Specific tips for tutorials and office hours

Tutorials vary greatly between departments and faculties. Some are optional, some are mandatory, some are strictly extra-help sessions and some are small classes where new information is presented. Because of this variation, it is vital that you speak to your TA-Advisor and fellow TAs about the nature of tutorials in your department. Similarly, all departments do not require office hours, but your TA duties might include them (or your department might assume that your duties include them). Again, please ask questions before the school year gets underway.

What are tutorials?

  • A small class (5-25 students) that meets once a week with you.
  • Attendance may be required, or may be optional.

What are office hours?

  • A pre-set time where you will be available to students either in your office or in a common office.
  • The ‘office hours’ count into your 10-hour a week total.

What to do before the semester begins?

  • Establish with your course-coordinator what to do if you are ill or cannot attend.
  • Establish what to do if no students arrive at the tutorial or to your office hour.

What can you expect to do in office hours and tutorials?

  • Return written work promptly, with appropriate written feedback.
  • Divide time evenly.
  • Listen to student questions & academic concerns.
  • Serve as a liaison to support services.

Kinds of teaching you might do

  • Answer questions that relate directly to lectures.
  • Review material from the lectures.
  • Work on specific assignments as dictated by the course instructor.
  • Work on student writing issues and supervise peer editing, or run discussion groups to get students talking (i.e. language courses).
  • Teach a process (i.e. How to balance equations, how to solve for ‘x’), or work through problems (i.e. Solving equations, solving a math problem) as a group.

Modeling problem solving

  • Problem solving in the sciences: before running a problem solving tutorial.
  • Find out from the professor in charge:
  • What theoretical material (equations, etc.) to cover.
  • What approach to use.
  • The nature of any factual information that should be ‘known’.
  • Work through all the problems in advance.
  • Document each step clearly.
  • Note questions you ask yourself while solving the problem.
  • Think about alternative ways to solve the problems.
  • Refer to your notes only if you get stuck while solving the problems in the tutorial.
  • Treat problem-solving labs like tests: can they use their books? Their formula pages? Can they take time to notate common formulae?

Identify weak & strong problem solvers:

  • Weak problem solvers:
  • Try to match problems types.
  • Use surface characteristics (or identical words or variables) to match. If they can’t find a match they don’t know where to begin.
  • Can’t determine what information is essential and get distracted by peripherals.
  • Strong problem solvers:
  • Take a conceptual approach (isolate, structure, & learn essential info or theory).
  • Can summarize types of problems that relate to particular topics.
  • May have developed overarching algorithms (series of steps to apply).
  • May annotate problems as they work.

What are you NOT expected to do in tutorials and office hours?

  • Give pep talks.
  • Proofread and edit papers (do not write corrections on un-marked student work).
  • Engage in unprofessional debate about another course-instructor.