Planning a Teaching DemonstrationTeaching demonstrations are artificial—the students aren’t yours, you won’t see them again for follow-up lessons, you might even be “teaching” faculty, etc.—but they are also a critical part of an academic job interview. The teaching demonstration must prove not only that you can create and follow a lesson plan, but also that you can engage and interact with students to enhance their learning. Candidates for academic positions need to show more than just knowledge of their content area in their teaching demonstration; they need to show that they have pedagogical content knowledge. That is, the ability to select, structure, and deliver complicated content so that students can learn it. Of course, you’ll want your teaching demonstration to reinforce whatever you’ve said about your teaching in your application materials. In other words, don’t lecture if in your cover letter you claimed to favor student-centered classrooms. A successful teaching demonstration ultimately comes down to careful planning and practice. If you showcase your best teaching during your demo, you’ll go a long way toward convincing the committee that you can handle the challenges of teaching day-to-day. The guidelines and tips below will get you started.
A. Know your Audience
- Will you be teaching a class of actual students, a group of faculty, the hiring committee, or some combination of these three groups?
- What level of student should you be preparing for? (E.g., Majors, non-majors, graduate, etc.)
- If you are teaching a class of actual students, ask for a copy of the course syllabus and any relevant assignments. Read the course description and objectives, and review a copy of the textbook. It might also help to get to know the students in general by looking at the university’s website and, if possible, by visiting campus and chatting directly with students. More realistically, you might attend a class at your current institution on the topic you are going to be teaching and then talk with the instructor, the TAs, and the students.
- If you are teaching to faculty members posing as students, be sure to indicate for them the level and background of the students for whom your lesson would be intended, then pretend that the faculty members are those students and teach at the correct level. Expect, however, that faculty might ask questions at a higher level than would actual students and don’t go overboard with pretending that they are students (e.g., don’t confiscate a cell phone if one of them can’t stop looking at it!).
B. Make your Material fit the Course and the Time
- If you’re given a topic to teach in an actual course, find out where that topic fits into the course itself. What have the students learned beforehand? What will they be learning afterward? What assignments will they be working on? What textbook are the students using? Get a copy and read the relevant sections.
- If you’ve been given a broad topic area from which to select a particular lesson, choose something that you can manage in the time given.
- If you’re teaching for a full class period, aim to end no more than 5 to 10 minutes early for questions. Have a back-up plan in case for any reason you end earlier.
- If you’re only teaching a short lesson in 10 to 15 minutes, choose a topic or lesson that will stand on its own in that time. Don’t squeeze a 50-minute lecture into 15 minutes.
- Plan enough time for any activities you’ll include; they can sometimes run long if not properly planned and managed.
C. Engage your Students
- Remember, this is your teaching demo, not your research talk. Don’t just lecture to the students; show that you can do something more by engaging them with active learning. Get the students interested, involved, and interacting positively with you and with one another—they might be evaluating you for the committee.
- Use brief, meaningful activities that last no more than 5-7 minutes each. If you’re teaching faculty members, don’t expect them to be any more interested in participating in activities than are students. Create a handout, ask questions.
- Start with a relevant hook to grab students’ interest (an alarming statistic, a current event, a thought-provoking question, etc.)
- If you’re teaching a small group of students, bring index cards and black sharpies. Have the students write their names on the cards and set them up on their desks. Doing so creates an instant connection with students by allowing you to address them by name as you would in a class of your own.
D. Use Technology Purposefully and Effectively
- If you plan to use technology, be sure that it serves some clear and relevant pedagogical aim; don’t use it just to impress the committee or to show off your techy side. Technology shouldn’t overwhelm the topic you’re teaching, and the contribution that technology makes to student learning should be obvious and significant. Handouts are often a better alternative to technology, since they provide everyone with a concrete takeaway by which to remember you and your demonstration.
- Use visuals only to support your teaching and promote learning. For example, PowerPoint slides should be used sparingly and should ideally include questions or problems to which students can respond. Remember, PowerPoint should support your teaching, it shouldn’t be your centerpiece. If you do use a PowerPoint, be sure to tell students that you’ll write on the board any key information that you would like them to put in their own notes, otherwise students might try to write down everything you have on your slides.
- In terms of PowerPoint design, use pictures, colors, and animations, but do so carefully, and don���t put too much text on any single slide. Choose a light background and dark text, and make sure that the slides are visible in a well-lit room. (You shouldn’t plan to use PowerPoint slides in a darkened room unless you want to put students to sleep.)
- Use the board only if your handwriting is good. When writing on the board, don’t speak to it. That is, face the students and say whatever you want them to hear, and then turn and write it on the board. Doing so maintains your connection with the students and gives them an opportunity to copy down what you write.
- Plan for technology to break down. Have an alternative plan.
E. Have a Backup Plan. Have Another.
- Create your ideal lesson plan, a contingency plan in case you run out of time, a contingency plan in case you finish early and have too much time remaining, a contingency plan in case students simply don’t respond or if things are otherwise not working out as intended. Plan for technology to fail and know what you’ll do if and when it does.
- Plan more material than you can possible use, and make decisions in the moment about what to leave out. Don’t indicate to your students, however, that you’re cutting something out due to time constraints.
F. Practice. Practice. Practice.
- Whether you’ve taught before or not, you can ask colleagues or mentors for the opportunity to lead a session in their classes. Ask them to observe your session and provide feedback. Alternately, gather some colleagues, perhaps from different disciplines, to serve as a group of students whom you can teach. Have them ask you questions just like actual students would. After the lesson, have your colleagues comment on your flow, on the way your topics connected with each other, on your body language and any verbal or physical tics you might have, and, of course, on how you might improve your overall performance.
- If you have taught before, review any observation reports you may have from colleagues or mentors, as well as evaluation feedback from students. Consider what has worked well and what hasn’t. What improvements can you realistically make and practice before your demonstration?
Helpful Tips and Hints:
- Aim to be relaxed and confident in your demonstration, but also plan to show your enthusiasm and passion for the topic.
- Remember that you want your demonstration to be accessible to the intended audience, as well as factually or procedurally accurate and also clearly effective in terms of student learning.
- Show respect for students and that you like working with them. Acknowledge their contributions and thank them for participating.
- Don’t let talkative students sidetrack you. Indicate that you are glad they are interested, but that you need to continue the class. Ask them to stay after to discuss the material with you.
- Consider providing students and the committee with suggested follow-up assignments or next steps to show that you are aware of that teaching is a continuum, not a once-off intervention.
- If you use graphs or other data visualizations, don’t let them speak for themselves. Instead, get students to respond to these visualizations. For example, orient students to a graph by briefly explaining what it shows, then pose questions about the graph and ask students to interpret it in some way to get students involved.
- Push yourself to demonstrate your best teaching, but don’t try a technique or technology with which you’re not yet completely comfortable.
Questions to Consider as You Begin Planning your Teaching Demonstration:
Don’t be afraid to ask the committee for details and clarification about your demonstration. At the same time, you need to ask yourself a number of important questions as you get started. The list below should help get you going.
Ask the committee:
- How much time will I have? A whole class period or only 10 to 20 minutes?
- Whom will I be teaching? Actual students or faculty posing as students?
- At what level should my teaching be aimed? Majors? Non-majors? Graduate?
- Will a topic and/or materials be provided, or should I select a topic and/or materials on my own?
- If a topic is provided and if I’m teaching in an actual course, how does the topic fit into the course in relation to other topics? Can I get a copy of the syllabus? What textbook do the students use? Have students been given any homework? If so, what? Can I get a copy of the assignment materials?
- Where will I be teaching? What sorts of technology or other resources are available?
- How and by whom will my teaching be evaluated? If I’m teaching actual students, will they provide any feedback to the committee?
- Exactly what information, and how much of it, do I want to convey in the time I have?
- What approach is most appropriate for the topic, the students, and the institution itself? Will I mostly lecture or will I involve students in a discussion or an activity?
- Do I want to use technology? If so, what will that technology add to my demo in terms of helping students learn? Am I comfortable using the technology that is available?
Smith, M. K., Wenderoth, M. P., and Tyler, M. (2013). The teaching demonstration: What faculty expect and how to prepare for this aspect of the job interview. CBE Life Sciences Education, 12(1), 12–18. http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.12-09-0161 http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.12-09-0161