the semester:

  • Why does it matter?
  • Why do I care?

Enjoy teaching. Much of what students get out of a class has to do with the teacher. Whatever attitude is projected from the professor or Teaching Assistant is often projected onto the subject matter – if you show disdain for the subject or material, your students are likely to pick up on that, and then they’ll feel the same disdain you do.

Invest in your students - care more about their learning than your teaching.

Additional Resources

Georgia State University's Master Teaching Program: On Learning Styles.

David Kolb's Learning Styles Model and Experiential Learning Theory.

Diablo Valley College's Learning Style Survey for College.

Learning Styles Online's Overview of Learning Styles.

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