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121-122 Facilitating in Tutorial

Page history last edited by Joe Redish 13 years, 5 months ago

What are Tutorials?

Tutorials are research-based group-learning worksheets created to help students make sense of physics.  They replace traditional problem-solving recitations, which are not very effective, especially for this population of biologists -- but they are not very effective for engineers either! (*) 


What does it mean to be "research-based"?

When I say that the Tutorials we use are "research-based" I mean that their topics are chosen as a result of extensive physics education research on what topics are particularly difficult for introductory students.  I also mean that they have been developed through extensive testing, with many groups of students being observed (sometimes videotaped) in class to see how they interact with the lesson.  In addition, pre-post testing shows these Tutorials to be substantially more effective than traditional recitations in helping students build a good conceptual understanding of physics.


What's the format of a Tutorial session?

Students buy a manual that contains tutorial worksheets.  They bring these to their discussion session and work on it in groups of three to five.  Each tutorial is a "fill in the answers" worksheet of 4-6 pages. Your job is to get students to "do the right thing" with these worksheets. 


What's the point of the Tutorals?

The tutorial has a number of goals:


  • To help the students improve their conceptual understanding of physics;
  • To get the students to learn to reason qualitatively about physics;
  • To get the students to build their physics intuition by making connections to their everyday experience;
  • To help the students reconcile their misconceptions of how things work physically without undermining their trust in their intuitions.


The last is tricky.  Students often have misinterprations of their intuitions that lead to "wrong" answers.  It's often easy to convince them that they are wrong, but it is not so easy to get them to transform their intuitions.  There is a serious danger that they will just say "physics makes no sense to me -- I just have to memorize the results (and I will then ignore everything I have learned when I get out of this silly class)." 


It is therefore very important never to put down a student's intution, but to try to find why they have that intuition.  There is usually a grain of truthful experience in even their incorrect assumptions.  Often they have generalized an experience they know well incorrectly.


What's your role in Tutorials? Facilitating

Your job in tutorial is to keep an eye on the students, check them occasionally, and answer the occasional question.  It is NOT to explain the material in the tutorial to the students.  Mostly you should be listening in to what's going on at the different tables, not talking.  Here are some do's and don'ts:


What to do in Tutorials

  • Listen -- getting them to explain their thinking or confusion is the best starting point for delivering effective hints or suggestions.
  • Encourage collaboration -- Get them to confirm every item with other members of their group.  I have often found that each student thinks the answer is "obvious" and as a result assumes that the other students agree with them -- even when they don't. 
  • Let them work -- If they are having a good discussion -- even if some of them are wrong -- let them go and try to work it out themselves.  Especially for students new to tutorial it's good to smile, nod, and say something like "good work; keep it up."
  • Check them -- Listen in evey once in a while and ask about some of the critical items.  If they have all agreed on a wrong answer that will not be addressed later in the tutorial (often these tutorials set them up to say something wrong to work it out later) ask them to reconsider what they have concluded.  You might mention some factor they have ignored that has led them astray.  (I will sometimes do this even if they are right -- but then be sure to come back and make sure they have stuck to their answer!)
  • Keep them on task -- Encourage them to stay on task and keep on moving.  Sometimes they don't appreciate that getting through these tutorials will often take their serious attention for the entire period.


What not to do in Tutorials

  • Do not talk too much.  If you find yourself going on for more than a minute without an exchange and a substantial response (much more than a nod or a "yeah, I see") from a student, you are probably distracting them from productive work and they are most likely not
  • Do not pick up a pen or pencil to show them how to do something.  Often TAs will "miss their blackboard" where they can show how smart they are and how well they understand the topic.  That is not your job here!  You are trying to guide them to make sense of the material in their own heads, not to appreciate how well you have made sense of it in yours!
  • Do not interrupt what appears to be a productive discussion unless it seems to be getting out of hand with people getting angry or refusing to consider others' points of view.  In the latter case it may be worth while intervening and asking people to recap their arguments.  A bit of guidance might help get them back on track, but listen first so you know what the argument is about.
  • Do not confirm the correctness of their reasoning too  quickly.  Part of what they are trying to learn here is to evaluate their own thinking.  If they come to a conclusion and you immediately confirm their correctness, you steal the opportunity from them to learn how to do that.  A brief "Why are you concerned?" or "Why do you think that's the right answer?" before a confirmation sends the message that you don't only expect them to figure out the right answer but that you expect them to know that it's the right answer.
  • Give some confirmation. While you shouldn't be giving to many answers or confirmations, do not avoid giving them.  Sometimes the students need a confirmation and support -- but finding the right time to give them is a skill that you want to develop.


121-122 TA Guidlines (Redish)

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