Tutorials present the opportunity to personalize the attention to student learning.  Below are a range of activities that fellows conduct in tutorials, either one-on-one with students or in tiny groups.


Thinking Matterstutorials aim to intensify and accelerate freshman learning over the ten weeks of the quarter through individualized instruction.  Post-doctoral fellows work with one or with two/three students in 20-30 minute sessions and guide each student to reach the highest possible level of achievement in development of critical capacities and other skills targeted by the course.

Music and sport can provide useful metaphors. Just as a teacher or coach provides direct, hands-on guidance during the practice sessions that prepare the musician or athlete for an excellent performance in the formal recital or in the athletic competition, the Thinking Matters instructor addresses students’ particular needs and provides an opportunity in the tutorial for them to practice the skills required for excellent ‘performance’ in the course’s graded assignments.   

Structure and Timing

All students participate in a minimum of three tutorials each quarter, with at least one as a one-on-one session with the post-doctoral instructor.  Teaching teams discuss the schedule and purpose of as part of course planning, and tutorial dates are included in the syllabus along with clear statements about the nature and objectives of each of the three sessions.  To create an environment conducive to rigorous work for the sake of improvement, tutorials should not be graded; however, because they are crucial to learning, they should be assessed as part of the participation grade or, when the task warrants, the grade for a written or group assignment.

General planning guidelines:

  • Weeks one or two of the quarter for the one-on-one tutorial.

o   Getting acquainted

o   Assessing prior knowledge, skills  and approaches to learning

  • Weeks four or five for the first tiny group tutorial.

o   Practice skills needed for success in the course, e.g. close reading, quantitative modeling, visual or musical analysis, data collection and interpretation, etc.

o   Opportunity for interactive questions and explanations between students focused on articulation of argument and supporting evidence  

  • Weeks seven or eight for the second tiny group tutorial.

o   Revision of draft written assignments required for all students

o   Peer feedback practice

o   Guidance on group project development and presentation


Observed Outcomes in 2012-13

After the first tutorial, instructors reported that section discussions were livelier and quieter students participated more often. They attributed this change in section behavior to acceleration of building relationships between teacher and student through the tutorial. In addition, instructors found that they consciously selected and adapted teaching strategies to fit the learning approaches of their students after getting to know them more personally.

The second tutorial provided time for instructors to work with students on their demonstrated weaknesses and strengths using guided peer interaction.  Immediate feedback and follow-up questions facilitated individual learning in a setting where students could help each other focus on a specific problem or skill area.  The availability of the post-doctoral fellow to intervene and subtly redirect the conversation resulted in deeper inquiry.

For the third tutorial, students’ own work formed the basis of the learning session, with either a group project or peer review of paper drafts being the two most frequent activities.  Because the graded assignment fell at different times in different courses, the third tutorial varied the most in terms of which week in the quarter it took place.