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Teaching the Teachers-to-Be

Teaching the Teachers-to-BeThe Tufts Graduate Institute for Teaching (GIFT) prepares graduate students to become not just scholars in their field, but skilled instructors, as well.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.04.07] When today's graduate students become tomorrow's professors, they will need to be able to impart knowledge to the next generation of students in creative and compelling ways. Through the Tufts Graduate Institute for Teaching, graduate students on the Hill are gaining skills to use when they're standing in front of a class rather than sitting in one.

"[We realized that] we should be able to find a mechanism by which [our commitment to good teaching] informs our graduate students ... in a formalized way, not just by happenstance," Lynne Pepall, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, told The Christian Science Monitor.

According to the Monitor, more than 100 universities now feature programs designed to train future faculty in teaching skills, reflecting the growing realization that, as both technology and classroom composition evolve, such instruction is critical.

The first part of GIFT consists of three weeks of summer workshops where graduate students interested in becoming full-time faculty participate in workshops on topics including lesson planning, assessment and teaching with technology. In the fall, they co-teach a course under the direction of a faculty mentor.

Hugh Long, a graduate student of drama, says GIFT provided him with the skill set to feel comfortable in front of a classroom.

"I've learned some structure, some organizational skills and different ways of evaluating students. The other thing I got out of it was a large sense of confidence that I'm on the right track," Long, who presented a sample lesson on the symbolism of swordplay in Shakespeare to his classmates in the program, told the Monitor. Students critique each others' lessons as part of the teaching workshops.

Ashley Shelden, who received a master's degree in English from Tufts this year, told the Monitor that one of the best things about GIFT is being exposed to students from other fields and their various learning styles.

"It's kind of scary when I hear that students don't learn well simply by reading things, my being an English major," she told the Monitor. "But it's precisely out of that fear that [I realize] if I'm going to give them a difficult text to read, I need to integrate other strategies for comprehending that material."

The program-which works in collaboration with the University-wide Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and receives support from the Tufts Summer School-has a competitive application process and substantial interest from professors who want to mentor and lend their expertise. And the students who have participated in GIFT credit it with helping them become better teachers.

"It was one of my most positive experiences at Tufts," PhD drama student Helen Lewis, who participated in GIFT two summers ago and co-taught a class on Asian-American literature and film, told the Monitor. "It helped me transition into a professional.

The following year, according to the Monitor, she taught her own introductory acting class and won an award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. The skills she learned in GIFT carried over to other school-related activities, as well.

"Barbara Grossman, chair of the department of drama and dance, saw Lewis's teaching skills take shape behind the stage when Lewis served as her assistant director for a production of 'Company,'" the Monitor reported. "She created bonds among the student actors, directed wonderful improv exercises, and maximized rehearsal time, Professor Grossman says."

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