May 22, 2014
|Junior Writing teaching assistants and instructor (from left to right): Sarah Michelson, Matthew Cronin, Michelle Bradley, Kelsey Bennett (back row), Kayla Wegener, Jeffrey Skoog (back row), Eliza Frechette|
Kin 355 is a required course for all Kinesiology majors. Typically taken during the junior year, the class offers instruction on the principles of scientific writing and covers a variety of professional development topics. What Kinesiology students take away from the class, however, goes beyond these straightforward goals. They leave with a newfound appreciation for teamwork, group dynamics, and participatory learning.
Eliza Frechette re-designed the course with an emphasis on team-based instruction. While she delivers lectures to classes that can number up to 130 students on topics ranging from the sections of a research paper to how to write an effective cover letter, she supervises a trusted team of undergraduate teaching assistants to help her lead the discussion groups that comprise a considerable part of the course.
“They’re my underground network,” notes Frechette.
In the spring 2014 semester, Frechette mentored six undergraduate teaching assistants, each one leading a discussion group of as many as 25 students. During these weekly small-group discussions, the TA helps students formulate and flesh out research ideas, overcome stumbling blocks in the research process, provide feedback and editing tips, and provide instruction on how to make a research citation.
The course provides more than nuts-and-bolts instructions on the writing process, though. It is built on teamwork and group discussion, says Kayla Wegener, “The students work in teams from the start. They have to give group presentations at the end of the semester, and they have to figure out how to combine their different responsibilities into one comprehensive body of work.”
During the professional development part of the course, Frechette will encourage students to apply for jobs and internships they would want to have in real life. They develop cover letters and build resumes, and bring in staff from Career Services to offer tips and critiques. The students participate in mock interviews to sharpen their skills, and peers and instructors provide feedback.
The TA workload can be daunting. Though the undergraduate teaching assistants earn credit for the course, they often serve as the “front line” for student questions. They are the ones with the lines out the door when an assignment due date approaches and frequently stay well past office hours to help their fellow students. Why take on such a daunting assignment?
“I continued as a TA because it’s such a great experience,” says Matt Cronin, the close-knit group’s veteran now on his third stint as an assistant.
“We have such a great group. Everyone’s so helpful,” remarks Sarah Michelson.
Adds Kelsey Bennett, “We’re meeting all the time to exchange ideas and support each other.”
“It makes you a better writer, too,” notes Michelle Bradley.
“And you learn so much about a variety of research topics – without having to do the actual research,” adds Sarah with a laugh.
“It really gave me a tremendous respect for what our professors do,” states Jeff Skoog.
Plus, notes Kayla, they have a dynamic supervisor in Frechette. “Her classes are really hands-on. They are two-way conversations with lots of participation. You know you better be paying attention because she may call on you by name!”