Saturday, September 29, 2012

Therese Huston - Teaching What You Don't Know Well

Hello all!

Sorry this has taken me so long to blog about but you know how grad school life goes!  Last week ITLAL in partnership with our Ed Psych RGSO, the School of Ed, and the GSO hosted a wonderful event where we welcomed Therese Huston to the University for a 2-day workshop entitled "Teaching What You Don't Know Well -- And Staying Just Ahead of Your Students."  Therese is the author of the book Teaching What You Don't Know (, a must read for any current or future teachers.  In fact, I believe it is a required text for our EPSY 780.  I highly recommend reading it, and I am proud to say that I now own a signed copy :)  

Therese is really a great speaker and commands the attention of her audience.  She has a great attitude, is very personable and just exudes a sense of confidence and comfort I hope to have one day when I am in front of an audience.  And her workshop definitely gave me some tools and strategies to get me on my way!  She opened Thursday's workshop by presenting 3 questions that would be answered by the end:  

1. Why might I have to teach topics I don't know well?  
2. When does expertise help and when does it get in the way?  
3. How can I do this kind of teaching well and enjoy it? 

Now I'm not going to give all the details of the workshop away (GO READ HER BOOK!) but we talked about what the current job market looks like for faculty and how general education programs are changing and how at some point, whether we like it or not, we're probably going to have to teach something we don't feel like we are experts in.  We talked about the positives and negatives of being put in this position - why some people hate it and why others might welcome it.  She also discussed different stages of mastery and how being an expert in something might actually have some disadvantages for teaching (e.g. it may interfere with your ability to effectively communicate because you are unconscious of your level of competence).  It was at this moment that I really felt some of the pressure lift off my shoulders (You mean we don't have to be a content expert and know everything about everything before we teach?  Whew!  We're just graduate student instructors and don't know everything!).  Therese pointed out that content novices actually have a lot of advantages:  they make more accurate estimates about time on task, task difficulty, and first-timer's mistakes; they offer concrete explanations; and they use more student-friendly examples.  The disadvantage is that they tend to use fewer abstract concepts which makes it harder to transfer ideas to new problems.  So!  A big note to self - as a content novice, abstract concepts and knowledge transfer is an area to focus on to improve your teaching.  Therese provided great stories of some of the people she interviewed when doing research for her book.  She also described how she characterized the people she studied (AGAIN GO READ HER BOOK!) and gave us strategies for how to be in the "Poised and Confident" group (e.g. think past being a "knowledge dispenser", take control of the choices you can, talk with a content expert, tell someone you're still learning).  We also talked about time management, how to answer questions you don't really know the answers to, and student perceptions of teacher credibility.  I was personally very surprised to learn that a lot of perceptions of credibility are things tied to the learning environment itself -- not necessarily your content expertise (e.g. have a clear syllabus and follow it, show up on time, remind students of due dates, be clear of your expectations of your students, ask if your students understand).  

Definitely a superb event!  Great guest, great food, great discussion and activities to get us involved.  Many of us feel much better about teaching undergraduate classes now that we have these strategies and tips and to know that we're not alone in our anxiety (which has been significantly reduced thanks to this workshop!).  A big thank you to Mary Beth, Zach, the GSO, ITLAL, the Ed Psych RGSO, and most importantly, Therese Huston.  We hope to have more events like this in the future!  Check out the photos from this event on the Event Photos page on this blog, as well as the MyInvolvement page:

No comments: