AY 300/375 - TALC (The Astronomy Learning Center)

TALC (The Astronomy Learning Center) is a large, collaborative “office hour” where students work on their homework assignments in an informal group setting. TALC is staffed by GSIs who serve as guides, rather than tutors, in helping student groups with their homework problems. In addition to homework, which is the main focus of TALC, students may discuss difficulties in their conceptual understanding of lecture and reading topics with the GSIs and their peers.

TALC is similar in character to discussion section, but is focused on working on official course homework assignments rather than individual GSI-created worksheets. Typically, two GSIs are present to field questions. TALC is generally held a couple of evenings a week, each session lasting a couple of hours. You are advised to use TALC as part of your office-hour time.

It is a good idea to read through the assignment before TALC to make sure that you are prepared to coherently answer all student questions. In addition, it is sometimes advised that you glance at a copy of the homework solution set so you know what the graders are going to be looking for. However, this can be a slippery slope because oftentimes once GSIs see the solutions they tend to push their students toward those specific answers (either consciously or unconsciously) which somewhat goes against the Socratic Method idea of TALC (see more below).

Each time you host TALC, put up a sign on the outside door of Evans with your cell phone number (or the 264 Evans phone number: 510-642-8875) so that students can call you to get let into the building. When the phone rings, have the last student who was let in get the door for the next person.

The TALC rules are posted on a large poster board in the TALC room (264 Evans). GSIs are encouraged to go over the rules near the beginning of the first couple TALC sessions and refer students to them later when necessary.

TALC rules:

  1. GSIs DON'T give out answers.
  2. GSIs won't look at your paper.
  3. Board work gets PRIORITY help.
  4. NO COPYING: Homework must be written up independently.
  5. TALC Tax: Getting help from a GSI means that you may be asked to give help to other students.
  6. GSIs busy? Ask students.
Guidelines for effective teaching in TALC
  1. If a student wishes to start a problem and says to you, “I don’t get number 2!”, first pause and ask if anyone else is working on that problem. Even if no one else is currently working on it, mention that you and the student are about to start it and see if anyone else wants to join in. TALC is meant to foster group-work situations.
  2. Try to put together groups of 3-6. Try to keep groups under 6 so people don't just hang out and copy down what’s going on at the board.
  3. Hand the chalk/marker to someone and say something like, “You drive, we'll navigate.” Hold the chalk/marker out until they take it. Once they take it, step back from the board and stand behind or beside them.
  4. Get everyone in the group up and out of their chairs. Have them put down their notebooks and get them involved in the problem solving process.
  5. Use the Socratic Method whenever possible. Do everything you can to induce thought and help the students realize that they can do the problems themselves. DO NOT just give away the answer.
  6. If a student wishes to join the group in the middle of a problem, pause and have a group member recap what has happened up to that point.
  7. After the “driver” finishes the problem it's sometimes useful to pick someone else from the group to recap what just happened.
  8. If there are signs that students in the group were watching but didn't really follow the solution, bring them aside for a slower, more thorough explanation.
  9. As soon as a group has finished a problem on the board and you've discussed it with them and are convinced that pretty much all of them understand what's going on erase their work. This is the main thing that students will yell at your about because many will want to copy down what they just did line by line (and sometimes people not in the group will also try to copy down the answer). However, they should all be able to recreate it on their papers back at their table by talking to each other about what just happened at the board. I can't stress enough how important this is and how strict you have to be. If all of the GSIs consistently do this from the very beginning of the semester, then eventually the students will stop complaining and expect it to happen.
  10. When doing math problems, stress the methodology over the numerical answer.
Things not to do:
  1. Never give out answers.
  2. Never look at a student's paper or check a student's paper for correctness. You might need to say, “I'm not a grader, that's not my job,” and only check students' work when it's on a board.
  3. Don’t write on the board. Only do it as a last resort or in special cases. Let the students do the “driving”.
  4. When talking to a group, don't stand in front of them. Make sure you stand within the group.
  5. Also, try not to talk to individuals without their group nearby and paying attention as well.
  6. Don’t get bogged down with 1 or 2 individuals or groups. There's too many of them and too few of you. Keep moving. Get a group started on a path toward the solution and walk away.
  7. Don't let individuals or groups become too dependent on you.