Students join professors in classrooms as learning assistants


Esther Fernandez Rosario ’23 and education teacher Doris Santoro

Before the start of the semester, all learning assistants complete online modules and an in-person session, including one on anti-racism. “We offer four hours of professional development,” Byrnes said, “but they also receive job-specific training through the department.”

University departments and programs decide which of their courses would benefit from learning assistants, and faculty select specific students to work with, primarily upper-class students majoring in their field. The BCLT hires them and pays them.

Byrnes herself worked with two learning assistants to Educational psychology, a 2000-level education course that she taught last spring. The two assistants supported the students with projects and facilitated small group discussions in class, among other tasks.

“These were two students who had taken the course the previous year, so they were familiar with the course,” Byrnes said. Meeting weekly, they gave her feedback on her homework and class designs, and kept her updated on what was going on with the students.

Byrnes said some teachers are surprised that learning assistants can offer more than just technical help. “A lot of teachers find that their lesson is better because they have an ongoing conversation with the learning assistant about the class,” she said.

Doris Santoro, education teacher, agreed. Her learning assistant, Esther Fernandez Rosario ’23, gives her “a temperature of the class and of what is happening on campus, so that I can better judge the effectiveness of my teaching”, she said. declared.

Santoro has had teaching assistants in the past, but this fall is the first time that she has worked with a BCLT-trained learning assistant for her. Contemporary American Education Classes. She is delighted that the BCLT has formalized the learning assistant model. “The College demonstrates that there is value in teaching and peer support,” she said.

Rosario meets one-on-one with students throughout the week and attends classes twice a week. She also helps Santoro assess homework or exam questions and grade rubrics. (For the midterm, Rosario prepared a tip sheet, much to the relief of the students. “It gave that feeling of ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done this, and here’s how you can be successful in this task. ‘It was huge for the students,’ Santoro said.)

But Rosario ends up providing more than just classroom-related mentorship. “I have certainly seen that some students in my class revolve around Esther not only for the support of the class, but also for the support in the navigation of Bowdoin and the satisfaction of academic expectations at large,” Santoro said. . “While I can certainly offer advice and ideas, someone who experienced this two years ago is much more convincing.”

With a major in Education and English and a minor in Hispanic Studies, Rosario aspires to become a teacher or school administrator herself and is considering enrolling in the Bowdoin Teacher Scholars program. “I really love contemporary American education and the content that we learned, so getting paid to tell other people about it seemed super awesome to me,” she said, explaining what made it so. attracted to this work.

And while she supports the success of other students in the course, she says she gains a lot in return. “It helps me to be an effective communicator and a more effective learner and student myself,” she said. “I cannot help others unless I have met my needs first. If I want to help people manage their time, I also need to get my time management skills in order! “

Vyjayanthi Selinger, Bowdoin’s Stanley F. Druckenmiller Associate Professor of Asian Studies, is working with a Learning Assistant, Nana Hayami ’22, for her Intermediate Japanese course this fall. All other Japanese and Chinese classes also have learning assistants. Hayami and Selinger alternate to provide each student with weekly one-to-one conversation lessons, doubling the practice time they have with a fluent speaker.

Selinger also observed that learning assistants in the Japanese department, like Rosario in education, benefit academically and personally from the experience. “Japanese is sometimes a language they speak at home,” she said, but since they have often never studied it formally, they are delighted to learn the underlying grammatical logic.

“And they feel pride and joy when they see someone else trying so hard in their language,” she added. “I think it travels back and forth among students, that sense of appreciation. Learning assistants say, ‘Thanks for learning my culture!’ and the students say, ‘Thank you for teaching me your culture!’ “


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