I had my first tutorial session last week. Being in my final year of an arts degree, tutorials are nothing new to me, but they still can fill me with a certain amount of anxiety. It seems every year I go, “What? Tutorial? NO!! I hate them! Anything but talking! I’m going to die!”
My T.A. this week suggested that we aim to say two to three meaningful things each class. Quality not quantity, as the old mantra goes. But how exactly does one do that?
Over the years I have gathered a few tips and tactics to help tackle the dreaded arts tutorial. I thought I would share them.
#1 – Do the readings. I find that most discussion based tutorials will assign particular sections or passages for the tutorial, not the whole book. I never read the whole book. Well, that’s not true. If I have the time, or if I really enjoy it. But mostly I read what is necessary to participate in discussion. I can usually find the selected readings on my course syllabus, and if not I just ask the T.A. “Hey, did you want us to read any particular parts?”
#2 – Notice the interesting parts. Doing the reading is great, but picking out a few intriguing details can be really helpful. For a tutorial, I hardly ever worry about grasping the whole picture, the T.A. can always help with that. Instead, I find one or two interesting points. How do I know they are interesting? Because they’re interesting to me! Crazy, right? Reading with my own interest in mind means I go to tutorial with a few things that I genuinely want to talk about.
#3 – Learn to know nothing. This one takes some practice, but it’s very useful. Socrates said it: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It’s an idea that alleviates all the stress and embarrassment from not knowing something. I love admitting that I don’t know the answer. I love asking questions when I’m uncertain. Here’s the thing: If I don’t know something, it is only because I haven’t learned it yet, not because I’m stupid.
#4 – Become a politician. Like it or not, a crucial aspect of academia is argumentation. It can, however, make tutorial much more interesting and worthwhile. Arguing is fun, when it’s civil. So I listen to my peers carefully, and if I find fault in his or her ideas, I jump in. Here’s the trick: Relax. Listen along. And just talk. Give others a chance to speak, but don’t bother raising your hand (unless your T.A. has rules for that stuff). A lighter mood always makes me feel more comfortable sharing my thoughts. After all, none of us is a specialist yet, not even the T.A. We are amateurs. We are trying to think. Let your brain out!
#5 – Build the discussion. I try my utmost to follow what my classmates are saying. It’s the worst when people are just waiting for their turn to speak. Waiting for a participation point. It’s boring and rude and a waste of time. I would much rather have a conversation. That is what “saying something meaningful” means. It is the ability to follow the ideas of your classmates, and let your own ideas change, either in agreement or disagreement, along the way. Then think about it. Get the right wording. And jump in!
I’m looking forward to my next tutorial. But I should go. I have readings to do.
‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!