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Students use personal experiences to help peers better understand psychology

Undergraduate teaching assistants shine as interteaching coaches

The undergraduate coaches, Alaina Wong, Anna Hinojosa, Anne Nguyen and Tiffany Rascon, pictured standing together and smiling in an outdoor setting.

The undergraduate coaches Anne Nguyen, Alaina Wong, Tiffany Rascon, and Anna Hinojosa all majored in psychology along with minors including sociology, family and human development, French and studio art. Photo: Skye Mendes

January 11, 2023

Taking your first class in a new subject can be daunting. For a group of students getting their initial introduction to psychology this past semester, they traveled the journey with peers to guide them.

Four student coaches in Arizona State University's PSY 101 course facilitated students’ discussions during seven group learning sessions through the fall semester in order to promote better learning and understanding. 

This concept of instruction is called “interteaching” and is based in behavioral science research. The teaching method was introduced by Philip Hineline, from Temple University, and Thomas Boyce, formerly of the University of Nevada, Reno, and creates a learning environment that includes guided instruction, peer-to-peer interactions and instructor feedback. 

The undergraduate coaches Alaina Wong, Anna Hinojosa, Anne Nguyen and Tiffany Rascon all majored in psychology along with minors including sociology, family and human development, French and studio art. 

Additionally, Wong works as a tutor across multiple subjects at Sun Devil Athletics; Nguyen is an officer in the Vietnamese Student Association; and Hinojosa, Wong and Rascon are all involved with research — Hinojosa in the Emerging Minds Lab, Wong with the Cooperation and Conflict Lab, and Rascon in the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab and with the Arizona Twin Project. This breadth of experience allowed the students to relate more to the broad experiences that new students have and to model how psychology can be useful in a range of environments. 

“Particularly for a course like PSY 101, which enrolls many first-year students, using interteaching gives students early practice with strong learning strategies based on behavioral and cognitive science that result in stronger metacognition,” said Skye Mendes, the developmental psychology graduate student teaching this section of the course. “By engaging in interteaching, the students are learning skills alongside creating deeper and longer-lasting learning of foundational psychology content.”

Mendes reports that interteaching provides a structure that promotes positive learning behaviors for students, such as engaging in spaced practice, rephrasing content into their own words and making the content personally meaningful or relatable by referencing examples from their own lives. This style of teaching enforces meaningful practice by having students instruct each other after learning the basic content, and through that social interaction, it reinforces the deeper levels of learning. 

“It is exciting to see Mendes implementing an exciting and innovative pedagogical approach to help students better comprehend the material,” said Carolyn Cavanaugh Toft, teaching professor and area head of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology. “Skye has been the best graduate teaching associate that I have had the pleasure of working with in over 25 years of teaching at ASU. I think I've learned more from her than she has from me!”

The student coaches would meet prior to coaching the other students and “interteach” the material with each other first to make sure that everyone had a strong understanding of the concepts in order to avoid confusion amongst students during interteaching. They shared that doing so also helped them experience firsthand the interteaching process they were about to facilitate for students.

Even with their senior student status, the coaches said their discussions with each other and guiding students in class helped deepen their own understanding of the foundational psychology content. 

"I liked the setup of interteaching because it allowed students to have deeper discussions about the topics amongst themselves and they had many safety nets to fall back on when in need of support," said Hinojosa. She said while preparing for interteaching sessions she would practice anticipating what questions a student with no prior experience with psychology content would have so she could be ready to help them grasp the concepts effectively.

Hinojosa said it improved her understanding in other classes she was taking, reporting that the interteaching conversations about psychological disorders in PSY 101 simultaneously benefitted her understanding of content as a student in an upper-level course,  PSY 443 (Child and Adolescent Psychological Disorders)

Nguyen referred specifically to the value of working in teams, stating that “while you can come to a number of solutions on your own, talking them through with others helps reinforce this knowledge and provides you with new ways of thinking about them.” Her teammates agreed, with Rascon sharing that the discussions with fellow coaches gave her a “toolbox” to draw on when facilitating during class. 

“I have never been the best at presenting in front of people, so I was both excited and nervous to TA. Since it was a 101 class, many students were first-years and this would be their introduction to college-level classes, so I wanted to be able to provide a good introduction to college-level classes as their TA. This role challenged me by being able to clarify the material concisely and in a way that if I were a first-year with zero understanding of psychology, I would be able to comprehend it,” Wong said.

“I became much more confident after the first few interteaching sessions because I could really see when students were beginning to understand topics more clearly. I also felt that my leadership skills strengthened, and I felt much more comfortable stepping in to facilitate when needed,” Rascon said.

Since the course was built on the concept that “teaching is learning,” Mendes was not surprised by the coaches' comments about their own learning deepening during the experience.

The coaches are carrying the lessons from their teaching assistant experience into future careers, with most having plans to pursue graduate study as a next step.

Rascon graduated with the close of the fall 2022 semester and now begins a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling. She plans to use her teaching skills when providing psychoeducation, helping clients understand more about how their brains work.

Nguyen, also considering a clinical path, says the facilitation role she held as a coach parallels the expectations for therapists to be a guide who helps clients come to deeply understand more about themselves, rather than someone who directly provides solutions.

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