Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Yale Teaching Center

Advanced Section Planning

This module will provide concrete suggestions for starting the semester with a long-term plan for success. As a beginning graduate teacher, it is often difficult to think past next week’s section. Indeed, even many experienced teachers plan on a week-to-week basis. The purpose of this workshop is to challenge graduate teachers to think more broadly about the skills and knowledge base that they want students to develop in their section, lab, or class.

The first step is to develop overarching goals to guide your teaching. In any course, the main objective is for students to master the content and perform well on course assignments. However, there are often skill sets or areas of knowledge that are particularly important not only for success in the course, but also for student’s general education and growth. When you create lesson plans anchored in the skills that you would like your students to learn, while also focusing on particular course objectives, you can help your students acquire academic skills they will bring forward into the rest of their education.

In developing semester goals, it is important to conduct some preliminary research. Examine the syllabus and talk with the professor to identify major assignments and areas of emphasis for the course, including readings or other supplemental material that the professor would like you to incorporate into section. Next, identify at least three semester goals, with an emphasis on the skills that you would like your students to learn. One way to approach this is to construct and fill in the following statement: “By the end of the semester, my students will be able to X (analyze a historical document); Y (use the scientific method to investigate biological phenomena); Z (compare and contrast two thinkers’ theories of social organization).”

After identifying semester goals, the second step is to break these goals down into discrete section objectives and activities. For example, if the goal is to prepare students to write an original history paper based on archival research, you might develop a sequence of short lessons or presentations that you could include in your section time (see example below). You could use a range of different section activities to accomplish your goals. See “Planning Activities: Some Guidelines.”

Once semester goals and corresponding objectives are established, the final step is to create a semester plan to schedule and sequence the activities and assignments that will help your students achieve the goals you have set for them. This is also a great place to jot down the readings or assignments for each week of the course. Remember, this is a living document that can change as the semester rolls along. The purpose of long-term section planning is to provide a solid foundation and a jump start for planning weekly sections.

Let’s explore a few examples of skills-focused section planning. In a history course, a professor might assign a paper that requires students to examine and incorporate archival research. An introductory science course might require students to submit a write-up of laboratory-based research. In each of these instances, the teaching fellow could simply provide his or her students with instructions for doing each of these assignments. However, the TF could instead plan a series of section discussions and activities that will help students practice and develop the research skills, vocabulary, and techniques that will help them succeed not only on a particular assignment, but also in future coursework.

In the history course, the TF could devote three sections to helping students develop the skills necessary for conducting archival research. During section one, the TF and students could go to Sterling Library and meet with a librarian, who could help them learn how to navigate the library system (a section devoted to using online research and bibliographic databases might be even more useful to students). In Section Two, the TF could break students into small groups and ask each group to analyze the content and language used in a short historical document. The small groups could then reconvene and describe to the class how they approached their textual analysis. In Section Three, the TF could provide students with a thesis statement and ask them what sorts of archival information they would need to support this statement. These three sections build on one another, with section one exposing students to the tools of textual research; section two initiating students into textual analysis; and section three requiring students to think about how they would acquire and then analyze the historical material needed to support a historical argument.

There are several advantages to long-term section planning. Teachers who can walk into the first section with ambitious goals for their students have a better chance of investing those students in the course. Moreover, thinking broadly and strategically about the purpose and objectives of your section time across a semester is great practice for conceptualizing and structuring courses and syllabi in the future. Finally, long-term section planning, with its skill-building rather than assignment-based focus, will help your students succeed in your section and in future college coursework.

Please see the workshop agenda detailing how this Advanced Section YTC workshop was taught in January 2008. We hope it proves helpful for your section planning, especially if you are collaborating with a group of teaching fellows to design skills-based, semester-long section plans.

Module developed by Jason Ward and Daryn David