Tutorial Tuning

My tutorials need a tune-up! In my eighty-student Ancient Near East survey this term, I’m having a problem with the tutorials. The task is document analysis and I know they’re good documents – a variety of literary, political and legal sources. Many of them I’ve used before to good effect. But this year, the discussions are painful! (My TA even remarked on that today after class was over.)

They know that the tutorial wraps up with a question that they need for their response paper due the following week. I think that most of them are sitting there, content to wait until the question appears.

It’s not as if they won’t speak up in class. This is a course with a presentation component – every student prepares to help open one class topic. And when they present, the vast majority of the students do an awesome job, sharing a polished, thoughtful response that helps lead everyone into tackling the day’s topic. However, the challenge of tutorial discussion seems a bit more daunting than an in-class presentation. Strange, I know, but there you are.

I tried opening them up to the challenge in today’s tutorial by projecting some sections of our tutorial text (Hammurabi’s Code) on the overhead and asking for volunteers to read individual passages, then posing a question for them on that self-same passage. It felt like pulling teeth. I got a very few comments. I might have gotten more if I’d waited them out longer, but we only have twenty minutes for the exercise, so that won’t work so well. (And I’d love to devote more time to these but given that we usually spend twenty minute on presentations at the start of class and there are only forty minutes left in the class period, time starts to run out for the rest of our activities.)

I realized, this afternoon, that one obvious solution is to open the tutorial session with the assignment question, itself, and then giving them a few minutes to ponder or review before venturing their approaches. I could turn our tutorial periods into brainstorming sessions where I give them the question and then sit back, only intervening when they get too stuck on one track and don’t consider other approaches.

In our next tutorial, I’m going to open with the question projected on the board and ask for someone to suggest a possible response strategy. I’ll let you know how that goes in another few weeks.



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2 responses to “Tutorial Tuning

  1. Maybe give them a couple of minutes to write a response before asking them to read their written response aloud? That can help loosen students up.

    Let us know how your test goes!

    • J Liedl

      That’s a good point about the response time. I use that in my freshman survey to good effect. If they can just brainstorm for two minutes, or review the readings, they’ll have a chance to think matters through and come up with a preliminary approach!