Table of Contents


I.          Introduction………………………………………………………………………. 2                          

II.         Teaching Philosophy………………………………………………………….….  3                                                              

III.               Teaching Responsibilities and Experience

     General Psychology

Introductory Psychology Lecture PSYC 100

(Summer 1996, Western Kentucky University)………………………..    5

Research Methods & Data-Analysis Laboratory PSYC 305

(Spring 1997, Fall 1998, University of Virginia)……………………...        5

Research Methods & Data-Analysis Laboratory PSYC 306

(Spring 1999, University of Virginia)………………………………..      5

                 Cognitive Psychology    

Created Senior Seminar

Acquisition of Athletic & Cognitive Skill PSYC 404

(Fall 1999, Spring, 2000, Summer 2000, University of Virginia)……..             6

            Exam Writing

            Cognitive Psychology Grader PSYC 215

(Fall 1997, University of Virginia)………………………………….       6

Cognitive Psychology Test Bank

(December 2000, for Cognition: The Thinking Animal, Prentice Hall)…          6


IV.       Principles of Teaching and Techniques Used to Implement Them……………          7


V.        Evaluation and Recognition of Teaching Ability………………………………       10


VI.       Teaching Improvement Activities………………………………………………    13


VII.      Appendices

            A         End of semester student comments and Numerical Ratings

B          Mid-semester student comments (Spring 2000)

C         Course Syllabi

            D         Draft with Comments and final Paper







This teaching portfolio is a reflective look at my experience as a teacher of psychology and is intended to be both a tool for my own self-improvement, as well as a basis for evaluation of my teaching abilities. In this portfolio, I describe my personal teaching philosophy, the principles that apply in teaching and the techniques I employ in the classroom to act on those principles. As both an instructor and a teaching assistant (TA) at the University of Virginia (U.Va.) and Western Kentucky University, I have gained indispensable teaching experience. This portfolio will no doubt evolve and change as I continue to gain experience and improve as a teacher.

Teaching Philosophy


There are three categories of beliefs I hold about teaching that make up my teaching philosophy.  The first set of beliefs are concerned with my motivations for teaching, the second set of beliefs are concerned with my role as a teacher, and the third set of beliefs are concerned with the role of the students. 


I have several motivations for teaching.  At an abstract level, I believe that being a teacher is a valuable profession and I want to be a part of perpetuating the pursuit of knowledge and learning. At a more concrete and practical level, I feel that my profession of psychology, and in particular cognitive psychology, yields practical insights into problems that people encounter on a daily basis.  For both of the above reasons, I have a particular enthusiasm for the material that I teach and wish to convey this enthusiasm to my students. I think that I succeed in imparting this enthusiasm to my students as is evidenced by their comments on course evaluations (see Appendix A for complete listing of written student comments on end of semester evaluations and Appendix B for mid-semester evaluations):


". . .its difficult material for us, but your knowledge of the subject and enthusiasm help make it easier . . ."


"Her [the instructor] enthusiasm for the subject matter is contagious."


"Kelly is a great teacher and is enthusiastic about the material, which is beneficial to the students."


Beyond my enthusiasm for the material that I am teaching, I also enjoy working with and getting to know the students. Watching the students go through a process of transformation over the course of the semester is particularly rewarding.  Additionally, I thrive on what I consider to be the biggest challenge in teaching at the college level.  That is the challenge of keeping students engaged in the course material while simultaneously maintaining the substantive nature and integrity of the course material.


I believe that my role as a teacher is two-fold. First, it is to provide students with the information or facts that they need to understand the issues that we are covering in the course. Second, it is to give students the tools they need to ask questions of their own related to the course material.  The extent to which one or the other of these roles is emphasized depends on the type of course I am teaching.  While both of these facets are important in all courses, lecture courses are more heavily weighted with the imparting of information and facts, while seminar or discussion courses are more heavily weighted with developing the students' own critical thinking and question-asking abilities.


The role of the student in the college classroom is inextricably intertwined with my role as the teacher.  I believe that the students hold responsibility for their own learning.  Without making a commitment to actively engaging in the coursework, the student will take little away from the course.  This requires them to do the assigned reading and think critically about it, as well as to think critically when sitting in the classroom. At the same time, it is up to me, as the instructor , to structure the course such that students are forced to take responsibility for their own learning.  Additionally, part of being active and proactive learners in the classroom requires students to express to me, as the instructor, those things that both help and hinder their learning in the classroom.  Again, by the same token, part of my job as the instructor is to create an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable expressing these needs and concerns regarding the course. 


Teaching Responsibilities and Experience  


General Psychology

Introductory Psychology Lecture PSYC 100

In the summer of 1996, I taught the lecture for two sections of the introductory psychology course (PSYC 100) at Western Kentucky University.  In each of these sections, I had approximately 15 students, most of whom were not psychology majors, but were taking the course to fulfill a liberal arts requirement.  This introductory psychology course was intended to give students an overview of the field of psychology.  The structure of the course was mostly lecture.


Research Methods & Data-Analysis PSYC 305

As a graduate student at the University of Virginia, I have been the teaching assistant (TA) for the laboratory section of both courses in the Research Methods and Data-Analysis two-semester series (PSYC 305 and PSYC 306).  These courses are required for all psychology majors and are designed to teach the students how to write the psychological research paper, as well as how to use statistical and graphing computer programs used by researchers in the field of psychology.  Both were small laboratory classes, in which I worked closely with 9 to 15 students.  The structure of each lab was discussion and hands-on computer learning activities. In the lab for PSYC 305, the first semester of this series, the students learned how to look at descriptive statistics, perform  correlational  analyses, and graph data  in the statistical package SPSS.  The students also designed and administered their own questionnaire.  Instruction on writing the psychological research paper focused on researching and writing short literature reviews, as would be appropriate for an empirical paper, and on writing a non-experimental empirical paper based on the data collected in the administration of the questionnaire.  


Research Methods & Data-Analysis PSYC 306

In the lab for PSYC 306, the second semester of the series, the students learned how to perform experimental analyses in the statistical package SPSS.  The students also designed and ran their own experiment. Students wrote an empirical research paper and created a poster based on their experiment results. 


Cognitive Psychology

While I have experience in teaching the aforementioned general psychology courses, my area of expertise is in cognitive psychology.  Cognitive psychology is concerned with the collection of mental processes and activities humans' use in perceiving, remembering, and thinking.  In particular, cognitive psychology is concerned with how people represent information and what transformations people apply to that information in order to get from some stimulus in the environment to their own action. The computer is often used as an analogy for how the brain is thought to transform some input into an output. For example, if you were to give a computer an input (e.g. 2 + 5 = ? ), it would represent that input in binary form, perform some transformations to that binary representation (e.g. retrieve what it knows about addition in general and then about 2 + 5 in particular) and then produce an output (e.g. 2 + 5 = 7). In much the same way, cognitive psychology is concerned with the representations and transformations your brain makes that allow you to act on stimuli in your environment.


Created Senior Seminar

Acquisition of Athletic & Cognitive Skill PSYC 404

Most recently, I have taught a cognitive psychology class that I created called The Acquisition of Athletic and Cognitive Skill (PSYC 404).  This is a senior seminar in which I have approximately 20 students, most of whom are psychology majors.  This course is designed to address the questions: How does practice affect performance on athletic and cognitive skills? and How does the knowledge on which our performance is based change with practice? My objective in this course is to get the students to think about the skills they perform on a daily basis from cognitive perspective.  I structure the course so that it is a mixture of lecture and discussion. 


Exam Writing

Cognitive Psychology Grader PSYC 215

While I have not taught the general lecture for the introductory cognitive psychology course, I have been the grader for this course.  As the grader, I created multiple-choice exams for the course based on the instructor's lectures and graded those exams.


Cognitive Psychology Test Bank

I am currently writing a test bank for Prentice Hall to accompany the cognitive psychology text book written by Dan Willingham ,Cognition: The Thinking Animal.  Both the test bank and the textbook will be released in December 2000.  



Principles of Teaching and Techniques Used to Implement Them


There are several principles that I adhere to when I teach, regardless of the course that I am teaching.  First, I believe that students should know what they need to do to succeed in my course.  Second, it is my responsibility to be available to the students.  Third, I need to demonstrate the practical importance of the material we are covering.  Fourth,  I need to keep students engaged in the course material, whether I am lecturing or we are having a discussion. Fifth, I structure the course so that students are forced to take an active role in the learning process.  Sixth, I create a classroom atmosphere where students feel comfortable talking and expressing themselves. 


It is of utmost importance that I give students explicit guidance concerning what they need to do in order to improve and succeed in my course.  There are several ways in which I do this.  First, I view my syllabus as a contract with my students and outline specifically where their grade will come from and the requirements for the course (see Appendix C for course syllabi).  Second, I provide my students with sample exams so that they know what to expect on their exams and how I will test (see the following URL for sample and actual exams http://www.people.Virginia.EDU/~kmg4j/examPage.html ).  Third, I provide my students with extensive instructional handouts and supplemental course materials, which are available on the course website (see the following URL for my course website:  http://www.people.Virginia.EDU/~kmg4j/teach.html) Fourth, when students write papers, I provide them with specific comments on how to improve their paper (see Appendix D for draft papers with comments and rewrites based on the comments).


It is my responsibility to be available to the students. When I am teaching a course, my students are my first priority.  I make my students my first priority by scheduling office hours such that all of my students can make at least one of the office hours.  Additionally, I make myself available to my students by appointment , as well as when they drop by my office.  My students appreciate my availability.  In end of the semester evaluations, I am consistently rated better than the department average on my availability outside of class (see Appendix E for evaluation ratings). They also comment on my availability in their written evaluations:


"The instructor was very available outside of class and willing to help any of her students."


"She [the instructor] seemed to want us to do well and was there to help us any way that she could."     


I believe that it is important to demonstrate to students the practical importance of the material that we are studying. Students don’t normally think of the things they do on a daily basis (e.g., reading, riding a bike, problem solving) from a cognitive psychology perspective. In an effort to get my students to make the connection between what we are studying in the classroom and real-world problems, I cover both basic and applied problems.  In my skill acquisition class this means covering information about how knowledge of motor skills is represented, but also covering practical issues of coaching and practice. 


There are many activities that I do in the classroom to implement the last three principles that I adhere to (engaging students, forcing students to take an active role in their learning, and creating an open atmosphere in the classroom). My teaching style is a combination of lecture and discussion or discovery-based learning activities. I use this combination of teaching methods with two purposes in mind.  First, in my lectures, I have the goal of providing the students with the basic background information about the phenomenon that we are studying.  Cognitive psychology is not always readily graspable and it is sometimes hard for students to immediately introspect about their own cognition.  Second, my goal in the discussion and discovery-based learning activities is to get students thinking critically about the issues at hand, as well as to get them to ask their own questions about the problem we are studying, using a cognitive psychology perspective.


In the course of my lectures I engage students by incorporating demonstrations and experiments of the psychological phenomenon that we are discussing.  In the past, I found that having the students experience the psychological concepts that we were discussing motivated students who had previously taken an aloof attitude about the material to become interested in the processes that actually lay behind what they themselves experienced during an in-class demonstration.  For example, when discussing transfer of training, I had my students perform an actual transfer experiment in which they trained on a drawing task first with their non-dominant hand and then we looked to see if this training transferred to their dominant hand.  First, I had them predict how the experiment would turn out.  Interestingly enough, most of them predicted that training on a motor skill with one hand would not transfer to their other hand.  But as intermanual transfer studies usually turn out, we did get transfer between the two hands.  This spurred my students to ask good questions about what it is that is being learned during training. Seeing that kind of change in students, one in which they go from an indifference towards the material to an active, thoughtful interest in the material is one of the most exciting parts of teaching.  It is that kind of learning experience that I attempt to provide for my students. 


There are several techniques I use to get students actively learning the course material.  In my skill acquisition course, I have students acquire their own skill over the course of the semester. For example, this past semester, the whole class learned how to juggle.  After practicing the skill for some time, the students manipulate a variable known to affect practice and performance (e.g. performing in front of an audience).  The students then present the results of their manipulation to the class. By acquiring their own skill throughout the semester, students have a basis for evaluating the theories and experiments we discuss.  Additionally, the theories and experiments that we discuss in class give students a basis for evaluating their own skill acquisition.  I also have students do formal debates on some of the issues that we cover in class. For example, my students debate whether innate talents exist, or whether expertise is due only to practice.  In preparation for the debate, the students find research to defend their positions and bring this research into the debate


It is of utmost importance to me to create a classroom atmosphere in which students feel comfortable expressing their ideas.  In classroom discussions, I attempt to get all of my students involved. I ensure that students come to class prepared for the discussion by requiring them to generate their own discussion questions based on the day's readings.  We use these questions as a basis for discussion and I collect them at the end of the class period.  Requiring the students to write discussion questions serves three purposes.  First, it gets students to think beyond the readings.  Second, it allows them an opportunity to discuss issues related to the readings, but which they are interested in.  Third, it allows me to see where their interests lie so that I am better able to tie the material in and pitch the course material towards their interests. For example, through the types of questions one of my students generated, I learned that he was interested in the biological processes that enabled the psychological processes we were studying.  Having this knowledge, I would often call on him when I wanted to elicit that biological perspective in a class discussion. 


I've used these discussion questions as a basis for generating class discussion in a variety of ways.  I've found that having student's share their questions in a small group and then choosing a question to share with the whole class helps bring out some of the shy students in the class.  I've also used a question-team method for ensuring that all of the students speak up during discussions.  I have students share their discussion questions with one neighbor and they become a two-person team.  Each team picks one discussion question to ask of another team.  They choose which team to ask the question of.  That team must answer the question, but the question usually generates a large-group discussion as well. Sometimes, I will pose a discussion question to the class as a whole.  However, I usually reserve such large group discussions for very controversial issues that the students are likely to have strong opinions about and for which they are likely to open up about. 


Evaluation and Recognition of Teaching Ability


I believe that I succeed in creating an environment in which my students feel comfortable talking and sharing their ideas as evidenced by my students' comments: 


"The environment that she [the instructor] created was one in which I felt comfortable speaking and participating--I have not often found this in a class."


". . . please keep the lots of opportunities for small group discussions as this really helps out shy members of the class."


Both my end of the semester numerical ratings and student comments  (Appendix A) attest to my teaching ability.  In Spring 2000, I was almost uniformly rated better than the department average on my numerical evaluations for my skill acquisition course.  The graph below shows my numerical ratings compared to the department average for the same semester over the dimensions students rated.  A lower rating indicates better performance (1 = excellent, 2 = good, 3 = average, 4 = weak, 5 = very poor). 




Quality of  Text and Reading


Fairness of Testing and Grading  tructor Lectures


Instructor Availability  tructor Lectures


Quality of Instructor Lectures


Instructor as Discussion Leader


Amount I've Learned from Course


Intellectual Stimulation of Course


Overall Teaching Effectiveness



My department has recognized me for my teaching ability as well.  In the spring of 1999, I was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Fellowship.  To apply for this award, I created a course (The Acquisition of Athletic and Cognitive Skill).  The undergraduate committee of the psychology department awards the Fellowship.  This committee is dedicated to creating and evaluating the undergraduate curriculum.  The award is based both on the strength of the applicant's teaching abilities and on the strength of the course the applicant designed.


Teaching Improvement Activities


I am continuously trying to develop and better both my courses and my teaching abilities.  This occurs via several avenues, one is formally course-directed, one student-directed, and the other is self-directed. 


I attempt to improve my teaching by participating in formal courses and workshops on educational instruction.  For example, in the Spring of 2000, I sat in on a course taught by Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia called the Teaching of Psychology.  In  this course we covered topics such as constructing a syllabus, the first day of class, how to write lectures, how to construct assignments, how to structure your grading, how to lead seminars, and how to handle difficult situations.  This course has directly impacted my teaching in two ways.  First, I now organize my lectures around a central question meant to capture the student's attention and draw them in.  Second, I have re-evaluated the assignments I give, restructuring assignments to ensure that students learn from them. Additionally, in future classes, I will require students to turn in drafts of any major paper they write.  In the past, I have made drafts optional.  I now realize that if students are to learn from the assignment, they need an opportunity to incorporate my feedback on their papers into the final paper.


The second way in which I improve my teaching is through responding to student comments. I always elicit mid-semester evaluations from students, asking them what they would change and what they would keep the same about the course.  The mid-semester evaluation gives me an opportunity to discover how the students are feeling about the course while there is still time to make changes if necessary. Information that I have obtained on mid-semester evaluations prompted me to make better use of the discussion questions that students were generating for my class.


End-of-the-semester evaluations have also prompted me to make changes to my course.  Notice in the numerical ratings for my skill acquisition course in spring 2000 that the only area in which I fared worse than the department average was in my rating as a discussion leader.  I believe that this and other student comments derive from the fact that in this seminar course, I tended to lecture more than usual for a seminar course.  I do this because I feel that students need some background in the material we are covering since they have not had any exposure to a course on skill acquisition.  But I do realize that I need to create a better balance between discussion and lecture such that the balance is shifted more towards discussion in the seminar course and I am currently working on ways to increase the opportunities for discussion in my skill acquisition course.


Much of my efforts at improving both the content of my course and my teaching ability are self-directed.  I maintain a close contact with the recent research that is relevant to the course that I teach.  I do this by having the contents of the major publications in the area sent to me via e-mail and I read those articles that appear relevant to my course.  This way, I obtain both new lecture and reading material.  Oftentimes, I obtain new classroom demonstrations based on experiments that I've read.  In addition to keeping up to date on course content, I continue to researching new teaching techniques.  I am always on the lookout at conferences for new ideas about teaching.  I also talk regularly with other professors about the teaching techniques that they employ in the classroom.