I didn’t know if I was going to like tutorials when I came to U of T. I’ve been notoriously known for not participating in class and it was never for any reason except for the fact that I preferred to listen rather than input my thoughts. When I received those syllabi for the first time, my heart dropped. How could participation in tutorials be worth 15% of my final grade? I dreaded going to that first tutorial because I had so many questions. What was a tutorial? What was a TA? How would I participate? What if I said something ridiculous? Never fear, I have the answers here (Ha, I rhymed).
What is a tutorial?
A tutorial is a weekly or bi-weekly meeting where you meet with a Teaching Assistant, commonly referred to as a TA, and a small group of other classmates. In the past, my tutorials have had 20-30 students. Tutorials take place so you can have discussions in a comfortable setting, outside of that lecture with 1, 500 students (ahem, AST101), about the course material. It gives you an opportunity to ask questions, hear what other students have to say about it, and possibly input some of your own thoughts (for those all too crucial participation marks).
What is a TA (Teaching Assistant)?
A TA facilitates your tutorials and they’re usually a graduate or upper year student in the department. TAs are there to lead discussions, answer questions that you may have about assignments or tests, and further explain the material covered in lecture. In addition to speaking with your professor, your TA is an awesome source of contact because they do mark your assignments and tests, so they can definitely help you if you don’t understand something. I’ve had TAs who have hosted office hours and who have met with me after assignments were handed back to tell me how I could improve even more next time, which is extremely helpful!
How do you participate in tutorial?
There are lots of ways to participate in tutorial. TAs usually start off by asking a question about the course material and see where the conversation goes from there. As someone who was hesitant to participate, I wasn’t sure about how this was going to go. After a few meetings of failing to put my hand up, I spoke with my TA after tutorial and let her know that I was struggling to participate. That TA was very accommodating and even though it is ideal that you participate during the tutorial time, she let me know that I could email her my thoughts about the course material and that would count as participation. Also, did you know that just attending tutorial gets you participation marks (because you’ve shown up ready to listen and learn)? Sometimes you’ll have to do a short presentation in tutorial. I once had to analyze a passage in The Great Gatsby and come up with three discussion questions for my classmates, which wasn’t so bad because I really enjoyed the book.
What if I say something ridiculous?
I used to worry a lot about saying something that my classmates would think isn’t important or necessary for our conversation. I also worried that others would express the same opinion as me, and then I’d have nothing left to contribute. Coming up with ideas on the fly isn’t easy for me (still isn’t sometimes) and I worried that that would hinder my ability to do well in tutorials. However, being the overly prepared person that I am, I realized that I could think of questions or ideas that I wanted to contribute ahead of time, and to put my hand up right when tutorial started so I could get that out of the way. Also, the heart pounding feeling of knowing that I have to say something soon would go away. Tutorials are a way to express new ideas and opinions, and I’m sure your classmates would love to hear what you have to say!
I used to worry about tutorials and how they would impact me, but they turned out to be a great experience for me. Often, my classmates would bring up ideas that neither I nor my TA had even considered. Now that I’m in third year, I don’t have tutorials anymore (although I do have smaller class sizes), and I do miss that experience. Take advantage of tutorials because they’re awesome learning experiences and they turned me from a tutorial skeptic into a believer.