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I'm a Ph.D. student in linguistics and a relatively new course instructor. My understanding of the material is not in doubt. But I'm doing a really poor job of catching small errors. Even when I check my lecture slides afterwards, I don't find them all. Almost every week, I'm having to email my students at least once telling them that diagram X was mislabeled or example Y was in the wrong place or I said something completely backwards. I don't want to end up overapologizing, but I feel like my teaching is unacceptably sloppy. I do put a lot of time and effort into considering/rehearsing how to teach things, and I compare my approaches to materials from several previous instructors of the same courses. This does not seem to have been enough.

I normally take pride in getting details right. Heck, I used to work as a proofreader and built up quite a stellar reputation! I know that teaching a course is a big job and that I have the instincts of a perfectionist. Nonetheless, I'm doing a much poorer job than usual when it comes to getting things right. If I were one of my own students, I think I'd be rolling my eyes at myself by now.

What sorts of strategies do others use in order to catch errors in their own teaching ahead of time? I'm very urgently wanting this to be less of a problem. There's no need for these little disruptions and I'm irritated with myself for confusing my students so much.

Thank you!

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    Isn't there someone you can pair up with? So you review his/her work and s/he reviews yours? – Fábio Dias Nov 15 '15 at 23:17
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    This does not answer your question, hence it goes in a comment. I myself decided that I won't be able to capture all small errors (although I try hard) and hence, I tell the students up-front that there will be errors in my lecture notes. Everybody who catches an error (which is not just a typo) and submits it through the discussion forum of the lecture gets a bonus point. (More detail: I teach mathematics. The lecture notes are available after the class. The students earn points on homework for a pass-or-fail grade. The bonus points count towards this pass-or-fail. … – Dirk Nov 16 '15 at 17:52
  • (cont) And errors have to be mathematical, but typos in formula do count.) What I like about this approach is, that more students read the lecture notes carefully with the mindset of thinking by themselves, since they now do not take everything for granted that is written down. Another fact that may count is, that the number of catched errors per lecture is between zero and three, sometime four or five. – Dirk Nov 16 '15 at 17:55
  • I think both of these comments are great and should be converted to Answers. – aparente001 Nov 18 '15 at 7:39
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If you catch this during teaching, this means that you probably should rehearse (out loud) and then similarly things should emerge. You already mentioned you rehearse, but maybe you need to rehearse in a more elaborate manner (in a different room, in front of a mirror, etc.) to change your mindset and then find new mistakes. If you rehearse in your head in front of your PC, you are stuck in the same state of mind and won't find mistakes.

Other typical approaches:

  • Typical proofread advice
    • Read from back to front and mirror images/figures to get a fresh view upon things. This helps finding misplaced labels.
    • Spellcheckers and other digital proofing tools (programs which check if borders are met, elements are hidden, etc.)
  • Teaching notes as bullet points, which you periodically check during the lecture, to ensure you are still on track and have told everything you want to tell (i.e. have not forgotten some points)
    • These should also uncover any kind of logical mistakes. If you follow your line of thought during rehearsal, this should help explaining correctly and in order.
    • Notes provide self-confidence, which greatly reduces being error-prone. If you are less nervous, things go easier and mistakes are not so disrupting.
  • Find someone to proofread (either mutual agreement with someone or pay someone until you are more experienced. A student could be a good choice)

Finally, things can and will go wrong. It is more about how you handle the mistakes. Maybe simply update your slides after the lecture and tell the student next week, that last weeks slides were updated, with comments where things were not explained correctly.

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It is next to impossible to catch your own mistakes. It does help to get into the mindset "I know nothing about this" (yes, it does work, suprisingly), and read carefully making sure stuff used has been explained beforehand.

As a knowledgeable person on the subject, it is doubly hard to understand where students struggle. A useful technique is to give them "extra homework" to carefully read and critique handouts. Perhaps give extra points for mistakes found, pointing out unclear passages, suggested examples.

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