Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. As a blog team, we advocate for and promote inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in pedagogy (see updated GSTA Position Statement from the Steering Committee). At this critical juncture in history, we have declared our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and are motivated to use this platform to feature voices for change in the following areas as outlined by the GSTA:

  • Suggestions relating to decolonizing syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.

  • Tips on adopting anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.

  • Recommendations on creating inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination.

  • Strategies on discussing how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us  with students and colleagues.

  • Tips on engaging with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in classrooms, institutions, and communities.

  • Input on being compassionate and supportive to students, colleagues, and ourselves during these times.

We are also still committed to diversifying blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. Example topic areas include:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research

  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest

  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology

  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom

  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

  • We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

As we focus the spotlight on inclusion and non-discrimination, we will continue to provide  graduate students and faculty an outlet to share their experiences, ideas, and opinions regarding graduate students’ teaching practices.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf. If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at 

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 29 Sep 2015 10:02 AM | Anonymous

    By Kasey 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

    By Ralitsa Todorova

    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 | Anonymous

    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 | Anonymous

    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.

  • 23 Oct 2014 3:08 PM | Anonymous
    The GSTA is proud to announce the launching of a Book Club this semester. Here, we will explore notable works on the theory and practice of teaching.

    Our first book, Ambrose et al. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass ISBN: 978-0-470-48410-4, introduces readers to seven general principles of student learning that are grounded in learning theory and distilled from the research literature and experience. The discussion will begin on December 1st. Be sure to pick up your copy of our first book and join us with other beginner and veteran teachers by contributing you own insights and questions about the book on our blog (!

  • 22 Oct 2014 5:51 PM | Anonymous

    By Peri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY

    I study social routines as a framework to examine how children develop communicative skills in various contexts and cultures. In this blog, I will argue that routines are critical components for classroom practices in higher education, too. I will use the analogy of early joint activity to show how routines provide structure and promote a positive learning environment in which learning is made to stick.

    Routines such as getting dressed, pretend play, or joint picture book reading take place in the daily lives of young minds and provide vital contexts for learning to occur in a repetitive and structured, yet fun way. Children learn how their social world is organized, the words and tools experts use in relation to each context, and learn to become a member of their cultural community by participating in daily activities with others. Colleges are also communities of practices. Students come here to continue with the joy of learning to become competent leaders in their communities and future professions.

    Effective teaching starts with clear establishment of rules and procedures crucial to control and engage a crowd in larger lecture halls or to maintain reciprocal responsibilities and roles in smaller class room settings (Hilton, 1999; Schroeder, Stephens, & Williams, 2013). From day one the instructor has to make clear that students are expected to be respectful and will not disturb the learning process at any time.  For instance, a strict rule may apply to cell phone policy, not bursting in or out the room when someone else is presenting, or requiring students to read or complete certain assignments before coming to class. Learning-centered teaching involves that students come prepared to class and know that they have to repeat this to every class session. The same applies to cheating and plagiarism, and making sure that students know from day one that breaking rules for ethical misconduct has consequences. These classroom rules set the parameters for maintaining a learning experience without disruptions and dishonesty (tips for students you should also be aware of:

    Above and beyond these basic regulations for maintaining an ideal learning environment, there is a list of established routines psychology teachers can include into their teaching practices for learning to be more memorable. The easiest one is to start with greeting your students upon entering the classundefined a routine that might even increase student test scores (Weinstein, Laverghetta, Alexander, & Stewart, 2009).  Before you move on to a new class topic or lecture series, it is a good routine to ask students to a) summarize main points from the previous class session and to b) speculate about the upcoming class topic. This can be done as a short writing activity. The activity creates student reflection on past and future learning (metacognition). At the same time the speculation is meant to foster curiosity: It enhances recollection of past materials and excites students for new learning (Bonwell, 1991). Another great routine involves the establishment of ‘circle time’ , especially appropriate for lab classes (seating arrangement matters). Facing peers instead of their back provides students the opportunity to interact with each other and to narrate what they have learned. Because learning sticks if students understand what they have learned.


    “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, p. 3)


    The routines presented here are just a few quick and easy conventions to run a class but they also require that students understand the rational behind your established rituals in order to be involved and to become active learning partners. Effective teachers also know that routines or class rituals require time preparation and modifications depending on the class format (lab class vs. large lecture class) and task at hand. Routines establish a culture of practice necessary to acquire knowledge and develop new ones.


    You cannot teach an old dog new tricks but you can teach your students the routines of thinking to remember to remember to learn. And to repeat to think. In this sense, wishing you a happy routining.


    Bonwell, C. C. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Active learning workshops. Retrieved on October 11, 2014 from

    Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

    Hilton, J. L. (1999). Teaching large classes. In B. Perlman, L. I. McCann, & S. H. McFadden (Eds.). Lessons learned: Practical advice for the teaching of psychology. Washington, DC: Association for Psychological Science.

    Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18.

    Schroeder, J.L., Stephens, R., & Williams, K.L. (2013). Managing the large(r) classroom. Observer, 26(3). Retrieved on October 11, 2014 from

    Weinstein, L., Laverghetta, A., Alexander, R., & Stewart, M. (2009).Teacher greetings increase college students’ test scores. College Student Journal, 43(2). 452-453.

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