Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Division 2 of the American Psychological Association


Welcome to the GSTA blog! 
Every week we will post a graduate student teaching or teaching assistant tip or an information piece on GSTA's activities. The tips, written by graduate students, are sourced directly from classroom practices and syntheses of recent teaching related research.

If you would like to submit a tip for consideration send it to us at, subject line Blog and your potential title. Submissions should be between 500-1000 words.

You can also submit any questions you would like addressed on our blog as comments below or send them to, follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Aysenur Ataman, Ralitsa Todorova and Francis Yannaco 

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  • 19 Oct 2015 2:56 PM | Francis Yannaco (Administrator)

    by Teresa Ober and Francis Yannaco

    The STP's 14th Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT) was a great success this October 15-17! The purpose of the conference is to disseminate current research in the area of SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). As an interdisciplinary branch of psychology and education, SoTL connects researchers and scholars who aim to establish an understanding of the ways in which teaching can optimally achieve student learning. From Wilson-Doenges and Gurung (2013), we can conceptualize the three general types of SoTL research and their relevant methodological needs. These methods span reports on classes or courses, comparisons of courses and students, and syntheses of existing SoTL research. Luckily, Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges herself was there to explain the unique considerations necessary for better methodological rigor in our SoTL project, which we applied to receive mentoring for at the STP SoTL Workshop.

    Surviving mostly on apples and water, we worked closely with our dear mentors Michelle Drouin and Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges to develop a strong theoretical model and sharpen our classroom technology use scale. The ‘writing retreat’ style of the workshop provided an exceptional opportunity to shut ourselves away and turn our ideas into a real product in the span of hours, not months. And while Michelle’s expertise in technology use was profoundly applicable to every question we had during theory and scale development, Georjeanna’s insights helped us workshop our scale and turn our notes into well-honed models to move forward with.

    Above and beyond the personalized, minute-to-minute feedback and real teaching insights from our mentors, the STP’s ACT Conference itself oriented us at the center of the cutting-edge research coming out right now. We took inspiration from many of the poster presenters’ work that spoke to our ideas. As both conference attendee and workshop participants this year, we had an amazing time working with experts in the field on a project while situated in the middle of an academic conference. Speaking with and learning from other attendees allowed us to think about aspects and new angles of the research project that we might not otherwise have considered. The conference itself provides a great forum within which one present can present research among other graduate students and one-on-one with the teaching visionaries you’re citing in your own SoTL.

    Much thanks to the GSTA and our GSTA mentor Patricia Brooks for pushing us to go down to Atlanta for this amazing experience, it was beautiful!

    For anyone interested in finding out about upcoming STP conferences, be sure to check out the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website under Conferences (link:

    WilsonDoenges, G., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2013). Benchmarks for scholarly investigations of teaching and learning. Australian Journal of Psychology, 65(1), 63-70.

  • 29 Sep 2015 10:02 AM | Anonymous

    by Kasey L. Powers and Anna Schwartz

    A throwback to the classic back to school essay - What I did this summer. This summer we had the opportunity to take part in the AP Psychology Grading as AP Readers. This was a week spent grading the more than 280K AP Psychology Exams taken by high school students across the country. It was like going to camp for adults and one of the best professional development experiences I have ever been a part of.

    I’ll stop here for a moment to let you wrap your head around the fact that I just said spending 56 hours grading exams was like going to camp. And fun!

    It was a week spent in a new city with a few hundred like-minded colleagues who teach advanced placement psychology in high schools and introduction to psychology and colleges. I met people and made new friends. Each day at 5pm it was pencils down and the evening was ours. No work (at least from this job) to follow back to the hotel.

    This is not to say it isn’t hard work. Each morning at 8am you are in your seat ready to read. But it’s an assigned seat and your table is like your cabin - the people you get to know best. And you are assigned to read only one question the whole week, your question is your camp, with the rival camp on the other question in the next room. But at lunch we all come together. This was still not about the work.

    The work. Reading AP Exams has made me a better teacher (I hope, what I learned will be implemented in just a few days). Reading exams, specifically the same exam question several hundred times, and scoring these questions with a well made rubric, you see many examples of student writing ranging from very good to very very bad. There is much to be learned from student writing. Here are a few things I learned reading exams:

    “Good” or “bad” writing is not necessarily correlated with comprehension and grasp of the psychological concept. There were some paragraphs that flowed so nicely and were easy to read. However, when looking for specific points, it turns out that the student said nothing of substance, most often in the form of circular definitions. There were some pieces of writing that were almost painful to read with poorly constructed sentences, but when looking carefully at the substance of the writing, the student did know the concepts. Writing is an equally important but separate skill.

  • 14 Sep 2015 3:42 PM | Anonymous

    By Anna Schwartz

    I have been teaching for a few years now, and one of the things that I am still mastering is asking the whole class a question.  Usually it goes something like this: I say “How many of you agree with this statement, raise your hand.” Then some students raise their hands a little bit.  The situation is worse if I want to ask a question and actually distinguish between “yay” and “nay”. Then somebody suggested using colored index cards in a technique that I call “red light/green light cards”.

    It works like this: you ask each student to pick up a red index card and a green index card on their way into class every day. Now, whenever you ask them a question with a yes/no answer, you ask them to hold up the green card if they agree and the red card if they disagree.

    It sounds simplistic, but it is worth trying out. Here’s how it plays out: I ask a question, students hold up their cards, and I have an instant visual read on percentages of agree and disagree.  My ability to scan a room and count a few red cards or a few green cards is infinitely superior to my ability to rapidly scan and count hands that have not been raised. An additional benefit is that a question that used to involve two rounds of hand raising (how many of you agree, raise your hands, now raise your hand only if you disagree) can be done in one question. These were all expected benefits of the technique.  The unexpected benefit are the creative uses of the cards student’s come up with to communicate shades of agreement.  Some students hold up both cards, showing more red or less red, more green or less green to display degrees of agreement or ambivalence. Some students hold the two cards back to back, flipping the green card from back to front. My favorite moments are when students raise their card when I have not asked a question to simply contribute their agreement, assent or opinion to what I am saying, silently entering into my lecture and making it a personal conversation with me without ever having to disrupt my lecture (not that I mind disruptions, but it is nice for students to be able to communicate without the burden of having to disrupt).

    In short, this is a simple (and inexpensive) technique that you can use in your classroom to improve student participation – to move student participation from the few students who are comfortable talking to total student participation!

  • 01 Jun 2015 12:15 PM | Anonymous

    By Kasey Powers 

    For the last two years I’ve had the ability to meet my yearly teaching course allowance for my situation in the fall semester. The first time was so I could take a maternity leave for the spring, and this year so that I could use the spring to focus on my dissertation proposal. However, just because I’m not teaching in a given semester doesn’t mean I’m not working to improve my craft.

    During my “off-season” I think a lot about teaching. When I’m at my campus I see colleagues who are teaching and we talk about how their classes are going. Sometimes I ask and other times they may have a question for me or want to get feedback on a new idea. There are conversations about activities that maybe didn’t work, and how to improve. There are conversations about how to deal with a specific student situation that I’ve encountered before but my colleague has not. There are many conversations about teaching where I am thinking, learning, and saving ideas for when I’m teaching again in the fall.

    It’s also been a time when I’ve been able to step back and reflect on what has been working well and not-so-well in my classes, since I teach the same course most semesters. I have a list of things that I want to improve upon and I’ve had the time to update some of my lectures. This time of reflection is a big difference from the mad rush to change something the night before a class.

    Because I’m not spending hours a week prepping and grading I’ve had more time to read news articles. I’ve found so many articles that are perfect to share in my class and I’ve been saving these to a shared folder on my Dropbox so that colleagues who I teach with can use them now. This activity is now a habit that I hope to continue when I am teaching again.

    If you are considering teaching a new course or you want to make major changes in your class, an off semester is a great time to review textbooks and look for new activities. You might want to look at The Syllabus Project to find variations that other instructors use.

    The bottom line is that teaching and pedagogy are an ongoing conversation that occurs whether or not you are teaching in a given semester.

  • 13 Mar 2015 12:17 PM | Anonymous

    By Anna Schwartz 

    As a new initiative for the Fall 2014 semester, the Graduate Student Teaching Association implemented a graduate student peer-mentoring program through the Graduate Center, CUNY that serves to match experienced graduate student teachers with new graduate student teachers (If you are interested in joining the program email Anna Schwartz here). Mentors provide support to mentees on a range of pedagogical areas such as designing syllabi, creating effective assessments that align with learning objectives, navigating a college campus as an educator, and problem-solving with unexpected student situations. The following narratives were given by a mentoring team consisting of two mentees and one mentor. Each perspective highlights the unique opportunities that graduate student peer mentoring can provide for both the mentees and mentors.

    The peer mentoring program has been really invaluable to me during my first semester teaching at the collegiate level. When you begin teaching, unexpected questions can arise at any time, and it’s comforting to know that you can ask an experienced teacher for advice. Beyond advice on syllabus design and great ideas for classroom activities, mentors can provide advice on how to some of the daily ins and outs of teaching, such as attendance policy, testing/grading and challenging situations with students. I also learned a great deal from conversation and exchange with the mentee in my group, a new teacher like myself who was dealing with the same challenges of setting up classroom and new lectures. I definitely slept better at night knowing I was connected to our mentor group, and I would highly recommend that other CUNY instructors link up through this program!


    I really enjoy being part of the peer mentoring initiative. Despite having the option to take pedagogy courses on how to become more effective instructors before we begin teaching, there are often concerns that are specific (e.g., large classes) to the college where you are adjunct-ing or questions you don’t think of until you’ve begun teaching. The peer mentoring program pairs you with a mentor and mentee that have experienced/are experiencing similar challenges. Given the fact that the group is so small (consisting of two mentees and one mentor), you’ll be able to pose various questions to both the mentor and other mentee in the group. Additionally, as new teachers, your peer mentoring group can serve as the beginnings of teaching community or network at your college. Another of my favorite characteristics about this program is the flexibility. As graduate student instructors, the “teaching hat” is just one of many that we have to wear. In the same day, we may be students, researchers, clinicians-in-training, and teachers. To have the flexibility of meeting in-person, having a phone conversation, or just emailing one another, has been invaluable! Just like my fellow mentee above, I highly recommend the peer-mentoring program to any graduate student instructor or new teacher.


    While there are many advantages to serving as a mentor, my largest benefit from the mentorship program has been via my conversations with my mentees where we problem-solved solutions to classroom-based issues that each of us had encountered. Since we’re all active teachers, it was wonderful to hear the voices of instructors, at varying levels, collaboratively discuss solutions to problems such as giving make-up exams, rationale behind your syllabi structure, and enhancing participation in large classrooms. Similarly, since each of us taught courses with varied titles and class sizes, I was made more aware of the issues that may arise in courses outside of my particular expertise. Overall, the mentorship experience was a huge success this past Fall and I’m thankful that it is already gaining momentum into the Spring 2015 semester.


  • 26 Feb 2015 12:19 PM | Anonymous
    I had the pleasure (and quite frankly, luck) of teaching a small course last semester with 18 lovely students. I taught Experimental Psychology at Hunter which met for 3 hours, twice a week, so I had to find a number of ways to break up our sessions and keep time moving. One of the techniques I used most was dividing the students into groups and having them work on various activities together. The assignments you give will vary based on your course, but what I want to talk about here is the actual use of groups and ways of breaking students up in to them.

    For starters, I began the semester with a number of ice breakers so that we all got to know each other and our names. This is obviously much easier to do with a class of 20 or so, but can be accomplished with bigger classes as well. Starting the semester off in this way makes students more comfortable and open to various group activities later on, as they are already used to the fact that they will be working with virtually everyone in the class. It also encourages participation from the start, as it gets everyone talking.

    What you’ll find pretty quickly (and all of you know already) is that people tend to sit in one seat on the first day of class and then hold on to that seat dearly for the rest of the semester. So the old count-off-by-4’s trick means that you will end up with the same students in the same groups each time. This is where I encourage you to vary the way you break up your groups. Some suggestions:
    • Have students line up in order of their birthdays – and for a challenge, have them do this without speaking. They can use their fingers or any other gesture, but they should get to down to the month and date! Then, you can have them count off from there, which means they will end up in a different group than usual.
    • Have students line up alphabetically by first name or last name, also without talking. First names will be easy for them if you’ve done ice breakers, but this can be fun even with a group of 40 or so!
    • Have students break out into groups based on their favorite season – spring, summer, winter, and fall can each work together. In my class last semester, 9 of my students chose fall so we had to break up that group into two. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but you can easily adjust and adapt and changing things up makes for a more interesting class session.
    • Be creative! Especially if you have a longer class time, having students move around breaks up these longer sessions.

    The main point here is that varying the groups that students work in means that they will get exposed to different perspectives, ideas, and group dynamics every time they meet. This also fosters a positive classroom environment as a whole, as the group feels closer to one another the more they get to know each other. This will also make students feel more comfortable in participating and asking questions. I’m telling you – this works! My class was at 7 in the morning and 15 out of 18 of my students participated many times per class session. And at the end of the semester, many of them thanked me for creating a classroom environment where they felt comfortable with one another and able to get to know each other.

    So – break students up into diverse groups and let them learn from each other!

  • 26 Nov 2014 12:20 PM | Anonymous

    by Rita Obeid, Christina Shane-Simpson, Anna Schwartz

    Early in October, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) holds an annual writing workshop which is chaired by Dr. Regan Gurung and designed to support faculty in designing, implementing, and writing up their pedagogy related research (termed SoTL research). This year, three members of the GSTA leadership team were able to attend the workshop and greatly benefited from the structure and goals of this writing workshop.

    Prior to the workshop, each applicant (mentee) was paired with an experienced SoTL mentor that matched the needs of the applicant.  The mentors and mentees met virtually via Skype, e-mail, or the phone over the summer before the conference was scheduled (beginning in June of 2014). The mentees introduced and updated their mentors about their projects. Upon their arrival at the STP Conference, the mentees had developed a draft of a paper or at least a plan for their research. The mentees were each at different stages in their projects where some had began the implementation phase, and others were in the process of writing up their results and conclusions about the work they conducted.  Under the leadership of Regan Gurung and with the support of a statistical consultant (Dr. Georjeanna Wilson), and their mentors, mentees were given additional wrap-around support as they continued to write throughout the three-day conference. This blog highlights the narratives and experiences of the GSTA members who attended the writing workshop.

    “It was nice to get out of the big city for a couple of days, disconnect from everything else you need to do and just be sitting in a nice hotel room filled with people who are passionate about pedagogy research. The writing workshop was a great opportunity to not only meet great people in the SoTL field, but also benefit from their expertise.”  

    “My mentor met with me every three weeks over the course of the summer, edited repeated drafts of my paper, helped me develop future research lines from my project and, although his obligation to me is complete, continues to help me develop the project. At the conference, multiple mentors helped me do statistical tests and explore my data. In general, this experience has taught me more practical skills than all my classes combined, and I hope they can extend this model. My mentor is an angel, as are Dr. Gurung and Dr. Wilson.

    “I couldn’t believe the amount of support that was provided to all of the mentees during the three-day writing workshop.  During the summer I regularly communicated with my SoTL mentor, soliciting her advice on anything from research design to framing my IRB application.  She was immensely helpful in helping me develop my study in a manageable way that didn’t overshadow my teaching responsibilities.  At the writing workshop I received support not only from my mentor, but also from other experienced SoTL researchers and from a statistical consultant.  At the end of the workshop I ended up with two papers in-progress that were ready for data analysis.”

    All graduate student teachers are already busy with program requirements and teaching responsibilities.  However, the writing workshop allowed each of us an opportunity to step back from our busy schedules and never-ending to-do lists, to spend two full days working on our pedagogy-based research. Not only did we each make significant progress on our SoTL research project, but we were also able to benefit from networking with other SoTL researchers and educators passionate about the teaching of psychology.

    **If you are interested in attending the STP Writing Workshop in 2015 the application process will take place in the spring. We will be sure to post links to Facebook and Twitter when it opens.**

  • 20 Nov 2014 1:09 PM | Francis Yannaco (Administrator)

    Noba announced a student video project earlier this Fall with a March 27th 2015 deadline. Be sure to check it out and see if there are ways of incorporating it into the Spring 2015 syllabus! And good luck!


    Noba’s mission is to bring the highest quality psychology learning materials to students everywhere for free ( We also believe in creating opportunities for students to get involved in engaging, active learning. With that goal in mind, Noba is offering $10,000 in student awards for active learning video projects in the 2014-2015 academic year.

    We want students to bring the science of psychology to life in creative and memorable ways. The focus of the 2015 Noba Student Video Award is “Social Influence”. We challenge students to choose a central concept related to social influence from either of two online Noba modules and create a short video that is engaging, memorable and will help other students better understand the concept, phenomenon, or experiment that has been selected.

    The two modules to choose from are . . .

    • 1.      Persuasion:  So Easy Fooled (
    • 2.      Conformity and Obedience (

    Noba will award $6,000 for the top honor and $3,000 and $1,000 for the second and third place submissions. Winning videos will also be featured on the Noba website within the modules they focus on and become a part of the learning experience for other students.

    The Award guidelines and submission form can be found at

    The submission deadline is March 27, 2015.

    Questions can be directed to

  • 18 Nov 2014 4:38 PM | Francis Yannaco (Administrator)

    The Graduate Center, CUNY, just established a Mentorship in Teaching of Psychology Program that will group experienced graduate student teacher-mentors with novice graduate student teacher-mentees to provide support from course set up and classroom management (e.g. syllabus design, textbook choice, classroom activities, scheduling, exam writing, grading/assessment, attendance, problem students, extra credit, change of grade requests).

    While this mentor system is new to The Graduate Center we're wondering whether any other programs have implemented something like it and if so how your experience has been! Comment below.

    In our mentors blogging for this week they discuss their thoughts about student engagement:

    Rita El-Haddad: I give my students weekly, scheduled quizzes. The material of the quiz consists of what we covered in the previous class and I specify which lecture slides students should study. After students hand in their quizzes, we go over the answers as a class. I provide the correct answers and also ask students what they wrote. There is more than one way to get full credit on some questions and students get to hear differing versions of correct answers. I feel that going over the answers and asking students to explain what they wrote is useful because students will reinforce their knowledge about the material and immediately clear up any potential misunderstandings. Students will also see what material will be important for upcoming exams.

    Kim Schanz: I include at least three media clips into every lecture as I feel it helps the students further understand the topics I’m discussing in terms of providing a talking point to explain the topics in a concrete, as opposed to theoretical, manner.  For example, in my class on adult development, we discussed what a “mid-life crisis” was, and while there is a stereotypical notion that most people know, I wanted to make sure the students understood what a “mid-life crisis” actually entailed.  I showed the extended trailer for the movie “This is 40,” which illustrated the main aspects of a “mid-life crisis”: unhappiness with your current life, a desire to change it, and actions towards changing your life as you see fit, despite what others think.

    Rita Obeid:  I teach a three hour class that usually covers one topic in Psychology (e.g., Social Psychology) so it tends to be a bombardment of information. While I do engage the students with discussions, activities, and videos, I decided to embed slides with true or false questions after every small section. The students seem to find this simple technique easy and it allows almost the whole class, even the silent students, to participate. It also seem to capture their interests again if they are starting to get tired and allows me to clear up common misconceptions that they may have missed during the lecture. I mostly like these questions because they’re easy to prep and students get very engaged and interested.

    Justina Oliveira: In my courses, I focus on helping students connect course content to daily experiences. To engage students in this process, they complete journal-entry assignments that consist of informal writing (one page) for which I pay attention to their ideas instead of grammar or structure. These seem most effective when requiring students to define the term/theory and then asking them to describe how either they or someone they know had a real experience related to that topic. This technique pushes students to be agents of learning as opposed to passive learners. If they link psychological terms with real examples, the importance of what they’re learning is made clear to them beyond the purposes of my classroom and they become more interested in the content.


  • 28 Oct 2014 10:34 PM | Francis Yannaco (Administrator)

    This post originally appeared on Noba Project's Noba Blog. Noba is an open and free online platform that provides a high-quality, flexibly structured psychology textbook resource for instructors and students everywhere.

    by Francis Yannaco

    One of the first projects I worked on as a student representative of APA Division 2 (Teaching of Psychology) was a summary of resources for teachers of psychology. We reviewed some of the best books on teaching with tech and some great online archives of psychological teaching resources. The information in the books was helpful, plentiful, relevant, and up-to-date. There was only one small problem with the resources for us: we had just a few weeks to read and review them and the process of accessing them too would take just a few weeks through library loan. Altogether, the dozens of books would cost thousands of dollars through a store and would then only be accessible by a single reader at a time. The solution to this problem came in the form of eBook copies available on my university’s online library system, which has a good-sized catalog of all types of texts – except student textbooks. This shortcoming caught my interest as a student who always avoided the bookstore.

    Like me, many students are opting out of the bookstore shopping-spree. A recent poll found that 65% of students have skipped the purchase of a book because of the cost (US PIRGF Education Fund, As an undergraduate, I settled for earlier-edition copies ($3-4 shipped) or I downloaded the PDF of the text from a popular India-based student message board (many students in India are also unable to afford the texts). Now as a graduate student, almost all of the required texts are freely accessible from the library’s Online Research Databases. To complete the circle, I am now in the role of teacher and once again concerned about textbook costs, this time for my students. Will the cost of my textbook choice burden students’ family budgets? Will some fail my course because of it? With libraries offering only hardcopies, what are the alternatives for access?

    The problem: too many students need access to too many expensive books simultaneously. The current solution is to make every single student pay huge individual costs. We can look to how education handles a similar problem to see an alternative approach. When academic journals went electronic, academic researchers needed to access many expensive books, journals, and articles simultaneously. The solution was simple and effective: institutions pooled together resources to pay for shared access to the Online Research Databases I mentioned earlier. If you are not completely familiar with them, they are essentially online libraries full of donated works written by the very academics who access them. What a fantastically eloquent solution. Why not apply it to textbooks?

    Unfortunately, Online Research Databases are obscenely expensive, despite providing access to works they do not own and despite the fact that they do not compensate the authors of those works. The catch in Online Research Databases is that they only become economically feasible when academia comes to a shared agreement to pool its resources together to access them. This philanthropic approach to solving problems is the essence of academia; it is what brings art to the streets, what saves lives in the emergency room, and what will provide open, free textbooks to the students of the world. The solution to academia’s textbook crisis is academia.

    Stewart Brand coined the now-famous slogan of open source advocates: “information wants to be free.” In the software world, the concept is still revolutionary, but for academics, the phrase borders on trite. The academic community lives by a very simple task: to record and share information with the world. It is time for academia to start living up to this purpose in the classroom, starting with a catalog of comprehensive open textbooks for every course. The modern textbook model demands that those with the least contribute the most to a system that privatizes public information and sells it back to the academic workers responsible for producing it. If information really does want to be free, then the current textbook model is a prison. Academic psychology needs to quit its job as warden and become an information advocate, starting with projects like Noba and Wikibooks.

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