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Teaching Art History: A Handbook for TAs

Introduction 4


  • Before Classes Begin 5

Planning with the Professor 5

Meeting with Fellow TAs 6

Running Section and Establishing Guidelines 7

Attend TA Orientation at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) 9

Verify Your Funding Situation 9

  • The First Day: An Essential Checklist 10
  • Setting Up Your Classroom 12

The Room 12

Equipment and Technology 12

The Visual Resources Center (VRC) 13


  • Ways to Start Discussion 15

Weekly Strategies for Starting Section 15

Long-term Assignments 18

Keeping the Conversation Going 19

  • Grading 20

Before You Begin Grading 20

What if the Assignment is Not Properly Fulfilled? 20

The Grading Process 21

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Drafts 22

The Commenting Process 22

How Much Time? 23

Consultation and Collaboration 23

Peer Review 24

Grading Exams 24

Grading Grievances 25

  • Student Conferences 26

Office Hours 27

Required Student Conferences 27

Extensions 28

Grading Disputes 28

  • The Multicultural Classroom: Teaching with Respect 29
  • Dealing with Trouble Spots 31

The Silent Student 31

The Dominating Student 31

What if Your Section Bombs? 32

Academic Dishonesty 32

  • Academic Resources for Your Students 32


  • Giving an Art History Lecture 33

What to Lecture? 33

Preparation 33

The Practice 34

The Delivery 35

Afterwards 35

The “Mini” Lecture 35

The “Short Notice” or “Emergency” Lecture 36

  • Thinking about Museum Papers 36
  • Teaching Art History with Technology 37

CourseWork and Customized Course Websites 38

ARTstor 38

Digitizing Images 38

Digitizing Film Clips 38


  • Evaluations and Feedback 39
  • Documenting Your Teaching Skills 41

The Teaching Portfolio 41

Teaching Portfolio Format 41

Teaching Portfolio Resources 42

  • Teaching Opportunities 43

CTL Liaison/TA Mentor 43

CTL Consultants 43

  • Requirements, Registration, Responsibilities, and Funding 43

Art & Art History Department Teaching Requirements 43

Registration for TAs 43

Your Right to Choose 43

TA Responsibilities 44

Money Matters 44


  • Stanford’s Student Conduct Policy: The Fundamental Standard 45
  • Stanford’s Honor Code 45
  • Stanford’s Sexual Harassment Policy 46


  • Digital Resources 47
  • Printed Resources 47
  • Department Resources 47
  • University Resources 47

Appendix 49

  • Document 1: Section Guidelines Handout 49
  • Document 2: Section Guidelines Handout (Version 2) 50
  • Document 3: Guidelines for Writing Papers 52
  • Document 4: Guidelines for Writing Art History Papers 53
  • Document 5: Handout for Peer Review 54
  • Document 6: Comparative Reading Exercise 56
  • Document 7: Mid-quarter Evaluation Form 59


Teaching Art History: A Handbook for TAsis an important resource for graduate students in the Art & Art History Department. Developed by fellow students many years ago, this new version aims to update and enrich the archive of materials they first gathered, providing current and future TAs with the nuts and bolts of teaching art history and film studies in our department. In addition to facts and logistics, this handbook addresses the varied challenges of teaching the discipline, offering a set of strategies and methods for beginning and sustaining discussion around visual materials; creating assignments that provoke meaningful looking; mastering the technology of our trade; and simply teaching in the dark.

Teaching pedagogy may begin here in the pages of the Handbook, but learning about teaching should also be an open and ongoing dialogue among graduate students and faculty. By sharing knowledge about what works for you in the classroom and by encouraging one another to think about how we teach, the lessons of this text will gain nuance and vitality. You will find no right or wrong answers here. Instead, the Handbookpresents a compendium of teaching tactics that TAs in the Art & Art History Department have found worthwhile over the years. We encourage you to add to what we have begun. Please offer your suggestions for the next revision of this text.

Organized around a series of checklists, pro/con debates, overviews, and enumerations of strategies, we hope the Handbookwill both prompt your memory and offer new suggestions. While addressing the needs of the first-time TA, the Handbookis also designed to be a reference tool for the experienced TA who seeks a little guidance in a jam. As we suggest throughout, the best way to deal with most problems is a little preemptive strategizing, so we hope that you will read the Handbookin its entirety before your first teaching assignment. You will thus be able to quickly and easily turn to topics as they arise in your teaching. If this book does not provide the answer to your question, we hope it suggests where to go next.

Many of the issues covered in this text can be explored in more depth at Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Utilizing CTL’s library, seminars, and workshops should become a facet of your development as a teacher. This includes the Art & Art History Department’s CTL Liaison/TA Mentor who is available to you for ongoing conversations and will alert you to the many learning opportunities for teachers offered throughout the year at Stanford. By investing in the many resources available on campus, you will begin to refine a teaching philosophy of your own—a crucial component of the next step in your professional career.

We would like to acknowledge the many people who helped realize this project. Rachel Teagle and Rael Lewis, graduate students in the department several years ago, collaborated to create a thorough, valuable resource. More recently, Hsuan Tsen, CTL Liaison/TA Mentor in 2003-04, rescued a paper version of the old handbook and shared it with Annelise Madsen, the CTL Liaison/TA Mentor in 2006-08. Jill Davis has dedicated much time to and encouragement for this new handbook and deserves many thanks. Fellow grads Emily Brink, Rhonda Goodman, and Jamie Nisbet also contributed to the project. Mariatte Denman, Associate Director of Humanities at CTL, supported this effort from the beginning. And a TA Training Grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning secured its creation during the 2007-08 academic year.


Before Classes Begin

In the Art & Art History Department, we often do not know our teaching assignments until the quarter has already begun. The only remedy is to be persistent in voicing your choices. To make the best of this situation, take the initiative. If there is a chance that you will be TAing – look over the course schedule, even meet with the class professor to discuss the contingency of your teaching together. As your assignment takes shape, try to accomplish this checklist before classes begin:

  • Plan with the professor
  • Work on a timetable for papers and exams
  • Set section times and reserve a classroom
  • Determine a policy for over-enrollment
  • Discuss how grading will be handled
  • Set office hours
  • Get a photocopying account
  • Get a proxy card (especially film TAs)
  • Meet with fellow TAs
  • Consider your role as TA
  • Decide how your sections will run
  • Attend TA orientation at the Center for Teaching and learning (CTL)
  • Verify your funding situation

Planning with the Professor

Don’t wait for the professor to contact you! Demonstrating your initiative by scheduling a meeting might encourage the professor to help you get the TAship you want. Early conversations will help you clarify your role in the class, plan a trajectory for sections, and therefore make for a better quarter.

The below checklist outlines an ideal interaction between TA and professor. Your experience may encompass all of these aspects of preparation, or you might come into the class much later in the planning stages. In all cases, strive to have as much input as possible. It is best to try to meet with the professor before the end of the previous quarter when you can still have input on the syllabus. Remember that syllabi are often modified, so do not assume that it is too late to offer your contributions.

  • Write the definition together of the TA’s responsibilitiesfor the course. Make sure it is clear in the syllabus what is to happen in section, and why students need to attend. Be certain to include the percentage of their grade to be allotted to attendance and section participation.

  • Contribute to the overall class. Ask if you can set the agenda for at least some of the sections. If the representation of gender is your specialty – ask that one week’s section address this issue. Better yet, ask to give an in-class lecture. Lecturing is great practice, gives the professor a good idea of what you are capable of, and is great to include in your teaching portfolio. For more on this topic, seeGiving an Art History Lecture.

  • Work together on the class timetable. Set paper and exam dates at mutually agreeable times and well spaced for a reasonable grading turn-around time. If you are doing a peer review project it is essential to carefully work out logistics in advance.

  • Set the section schedulebefore the first day of class. It is much simpler to present the available section times at the first lecture than to try to work them out after the course is underway. Besides, students will typically ask about section times on the first day so that they know if the class fits their own schedule. There will always be someone with a conflict, and it can be frustrating and inconvenient for you to accommodate each of these students, case by case. It is better to offer an array of times (this usually includes teaching an evening section) and to have enrollment work on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • Determine together the lengthof sections—normal periods are fifty, sixty, or seventy-five minutes. The length of time you need really depends on what you hope to achieve in sections, but believe it or not, fifty minutes goes by really quickly.

TA Tip

Be sure that your sections are always on the same side of a lecture, so that you do not have to prepare new material for your second section. For example, in a Tuesday/Thursday morning lecture class, have your sections fall between Thursday evening and Monday night. Consult the Facilities Administrator for room availability. Plan to offer both day and evening options. (If there is more than one TA for the course, then coordinate accordingly.) Evening sections are the easiest to schedule. Early morning sections tend to attract go-getters. Room 103 is typically booked for seminars Monday-Thursday 1:00-5:00PM. After 2:00 p.m. on a Friday is basically a no-no.

  • Plan for contingencies. Get together a plan for over-enrollment. Who will be turned away and how will it be done? It is an onerous amount of work to teach and grade more than forty students. University guidelines specify two sections of twenty students each for a 50% TA appointment, but this is a guideline and real numbers do vary.

  • Discuss how gradingwill be conducted. It is best if you can walk into your first section with a breakdown of what each assignment and section will be worth in your students’ overall grade. Try to talk about how the professor will be involved in grading. Will he or she do any? How will grading disputes be handled? Who will write paper assignments? Exams? Ask if you can participate in formulating the assignments. The quarter will run much more smoothly if you have discussed these issues in advance.

  • Set your office hoursfor the quarter. Will you hold weekly hours or arrange student meetings by appointment only? If you hold weekly hours, decide if student meetings are first-come, first-serve, or if you will post a sign-up sheet for students, offering 15- or 20-minute timeslots. Talk to the professor about whether you can use his or her office for your own office hours. Otherwise, plan on using the lobby in Cummings or perhaps a coffeehouse elsewhere on campus. See also Student Conferences.

  • See Jill, our Student Services Administrator, for a TA photocopying accounton the grad lounge copier.

  • Especially important for film TAs, get a proxy cardfrom Green Library, enabling you to check out materials from the Media reserves for evening film screenings. You may pick up a proxy form at the Green Privileges desk (next to the Circulation desk).

  • Remind the professor before the quarter begins that each TA should receive complimentary copiesof the course books and readers. Even if he or she forgot to do so when ordering books, some kind of special arrangement should be made—you are not responsible for buying required course texts.

  • Set a weekly meetingtime with the professor. A standing appointment is a good way to ensure that everyone has the time they need to discuss student performance, problems, section materials, and planning. Usually, if you request the meetings, the professor will take this responsibility seriously.

Meeting with Fellow TAs

Classes like Art 1, 2, 3, and Film 4 often have multiple TAs. It is important to meet separately as TAs each week in addition to your joint meeting with the professor. Consulting each other first about section plans allows you and your fellow TAs more control over section content, and hopefully makes meetings with the professor more efficient. Work out together which aspects of section planning you will share, and how you will rotate responsibilities. Each week:

  • Will you each do your own preparation or will one of you present a section outline to the others?

  • Will one person pull basic slides (or digital images) for the whole group?

  • Will you all give weekly assignments? Is it fair to other sections if only some of the TAs require a weekly writing assignment? Will one TA write an assignment for every section?


The Benefits

The Downside

An easy way to keep track of attendance and participation.

Every week you need to respond to roughly 30 assignments (if students take the time to prepare, then you should comment.)

A weekly forum for you to respond to students and to set up follow-up meetings, if needed.

More potential for difficulties with late assignments.

An expanded version of the weekly assignment can serve as a way for students to “make up” missed sections, if the course requirements (i.e. you and the professor) allow it.

Assignments can get repetitive if you do not offer enough variety in format and content. Be sure that sections do not become a forum for students to simply repeat what they have already written.

Students are better prepared.

A weekly meetingwith fellow TAs provides a time to synchronize what is going on in all the different sections, to discuss difficulties, to share workload, and to review materials for the upcoming week. It is also nice to inform each other about the successes and failures of various discussion leading tactics. For more on this topic, see Ways to Start Discussion. At the very least, it is helpful to hear someone else’s take on the week’s reading. Hearing other opinions may give you good ideas or encourage you to experiment with different teaching techniques.

“I collaborated weekly with my fellow TAs in order to share ideas for sections. I cannot emphasize how beneficial this collaboration was for all of us. Thoughts and often heated and/or humorous conversations we had regarding readings and materials offered a variety of angles of approach, lending to more dynamic discussion sections. Obviously, with most group work, one gains a multitude of perspectives.” – Kiersten Jakobsen

Running Section and Establishing Guidelines

Consider your role as TA. Stanford’s Sexual Harassment Policy brings up a broader question that every TA will have to address: How involved do you want to become with your students? Because you may be only a few years older than your students, undergraduates may turn to you for advice in non-academic matters. Whether or not you feel comfortable in such a role, you should consider its implications.

  • Do you want to be perceived as an authority or as a friend, or somewhere in between?

  • What role will best serve your students?

  • Could other resources, such as friends, advisors, or various student services at Stanford, better or more appropriately address certain student concerns?

In short, you need to be constantly aware of the implications of your actions and decisions as a TA. For example, what does it mean to hold your office hours at a coffeehouse, rather than in the Cummings Building? For more on this topic, see The Official Story.

“Even if you are TAing a course outside your comfort zone, you can still be an authority figure in the classroom. Your core knowledge and skill set as an art historian will serve you well. Ask the professor for at least one extra reading each week as part of your own preparation. In section, don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know the answer to a student’s question. Work through the question as a class, if possible. Be sure to follow up on it after section and return to the issues at the next meeting.”

– Annelise Madsen

Establish a trajectory for sections as a whole. Of course, the best planning is always subject to modification, especially in teaching, where flexibility is a sign that a real teaching/learning transaction is taking place. But, this does not mean that your sections will not benefit from some serious planning on your part. Students appreciate the feeling that there is a point in coming to section, the feeling that you are working towards a specific goal.

What do you hope to achieve in section? With the professor, establish roughly what is to take place in sections. There are many different types of sections you could lead, and usually the best series of sections comprise some, or all, of the following approaches: toolbox, discussion, thematic, and review.

  • Toolbox. In Art 1, 2, or 3, or any Writing in the Major class, the first few weeks are usually spent building an art historical toolbox. Getting students to use specialized terms and training them in ways of looking are a necessary prerequisite before you can tackle larger issues in section and are absolutely essential before they set out to write papers.

  • Discussion. For some TAs, their principal goal is just to get students talking. To have students debate a topic is truly a great feat and what many consider to be a sign of success. Taking time for students to get to know each other and facilitating direct communication between individual students are good ways to set the stage for this type of discussion section.

  • Thematic. Thematic sections either give students time to work with issues that were brought up in lecture, or present new material that has not been covered in lecture but is relevant to the course. These sections can be the most exciting and the most difficult. Consider teaching at least a few sections of this type in your overall trajectory. Make it clear to the professor that you would like to teach something that is important to you and that is perhaps different from the viewpoint established in lecture.

  • Review. Most Stanford students, especially those from outside the humanities, expect that sections will be a review and clarification of lecture material. You must decide, along with the professor, how much review you will do in section. For example, will section be a time for students to discuss reading that is not addressed in lecture? Will it be a time to clarify terms that are used in lecture? Will it be a time to rehearse difficult concepts presented in lecture?

Think about atmosphere. It seems silly to say, but the way in which you conduct the class, the way you arrange the chairs, where you stand, and even what you wear affects how students will relate to you. Some TAs work hard to minimize difference between themselves and their students, while others think it important to establish themselves in the role of professor as opposed to confidant. Even though students will end up relating to you however they choose, it is important to respect the teaching process and to think through what you hope will happen before you go into your first section.

Think about time management. It is all too easy to over-extend yourself as a teacher. Too much accessibility, providing extra-curricular materials, extra help, or extra reading seems like what any teacher should strive for, but these things could also really complicate your life. Besides, helpfulness does not always equate with good teaching. Strive to be encouraging and enthusiastic, while keeping your own work in check. It is perfectly reasonable to turn down a request for reading a draft with the reason that you have your own papers that need writing.

TA Tip

Set aside one hour each day when you expect to reply to your students’ emails. You will receive many. Save them for the end of day (or beginning, if you so desire), and let your students know when they can expect a response.

“Don’t let yourself become overburdened with TA stuff: say no when there are too many students in a section, hold consistent office hours and make the students use them, too many outside appointments takes time away from your class preparation.” – Molly Hutton

Plan for any large or ongoing class projects. You should decide if you want weekly assignments or any large-scale projects to be a part of your section (such as peer review or a debate). It helps keep things clear if you can outline these requirements on the first day of class—or even better—distribute your own syllabus. See Ways to Start Discussionfor examples of ongoing assignments, and be sure to look at Teaching Art History with Technologyfor ideas about how to integrate digital resources into your classroom.

“After teaching the first time, I regret not initially laying out a draconian late papers policy.” – Jason Weems

Develop a Section Guidelines handout or a TA syllabus. Consider distilling the necessary aspects of your preparation and present it in written form to your students on the first day. It is useful to outline how you can be reached, important dates when projects will be due, and how section participation factors into their grade. If this has not all been established in the course syllabus, it is essential for you to provide this information in writing on the first day. See theAppendixfor sample Section Guidelines handouts. Consider including the following:

  • Your name
  • How you prefer to be contacted—email, phone, etc.
  • Dates of exams and when papers are due
  • How each assignment factors into a student’s grade
  • How participation factors into a student’s grade
  • Late paper policy
  • Describe any large or ongoing projects
  • Explain the details of weekly assignments, if applicable

Attend TA Orientation at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)

At the beginning of each quarter, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers a half-day TA orientation program. Plan to attend this event before your first teaching assignment. Orientations run every September, January, and April. Dates are scheduled well in advance. No registration is required. See for more information.

Verify Your Funding Situation

Be aware that your funding situation, and how you register for classes, changes while you are TAing. As a TA, you are on the University payroll and will receive bi-monthly checks. Be sure to find out when your checks will begin and remember that on payroll you are eligible for direct deposit at many banks. For more on this topic, seeRequirements, Registration, Responsibilities, and Funding.

The First Day: An Essential Checklist

In a ten week quarter, a lecture class section will meet on average eight times—that does not leave much time to get to know your students, for them to get to know one another, and for you to establish the all-important ground rules structuring both discussions and teaching policy. One cannot articulate too many times to students what is expected of them. This does not mean that you cannot modify your objectives as a class, but the first day represents your best opportunity to set the standard for late papers, absenteeism, and other problems before they arise. In a sense, you are like a good host: You help people get acquainted, establish some house rules, and create an ambiance where everyone will be able to learn and have some fun.

Because the quarter is so short, and Stanford students shop around, it is best not to focus only on housekeeping on the first day. Including a read of a painting, a writing exercise, or a little background on the class material gives students a sense of what is to come and how they are expected to perform in section.

As nerves catch up with the best of us, we have organized this section in the form of a checklist, which we hope you will consider while planning your first class. Use the checklist to write your own script, or take this outline with you into the classroom.

Arrive early.

Have a written “script” or checklist in front of you, especially for the first time.

Introduce yourself.

  • Decide what you want students to know about you, your background, and how you came to teach this class. Do not undermine morale, or your authority, by telling them you were simply assigned to the class, or that you are taking architecture for the first time along with them. You do not need to assume the posture of expert, or novice, but instead establish that you will all be investigating the material together and tell them about your own particular interest in the class.

  • How and when can you be contacted? There are a variety of ways to make yourself available to students that match both their needs and your approach to teaching. Distribute a Section Guidelines handout or a TA syllabus, establishing procedures, due dates, participation requirements, and contact information.

Introduce the class.

  • Reiterate the professor’s goals for the class and what you hope will be achieved as a group during the quarter

  • Outline the role of section relative to the lectures: Will you be presenting new information, discussing the readings, working on writing or close reads, etc?

  • Describe your role as a TA, what the professor expects from you, and what in turn you expect of the students. It is important to make clear from the first day who is responsible for grading.

  • Enumerate, as best as you can, how students’ grades will be calculated; students will inevitably ask for an exact percentage breakdown. Use the professor’s syllabus or your own to review the assignment schedule with the students.

Outline what is expected of students.

  • Attendance—Establish what role attendance will play in their class grade.

  • Assignments—Let students know if weekly assignments will be a part of their section. At least notify them that they will be called upon to prepare additional work for some of the discussion sections.

  • Digital resources—If you will be using online resources such as CourseWork or ARTstor to communicate with students and to distribute course content, explain to them how to log in and use the website. For more on this topic, seeTeaching Art History with Technology.

  • Participation—Immediately establish a protocol for how students should interact in discussion.

Section Discussion

Raising Hands

Free for All

Tell students if you intend to call on people. You do not need to immediately implement this “cold call” policy, but it will create discomfort if you suddenly start calling on students in the fifth session.

Encourage students to talk to one another without your arbitration. Sometimes you will be stuck with silence (rarely do you have the happy situation of people interrupting one another), but this can facilitate students engaging one another rather than using you as the discussion yardstick. Get to know your students’ names quickly and use them in class so that everyone learns them as well.

Have students introduce themselves.

  • Use 3 x 5” cards so you can archive important information for grading and/or making a class email list. Have students write down:
    • Name
    • Email address
    • Phone number
    • Year
    • Background in art history or film studies (or in the humanities)
    • Their interest in the course
    • Any questions or concerns, or other information they think would be helpful for you to know

  • For good discussions, it is important for students to know each other’s names. Have them introduce themselves to the class. To facilitate introductions, or break the ice, try one of these tactics:
    • Ask students: What issue interests you in this class? (If discussion gets stuck some day and you have a good memory, you could resort to someone’s interest!)
    • Have pairs of students interview each other and report their findings to the class.
    • Classic Art 1 openers include: What art object do you have on your wall? What is your favorite artwork? What is the best or last museum you have visited?

“Learn students’ names the first day and use them. It makes a huge difference in how warmly they relate to you.” – Merrill Falkenberg

Engage students in a typical section exercise.

  • The most effective way to demonstrate what is expected of students is to give them an example on the first day of how sections will operate. Try one of these approaches:
    • Visual reading—Prepare a read of an artwork or better yet, engage the class in reading an artwork together. For classes like Art 1, this is a good way to give students an idea of what you expect from them in discussion. This exercise allows you to assess what experience the students have with art historical methodologies. For more advanced classes, it might be better to give your own prepared read of an object or theme pertinent to the class. This serves as a preview of the types of materials you will be engaging throughout the class, and the level at which you hope the section will perform.
    • Written description—Many TAs like to have students write on the first day. This exercise allows you to assess where students are coming from and lets everyone know from the beginning that this will be a class about looking and writing. Such an exercise is good for large classes, as you are sure to hear from everyone. It does not promote classroom interaction, however, unless you follow up individual writing assignments with a group discussion.

TA Tips

Start calling everybody by his or her name immediately. Have people say their name before talking, or use nameplates for the first section or two.

Have a plan in case you are over-enrolled and need to turn students away. See Before Classes Begin.

Check with the bookstore beforehand to see if all class materials are in; somebody is going to ask.

“Since each professor has a different way of using their TAs, the big task is assimilating the moving target of the professor’s personality and methods while trying to look competent and in control.” – A fellow TA Setting Up Your Classroom

The Room

Most sections are held in Room 103 or Art Gallery 7. If there are scheduling conflicts, then consider holding sections in AR4 or AR2. These classrooms can make discussion difficult, however, as there is no central table around which to gather.

Wherever you teach, you should carefully consider seating arrangements. For example, by arranging the chairs before the beginning of section, you can minimize the chances of students sitting entirely behind you. If you cannot see each of your students, it will be very difficult to maintain effective eye contact with everyone in the room, and quiet students may soon make it a habit of gravitating to the most distant location. Latecomers to section will often invisibly slide in behind you – another good reason to position chairs around and in front of you. It is also worthwhile to consider your own position in the room. Will you need access to the whiteboard? Will you be using your laptop? Do you always want to sit at the “position of power” at the head of the room?

Equipment and Technology

In preparing for your first section, you need to become comfortable and competent with the technical aspects of teaching art history or film. As you will not have someone running your projectors or assisting you on your laptop, you will have to deal with any technical problems that might arise.

Room 103 is equipped with a Smart Panel—a control panel that runs all of the electronic equipment in the room. This is housed in a locked multimedia cabinet (request a key from the Facilities Administrator). From the Smart Panel, you can power on and adjust the digital projector. You can also control the audio and video for the DVD/VHS deck and Laser Disc player from the panel. A Mac Mini is also available in the cabinet, loaded with Microsoft Office, Safari, and Firefox software. You can load PowerPoint files onto the Mac Mini via CD ROM or USB jump drives. Help sheets are posted on the cabinet doors for quick reference.

The cabinet also contains two Kodak slide projectors with remote control (left/right slide display). Please contact the VRC staff if you would like to learn how to use the projectors before the beginning of the quarter. Extra bulbs are located in the multimedia cabinet in case you need to replace the bulb at some point during your section. Please contact VRC staff if there are any issues with the projectors or bulbs so that the problem can be corrected before the next class begins. Laser pointers are available for check-out from the VRC.

Cables and adapters should be kept in the media cabinet in 103. Please return them after each use. If they are not there, please contact the Facilities Administrator.

Before you go into the classroom on the first day, be sure you know the answers to the following questions. You would be surprised how quickly students react to technical incompetence.

  • How do the slide projector remote and laser pointer work?
  • Where do you find the remote?
  • What do you do if a slide jams?
  • What if a slide will not drop?
  • What do you do if a slide label gets caught in the projector?
  • How do you replace a blown bulb?
  • What cable connects a Mac or PC to the Smart Panel?
  • Who do I call for multimedia cabinet equipment problems?
  • What if there is no audio or video from the projector? (See troubleshooting checklist posted on the cabinet door first before contacting support.)

As anyone who has TAed will confirm, the time to figure these things out is definitely not during a section. And with a little preemptive training, you will certainly be able to deal with most technical problems. Your primary resource is the department’s Academic Technology Specialist. Before your first section, ask him or her to show you how the equipment works and what to do if something does not work. Practice things through so that if something does go wrong in the heat of section, you will feel comfortable tackling it.

The Visual Resources Center (VRC)

Slide collection. The Visual Resources Center (VRC) is located in the basement of the Cummings Art Building, room AR3. The VRC houses over 300,000 slides. You are welcome to browse and pull slides for your lectures. No appointment is necessary, but if you are looking for special assistance from the VRC staff, you may wish to make an appointment.

Digital images. The VRC hosts an ImageBase, which contains over 34,000 digital images, at You can log into the ImageBase using your SUNet ID. Once you are logged in, you can choose a searching option or browse collections. Once you find the image that you need (make sure you have the largest size on your screen) just click & hold and then drag & drop onto your desktop, or right-click on the image to save it. You can also group and save images as an image set while you are browsing the collection. Your students will be able to access any image set that you create for study purposes.

The VRC can also create digital course study sets, which should be arranged by the professor for whom you are TAing. If you are interested in using image sets (username and password must be assigned) or would like to find out more about course study sets, contact VRC staff.

Please note that the Visual Resource Center's ImageBase is for educational and scholarly use only. For more information, please see Stanford's Fair Use site ( and the Provost's Copyright Reminder (PDF found on Stanford’s Fair Use site). If you have questions about image use, please contact the VRC.

Requesting new digital scans or slides. If you would like slides or digital scans made for a section, you will need to give VRC staff at least two weeks notice. You should therefore anticipate as best as you can any images you might want to use in section well in advance. If you have more last-minute needs, you can scan your own images in the Art & Architecture Library; see the sign-up sheet at the Circulation desk to reserve time for a scanning station. You can also shoot your own slides on the easily operated Bravo machine housed in the Art & Architecture Library. Contact library staff if you would like to use it. Additionally, you can bring your own camera and reserve the copystand in the library’s basement. All appointments for copystand use must be made through the VRC. All users must be trained by VRC staff before use. You must provide your own film, which can be developed at Keeble and Shuchat, located on California Avenue in Palo Alto.

Please do not hesitate to contact VRC staff about any questions pertaining to the collection. If you need any other audio-visual equipment for a section, this is arranged through the Facilities Administrator in the Art & Art History Department office, but must be done well ahead of time.


Ways to Start Discussion

In the spirit of this guide being used as a source book, we have compiled a list of strategies for generating discussion. Of course, the efficacy of each strategy is by no means guaranteed—the usefulness of any or all these ideas depends upon your teaching style, your goals for the class, and what students are willing to try. Most of these strategies could be approached in a number of ways, as in-class exercises, small group projects, or assignments. For ongoing or quarter-long assignments, skip to the end of the list.

Before classes begin, decide how, or if, assignments will be an ongoing part of your section. Weekly assignments provide a forum for communication unlike any you can achieve in the classroom, but require a significantly larger time investment from you as the TA. Your weekly response enables you to comment on your students’ writing and their performance in general. For instance, your comments could urge a quiet student to contribute his or her written ideas to discussion. Assignments also signal to you who might be having trouble before they turn in their first paper or exam. As a weekly feature, however, writing assignments—no matter how short—often devolve into a more harried project. Assignments are probably most effective when interspersed with other ways to begin class, including the methods below that do not require written preparation. Be sure to let your students know (preferably in writing) if advance preparation will be a regular part of your section.

Clear parameters are absolutely essential to making these strategies productive. If you decide to conduct these exercises in small groups, be sure that your groups are task-oriented. Vary the ways in which groups report their findings to the class. Break into groups and try:

  • Oral report from a group representative.
  • Give students a question to which results, or opinions, can be listed on the board.
  • Copy each group’s list of findings to distribute to the rest of the class.

It is important to consider the makeup of the groups. Pairing off (which often means students work with their friends) is one way to break into groups, but also consider dividing students by seating, or counting off into four or five groups.

Weekly Strategies for Starting Section

We encourage you to experiment with the following tactics. Build on the suggestions here by sharing with your fellow TAs how you begin class and how your students respond.

Begin by writing for a few minutes. This can be a very “loose” practice or geared as a kind of pop-quiz. Ask students:

  • A pointed question, “What was the main point of this article?”
  • To use the vocabulary developed in section to describe the image provided.
  • “How can this week’s reading be applied to this image?”
  • Simply respond in any way possible to the slide you have provided.

Bring in a current events article, event, or image and make it relevant to issues addressed in class.

“With small groups I decided to use a student-led model for each section. Two to three students signed up each week to ‘lead,’ which meant they were responsible for doing a close study of the week’s reading and presenting two to three salient questions to the class. I asked that they email me their questions two days before so that I could structure the discussion around their ideas. I found that this made students feel like they had a stake in the information presented in class and caused them to be more accountable for the readings.” – Emily Brink

Attempt to simply flow into any discussion already roaming around the tablewhen you walk in (obviously you need to enter the class rather late for this to work) and slowly gear it to the week’s tasks. Even if this approach does not result in a seamless union of American Idoland the intricacies of the gaze, it does help both establish a comfortable atmosphere for discussion, and shift the focus of attention away from you as a leader of discussion.

Have students debatehow images are documentary and how they are fictions. Assign a research project in which students bring to section a contemporaneous image (photocopied for the class) and be ready to discuss it relative to section artists, particularly as to how the image informs a reading of the artist or his/her work. If you are doing Jackson Pollock, tell them to look through old Lifemagazines; if it is Degas or Picasso, have them search for early photographs.

Integrate this week’s discussion within the context of the class as a whole. Ask the class (or smaller groups) to establish, “Why are we reading this? Why now?”� When only chunks of larger texts are assigned, it may be easier to ask students to relate the reading to an image and then ask, “Why are we reading this in relation to these images?”

“One useful assignment – although it may take up too much time for some TAs – is to reserve the first five minutes or so of each section to have the students write a formal description (not an interpretation) of a slide. The students then build up a short ‘journal’ over the quarter which the TA can collect – or not – at the end. This helps the students learn to look at and write about form, and if the slide is important for that day’s discussion, the students will probably have thought of something to say about it.”� – Michael Gaudio

To start a discussion about an abstract image, use a “looking assignment.” Such assignments help give you somewhere to begin in class. Ask students to bring to section, or spend the first five minutes compiling, a list of adjectives that a particular image evokes for them. Classifying the responses together on the board into groups (such as emotional, narrative, or formal) helps give insight into how abstraction generates meaning.

Ask students their opinions. Once you have established a rapport with your students, starting section can be a simple as asking their opinion of the course, or how they like this week’s lectures, readings, or a slide you have up.

“I favor open discussion and begin with whether people enjoyed the reading or not. I then ask why they liked it, or didn’t like it. Was it engaging? Did they have trouble understanding it? Were the ideas disagreeable? This serves as the starting point for our discussion and helps to create an atmosphere in which people’s disagreements and confusion are accepted as starting points rather than endings.” – Hsuan Tsen

Work from what students thought to be most important. As a brainstorming exercise, go around the table and ask students for a thought, image, or reference that they understood to be central, problematic, or exciting about the week’s reading. From this “data” you have collected, ask the class to formulate what ideas or premises underlie these passages as a group. Aim for a discussion of what connects the passages that people selected. Hopefully this will lead the students to what indeed was the focus of the reading and how it relates to slides and lecture material.

Prompt discussion with selected passages from the readings. A variation on the above tactic is to assign students to select illustrative quotations from the text for the group’s attention. Specify the types of selections that are valid for discussion, such as:

  • Statements the student likes or dislikes
  • A passage that best illustrates the thesis
  • Sentences or paragraphs that are difficult to understand

Compare two readings of the same work of art. Have students read two essays (or two passages) that offer contrasting interpretations or employ different methods of analysis of a particular object. See the Appendixfor an example.

Engage students in the details. Focusing on a micro-level gives you a specific place to begin and helps establish a model for close reading. Conversely, you can begin by presenting a close read of an “illustrative quotation” and ask students to respond to your read. Ask them to think of what you exclude from your reading.

Prompt students to develop an argument with images. If the section has an established topic, ask students to pick three images (or thereabouts) from the week’s reading or lecture as the basis of an argument on the section topic.

“One of the most productive discussion sections I experienced revolved around a number of feminist essays from the 1970s and 80s. I offered the students two slides, revealing only the titles, not the artists. The slides were Morisot’s Young Woman at the Mirror(1880) and Manet’s Before the Mirror(1876). Requiring students to speak the language of the feminist essays we read that week, I asked that they take a position: which object was painted by a man and which by a woman? Their arguments were compelling, informed, and they enjoyed themselves tremendously.” – Kiersten Jakobsen

Ask students to write a manifesto. In a Modern Art class, writing manifestos provide another way for students to display understanding of the readings as well as to express their creativity. Students can present their ideas in discussion, but this is an exercise that ends to come across more successfully on paper.

Ask students to prepare questions in advance. Ask students to come to class prepared to ask (or when they arrive, ask them to write down) one or two questions for discussion. Specify the types of questions you want:

  • Open Ended—What did you think?
  • Factual—Abstract Expressionism or Color Field?
  • Clarifying—What is the author’s argument?
  • Connective or Relational—How does this work relate to the readings?

As a variation, give all the questions to a student to select ones for the group’s attention. (If you have a particularly quiet student who you can tell from his or her writing is well prepared, this is a nice way to work the student into the discussion).

Assign a student the role of minute taker. Each week, assign a student to keep minutes of class discussion. Begin class every week with a distribution and reading of the previous week’s minutes. If you want to return to particular issues, minutes provide a good way of tracking how, when, and where they emerge in reading and discussion. Begin by looking for the major themes of the previous week in the present reading or images. What has changed? What is staying the same?

“Don’t be afraid of silence – you have to give them time to reflect sometimes and formulate their answers. Not every moment of section has to be filled with discussion, and you don’t have to be a chatterbox.” – Susanna Sosa

Organize a debate. A pro-con debate requires organization and for the best results, student preparation outside of section meetings. They are a good way to make sure that students have a solid understanding of the issues at play. Preparation on your part helps solicit good results. Plan early if you intend to have a debate. Make it clear from your first meeting that the class will include an organized debate. Compile a list of possible debate topics and allow students to select which issue(s) they want to argue. To encourage participation, and as a gradable assignment, you could require a short (say 3-page) paper outlining their position to be turned before the debate.

“One way I have used a debate-like format was to assign a selection of images and asked the student to categorize the images according to issues raised in the reading. We were looking at Martha Rosler’s photography and I asked students how they would define such images. We aimed to end class with provisional definitions of documentary photography as opposed to pornography, and how it relates to art photography.” – Rachel Teagle

Present a reading of an image to one another. Break into groups, either working with a laptop or images from a common textbook, and have groups “present” images to one another. Ask them to either look at the image in formal terms, in connection to the reading, or how it exemplifies (or diverges) from lecture. You can have each group respond to each presentation.

Get students thinking about an image from a different point of view. Some issues are best approached through role-playing. Discussions of forces like the art market or asking students how they would approach issues or “see” particular images from within these roles can clarify the bigger picture for students. For instance, divide the class into dealers, bourgeoisie patrons, critics, and artists. Then put up an image and ask students to articulate how they see or understand the image. Ask them how they might market such an image, or if in fact they would want to. This type of exercise can work well even when impromptu.

Let students connect the dots. Instead of programming class discussion for the day, begin by simply showing all the slides you brought in—without explanation. You can augment your presentation by putting on the board vocabulary, or issues, you hope to discuss. Either present provocative juxtapositions or a sequence of individual images and ask the students to provide connective statements or just their reaction to the images as a group. This tactic lends itself to discussing artists’ projects, series, particular exhibitions, or books. The difficulty of this strategy is to avoid asking the students “what am I thinking,” but perhaps this is avoided by wearing the dilemma on your sleeve. Students may generate surprising associations that challenge you to focus the discussion in a direction you never expected.

See Teaching Art History with Technologyfor an explanation of digital discussion tools. Many TAs have fostered discussion outside of the classroom, for example, by requiring that students email the class list with questions that others in the section might wish to respond to or build upon.

Long-term Assignments

Position papersare a formal weekly response to the readings (or a question provided by the TA) to help focus discussion. This is a tried and true tactic that yields good class preparation and interaction. You can decide whether you want students to focus on summary or representing their interpretive position. Beware that it can be stifling to conversation when people arrive with opinions already firmly articulated. Position papers also mean a much larger workload for student and TA. Students often put a good deal of time into these presentations and deserve solid feedback from you for their efforts. Dividing the class into different groups that write each week, or integrating elective weeks “off” into the assignment, helps give everyone some breathing room. But again, all these choices must be predicated upon the classroom atmosphere you wish to foster.

“Students really seemed to like going to the study gallery to work from the objects. Our most successful writing assignment asked students to compare the interactions of image and text in an Indian miniature in the gallery and a Japanese painting (reproductions in their text, on reserve). This required a lot of extra work getting translations together, etc. but was definitely worth it.” – Melissa Abbe

Journals, if collected intermittently, are an alternative to the rigor of producing and grading position papers every week. They are an opportunity for you to monitor progress, and they also carry the advantage of being more informal, allowing students to more freely express confusion or dissatisfaction. That freedom also fosters a more earnest, or perhaps anecdotal, relation to the texts or images that may or may not be appropriate to the tone you want to establish in the classroom. You can mitigate this effect by requiring one paragraph summarizing each article and one paragraph devoted to the student’s response or opinion. While journals are reliable gauges of student interaction with the material, it is often difficult to translate journal thoughts into classroom discussion material. Asking students to respond in writing to their colleagues’ in-class observations is one way to integrate journal writing with discussion.

“Have discussions outside (e.g. around outdoor sculpture) where people aren’t pinned between the wall and table of Room 103 – that way the TA can move around more easily too, so people tend to direct discussion to other students, not straight to you.” – Erin Blake

Keeping the Conversation Going

Good listeningleads to good responses. If you do not understand what the student is getting at, ask them to clarify their position. Many TAs find these questions good for prompting students to articulate their position more clearly.

  • “Can you expand on that?”
  • “Along that same line, do you…?”
  • “Give us an example.”
  • “How is that illustrated in the text/image?”
  • “How does that relate to…?”

Paraphrasingstudent remarks helps you understand their position and allows you to crystallize and highlight their contribution within the context of the discussion. However, this can send mixed messages to students. It can appear that you do not understand a student’s comment and it also tends to focus attention on you as a leader, instead of emphasizing student interaction.

Drop a controversial statement. This will hopefully stimulate conversation, but it must be carried off from a devil’s advocate point of view, or some students might be offended by your “wild” opinions.

If you feel like you have hit a wall, backtrack and reformulate your questionsto progress from easy (yet not too easy) to more difficult. Begin, for instance, with observations and work towards theorizing or contextualizing an image.

Before jumping in, see if other students can answer a question posed by a peer. You must brave moments of silence! Or, ask the student if he or she perhaps can answer his or her own question. How would he or she attempt such an answer?

Periodically summarize. Whether it is the main argument of the text at hand, the key concepts in lecture, or the topics of discussion during the day’s section, take a moment to recap what you, as a class, have learned.

“For our ‘contextualism’ section in Introduction to Architecture, we broke the students into groups. Each group was a committee in charge of building a new structure on campus – one for ‘amateur athletes,’ one for women, one for the new architecture program, one as a memorial to Hewlett Packard. The committees had to decide where to put the building, what style to use, etc. Then groups presented their designs and were challenged by the other students. They had fun, were creative, and became much more aware of how architecture works practically, symbolically, and ideologically!” – Kristin Schwain


In CTL’s 1995 survey of Stanford TAs, 34% rated grading as the worst aspect of a teaching assistantship. Grading will be one of the most difficult jobs you encounter as a teacher, but it does not need to be one of the worst. A little prevention and preparation go a long way.

Before You Begin Grading

To make your grading more fair for your students and easier for yourself, begin the process long before you sit down to tackle a stack of student papers. Well before the first paper is due, it benefits your students and yourself to take a “preventative” approach, to clearly define your expectations for the assignment. Consider the issues that will matter most to you when you are grading. For example:

  • Do you expect students to research their topic or do you want them to stay out of the library?

  • Is the assignment primarily one of formal analysis, close reading, or historical research?

  • What kinds of resources should students consult? Primary sources? Secondary sources? Which online resources represent good archives and which should be avoided?

  • How do you want sources to be cited and papers to be illustrated?

  • Will you grade down for grammatical mistakes or for papers over or under the page limit?

Of course, your answers to these questions will be shaped by both the nature of the assignment and the instructor’s own expectations of the paper. As you will be the one grading, however, the responsibility ultimately lies with you to clearly articulate to your students how they will be evaluated. If you are clear about what you are looking for with even the most mundane details of their paper (page numbers, titles), you will likely get a better set of papers to read. And knowledge of your expectations will offer your students more control over their grades by enabling them to write something closer to what the assignment requires. As important as it is to define the assignment, you should also emphasize that there is not a single good way to address the topic, but rather, a range of possibilities, a range of “correctness.”

You can dedicate time in section to defining the assignment. Better yet, provide a handout. The written format (see the Appendixfor examples), has proven to be particularly effective in Art 1, 2 and 3 where students are often new to the task of writing about images or buildings. A handout is also a good place to state or restate your own “administrative policies.”� Distributing in writing the grade breakdown, deductions for late papers, etc. will be appreciated by students for its clarity and will also minimize the likelihood of many common kinds of grade grievances. It should also cut down on cases where students simply do not properly fulfill the assignment.

“Grades can only wither away in importance when they cease to be ambiguous and magical. The present system too often allows the student to feel them as judgments based on hidden criteria, judgments which he cannot understand and has little power over.” – Peter Elbow, Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching

What If the Assignment Is Not Properly Fulfilled?

Sometimes you will face the unfortunate situation where a student has not written the project you assigned, or they have not put much effort into their paper. As one TA recalled for us, “it looked like she turned in eight pages of random notes.”

  • When do you ask a student to rewrite?

  • How do you have the student redo the assignment?

  • Or, what if the student is not satisfied with his or her grade and asks you for some way to redress the situation?

There are some cut and dry situations when it is clear that students must be asked to produce a complete rewrite. For instance, a popular Art 1 paper assignment is to write on an advertisement that includes a work of art. If the student picks an ad without an art object, a significant quotient of the assignment is lost. In this situation it is valid, although difficult, to ask for a new paper. It is best, however, to require conferences to approve the ads well before the papers are due.

Rewrites are trickier. When drafts are not required as part of the writing assignment, many students are taken aback by the request to rewrite their paper. You must demonstrate a real concern for the student’s learning if you offer to meet with the student and discuss ways the paper can be improved. Of course, all this translates into more work for you, with respect to both guidance and additional grading. It is not always necessary to offer a rewrite. If it seems as if there was little or no effort put into the project, if the student did not seek your help previously, or if you are too pressed for time, it is your prerogative to simply give the student a poor grade. As a TA you must always balance your teacher role with your own work as a student.

The Grading Process

Most experienced graders agree that it is very beneficial to read all of the papers before commenting on, or grading, individual efforts. During this first reading you might stack the papers in rough order from strongest to weakest. During a second reading, make comments on individual papers (preferably in pencil). After this second reading, stack the papers more precisely according to their tentative grade. (Instead of marking grades on the papers themselves, keep track of tentative grades with post-it notes or on another sheet of paper.) Then evaluate the papers against one another and decide whether you have been consistent or not. This is particularly important for large classes, for there is a general tendency to be harder on the first papers we grade; as we go along, we generally become more forgiving. On a third complete reading, more cursory than the second, make final comments and assign final grades.

You may also need to consider how to evaluate work by first-year students alongside that of senior art history (or film) majors. It is therefore important to collect information about your students at the first section so you are not working off hunches. Some graders consider every paper absolutely equal, grading each effort by the same standard regardless of its author’s status. Other graders choose to differentiate somewhat between students in situations in which they feel grading could be particularly encouraging, motivating, or instructive. Of course, it is never acceptable to grade a student down because they talk too much in section or you dislike their haircut. See also The Multicultural Classroom.

TA Tip

Some graders tend to grade first assignments slightly more harshly (but not unfairly), as a means of motivating students and minimizing complacency.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach as long as you are clear to students that they will have ample opportunity to improve their grades with remaining assignments. Although this approach can be effective, some TAs are uncomfortable using grading so explicitly to motivate students.

“In my experience, the biggest danger when commenting on drafts is that one imperfectly articulates or, even worse, completely misses the major problem(s). This is especially a danger if, as is often the case, one is in a hurry and reading superficially. The result can be that the student turns in a ‘revision’ which may in fact contain a lot of changes but still not address the most serious problems of the draft. The grader can then be in a bind: A fair grade of the final product is likely to be perceived as grossly unfair by the student, who feels she was misled by the TA’s comments on their draft.” – Claude Reichard, Writing Pedagogy Consultant, Writing in the Major Program

The Advantages and Disadvantage of Drafts

In some cases, instructors will require students to turn in a draft. It is certainly worthwhile for you to provide in-depth comments on these first efforts. But drafts in particular also require you to carefully consider how to comment and how to frame your comments.

  • If you comment on a couple of problems in a paper, but recognize many others, will the student only attend to those you mention?

  • If you provide “answers” rather than “questions” in your comments, will the student simply incorporate your thoughts into their paper rather than further develop their own ideas?

In classes where drafts are not required, it is not uncommon to have a student or two ask you to read over a draft. Agreeing to do so, however, is not necessarily synonymous with “good teaching.”

  • If you comment upon one draft, should you offer to do the same for all of your other students?

  • Do you have time to read another entire set of papers?

  • Does agreeing to comment on a draft for one student give them an unfair advantage over other students, or are you simply rewarding their motivation?

To some extent, where you draw the line on drafts might depend on your sense of a student’s motivation: Are students simply trying to confirm whether they (already) have an “A” or are they genuinely uncertain or concerned about the state of their paper? A good compromise can be to simply meet with the student to discuss his or her ideas or the trajectory of the paper. You should certainly think beforehand about these issues, and if so inclined, announce in section whether you are open to reading drafts.

The Commenting Process

Commenting on papers, particularly first papers, is one of the best opportunities a TA has to instruct students outside of section. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when making comments:

  • A certain measure of empathy is helpful. Consider how you feel when a professor or a colleague criticizes your work and the impact these assessments can have. Before you demonstrate how much more you know than a student about their topic or make witty and cutting comments (no matter how witty or cutting), ask yourself whether it will help the student write a better art history paper the next time around.

  • Emphasize questions as much as answers. A useful and effective strategy is to phrase your comments in question form:
    • “What are you getting at here?”
    • “Is this what you really meant to say?”
    • “How does this statement relate to your thesis?”
    • “Have you considered the implications of your use of gendered language?”

  • Do not overlook the positive. It is often much easier to find a paper’s weaknesses than its strengths. Although you certainly do not have to heap praise on a B- appraisal of Norman Rockwell’s late work, it is important to include the positive with the negative. This can be as simple as highlighting (even just by large check marks) a paper’s most effective paragraphs or sentences. In addition, try to begin your final comments with something positive.

  • Attend to the big picture. Look for, and comment upon, global (macro) problems. Does the paper have a clear thesis? Are the first two pages connected with the arguments of the last three? Is the student’s reading of Gérôme’s The Bath, for example, effectively supported by specific formal evidence? When you go to write your comments at the end of the paper, concentrate on the large problems and limit yourself to the most critical of these (usually no more than three). The student will get much more from such focused commentary than a listing of everything wrong with the paper. Similarly, do not spend (waste) time editing an entire paper. If every third sentence is a run-on, mark the problem the first few times and then allude to it in your final comments. Over-editing can demoralize students.

  • Try to teach principles—something from which students can generalize. It does not do students much good to recognize a problem in one paper if they cannot take a principle with them and apply it to the next assignment.

“Begin with a worksheet in which you address validity of thesis statement; strength, clarity, and construction of argument; evidence in support of argument; use (and seamlessness) of primary and/or secondary sources; and, finally, style. This worksheet will not only help you move quickly and efficiently through each essay, it will also aid in consistency and depth of grading/criticism. Students will appreciate comments on integral facets of their essay writing and you will have a burgeoning archive of intelligently-formulated criticism from which to draw for future classes. If a student wishes to contest a grade, you need only turn to the detailed record of your critique. Voila!” – Kiersten Jakobsen

How Much Time?

Grading is always a time-consuming exercise and often takes longer than one thinks. Try to avoid situations where you have to decide grades because of a time crunch. Set aside sufficient time to read all the papers; a little time for reflection will undoubtedly leave you feeling better about the grading process.

Most TAs grade a ten-page paper in between forty-five minutes and one hour. You probably should not spend more than thirty or forty minutes on a five- or six-page paper. Although some TAs can effectively and fairly grade twenty papers in a row, this is a rare “talent;” be realistic and do not try and do too much in a single day. Some TAs spend slightly more time grading first papers, given that students are more likely to consider and integrate your comments in their work than they might their final paper in spring quarter. Finally, try to give roughly equal time to each paper. There is a natural tendency for poorer papers to suck us into devoting a disproportionate amount of time to them, with the better papers—which are more likely to be written by students who will be most open to and grateful for feedback—getting short shrift.

Consultation and Collaboration

You should always consult with the course instructor and other TAs about grading standards. Here are some strategies:

If you are not the only TA for a course it is imperative to discuss grading with the other TAs. Obviously, if you intend to give twelve “A” grades and another TA believes they have only one “A” paper, the grades need to be somehow equalized. It is very effective for TAs to exchange papers with one another, for example, each TA picking out three efforts, representing their “best,” “average,” and “worst,” and then discussing whether all of you are on the same page.

Although it is unlikely that an instructor will consent to read over all of your comments and papers, they are usually glad to read over a “best” and a “worst” and give you feedback on both your comments and grading. Particularly near the beginning of the quarter, professors generally appreciate the opportunity to get a sense of student understanding and aptitude. If the instructor does not bring it up, you can.

Do not overlook other resources. Talk to your peers to gain a sense of how they have graded during their TAships, or the typical length and nature of their comments. You can also turn to the CTL Liaison/TA Mentor. If a student’s writing exhibits severe mechanical problems, you might refer the student to CTL’s or the Writing Center’s numerous tutoring and mentoring programs, which develop writing, reading, and study skills. Another excellent resource is Claude Reichard, Director of the Writing in the Major Program (

For students whose first language is not English, El Centro Chicano’s Writing and Mentor Program is an excellent resource open to all students, but particularly developed for students of Hispanic backgrounds. You might also refer students to the English for Foreign Students Program, which offers formal classes run out of the Linguists Department. In either of such cases, you could also consider assigning such students two grades, one for content and one for form/writing. It helps morale to let them know that it is their mechanics—not their ideas—that need the most work.

Frequently, the professor will initiate some form of consultation and collaboration, if he or she does not, you should not be shy—grading is rarely most effective, especially for new teachers, when a solitary activity.

Peer Review

A rather different form of collaboration is to have students comment upon each other’s work. Some professors in our department use this practice for certain classes, such as Art 1, and you can also propose using peer evaluation to the instructor. Students turn in a draft of their papers to you, you block out the names (although some professors and TAs do peer reviews where paper-writers and commentators remain named), make copies (or have the students turn in two copies of their paper), and distribute randomly. You should certainly look over the drafts yourself. As with all assignments, this practice works most effectively when you clearly define what you want students to comment upon. The best way to maintain uniformity and clarity is to provide your students with a peer evaluation template to complete.

Students in general respond well to peer evaluation, tending to be less shameless about leaving their work littered with small errors if they know someone other than the instructor will see the work. Full attention to the task can be ensured by clearly stating that their paper comments will be evaluated by you and form part of their final grade and that they will be letting down their classmates by not properly commenting. Claude Reichard of the Writing in the Major Program has a detailed set of peer review guidelines that he will share with TAs. See the Appendixfor a sample guideline handed out to an Art 1 class.

“I always found having students grade each other’s work as a good idea. It was labor intensive, but they learned a lot from each other. By looking at their comments on each other’s work, I could see which of my ideas were sinking in.” – Elizabeth Hutchinson

Grading Exams

As with grading papers, a preemptive strategy also applies to exams. If you are going to be doing most or all of the grading, be clear to students beforehand as to what kinds of things will make for a good answer. In a slide comparison, for example, how important is original analysis, reference to course readings, or specific points made about the images in class or section? How are you approaching artist, name, and date issues? Whatever the case with your class, the students should clearly understand what you are looking for and what they can expect. Here again, this information can be distributed through a handout, in section, or in a review session. This last option can be particularly beneficial, for in addition to imparting to students what they need to study, it can also alleviate some students’ anxiety.

It is important to discuss grading standards with the professor and other TAs. It can be very helpful to ask the professor to outline what he or she feels are the key points or issues of the questions. You can also get together with the other TAs to formulate an outline. Although an outline or a checklist can be useful in grading exams, this is not to say that one should grade exams by rote scanning for a set of top ten elements such as authors, book titles, key words, etc. For example, a response to Velazquez’s Rokeby Venusmight mention the gaze and the glance, but is this mere name check or does the student demonstrate a genuine understanding of the terms as they were employed in the course?

“On exams, it’s easy to forget that the point is to grade retained information and synthesized thoughts, rather than the mode of expression – elegant prose on an exam is an unreasonable expectation for the average student.” – A fellow grad

When you get down to grading, take breaks as frequently as you must; avoid becoming complacent and mechanical. As with grading papers, it is a good idea to review all of the responses to gain a sense of range before assessing individual grades. If there are other TAs for the course, it can be very productive to grade together. At the very least, group grading offers more flexibility in dividing the questions and enables you to bounce student responses off the other graders. Whether you grade entire exams or just one question, you should try to grade “blind,” or explicitly grade another TA’s students, so that a student’s name does not influence your assessment.

TA Tip

Review Sections. On TA evaluations, students often single out review sections as a particularly valuable part of the course. But like any section, a certain amount of preparation and forethought will benefit everyone. The simplest sort of review is one where you tell students that you will address questions that they bring. It is definitely important to bring a representative box of slides or digital images to draw from. Such a question-and-answer session would also form one part of a review session. You might also bring in some sample questions such as slide comparisons, give the students a few minutes to write some points down, and then discuss their responses. It can also be instructive to get students to try to come up with their own exam questions.

Most TAs write very little on final exams, but usually write something. The amount of comments is often determined by the sheer number of exams you have to grade and when the grades are due. Many final exams, particularly in the spring quarter, will not be collected by students. By contrast, extensive midterm comments can both lead to better performances and save you time on the final exams; students will appreciate your effort to help them improve. Additionally, be sure to articulate that you would be glad to meet with students to review their exams and expand upon your comments. If many students are making similar kinds of mistakes, it can be helpful to distribute a sheet outlining the key problems with their exams and how they might improve their performance for the final. If many exams exhibit similar weakness, you might also assess whether you were clear enough to your students about your expectations and about how best to prepare for the exam.

Grading Grievances

Even with a preventive approach to grading, it is quite likely that during your TA career, a student will ask you to reevaluate a paper or exam. Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Ask students to leave the paper or exam in your graduate student mailbox and to state specifically what they found unfair about your grading. Give yourself time to read their work over carefully. It is ill advised to immediately meet with a student and attempt to recall why you gave them the grade you did.

  • If you offer to re-grade, do so with the provision that you can also lower the grade if you see fit.

  • If a student from another TA’s section approaches you about a grade, direct that student to his or her own TA or to the professor. Although you might consent to be a “second reader” of the paper if the student’s TA concurs, it is important for you to discuss the issue with the TA before discussing matters with the student.

  • Resolve grading grievances face-to-face rather than through emails or telephone calls. A face-to-face meeting as a better chance of becoming a more meaningful discussion of the student’s work.

  • In re-grading a paper or exam, it can be helpful to maintain a running commentary on a separate page. This should help you explain your thoughts to the student. For example, “Page 3, paragraph 4: You do not connect these formal observations of the Cézanne landscape with your ‘nature as domicile’ thesis.”� Make a copy of your notes for the student so that in the meeting, he or she can follow along.

  • Avoid becoming overly defensive. While one complaining student may simply want a better grade, another, particularly if he or she is asking for you to go over a midterm or first paper, may be genuinely concerned with improving for the future. If students are still not satisfied with your re-grading efforts, do not engage them in extended debates, simply inform them that they can appeal to the professor.

  • Maintain a paper trail. Keep records of your grading scale and the grades you gave. If you type your comments on your computer, do not delete the file at the end of the quarter. It is not unheard of for students to come to you two or three quarters after you gave them a grade.

Student Conferences

It is your job to mediate between students and the professor. This leads to some of the most rewarding, as well as the most frustrating, aspects of teaching a class. You are in the difficult position of both getting to know your students and clearly establishing your role as teacher and grader. Whenever you meet with students, remember that like it or not, a power structure underwrites your relationship. Setting a few guidelines for yourself will help you take care to draw a line between your role as friend and that of teacher.

Before you meet with students for the first time, think through the following issues:

  • The tone and settingyou establish for office hours will affect the type and quality of interaction you have with students. Many TAs have found venues like a patio or coffeehouse to be a congenial atmosphere for meetings. More substantive meetings benefit from a more private or formal setting better suited to discussing problems or assessing a student’s performance. It is difficult to chat over coffee and then explain a poor grade.

  • Introducing yourselfonce again at your first meeting clarifies for students what your role is as TA, or even what you do as a graduate student. For first year students in particular, your role as the professor’s intermediary can seem strange. Talking about yourself should both make your students more comfortable around you and help elicit them to talk personally for a while. Hearing about their interests, and hopefully their excitement for the class can be some of the most rewarding moments of your teaching experience.

  • When you begin discussing a student’s paper, or even propose a reading, be careful in how you frame your comments to the student. Generally, your intervention should revolve around establishing and clarifying a thesis: It is a good rule of thumb to focus with the student on formulating a strong thesis statement rather than on details. However, in discussing the student’s thesis, you can run into trouble by being too specific with your remarks. To minimize the possibility that a student will simply record your observations and rehearse them in their paper, phrase your suggestions as questions, or as possible areas to look into, thereby providing the student with a trajectory rather than answers. Of course, while you do not want to be too specific, make sure your comments are open, but not mysterious. You might select for extended discussion with a student an effective detail from his or her paper, such as particularly good analysis of the image that integrates well into the overall argument. Focusing on one such successful element or detail is an excellent way to provide a model to build upon for the student. Point out key areas of his or her argument, as well as details like structure or flow that could use attention.

  • Encourage students to visit the professoras well. Often this requires some encouragement from you to counter the intimidation factor. Help prepare students who are apprehensive by clarifying together a thesis, issue, or series of questions to discuss with the professor in advance of the meeting.

“One of the best things about teaching is contact with students outside the classroom – even after the quarter is over. It’s great to run into students and find out they’ve decided to major in Art History. I’ve also been asked for recommendations by students with whom I continue to have dialogues about art.” – Susanna Sosa

Office Hours

Consider how you plan to make yourself available to students. Fixed office hours, appointments made by email, and lingering after class are all ways to make yourself open to both casual and formalized conversations.

  • Email is an easy way to address student concerns whenever they arise, and unlike phone calls, has the added attraction of allowing you to think before responding. Of course, personal interaction is necessary to get to know your students.

  • If students are not coming to see you, remind them of your office hours in section or ask the professor to do so in lecture.

  • Some TAs like to make office hours immediately after their weekly TA meeting so they can use their office hours to prepare for class.

Office Hours

Formal Hours

Flexible Hours

Set hours each week guarantees your availability to students and ensures a private meeting.

But, there are often weeks when no students come.

Alternate office hours help you be productive, but must be done carefully so that students do not get the impression that you do not care about office hours. Consider:

Setting a regular time when you can be found in the library.

Using email to set up appointments.

Required Student Conferences

Mandatory meetings with your students before their first paper, or after a first draft or exam, are a great opportunity for you to better understand how your students are learning. Such a meeting also allows you to discuss with them what aspects of their work need improvement. Conferences can be equally productive with students who are doing well. It is a chance to push their work, direct their interest in the field, or simply get to know them better.

Conversely, some students resent mandatory meetings and work better on their own. Your grading commentary at the end of papers and exams provides a good place to solicit meetings with specific students. Criticisms or concerns that are difficult to explain, or seem too important to simply write down, should be addressed in person where you can express yourself best and give students the time they need to really understand what you are asking of them.

“Sometimes a private conversation with a student, whether in the hallway, in office hours, or by email, can do wonders for shaping the group dynamic in section.” – Jamie Nisbet


No matter what you spelled out at the beginning of the course regarding section policies, students will still ask you for extensions, or to forgive late papers. The best way to prevent getting entangled in the many problems late papers can create is to clearly define from the outset your policy—put it in writing and distribute it at the first section. Then be firm with students and follow through on your procedures. Alternatively, you can automatically refer all such requests to the professor. Of course, there are emergencies and health problems. Always use your best judgment in these situations, and feel free to consult the CTL Liaison/TA Mentor for advice. See The'Official Storyfor stipulations in the Honor Code.

Grading Disputes

Unfortunately, almost every TA will have to face a student who is upset or wants to challenge his or her grade. It is imperative to have thought about these situations before they happen and to have established a game plan, so that neither you nor the student gets hurt.

When students approach you for a re-grade or a grade challenge, never discuss the issue on the spot. Never get rushed into a decision. Be sure to:

  • Make an appointment for a later date.

  • Do not talk about a specific assignment, paper, or exam until they have returned their work to you and you have had time to review it—this is not re-grading, this is just remembering what you did. See Gradingfor more pointers.

“There’s nothing so rewarding as getting e-mail from students after the class, saying that they had gone to a museum and realized that indeed, they had learned a great deal from the course.” – De-nin Lee

The Multicultural Classroom: Teaching with Respect

While the Art & Art History Department offers courses that explicitly address multicultural themes and artists, the issues of race, gender, class, and how they intersect with artistic practice arise in almost every class. Often these topics spark the most interesting and engaged debates, as students come to see how images convey meaning. In lecture, the professor often manages the content of these debates. For the TA, thinking about the multicultural classroom means not just addressing the course material, but considering at a practical level how your classroom functions. You will be responsible for guiding debate in section, typically without knowledge of students’ own experiences or feelings about particular issues.

As we all know, managing discussion is never easy, and the feelings that often accompany these conversations only make it more difficult. It is hard enough to figure out your own place in the classroom structure, much less facilitate other’s participation. In their introduction to the essay collection Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Culture Studies, editors Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren emphasize that teachers working in multicultural fields must combine, “theory and practice in order to affirm and demonstrate pedagogical practices engaged in creating a new language, rupturing disciplinary boundaries, decentering authority, and rewriting the institutional and discursive borderlands in which politics becomes a condition for reasserting the relationship between agency, power, and struggle.”� Sure! No problem!

“I entered college acutely aware of class. When I received notice of my acceptance at Stanford University, the first question that was raised in my household was how I would pay for it … It only took me a short while to understand that class was more than just a question of money, that it shaped values, attitudes, social relations, and the biases that informed the way knowledge would be given and received.” – bell hooks

Sensitivity to your background as well as the varied lives of your students is the best way to begin any classroom investigation of multicultural themes. Some TAs choose to frame the class (or discussion) by “positioning” themselves, while others feel more comfortable integrating their opinions more subtly. Do not doubt, however, that students will pick up on your perspective.

Before you present your material to the class, try to imagine the consequences of the topic on individual members of the class.

  • Is there a particularly vociferous student whose opinions you might need to temper for the rest of the class?

  • Are the students complacent and in need of some shaking up?

  • Are there students who might be particularly affected by the discussion, especially someone who does not like to speak up?

Answering yes to any of these questions does not mean that the material should be deferred or avoided. Instead, it means that care should be taken in its presentation. Nothing is more effective than rallying students, and getting them involved and responsible for discussion. For instance, talk to some students before section and about what you have in mind and solicit their help in creatively provoking debate. Most often, creating a class environment sensitive to multiple voices depends upon your management strategies. There are some practical ways to cultivate discussion around multicultural topics in the classroom. They are simple, and simultaneously incredibly difficult to implement. “Remember,” says Vassar professor Gretchen Gerzina, “a recognition of difference is not a cause for anxiety.”

The rules are few but real.

  • Do not talk down to anybody.

  • Do not ask anybody to represent anyone else.

  • Notice if your syllabus or your analogies are only about you.
  • Do not be afraid to challenge students on their knowledge; you are the teacher.

  • Do not make assumptions about class, learning style, preparation, or background of your students based on how they look or act.

Multiculturalism means fostering situations that emphasize personal voice, cultivating conflict as a pedagogical tool, and remaining aware of difference in the classroom.

“Sometimes as a TA, you don’t really know how what you say sounds to another student. And you don’t want to alienate a student (or students) by appearing to side with a student whose comments mirror your personal opinion, particularly when discussing controversial topics. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum, but a TA must always remember to stay above the issues.” – Rhonda Goodman

Changes in discussion format, small group activities, calling on people, and writing and reading aloud, are all ways of making voices heard while quieting other voices that tend to dominate. See Ways to Start Discussionfor a number of tactics that foster discussion. Paper comments and student conferences are forums where you can encourage reticent students to speak up, or request the assistance of a more talkative student to elicit conversation from the entire class. Extend this attention to the classroom by watching for cues between students during discussion. Be on the lookout for eye contact, leaning forward in the chair, and other subtle cues that a student wants to participate in discussion but might need an opening from you. These kinds of personal connection go a long way towards making the classroom feel open. It also has the important benefit of making academic life seem more personal and plausible for students who do not come from a background where academic involvement is a regular feature.

Experimentation is the only real way to create a space for all your students. Perhaps it is the best way that learning takes place. Do not shy away from being very self-conscious about pedagogical issues in class. Why not investigate together how discussion and debates promote or challenge traditional ways of learning? Ask students which approaches make them more comfortable, and investigate as a class what that might mean. This self-conscious approach is especially helpful if a racist or sexist comment does erupt in the classroom. Deal with the situation by asking the student to repeat the comment—and to take responsibility for it. One could then ask the student why she or he holds that assumption: “What does that mean?”

While these suggestions for experimentation may seem vague, they are well worth the effort. No one has a simple method for integrating multicultural concerns, but many teachers believe that real change will not come about until every professor and TA recognize classroom diversity as a regular aspect of their pedagogical practice.

“I had a student who had a hard time writing about works and discussing comparisons in class. However, after doing a museum assignment that required him to sketch the object before writing, this student had a better understanding of the ideas of space and viewer-object interaction that we had been discussing in section. Sometimes giving students a different way to look at an object can be essential for showing them the stakes of being a critical viewer.”

– Emily Brink

Dealing with Trouble Spots

The Silent Student

As a TA at Stanford, it is very likely that you will encounter perennially silent students. What can you do? Many teachers recommend calling on everyone, while others find such a technique too harsh—it may also cause some student resentment. Some TAs find that by clearly stating and implementing a “cold call” policy at the first section, students expect it and accept it. If you suddenly act in this way midway through the term, however students may take offense or sense that something is “wrong” with their section.

Each student has his or her own reason for not speaking up. Often it is because they fear being “wrong,” a common anxiety among many students in discussion situations. One preemptive strategy, then, is to encourage students on the first day to speak up throughout the quarter about anything that is unclear or confusing—that there is no stupid question. In addition, try to emphasize that participation is important, particularly in art history, where we all struggle to articulate images with words. Encourage your quieter students with extensive feedback on papers and assure them, perhaps during office hours, that you are interested in their contributions.

Breaking students into small groups is another way to draw quieter students into discussion. You might even designate a quiet student to be a group’s spokesperson. In general, you will have more success with quiet students by varying section activities rather than sticking to a large group format every week. A lively debate can work wonders to free quieter students of their inhibitions. For other strategies, check out the Ways to Start Discussionsection.

TA Tip

Recognize that one section is often times better than the other. This tends to have more to do with group dynamics than with you. Or perhaps your second section typically runs more smoothly because you have learned from your first run through, adjusting your tactics for round two.

The Dominating Student

Another presence you will likely encounter in section are students who talk too much. At first, you may appreciate such vocalism, the way in which they conveniently fill every silence. But you may soon sense resentment, boredom, or apathy blooming elsewhere in the classroom—and you yourself may begin to wish certain voices were less present or absent altogether. Here are some possible strategies:

  • An immediate tactic is to wait for other handsto go up before deciding whom to call on (this assumes that you have a “hands-up” policy).

  • Recognize others: “Thanks for giving us all those ideas, Suzanne, let’s hear from others in the group now.”

  • Diplomacy. Rather than abruptly cutting off a talkative student—which could alienate you from the entire class—talk to the dominant student informally before or after section or during office hours. Express an appreciation for his or her enthusiasm and involvement in the class, while suggesting it would be helpful to you to allow more voices to be heard. One TA had great success by asking a talkative student to consider him- or herself a co-facilitator of discussion, keeping an eye on where conversation was moving. (Others caution against such a tactic.) In general, if you approach dominating students in a diplomatic manner, they will often respond positively to your suggestion.

  • Attend more carefully to groupings. For instance, assign dominant students alternative roles such as note-taker.

“Make sure one student doesn’t start to dominate discussion. Once that starts, it inevitably alienates the other students.” – Michael Gaudio

What If Your Section Bombs?

As a TA, you will quickly learn that every aspect of a section is not within your control. Every section has its own “personality,” and the same material, presented in a similar manner to two different sections, can have vastly different results. What can you do if your week’s first section bombs? Should you alter your lesson plan for the next section? Many TAs will do so. You might try:

  • Showing different slides.
  • Simplifying or complicating the section’s major argument or point.
  • Adding or eliminating group activity, or shifting the focus or trajectory altogether.

It can also be instructive, however—particularly if you are content with your lesson plan—to teach the same section in the same way, perhaps with a little fine-tuning. More success the second time around affords the opportunity to consider the differences between sections and what kinds of lesson plans and materials work best with a particular group. If, unfortunately, the section fails again, you might reflect on the material, and in particular, how you presented it—certainly discuss the situation with other TAs and with the course professor. Looking ahead, you might find that it is helpful to prepare slightly different material or approaches for your sections, especially if the dynamics in each section contrast sharply.

Academic Dishonesty

If you suspect that one of your students has cheated or committed an act of academic dishonesty, talk to the course professor and contact the Office of Judicial Affairs ( before approaching the student directly. Should you feel that the incident requires review by Judicial Affairs, it is important that you document the case. Keep a file of the paper or assignment in question, syllabus, email correspondence, and other supporting evidence. See also Stanford’s Honor Code.

Academic Resources for Your Students

There are many resources available on campus to assist undergraduates with the challenges of coursework. In addition to your own role in helping students learn, you may wish to encourage students to visit the Writing Center, schedule a tutoring appointment, meet with an Oral Communications Tutor, or work with a CTL Academic Coach. For further information, visit the Tutoring and Academic Support section of the Undergraduate Academic Life website ( See also Teaching Resourcesfor a list of departments and contacts.

If a student has a documented disability, he or she will typically approach you at the beginning of the quarter with a letter from the Student Disability Resource Center that addresses the particular exam or paper-writing accommodations required for the student. Visit for more information.


Giving an Art History Lecture

Even if you decide upon a museum career, it is very likely that you will spend many hours in the future preparing and delivering lectures. Besides being something to add to your resume and teaching portfolio, each lecture you give will provide you both with confidence and experience for conference presentations, job talks, and of course, teaching. It is therefore extremely advantageous to accept any opportunity to lecture—whether or not you enjoy speaking in public. You can certainly request that lecturing be a necessary part of the TA experience, and we recommend you do so. If it is not feasible for you to deliver a full lecture, you could still deliver a “mini” lecture or provide a reading of a painting or series of works within the professor’s presentation. (See the “mini” lecture section below.) In addition, consider actively pursuing lecturing opportunities beyond the class for which you are TAing. For example, if you have written a paper on a topic to be covered in an upcoming course, you might approach the instructor about the possibility of “guest lecturing.”

What to Lecture?

You should consult with the instructor as early as possible about your topic, the expected length of your lecture (some TAs are offered a full class period, others give “mini” thirty-minute lectures), and the date. Try to pick a subject that genuinely interests you, one for which you have a particular perspective or depth of knowledge that the professor might not have. Soon after your topic is finalized, you should form a rough idea of the images you will use. If you plan to use slides, check to see if the VRC has them. See Setting Up Your Classroom for more on how to request new slides. If you plan to use digital images, be sure that you can secure them via the VRC, ARTstor, or by scanning them yourself. Such preparation will alleviate any last minute panic and ensure that you have the images you need for your lecture.


In preparing your lecture, here are some questions to consider:

Who is your audience? Although there may be a temptation to display all the knowledge you have acquired in graduate school, undergraduates, especially freshman and sophomores, probably will not get much out of a discussion of Poussin and Lacan unless your terms are extremely well-explicated.

What is your opinion? Rather than merely presenting the facts, try to work your own ideas into the material. This generally makes for a more interesting lecture. A course lecture, however, is rarely the forum for discussion of methodology or historiography—sections provide a better place for such discussions. Students typically need to acquire key concepts, images, vocabulary, along with facts during lecture.

What is your topic? Consider defining your subject and several key concepts, tempered with some analysis of them. Lecturing is simply not a medium that can contain the detail or nuance of printed material. You might, for example, arrange your visual material around four or five central images that you will discuss in-depth.

How to begin? How to end? Leaping immediately into your topic may make your lecture difficult to follow and your audience may quickly turn off. Do not underestimate an introduction: you might outline your entire trajectory or simply highlight key issues. After presenting the body of your remarks, you may want to use a closing summary to restate key concepts. In short, repetition in lecturing is desirable in ways that it is not in texts designed to be read. The average audience “hears,” at best, two-thirds of what is being said. Make your main points emphatically and do not hesitate to restate them.

How will your lecture interact with the course as a whole? You should try to address, even briefly, how your topic and your approach to the material relate to the course. Is your approach substantially different from that of the professor? Could you set out your own methodology as one students might consider in writing their papers? Your audience will also appreciate it if you are explicit at the outset about logistical matters. For example, are you presenting (new) artists or images that they will be responsible for on the exam?

Delivery? Although some instructors prepare a fairly comprehensive version of what they plan to say, Stanford students will probably become restless in a completely scripted and read presentation. Instead, notes, in addition to images, should serve as the backbone of your talk. Depending on the topic and your teaching style, during your lecture, you might want to pose questions to students. This can draw the class into the presentation, but may not be appropriate in a larger class, where such a strategy can take up valuable time or draw you quickly off topic. Because this is one of your first lectures, you should do what you are most comfortable with, but try to be conscientious of drawing students into the material.

Should you script your presentation? As a general rule, it is better to over script than under script. You might want to include a certain amount of “choreography,” where you will depart from the text or move away from the podium to more closely discuss a particular image. You should also consider using a variety of fonts, type sizes, or boldface to help you keep track of where you are—colored markers or highlighters can also do the trick.

How will slides and text interact? Do you want the lights dimmed as you begin, or lowered after you have provided an introduction? Try to avoid putting your words in competition with images—as can happen particularly when you change images but then do not address the new images, or keep up an image after you have finished discussing it. In such situations, your text will surely lose the competition with the images, and in the process, you will lose your audience. Plan to put up new images only at the moment you intend to discuss them. In addition, consider carefully how to pace images throughout the lecture and how to make your points visually. One way to think through these issues is to begin planning your lecture by selecting and arranging your images. Then write a text that accords with the visual argument established by the images.

How long? A rough rule of thumb in estimating the length of talks is to allow two-and-a-half minutes per page of 12-point type, although if you are not reading your text, this time allotment should be increased. Do not underestimate the length of your presentation. If in practice your lecture lasts an hour, and you will have an hour to speak, consider trimming five or ten minutes. Inevitably, during your actual talk, things will take longer and if you feel rushed for time you will soon be speaking too quickly or skimming through your analysis of slides. By contrast, extra time can always be a forum to field questions—a forum you may want to allocate time for within your lecture.

TA Tip

Do not forget to consider the length of your image list. It is helpful to dedicate at the very least two minutes of “on-screen time” for every image, even if it is only an illustration of a point or two.

The Practice

Try to have your presentation ready a few days ahead of time and get fellow graduate students (such as your CTL Liaison/Mentor TA) to offer you honest feedback. Some TAs seek feedback through trial runs.

Be certain not only to read through your talk, but also to read it aloud, preferably with the images you will be using. This will not only make you more comfortable hearing your own voice for an extended period of time, but will also allow you to accurately time yourself. If you practice a lot and become familiar with the text, you will inevitably reduce the amount of actual reading you do from your script during the actual presentation. Do not, however, overdo the practice—you may have lost all enthusiasm for your script when it is time for the lecture itself.

Prepare a clear text. Remember to number your pages and clearly note in your text when you need to change images. Amply space and mark your text so that when you look up at the audience, or point to something in an image, you can comfortably return to your place on the page.

Practice in the actual room, if possible. In addition to running through your lecture, consider your presentation style. Where will you stand? Can you see the screen from behind the podium? (Very difficult in AR4.) In fine-tuning your lecture, you might consider including cues to leave the podium in order to describe the images from wherever you can better engage both images and students. If room access beforehand is not feasible, you can always contact the Facilities Administrator for an alternate room in which to practice.

The Delivery

Arrive well in advance. Allow ample time to become familiar and comfortable with the set-up for your lecture. Try out the microphone, the remote control (if using slides), your laptop connections (if digital), and the podium light. If you have time, run through your images to see that they are in the correct order. Becoming familiar with the site is also a good way to calm your nerves.

Do not overlook such “mechanical” matters as identifying the artist/title/date. This information can be written beforehand on the board, included in a PowerPoint presentation, or presented in a handout. Because your lecture is already a deviation from the accustomed lecture routine, such clarity is especially important. You can also use a handout or board list to emphasize key words or terms central to your presentation.

Keep track of time, but do not obsess. If you are falling terribly behind, it is probably not a good idea to speed up, but rather, edit yourself. Such self-editing can be facilitated by considering beforehand which parts of your talk, or which images, could be eliminated if absolutely necessary.

There is no single style that makes for a good lecture. Nevertheless, speaking crisply, projecting your voice, and varying your pace and tone will immediately engage an audience.


Ask the professor for an assessment, preferably written, of your lecture. At the very least, request that he or she comment on the technical aspects of your performance. This is an important component to feature in your teaching portfolio. See Documenting Your Teaching Skills. Also, be sure to record students’ reactions. In your course evaluation, you can use the slot for additional questions to ask students to assess your lecture.

The “Mini” Lecture

Quite often, TAs are asked to give partial lectures, about thirty minutes in length. Here are a few considerations specific to that situation:

  • Have your own digital presentation for your images or carousels for your slides. If you are presenting digitally, consider loading your presentation ahead of time on the professor’s laptop, or bringing a USB drive or CD to save time logistically during the lecture handoff.

  • Early on, decide with the professor who will lecture first. It is to your advantage to go first so that you do not have to worry about the instructor running over into your allotted time.

  • If you do go first, also be certain to establish beforehand who will be responsible for introductory or background material that day—especially if you and the instructor are lecturing on related or similar topics.

  • If you go second, and the professor’s lecture does substantially cut into your own talk’s time, you should not hesitate to request postponement of your presentation until the next class meeting.

The “Short-Notice” or “Emergency” Lecture

On occasion, an instructor may not be able to deliver a scheduled lecture and you may receive a last-minute phone call asking if you can take his or her place. Although your instincts may tell you that you do not have enough time, do not know the topic sufficiently, etc., we encourage you to say yes. In addition to doing the course a great service, you will gain more lecturing experience in an environment where nobody could expect a polished masterwork.

Here are some emergency tips:

  • If possible, ask the professor what he or she intended to discuss. Although in a last-minute lecture, you should not feel obligated to cover the same artists or issues, the professor’s thinking can be a good launching point.

  • Do not feel obliged to speak for the full class period. If you have only fifty minutes on the Abstract Expressionists, that is still better than none at all.

  • Go to the VRC or search the digital image databases early. Before you start scripting five pages on Utamaro’s late work, check that there are enough images to illustrate and support your text. It is probably better to spend your precious hours thinking through your ideas and writing your text rather than flipping through books and racing to the scanner. Tailor your presentation to the images available.

  • You can begin your lecture by telling the class that your preparation was last minute and that you appreciate their patience in advance for having to read so much of your text, etc. However, students will no doubt tune out if you begin by saying, “Sorry if this sucks…”� Act confidently in the classroom even if you are not feeling confident.

  • Since the professor will not be in the room to evaluate your presentation, ask the CTL Liaison/Mentor TA or other experienced TA to sit in.

Thinking about Museum Papers

It is very likely that each art history course you TA at Stanford will include at least one museum assignment or essay. Because our discipline is one of few that involves such “on-site” research—and such an assignment has the potential to generate considerable anxiety for students—it is worthwhile to think a little in advance about how to coordinate museum visits with paper writing. Some things to consider:

If possible, visit the museumwell in advance of the essay due-date. In meeting with students one-on-one or discussing the assignment in section, an early museum visit will enable you to speak more specifically, accurately, and confidently about the project.

An early museum visitis also an effective way to impart to your students the importance of actually visiting the museum as often as they can, and as early as they can, rather than relying upon reproductions, postcards, or second-hand oral testimonies from classmates. Indeed, with such assignments, your primary role as TA may often be to simply stress to students that the quality of their paper will depend absolutely on the quality of their encounter with the artwork(s). One effective way to encourage multiple trips to the site is to recommend to students that they write about works that are not found in reproduction or at the gift shop.

Particularly in introductory-level courses, students will often gravitate to external sources, such as art library resources, instead of first looking closely. Depending on the nature of the assignment and course, you may want to actively impart one professor’s assertion to “stay out of the library.”

Do not hesitate to supplement, especially in introductory courses, the essay assignment with your own page of questions or things to consider. If a few students appear unclear about what is expected of them—of what they are supposed to “do” at the museum—a list of things to look for, handed out and briefly discussed in section, will often provide the necessary confidence and stimulation.

It is often fruitful to dedicate fifteen minutes of a section reviewingthe first assignment in some fashion.

If possible, set parametersfor the assignment. For example, limit the students to a certain selection of works or a single room of works. A single room in particular has the added benefit of getting students to consider the museum itself and its display objects. Parameters also limit the number of works you have to closely study.

Teaching Art History with Technology

For the art history TA in the age of digital reproduction, web technologies serve three interrelated functions:

  • Organizational—An email class list, for example, provides an easy and effective way to be both consistently in touch with, and available to, your students.

  • Instructional—An online forum such as CourseWork can provide you and your students with a digital classroom. As TA (or in conjunction with the professor), you may decide to post section handouts, study lists, assignments, or presentations. The site may also serve as a forum where students can exchange ideas and opinions with one another and with you. Students, for example, could post weekly responses to course material, or continue discussions first begun in section.

  • Visual—Digital study sets are a great way for students to engage with course images throughout the quarter. Such a resource for your class can be developed with help from the VRC and posted on their website, organized by you in a PowerPoint file and posted on CourseWork, or customized via an online image database such as ARTstor.

In considering which of these strategies will best serve both your teaching and your students, you might ask yourself:

  • What do you want to accomplish with technological resources?

  • Will technology serve solely organizational purposes or do you want to generate another discussion forum?

  • Is this technology easily available to students and within your own level of expertise?

  • How will this technology interact with other components of both your teaching and the course? For example, will you require students to participate online? Is the digital resource a core component of your teaching method, or a principal communication touch point?

CourseWork and Customized Course Websites

CourseWorkis the online course management system most widely used on campus ( Easy to use, CourseWork offers:

  • Document posting for syllabi, course readings, slide presentations, etc.
  • Web links to online image resources
  • Discussion forum for class or section
  • Online assignment submission
  • Class and individual email lists
  • Student online grading and evaluation

Consult the Academic Technology Specialist for help on how to develop a CourseWork site for your class or section. Additionally, consult the CourseWork website for more information and instructions for getting started.

In some cases, a course requires a customized instructional websiteto supplement CourseWork’s functionality. Depending on requirements, campus servers provide web spaces for academic purposes. Contact the Academic Technology Specialist if you are interested in developing a website for more specific needs.


Providing both digital images and teaching tools, ARTstor is a valuable resource for TAs who want to teach digitally. According to their website: “ARTstor is a non-profit organization created by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of its ongoing effort to become a community resource, ARTstor is developing a rich digital library that will offer coherent collections of art images and descriptive information as well as the software tools to enable active use of the collections. The ARTstor Library's initial content includes approximately 500,000 images covering art, architecture and archeology. ARTstor's software tools support a wide range of pedagogical and research uses including: viewing and analyzing images through features such as zooming and panning, saving groups of images online for personal or shared uses, and creating and delivering presentations both online and offline. This community resource will be made available solely for educational and scholarly uses that are noncommercial in nature.”

For more information, contact the VRC or Stanford’s ARTstor administrator, Glen Worthey (, at Green Library’s Humanities Digital Information Service.

Digitizing Images

If you need to make digital images for your section, there are several options. Scanners are available in the Art & Architecture Library and in Meyer Library. You can also contact the Academic Technology Specialist for an appointment to use (and assistance with) the department’s scanning equipment. Further, visit the VRC to inquire whether they can digitize the needed images for you. Remember as well that the VRC has scanned thousands of images for course study sets and faculty lectures—the image you are looking for might already be available. See Setting Up Your Classroom.

Digitizing Film Clips

The Art & Art History Department is fully equipped to digitize film clips for use in lectures or sections. If you are TAing a film studies course, contact the Academic Technology Specialist for assistance.


Evaluations and Feedback

Teaching evaluations provide you with feedback, enabling you to gain a better sense of what you are doing well as a TA and what you might change or work on. Additionally, written evaluations such as the standard end-quarter evaluation and section observations by the professor can form part of your teaching portfolio later on—so do not misplace these documents once the quarter has ended. There are a number of different evaluation techniques available to you:

Teaching Assistant end-quarter evaluation. The official teaching evaluation system at Stanford is based on end-quarter student evaluations. Recently, the University implemented the use of online evaluations. Students complete the evaluation through Axess during the last two weeks of the quarter. Keep in mind:

  • You can maximize the quality and specificity of student responses by stressing to your section that their evaluations are confidential and that you are most interested in their specific written comments.

  • Remind your students several times to complete their evaluation. The Registrar’s Office will give students access to their grades two weeks early if they complete all their evaluations.

  • You will not have access to these evaluations until after grades are submitted.

Because the information from these end-quarter evaluations comes too late for you to make desirable changes and is often too general to indicate what improvements would be effective, TAs often administer a mid-quarter evaluation.

Your own evaluation. Many TAs administer a fairly informal mid-quarter evaluation by giving students a few minutes to simply write down what they like and dislike about section. Questions often include:

  • Which discussions went well and which did not?
  • Are the assignments helpful? What kind of assignments have you preferred?
  • How could section be improved?

See the Appendixfor a sample mid-term evaluation form.

Professorial visit to section. Some professors sit in on an occasional section meeting. Albeit nerve-wracking, it is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your skills in the classroom, which will hopefully come to mind when the professor records his or her evaluation of you at the end of the quarter. (Also consider asking the professor to write a separate evaluation of your teaching that you may include in your teaching portfolio.) It is difficult to prepare for such a visit since some professors see this as an opportunity to chat with students, while others try to act inconspicuous. We find it best to acknowledge the professor’s presence, explain that he or she is sitting in to see what you all are up to, and just go forward as normal. It is generally a good experience and is therefore recommended.

Online mid-quarter evaluation. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers two basic online evaluations that allow your students to anonymously and individually provide feedback about how your course is going. Online forms preserve class time, but often suffer from very low response rates, so encourage your students to participate and remind them of an upcoming deadline. At the end of the evaluation period, you will receive a spreadsheet with the verbatim, anonymous responses. CTL consultation is also available in order to help you interpret the feedback and put it to good use. To request an online evaluation, visit the CTL website at

Small group evaluation. A trained evaluator will come to your class during the last 20 minutes and, after you have left, divide your students into small groups. Each group comes to a consensus on what is contributing to their learning in the class, what needs improvement, and (optional) what students themselves can do to improve the course. The evaluator summarizes these responses, seeking to make them as specific as possible and to resolve or clarify contradictions among groups. The results are presented to you later in a private consultation. There are several benefits to such an evaluation. Because students actively discuss and debate their ideas, the process tends to focus student comments on high priority issues. And, students often feel more comfortable telling a neutral party what is good and bad about a section. Many TAs have found the resulting information to be unusually rich, specific, and readily translatable into productive course changes. CTL also provides you with a copy of the evaluation, which you can add to your teaching portfolio.

Mid-quarter Written Evaluations



Many experienced TAs recommend some kind of mid-quarter evaluation. This feedback enables you to make adjustments to your teaching, to shift focus according to student needs, and to gain a general sense of how students are responding to section and to the course as a whole.

As a new teacher, there is often a natural desire to “know how you are doing,” and to please your students. Although mid-quarter evaluations are often instructive, they can also lead TAs to make adjustments that may “make students happy” rather than helping them learn. Take measured steps in response to your evaluation feedback, versus making radical changes to your teaching.

DVD recording. Having a DVD recording of your class is an invaluable way to see what your teaching looks like to your students. You will find that watching the DVD gives you an ideal opportunity to analyze your teaching and decide whether you want to make any changes. Contact CTL at 723-1326 or at to set up a consultation, or visit their website at to fill out an online request (at least one week prior to your desired recording date). The DVD is yours to view on your own, with a colleague, or with one of CTL's professional consultants. For your convenience, CTL will keep a copy of your DVD for one year.

Once you have initiated a mid-quarter evaluation, there remains the more difficult task of deciding how to use the feedback you receive. Student evaluations, for example, can often be contradictory. Some TAs have found it profitable to go over their evaluations with the professor, who can then add his or her own commentary. If you work with one of CTL’s services, their staff will provide you with specific ways to respond to feedback. Their suggestions, as well as those provided by your students, will help you make adjustments in your teaching going forward. But it is also important to remember that you are a teaching assistant, yourself learning how to teach. You should feel empowered, all the while, to develop your own teaching style—one which you believe is most beneficial to your students.

TA Tip

Don’t discard your teaching materials. At the end of the quarter, organize your notes, section prep, assignments, evaluations, etc. This is a valuable archive for you in your own development as a teacher, and it is also an important resource for your peers who will TA for the department in the years to come.

Documenting Your Teaching Skills

The Teaching Portfolio

Displaying teaching effectiveness, especially on paper, is often a vague and difficult task. A teaching portfolio is one way to illustrate your teaching skills for future employers and a good way to assess your growth as teacher. Teaching portfolios are continually refined throughout your career, serving as evidence for teaching awards, hiring committees, and, eventually, tenure review.

Building upon the traditional practice of submitting evaluations and sample syllabi, a teaching portfolio offers a more nuanced way to provide evidence of the teaching/learning transaction at work in your classroom. Basically a teaching dossier, the portfolio is a selective compilation of samples of teaching performance. For a TA, it enables you to highlight your role in the learning process, whereas the course syllabus alone gives the professor’s vantage of the classroom, and evaluations give that of the students. A teaching portfolio can demonstrate what material students engaged in, how you implemented the learning process, how students’ work reflects what they learned, and how your efforts as a teacher met departmental standards. As an overall picture of the conditions of learning, the portfolio connects evaluations to the particulars of what was taught, to whom, and under what conditions.

So you have only TAed three classes so far? That is okay. Collecting and annotating evidence for your portfolio emphasizes your teaching effectiveness, even if it is not extensive. The key is to start collecting evidence early in the TA process. Think of the portfolio as a place to capture the thought and care that has gone into your teaching as of yet, and as a place to reflect on what you have learned and what you would do in the future.

The reflective aspect of the teaching portfolio is what makes it different from other ways of documenting your experience as a teacher. Syllabi, evaluations from students and other professors, and assignments, often annotated with description and explanation, reveal the thinking behind your teaching. This commentary on both your motives and the students’ responses helps evaluators appreciate the goals your class set and met. Even if as a TA you did not establish reading lists or section topics, it is important to stress the ways in which you shaped discussion and assignments, evaluated student work, and overall, contributed to the course.

Teaching Portfolio Format

A professional biography (a narrated resume) should begin your teaching portfolio. This outlines key stages in your development as a teacher and reflects your approach to the classroom as a learning environment.

The second section defines the context in which your teaching developed. Describe what Stanford and the Art & Art History Department expected in terms of teaching, research, and service. Here, combine departmental expectations as defined in this handbook, with the specificities of your experience, such as class size, student body makeup (was it an elective or required class), and a description of the types of classes the professor with whom you worked teaches. Here you might consider including any letters from professors that emphasize your ability to adapt to a special classroom format.

These two sections are then fleshed out with case studies of classes you taught, or other evidence of your effectiveness, like examples of mentoring other TAs.

TA Tip

CTL has determined that portfolio reviewers make up their minds about teachers after just a few examples. Therefore, you do not need multiple teaching experiences to prove your ability, but you do need to document your examples well.

Treat the portfolio as an opportunity to build a case history of your teaching abilities. Here is a short list of documentation for the evidentiary portion of your portfolio. Begin collecting such documents now:

  • Statements from professors you have worked with as a TA.

  • Statements from anyone who has observed your teaching, especially if you have had an official evaluation from CTL, or from other TAs in your department. See Evaluations and Feedback.

  • Student evaluations—mid-quarter evaluations are worth including, as you can explain how you addressed student concerns.

  • Documentation of teaching development work you have done within your department or with CTL.

  • Evidence from students that your teaching was effective. This could be:
    • A particularly good student paper or project.
    • Examples of grading (good or bad papers) and an explanation of your evaluation strategies.
    • Examples of students’ peer review assessments, guidelines you established for the exchange, and responses to the experience.
    • A CTL DVD of you at work in the classroom.

The portfolio also includes your teaching statement—a short reflection of your teaching philosophy and your theoretical and practical approaches to teaching and learning.

Teaching Portfolio Resources

Where to start? CTL offers a Teaching Portfolio Workshop comprised of two or more sessions. Participants in the workshop series consider the types of materials to include in a portfolio and a variety of ways to present these materials. CTL staff then help participants to write and get feedback on a teaching statement, a key component of the portfolio. A major goal of this series is for participants to produce portfolio materials. Time is devoted in each session to analysis and writing, and participants should expect to spend some time between sessions working on drafts. Visit CTL’s website ( for information on upcoming workshops.

Additionally, CTL has extensive resources detailing the philosophy behind teaching portfolios. They also have examples of successful portfolios, which can give you a sense of how you might like to organize your own. We encourage you to utilize their materials before compiling your portfolio.

Teaching Opportunities

Experienced TAs who are interested in advising other TAs and fostering a culture of learning in the department should consider participating formally in Stanford’s TA programs. There are at least two opportunities to do so:

CTL Liaison/TA Mentor

CTL Liaisons foster two-way communication between the Center for Teaching and Learning and their home departments by advertising relevant CTL programs and resources, partnering with CTL to customize teaching-related services, and promoting an energetic exchange of ideas. The position requires a brief orientation session, along with quarterly meetings at CTL, and provides modest remuneration (approximately $75) for the yearlong commitment. In the Art & Art History Department, the CTL Liaison is also the TA Mentor. In this role, he or she serves as a peer resource for current TAs. Additionally, the TA Mentor organizes quarterly events on teaching and learning in the department, partnering with CTL or inviting faculty, for instance, to initiate discussion on important issues for TAs. Each spring, the faculty accepts nominations for the CTL Liaison/TA Mentor position. To be eligible, you must have completed at least one TAship. Appointments are made by the faculty.

CTL Consultants

CTL Consultants are highly experienced TAs selected on the basis of outstanding teaching evaluations and interpersonal skills. After training, these graduate students may co-develop and offer workshops as well as provide peers with such CTL services as one-on-one teaching consultation, mid-quarter student evaluations, and classroom observation/analysis. If you are interested in the CTL Consultant position, talk to a faculty member or to the Student Services Administrator, and contact Mariatte Denman, Associate Director of Humanities at CTL ( to learn more. CTL appoints several CTL Consultants every year, but there is not one Consultant per department, as with Liaisons.

Requirements, Registration, Responsibilities, and Funding

Art & Art History Department Teaching Requirements

All graduate students participate in the department’s teaching program. Self-funded or students with prior MA degrees are required to serve at least three one-quarter assignments, at least one of which will be Art 1, 2, or 3, or Film 4. Students receiving financial aid serve at least four one-quarter assignments, at least one of which will be Art 1, 2, or 3, or Film 4. Summer teaching does not fulfill this requirement. If you are TAing a writing intensive class (“Writing in the Major”), you should be paid approximately $500 more for the quarter. Students typically TA twice during their second year, and twice during their third year.

Registration for TAs

When serving as a TA, unless you are already TGR, you will register for 10 units. The University will not allow TAs to register for more than 10 or less than 8 units except under exceptional circumstances (for instance, you are close to TGR and need fewer than 8 units). You should consult with your advisor and Jill, Student Services Administrator, to discuss what these 10 units will consist of—in addition to teaching, most students enroll in two other courses. If you are teaching Art 1, you must register for Teaching Praxis (ARTHIST 610) for 1-5 units, taking one or two additional classes. When TAing for any other class, you take two classes; you cannot enroll in the class you are taking (although you could arrange an independent study or directed reading with the instructor) and you cannot enroll in Praxis.

Your Right to Choose

If you wish to TA for a particular course or professor, you should be certain to clearly state this choice on the form distributed to upcoming TAs toward the end of the spring quarter. It is also appropriate to approach an instructor and make your preferences know to him or her. You should keep in mind, however, that Art 1, 2, 3 and Film 4 assignments take priority and will always be filled first. In addition, because student enrollment can only be estimated, TA assignments are always tentative until the quarter is underway. According to department administration, Art 1, 2, 3 and Film 4 TA assignments are relatively secure, but other assignments are enrollment-dependent. It is to your advantage to try to discover how many students are really committed to taking the class by the beginning of the second week. Because of the uncertainty about real enrollments, please be sure to report your numbers to Jill, Student Services Administrator, after each class meeting for the first two weeks, or until Jill confirms that your assignment is set.

TA Responsibilities

Variations in enrollment and faculty expectations inevitably dictate that some TAs will be asked to take on more students or responsibilities than others. There is no university-wide or school-wide policy on TA workload but a 50%-time TAship is understood to involve a commitment of about 20 hours per week (and 25%-time is 10 hours/week, etc.) It is assumed that faculty knows this and assigns tasks to their TAs accordingly. If you do feel overworked, raise the issue with the professor and determine how to reduce the workload or get additional help. For example, it is often possible to hire a grader. In certain cases, where you may be reluctant to approach faculty about the situation, or a faculty member could be unresponsive—you may wish to turn to the department’s administration or contact the office of the Dean of Research and Graduate Policy.

Money Matters

Remember that your first payroll check will not arrive until at least two weeks into the quarter (the 7th and 22nd of each month). For Writing in the Major classes, you will receive an additional stipend towards the end of the quarter. Also, be aware that due to fluctuations in class enrollment, your TAship, and consequently your funding, is subject to change until registration is completed. See Before Classes Begin.

Your TA assignment email will specify when you can expect your first check. The first paycheck for most TA assignments will arrive on the 22nd of the month, and you will be paid a total of six paychecks on the 7th and 22nd. Writing intensive supplements for Art 1 will be added to your direct deposit as a stipend.

If you are switched from a TA to a fellowship quarter, your stipend check can usually be ready in seventy-two hours (if you have direct deposit). Tuition payments will be settled when the department’s input reaches the Registrar’s computer. Multiple tuition bills are not a cause for concern—no late fees will be charged on any tuition that is paid by a department fellowship or TAship—even if department input arrives quite late in the quarter. Other fees, however, are your responsibility and late fees will be charged on ASSU fees if they are not paid by the deadline.


Stanford’s Student Conduct Policy:

The Fundamental Standard

The Fundamental Standard has set the standard of conduct for students at Stanford since 1896. It states:

Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as are demanded of good citizens. Failure to do this will be sufficient cause for removal from the University.

Actions, which have been found to be in violation of the Fundamental Standard, include physical assault, forgery (such as signing an instructor’s signature to a grade change card), and sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct. There is no “ordinary” penalty that applies to violations of the Fundamental Standard; infractions have led to penalties from censure to expulsion. See the Office of Judicial Affairs website for more information ( judicialaffairs/guiding/fundamental.htm).

Stanford’s Honor Code

In 1921, after a seven-year campaign by the student body, the University formally adopted the first campus-wide honor system. Today, having undergone various modifications, the standard of academic conduct for Stanford students is as follows:

A. The Honor Code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively:

(1) That they will not give or receive aid in examinations; that they will not give or receive un-permitted aid in class work, in the preparation of reports, or in any other work that is to be used by the instructor as a basis of grading.

(2) That they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code.

B. The faculty for its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned above. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code.

C. While the faculty alone has the right and obligation to set academic requirements, the students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honorable academic work.

As a TA, it is important to be aware that actions that may have been commonplace at your undergraduate institution may be in conflict with the Stanford Honor Code. Here are two examples:

  • Proctoring—If you are asked to proctor a midterm or a final, under the Honor Code, after handing out the exam, you should leave the classroom. You can enter the room, perhaps once an hour, to answer any questions or inform students of time remaining.

  • Illnesses—If a student misses a week of classes and claims to be ill, it is inappropriate for either a TA or professor to require the student to provide a note from Vaden (in fact, Vaden will not furnish requests for notes). Under the Honor Code, you must respect the word and honor of your students.

Examples of conduct which have been regarded as being in violation of the Honor Code include copying from another’s exam or allowing another to copy from one’s own paper, plagiarism, representing as one’s own work the work of another, and giving or receiving un-permitted aid on a take-home exam.

In recent years, most student disciplinary cases have involved Honor Code violations; of those, the most frequent is plagiarism. What should you do if you suspect a student has plagiarized? Or what should you do if you discover two exams or papers that are particularly alike? Before raising your concerns with the student(s) in question, you need to first raise your concerns with the course instructor. It is ultimately his or her course and his or her decision as to what action should be taken. For the complete Honor Code text, see the Office of Judicial Affairs website ( guiding/honorcode.htm). See also Dealing with Trouble Spots.

Stanford’s Sexual Harassment Policy

Stanford University strives to provide a place of work and study free of sexual harassment, intimidation, or exploitation. Where sexual harassment is found to have occurred, the University will act to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and discipline and/or take other appropriate action against those responsible. All students, faculty and staff are subject to this policy.

For the complete Sexual Harassment Policy text, see the Office of Judicial Affairs website ( Copies of the University policy on Sexual Assault, which complements this sexual harassment policy, are also available on the website. If you think you have experienced sexual harassment, contact the Sexual Harassment Policy Office at


Digital Resources

Visit the CTL website ( for TA handouts, teaching tips, books on teaching, technology assistance, schedule of CTL events and workshops, and information about CTL services such as mid-quarter evaluations and DVD recordings.

Visit the College Art Association (CAA) website ( for career development resources, fellowship opportunities, cv guidelines for art historians, and more.

Humanities and Social Sciences Online (H-Net; offers a variety of resources on career opportunities, teaching, discussion forums and archives, and more.

Inquire about professional organizations specific to your field of study. Many maintain websites for members or offer email discussion lists. For example, historians of American Art can join the Amart Discussion List at Such disciplinary networks can be a great place to start discussions (or read threads) about teaching art history.

See also the subscription databases on the Library’s Databases webpage ( under “Art, Architecture and Design,” such as ARTstor (, Grove Art Online (, and Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA;

Printed Resources

In addition to CTL’s online resources, visit the Center for Teaching and Learning in Sweet Hall to browse CTL’s library. Further, consult sources such as:

Special issue of Art Journalentitled “Rethinking the Introductory Art Survey,” vol. 54 (Autumn 1995).

Brock Read, “Art History Without Slides,” Chronicle of Higher Education49, issue 20 (24 January 2003): 29-30.

Consult the Art Bulletinfor periodic State of the Field essays. Recent studies include John Davis, “The End of the American Century: Current Scholarship on the Art of the United States,” Art Bulletin85 (September 2003): 544-580; and Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan, “Japanese Art History 2001: The State and Stakes of Research,” Art Bulletin83 (March 2001): 105-122.

Familiarize yourself with writing guides for students—particularly helpful in Art 1, 2, 3, and Film 4—such as Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, 7th ed. (New York: Longman, 2003); Donna K. Reid, Thinking and Writing about Art History, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall), 2004; and Marilyn Wyman, Looking and Writing: A Guide for Art History Students(Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall), 2003.

Department Resources

Alongside this handbook, a teaching goal for the department is the development of an online TA Archive. This digital resource would provide TAs with sample handouts, outlines, notes, and strategies for section; grading guidelines; course syllabi; and other teaching templates. Creating such an archive will take the expertise, effort, and support of current graduate students. In the interest of maintaining a high level of teaching in the department, our collective knowledge and experiences as TAs would offer future TAs both practical materials for getting started and critical food for thought as they navigate their new role as teachers. If you are interested in helping to develop a TA Archive, please contact the CTL Liaison/TA Mentor.

University Resources

CTL Contact for Art History

Mariatte Denman

Associate Director for the Humanities

CTL Contact for Teaching with Technology

Jeremy Sabol

Academic Technology Specialist

Academic Coaching Program

Adina Glickman

Associate Director for Academic Support

CTL’s Free Tutoring Program

Amy Chambers

Tutor Coordinator

Oral Communication Program

Doree Allen

Program Director

Writing in the Major

Claude Reichard


Stanford Writing Center

Clyde Moneyhun


Athletic Academic Resource Center

Keiko Price

Undergraduate Academic Life

Academic Computing

Consulting and Multimedia Services (CAMS)

Meyer Library, 2nd Floor

Academic Technology Lab (for instructors)


Meyer Tech Desk


Career Development Center

Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research

Diversity and Access Office

Student Disability Resource Center

Office of the Omsbud

David Rasch

University Ombuds

Office of Judicial Affairs



Below you will find some sample documents that fellow TAs have used in past years. Consider these texts as points of reference—helpful models from which your own teaching can benefit. Instead of using any of them verbatim in your classroom, develop a personalized document that reflects your own voice, teaching style, and policies.

Document 1: Section Guidelines Handout

Teaching Assistant: Your Name

Please feel free to contact me whenever you have questions, concerns, or comments about the course. I’m here to help you throughout the quarter.

Office Hours:Mondays, 2:00-3:00pm (or by appointment), Cummings, Room 118 (sign-up sheet on the door)

Mailbox: Located in the faculty corridor of Cummings, labeled “LAST NAME.”


Section provides you with an opportunity to discuss in greater depth the issues and questions raised by each week’s lectures and reading assignments. The environment is friendly and non-competitive. We are here to think critically together—to ask questions, offer arguments, make mistakes, and take risks. Everyone should feel welcome to contribute. The best sections will be dynamic, inclusive conversations amongst your fellow classmates.

Ground Rules

Get to know your syllabus. You are responsible for all due dates and reading assignments. Look ahead, plan in advance, and mark your calendars. Late papers will be graded down. I will only grant extensions in extraordinary circumstances. I am wary of eleventh-hour requests.

Section attendance is mandatory. Class time is one hour each week. Arrive on time.

Active participation in discussion and completion of section-related readings and assignments make up 10% of your final grade for the course. Any section writing assignment is due at the beginning of section. Please print out all assignments and bring them to class (vs. emailing submissions). Late assignments will not be accepted, as the aim is to help prepare you for discussion. Your section participation grade will be determined with the following considerations in mind:

  • Preparation: Did you read the required material thoughtfully and critically? Did you come to section on time with questions to ask and thoughtful responses to offer?

  • Engagement: Do you direct questions to your fellow classmates, not just to the TA? Do your questions close the conversation or encourage further discussion? Are they thoughtful and relevant? Do you try to apply the material you have learned by making connections to previous discussions, readings, or lectures?

  • Courtesy: Do you listen when others are speaking? Are you considerate of opposing viewpoints? Do you contribute to an atmosphere of mutual respect?

Enthusiasm and curiosity are most important! Come prepared each week to look, listen, learn, and share.

Document 2: Section Guidelines Handout (Version 2)



Office Hours: DAY TIME


Section I meets DAY TIME

Section II meets DAY TIMEEdit

Both sections meet in LOCATION

Section RequirementsEdit

  1. Attendance. Productive, instructive class participation depends, before all other things, upon simply being present. Students will sign-in at the beginning of each section. Attendance will also factor into students’ final grades.

  1. Absences. Absences from section will generally be excused only in cases of personal illness and circumstances utterly out of the student’s control: death, being trapped on an unmoving BART/Caltrain, etc. All other requests for an excused absence require notice by email or in person one week before the expected absence.

  1. Participation. The purpose of discussion sections is multi-faceted. Discussion sections are fora where students may voice opinions, questions, criticisms, and other thoughts about the class and the art it surveys. The lecture component of Course Titlewill give students a new descriptive and critical vocabulary for thinking about art, but this new vocabulary must be usedin order to be mastered. Meaningful and active section participation can take shape in a number of ways:

  1. Questions.
  2. Insights/observations/critical thinking.
  3. Humor/conviviality/personality.

Please remember to bring the course reader to sectionin the weeks we read from it.

  1. Assignments. In additionto the writing and exam components of Course TitleI require students to prepare a set of three questionsrelated to a week’s readings, lectures, or the art discussed therein before section meets. The questions should demonstrate students’ critical attention to the texts and works of art at hand and are intended to organize and motivate our sections. They are to be emailed to me no later than Thursdays at midnight. Questions will not be graded or returned to you; they are meant solely as a means of generating good conversation about art and its history, but they willcount toward your grade in section.

  1. Please refer to the main syllabus for a description of Course Title’s writing and exam requirements.

  1. Grading. Teaching assistants at Stanford are responsible not only for assigning a grade for your section participation, but for your final grade as well. This means that Other TAand I will be grading your essays and exams under the supervision of Professor. The requirements of this course include two essay assignments and one final take-home exam. Because there are no ‘true and false’ answers to the kinds of questions posed here, our grading most take a number of subjective criteria into account. These include:

  1. Argumentation. What is the student’s claim? How rich is its conceptual breadth and rigor? How well is it executed?
  2. Visual Analysis. This will be the entire substance of the first paper. How closely has a student lookedat an object? How well has s/he translated this scrutiny into prose?
  3. Style/Rhetoric. Is the text easy to read and understand? How effectively does it communicate the views of its author?

Grading is a relationalpractice. This means that your essays are scored in relation to the essays of your peers. There will be absolutely no re-evaluation of final grades and no re-evaluation of paper or exam grades in the absence of demonstrably gross error on my part.

  1. Papers. Essays that deviate from the following format will be considered ‘late’ until the text has been reworked to fulfill these guidelines:

  1. Letter-sized paper with 1.25” left and right and 1” top and bottom margins.
  2. 12 pt. Times or Times New Roman font.
  3. Double-spaced.
  4. Paginated.
  5. Notations and bibliographies consistent with the Chicago Manual of Style.
  6. Named and dated.

Course Titleis a Writing in the Majorclass, which means that the course entails a large amount of writing and editing. The two writing projects are: a formal analysis of a work of art on the Stanford campus and a longer essay on an issue of representation. Each of these projects will require the composition of a first and final draft. Please refer to the main syllabus for their due dates.

  1. Office Hours. As noted above, my office hours are DAY, TIMEin PLACEor by appointment. All are encouraged to drop by with questions, concerns, criticisms, etc. Office hours are a great way for me to get to know you better, and the more I know about students’ majors, interests, and intellectual backgrounds the more I can tailor our discussion sections to meet their academic needs.

Document 3: Guidelines for Writing Papers

The task for this final paper is to formulate a timeline of inquiry or identify an issue, heretofore not addressed in your readings, which will lead to a more profound understanding of the issues we have been considering this quarter. First, post a theory, question, or argument. Then bring to bear supportive, appropriate evidence from a variety of sources, including visual, biographical, historical or literary material. The information may originally be others’, but the synthesis is to be your own. The successful formulation of the topic will require a grounding in facts and ideas, as well as intensive prolonged contemplation. Aim for around ten pages.

A few general points:

All generalizations, observations, opinions, etc. not your own are to be cited in footnotes or endnotes. Avoid quoting other authors when your own words will do just as well. Using other people’s ideas, phrases, and sentences without citation is plagiarism. If plagiarism is found, even a teeny-weeny bit, you will not get credit for the course.

Include a bibliography of all sources cited. You are expected to demonstrate reasonable familiarity with the literature applicable to your subject.

The paper will be judged according to the two-fold criteria of content, and, to a lesser degree, mechanics. Content includes the thoroughness, sophistication, and quality of thought demonstrated in the formulation and development of your argument. Mechanics include grammar, spelling, writing style, accuracy, proofreading, and proper footnote and bibliographic form (consult the Chicago Manual of Style). Not everyone can write elegantly, but everyone can and must write lucidly. You may find William Strunk’s Elements of Style(brief, witty, and trenchant) useful, perhaps even inspirational. Know the meaning—and spelling—of every word you use. Keep a dictionary at hand as you write. Leave generous margins for instructor’s comments.

Every instructor has quirks about what constitutes undesirable prose. Here are some of mine. Hated words and phrases: Artwork (nuance is that of small children scribbling or the graphics included in an advertising magazine), simplistic (not a more impressive polysyllabic version of ‘simple’), in terms of, in regard to (both journalese), and hopefully (an adverb that rarely modifies its verb but floats ambiguously in the sentence structure). Realize that every time you split an infinitive I will involuntarily wince. Writing like “Hopefully I will show that in terms of realism, the new Western vision brought about changes to deeply influence the more simplistic artworks the Japanese were accustomed to appreciating” is likely to produce dyspepsia.

Your guiding principle should be to recognize that there is a profound difference between the style and tone appropriate for scholarly writing, on the one hand, and forms used in everyday speech or the popular media on the other. Scholarly writing is not pompous writing, but clear, direct, muscular writing designed to serve as a vehicle to present ideas in a concise, understandable form.

Document 4: Guidelines for Writing Art History Papers

1. You must have a thesis. The basic concept of your paper, your argument, should be a specific insight, which you have proven with evidence drawn from your observations of the image. This thesis should be identifiable in the first paragraph of your paper. Generally your thesis will address the way that the image’s subject and form interact in order to determine the meaning(s) you have interpreted. Remember, a thesis must be debatable. If intelligent people (classmates who have done all the same readings, for example) could not disagree with your thesis, then it’s probably too obvious to be a good thesis.

2. Specific formal qualities of the image/object are the evidence, or the support, of your thesis. The terms of analysis we have been going over in section and which Feldman elaborates, are good ways of talking about issues like form, line, and color. Draw upon all the aspects of an image/object that we have discussed in class and the specific ways that they contribute to meaning. Saying that an image is dramatic, tense, dry, or slick is not enough. You must examine the image’s specific elements that create these impressions.

3. Be sure to go beyond formal description and analysis to a consideration of meaning. Just describing how the image looks, or writing a narrative of your experience, of looking at the image does not fulfill the assignment. Don’t over-describe. Your visual analysis, while central to the paper, must advance your argument and help prove your thesis. Visual evidence must be applied to your interpretation of the image’s meaning, not just exist as a list or catalog of visual tricks you are able to describe in the images.

4. Use illustrations. Your main or key work must be illustrated. Probably your first paper will only include the advertisement in question, but for this and future papers you might want to include comparisons. The first mention of each illustrated work should be followed by a parenthetical reference to its location in the paper. The title of the painting can be either underlined or italicized. For example: “In this paper I will argue that Rachel Teagle’s The Greatest Paper Ever(figure 1) is a poetic treatise on writing truly great Art History papers.”

5. Use your final paragraph to say something new. Let your reader know the paper is coming to an end, but don’t simply summarize your argument or mirror your opening paragraph. Take your thesis further, or point out the new directions we could go now that we’ve read your paper and believe your thesis.

6. Pay attention to your title. Make sure your title is snappy, or provocative, or at least clear. The title should clearly identify the topic of your paper, and ideally it should entice your reader to turn the pages. A quote taken from a person quoted in the paper itself, or a quote of your own words, both followed by a simple description of the image(s) under consideration are two good strategies.

7. Remember you will be graded on mechanics as well as content. This is a first draft, not a rough draft. Mechanics include grammar, spelling, proofreading, and proper use and form of footnotes and bibliography. You must write clearly and lucidly.

  • Use active verbs, not passive (is/was) constructions
  • Don’t repeat words (especially jargon) or use the same sentence constructions. For example: remember how many sentences you started with “I” or ended up with prepositional phrases.
  • Use of the first person can be a bad habit. Every time you use the word “I” note why. Sometimes there are good reasons to us the first person, like to be personal or add emphasis. But, be sure not to end up writing a personal narrative of your interaction with the image.
  • Pay attention to the transitions between paragraphs. They tie your paper together and make it sound smooth.
  • Be clear, precise, and creative.

8. Use all the help you can get. Read Barnet, A Short Guideline to Writing About Art, and the suggested Barthes and Stein readings in the reader. Come visit your friendly TA—that is why we’re here.

Document 5: Handout for Peer Review

Remember: I am not reading your drafts for the second paper, so it is vitally important to your classmates that you consider their paper in detail. Your final grade depends on part on how well someone else has commented on your draft, so be conscientious! Besides, I will be evaluating your review for its aptness, clarity, and completeness. Your review will be factored into the final grade I give you on your second paper. Reviews are due Friday May 26 at noon. Expect to spend three to four hours on this assignment.

Read the paper several times, focusing on different aspects of the paper’s structure and style with each different read. As you go you can mark grammatical errors and typos directly on the paper, but read the paper many times before you type up your separate review sheet. In all of these comments be specific. Explain exactly why a sentence is unclear, why a transition is poor, or how the argument is weak. While you comment on the faults of the paper keep in mind that the point of a rewrite is to improve the paper. Be sure to also focus on the paper’s strong points and what the author should elaborate on to be more convincing. The anonymity of the peer review frees you to be critical, but I will not accept any evaluations that cross the line of constructive criticism.

1. Read the paper straight through on your first read. Hold off on comments until your second read. First get a sense of the author’s comparison and argument about their comparison. Can you easily, quickly (in the first paragraph), and precisely identify the author’s thesis? As the paper develops, does its structure build on the thesis? Does it support or explain the author’s argument? Does all the material in the paper pertain to the thesis? Does the author’s description of the work of art help advance their argument? Is it relevant to their thesis, or does it exist merely as description?

In this first stage be sure to note what strikes you as confusing. Even though as you reread the paper several times you may “get the point,” what is important is how the author has expressed themselves, not how well you have read their minds. Implicit points do not count! Comment only on what the author has made explicit, or fails to make explicit.

2. Read the paper again focusing on how the paper builds on itself. How does the argument start, where does it go, and how does it get there? Did the author write their paper as a simple presentation of the three steps of the assignment? Or does the structure of the paper (the presentation of the author’s argument) integrate these three steps into the service of its broader argument? Compare the introduction and conclusion; has the author proven anything in-between? Does the author use effective transitions between paragraphs to tie the paper together and move the argument along? Does every paragraph clearly relate to the thesis? Does every paragraph prove a point? Is there a clear topic sentence to the paragraph? Are there many points presented in one paragraph or is there a point at all to the paragraph? Is repetition a problem? Is redundancy symptomatic of a paper that is not focused? On the other hand, given the thesis, are there points the author missed? Should they expand more on some of the points they did make?

3. On your third or later read (if it took you several attempts to get this far, that is excellent), evaluate the author’s argument. Does it address one of the broader issues from the lecture? Does the author’s argument explain why they chose this particular pairing of works? Is their thesis debatable and interesting, or does it fall short – is it too obvious? Is the thesis too abstract? Is the author persuasive in their defense of their thesis? What evidence do they use to persuade you? Is their formal evidence do they use to persuade you? Is their formal evidence on target, after they explain it could you see what they saw in their art works? Do you believe their description of what you see? What makes you believe them?

When you have a firm grasp on the author’s argument (i.e. after you have written down what you take to be the thesis and how the author has tried to argue that thesis), play devil’s advocate with the author’s thesis. Scrutinize the author’s evidence and interpretation. Do you see something in the work that would negate their argument or at least name their thesis debatable? Can you take their interpretation another way? Are there some points you can’t deny? Are there things the author didn’t mention that you see as further support for their argument?

4. Consider the paper’s style and mechanics. Notice the author’s style and tone—is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the author informal, or so formal as to be stilted? Does the author address an appropriate audience? Is the author too personal? Does the author’s style itself support the nature of their argument?

Are the sentences varied in structure, clear and concise? Does the author pick appropriate descriptive words, especially verbs? Are there run on sentences or short and choppy sentences? Are there problems with grammar, punctuation, or spelling? Do not dwell on these problems, point then out, but focus on larger issues.

5. After stating what you take to be the author’s thesis write one paragraph each about the paper’s thesis statement, structure, and argument. Each paragraph should answer at least five of the questions I have asked about each of the topics. These do not need to be perfect, well crafted paragraphs, just worry about getting your criticisms across clearly. Turn in two copies.

Document 6: Comparative Reading Exercise

Two Takes on Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1948, both excerpted from longer essays.

Michael Fried, from “Three American Painters” (1965)

The Museum of Modern Art’s Number 1, 1948, typical of Pollock’s best work during these years, was made by spilling and dripping skeins of paint onto a length of unsized canvas stretched on the floor which the artist worked on from all sides. The skeins of paint appear on the canvas as a continuous, allover line which loops and snarls time and again upon itself until almost the entire surface of the canvas is covered by it. It is a kind of space-filling curve of immense complexity, responsive to the slightest impulse of the painter and responsive as well, one almost feels, to one’s own act of looking. There are other elements in the painting besides Pollock’s line: for example, there are hovering spots of bright color, which provide momentary points of focus for one’s attention, and in this and other paintings made during these years there are even handprints put there by the painter in the course of his work. But all these are woven together, chiefly by Pollock’s line, to create an opulent and, in spite of their diversity, homogenous visual fabric which both invites the act of seeing on the part of the spectator and yet gives the eye nowhere to rest once and for all. That is, Pollock’s allover drip paintings refuse to bring one’s attention to a focus anywhere. This is important. Because it was only in the context of a style entirely homogenous, allover in nature, and resistant to ultimate focus that the different elements in the painting—most important, line and color—could be made, for the first time in Western painting, to function as wholly autonomous pictorial elements.

At the same time, such a style could be achieved only if line itself could somehow be prized loose from the task of figuration. Thus, an examination of Number 1, 1948, or of any of Pollock’s finest paintings of these years, reveals that his allover line does not give rise to positive and negative areas: we are not made to feel that one part of the canvas demands to be read as figure, whether abstract or representational, against another part of the canvas read as ground. There is no inside or outside to Pollock’s line or to the space through which it moves. And this is tantamount to claiming that line, in Pollock’s allover drip paintings of 1947-50, has been freed at last from the job of describing contours and bounding shapes. It has been purged of its figurative character. Line, in these paintings, is entirely transparent both to the nonillusionistic space it inhabits but does not structure and to the pulses of something like pure, disembodied energy that seem to move without resistance through them. Pollock’s line bounds and delimits nothing—except, in a sense, eyesight. We tend not to look beyond it, and the raw canvas is wholly surrogate to the paint itself. We tend to read the raw canvas as if it were not there. In these works Pollock has managed to free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing or bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas. In a painting such as Number 1, 1948there is only a pictorial field so homogenous, overall, and devoid both of recognizable objects and of abstract shapes that I want to call it optical, to distinguish it from the structured, essentially tactile pictorial field of previous modernist painting from Cubism to de Kooning and even Hans Hofmann. The materiality of his pigment is rendered sheerly visual, and the result is a new kind of space—if it still makes sense to call it space—in which conditions of seeing prevail rather than one in which objects exist, flat shapes are juxtaposed, or physical events transpire.

T. J. Clark, from “The Unhappy Consciousness,” in Farewell to An Idea'''(1999)

Number 1, 1948. The painting is 5 feet 8 inches high and 8 feet 8 inches wide. Rounding the corner of the gallery and catching sight of it, I am struck again by the counter-intuitive use it makes of these dimensions. To me it always looks small. Partly this is because it hangs in the same room as One: Number 31, 1950, which measures 8 feet 10 by 17 feet 6. But this comparison is anyway the right one. The canvases Pollock did in 1950 – the 15 and 17 footers – define what bigness is, in this kind of painting. And it is not a matter of sheer size. Lavender Mist is only a foot or so longer than Number 1, 1948. Number 1, 1949is the same length and not quite as high. But I should call both of them big pictures, because what happens within them reaches out toward a scale and velocity that truly leaves the world of bodies behind.

No so Number 1, 1948. It looks as wide as one person’s far-flung (maybe flailing) reach. The handprints at top left and right of the picture – a dozen in black, a fainter four or five in blood-brown – are marks which seem made all from one implied center, reaching out as far as a body can go. (I am describing the way they look in the finished picture, not their actual means of production.) The picture is fragile. Tinsel-thin. A hedge of thorns. A gray and mauve jewel case, spotted with orange-red and yellow stones. The clouds of aluminum and the touches of pink toward bottom left only confirm the essential brittleness of the whole thing – the feeling of its black and white lines being thin, hard, friable, dry, each of them stretched to breaking point. They are at the opposite end of the spectrum of markmaking from One’s easy, spreading trails. Number 1, 1948is a thrownpainting. One can imagine many of its lines hurled at speed as far as possible from their points of origin. One, by contrast, is more poured than thrown, and more splashed (rained) than poured. Spotted. Strayed. Which does not mean that its surface looks straightforwardly liquid. Finding words for the contradictory qualities of Pollock’s surfaces is, you see already, a tortuous business.

Number 1, 1948is thrown. Therefore it is flat, with lines hurtling across the picture surface as if across a paper-thin firmament. Shooting Stars. Comets. Once again, as with Malevich, the high moment of modernism comes when the physical limits of painting are subsumed in a wild metaphysical dance. The Manheims’ titles are wonderful on this. And I think the verdict applies even to those aspects of the picture that aim to rub our noses in physicality. For instance, the handprints.

Commentators have argued that one thing the handprints do is make the resistant two dimensions of the canvas come to life again. They show flatness actually occurring – here, here, and here in the picture, at this and this moment. I am sure that is right. But anyone who does not go on to say that there is a histrionic quality to the here and now in this case is not looking at the same picture as I am. Pollock was quite capable of putting on handprints matter-of-factly when he wanted. The ones at the left-hand side of Lavender Mist, for example, are as gentle and positive – as truly repetitive – as handprints can be. They climb the edge of the picture like a ladder. Everything about the prints in Number 1, 1948, by contrast – their placement in relation to the web of lines and the picture’s top, their shifting emphasis and color, their overlapping, the way they tilt to either side of uprightness, the rise and fall of the row they make – is pure pathos, and presumably meant to be. The tawdriest Harold-Rosenberg-type account will do here. Because part of Pollock is tawdry. (It is just that Rosenberg could not see any other part.)

The same goes for flatness conceived as a characteristic of the whole criss-cross of lines. There is no ipso factoreason why a web of lines should be, or look, flat. Often in Pollock it does not. But in Number 1, 1948flatness is the main thing. Even more than the handprints, this overall quality is what gives the picture its tragic cast. And in a sense, there is no mystery to how the quality is achieved. It is a matter of manufacture. This particular web is built on a pattern of rope-like (literally string-thick) horizontal throws of white, seemingly the first things to be put down; most of them overlain by subsequent throws of black, aluminum and so on; but think enough that they emblematize the physical resting of the paint on a surface just below – a surface wrinkling and flexing into shallow knots, like tendons or muscles under a thin skin. All of Pollock’s more elaborate drip paintings are built in layers, or course. But this quality of the final surface’s being stretched over a harder, spikier skeleton is specific to Number 1, 1948. The layers of One, by comparison, are deeply interfused, and do not look to be on top of the canvas surface so much as soaked into its warp and woof. Even Number 1, 1949, which may look superficially similar to its 1948 partner, is built essentially out of a top layer of flourishes which push the darker under-layers back into space. The aluminum Number 1, 1948has no such illusory power.

All this, as I say, is unmysterious. It can be described in technical terms. But compare what happens along the painting’s top edge. No viewer has ever been able to resist the suggestion that here is where the picture divulges its secrets, literal and metaphorical. Here is where the thicket of line adheres to the canvas surface – becomes consubstantial with it. And though the handprints tend to be what commentators talk about, they are only part of the effect: they are not what does the adhering: they are one kind of mark among others, less important than the transverse jets of white, and the final loops of white and black, which somehow – improbably, in spite of their wild spiraling back into space – make the thicket flatten and thin out, become papery-insubstantial, and therefore (by some logic I cannot get straight) part of the rectangle.

I cannot get the logic straight because obviously the marks at the top do not pay any literal, formal obeisance to the canvas edge. They meet it, as critics have always said, in a devil-may-care kind of way. (Compare the delicate, essentially circumspect dance along the top of One.) And yet everything they do is done in relation to the final limit. The central black whiplash with its gorgeous bleep of red, and final black spot to the right of it, seal the belonging of everything to easel-size and easel-shape. I do not understand why these – of all shapes and velocities – do this kind of work. Still less why the incident should strike me, as it does each time I see it, as condensing the whole possibility of painting at a certain moment into three or four thrown marks.

Document 7: Mid-quarter Evaluation Form

Please take a few minutes to consider these questions and respond to them as completely as you can. Please limit your comments to an evaluation of section meetings and of your TA. You will be asked to complete another evaluation at the end of the quarter via Axess.

Your input will help make this class better in the future.

Name of TA _________________________________

Course Title and Section Time ­____________________________________________________________

1) What are the best things about this section?

2) What are the worst things about this section? How would you suggest improving section?

3) Do you feel free to join in discussion? Explain.

4) Describe how your TA blends class discussion with prepared presentation. When do you find this most effective?

5) To what extent do the visual materials your TA presents in section contribute to your understanding of the overall themes of the class?

6) What is the most important thing you have learned in this section?

7) Additional comments.

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