I work with TA's usually about 5 or 6 every time I teach the course. They
each have one workshop section of 25 students which meets 2 hours a week.
They do all the marking for their section. I also give a lecture (1 hour)
per week. Yes, I know, lecturing is kind a waste of time. However, I find it
useful because it actually helps the TA's and provides a sense of
consistency to the course.
Like you, I have little opportunity to train the TA's and I am not involved
in the selection process.
However, I have managed to compensate for this situation in several ways.
1. We meet every week for about 1 and half often 2 hours.
Before our meeting I send out the plans for the week -- at the beginning of
the course this is a highly organized series of activites for them to
conduct in their workshops. In fact, I pretty much have the course material
all worked out ahead of time.
In our meeting, we talk about how to implement the material. The
students get credit for completing the workshop tasks which follow up on
their reading or leads up to their papers. So they are pretty motivated to
attend the workshops and co-operate.This really helps the TA's as they are
not left swinging in the wind trying to develop their own material. They
can depend on my material and when they feel comfortable can elaborate on
2. We also use the meetings as marking sessions. Whenever drafts or
papers are due, we do some group marking to create consistency but also to
highlight the kind of commentary that I want to see in the papers.
3. We also use our meetings to handle problems-- and I try to make the
meetings collegial. I refer to the TA as workshop instructors and not TA's.
And I let the students know through the course outline and my interactions
with them that their instructors are in charge of their section but that we
are a highly co-ordinated group. This helps a great deal in terms of morale
and heading off problems.
4. In our meetings, I explain why I am doing things the way I am doing
them-- so that it be comes a kind of apprenticeship situation. I also am
willing to change directions ( only somewhat as major changes in direction
usually take a semester to implement in large courses) as result of their
Over the years that I have run the course this way, the course ratings have
risen steadily and the TA's for the most part report that it has been a
The trick is scads of preparation.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Wendy Strachan" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2004 12:52 PM
Subject: TA training
> Dear colleagues,
> In trying to implement Writing-Intensive courses at SFU across the
> disciplines at both the lower and upper division, we are also figuring out
> how to prepare the TAs who are working with faculty in large first year
> courses. We've instituted a reduction in tutorial size to 15 with each
> having a maximum of 3 sections in a course, but the question of
> continues to be a challenge. Hiring practices governed by the union
> our seeking out TAs who are a bit along in their course work and have some
> experience of teaching, so most are entering graduate students who are
> assigned TA-ships as a source of funding.
> While we can't do much about that at the moment, we can require that they
> have some pre-W-course training to help them handle the instruction and
> responding to writing for which they are largely responsible. Since we no
> longer have a writing centre to which students can go for individual help,
> the TAs are not operating in a one-on-one tutoring context - they are
> working with groups on writing in content courses.
> We' re wondering how others of you work with TAs and do this training:
> When? how much time? in what contexts? how many TAs at a time, in a
> workshop setting? do you have programs or courses within or outside
> departments? are these credit or non-credit? required or voluntary? are
> tehy designed for overall teaching training or focusing on writing? with
> what results?
> I'm looking at US institutions as well since there is a long-established
> tradition there of preparing TAs who work in the first year composition
> courses but I'm hoping there is a bank of Canadian models to draw on. And
> know this is the place to go to find out!
> Many thanks for any ideas and information,
> Wendy Strachan PhD.
> Director, Centre for Writing-Intensive Learning
> Simon Fraser University
> Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6
> Office: AQ 6205
> Tel: 604-291-3122
> Fax: 604-268-6915
> email: [log in to unmask]
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To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
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For the list archives and information about the organization,
its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to