The Poorvu Center’s Pedagogical Partners Program creates a dialogue about teaching and learning through a semester-long partnership between an undergraduate student and an instructor in Yale College in which the student acts as a pedagogical consultant in a course the instructor is teaching. Poorvu piloted this program with two partnerships in Spring 2020 and significantly increased the size of the program in Fall 2020 with nine partnerships. The Spring 2021 program will continue the successful launch of the program with a similar size cohort to the Fall 2020 partnerships.
Benefits of the Program
The program is modeled on precedents at other institutions, especially the work of Alison Cook-Sather at Bryn Mawr, designed to benefit both instructor and student. By offering a structure for observation and student-instructor discussions, these partnerships create a beneficial perspective that the instructor may not otherwise have throughout the term. Students, in turn, benefit from a deeper understanding of pedagogical approaches for a given course that they may not have taken otherwise.
The program consists of the following components:
an orientation meeting for partners at the beginning of the semester to meet each other and learn about the course being taught and the program logistics
student observation of each class session the instructor teaches
regular meetings between instructor and student to reflect on the teaching and learning
periodic community sessions (typically two) with Poorvu staff to gauge how the partnership is going and share feedback on the program
The Instructor Experience
Instructors have the opportunity to gain insight into the student learning experience in their course with weekly, real time feedback from the student partner’s observation of their course. To help create a space for supportive, non-evaluative reflection, student partners are not enrolled in the class and can focus their observations solely on the learning experience and not their own performance in the class. Instructors have shared that this dynamic is freeing and leads to insightful conversations about their planning, instruction, and assessment. Ultimately, the partnership provides a consistent pathway throughout the semester for reflective conversation about the teaching and learning experience.
Instructors have shared the following feedback about their experience:
- “It gives you new insights into your own teaching and what you value since you have to give voice to it.”
- “… It will make your teaching better and will open a channel to your students to understand what they need, how they’re doing, what’s working and what’s not working is worthwhile.”
- “I was reluctant to join the program because it is one more thing [to have to do]… we all want to improve our teaching. We know what’s good for us. But here’s an opportunity - if you do sign up for this - that’s where we can help continue the program. If you do want to improve your teaching, sign up for this because it will work out.”
The Student Experience
The program empowers students to think more deeply about pedagogy and develop habits of reflection. Students have the opportunity to impact the teaching of courses for their peers and themselves during their time at Yale. Because sharing classroom observations with an instructor can be a new experience for many student partners, Poorvu fosters a structured and positive experience for students by assigning them a student mentor who has already been a partner in a previous semester. Students are in weekly contact with their mentor in addition to participating in the community sessions Poorvu hosts throughout the semester. This dual check-in model ensures individual and collective student concerns are addressed appropriately through active discussions.
Students have shared the following feedback about their experience:
“It made me think critically about teaching and learning. I was able to see the classroom from the perspective of the professor. It was super interesting.”
“I appreciated having the insight of how professors think about their courses without the pressure of being a student in class–both the structure of learning and assessment. I enjoyed being put in the position of the professor. It was eye-opening.”
“[Professors] want you to talk to them and to give them feedback. It’s something that I wish students would know and understand, especially students from minoritized communities. We don’t really know what it is to be in a space that’s very rigorous or what to do or say when we’re in trouble. A lot of my friends now want to apply.”
How to Get Involved