Comment & Analysis
Oct 11, 2018

The Case for Speaking Up in Tutorials

Tutorials are for your own benefit. Share your ideas to avoid the awkward silences, writes Eliana Jordan.

Eliana JordanDeputy Opinion Editor
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Gearóid Gibbs for The University Times

Students in tutorials at Trinity can be easily divided into two camps: those who speak and those who do not.

The purpose of the tutorial system is not a novel concept unique only to Trinity. It is used in many universities across Europe to facilitate debate and discussion on a given text or topic, intending to better each student’s understanding of the module at hand. Their counterpart, lectures, are not conducive to direct engagement or pertinent queries, prompting a necessity for the intimacy and one-to-one dialogue that, in theory, characterises tutorials. Without them we would flounder in our questions and our lack of contact with professors and students alike. We’d be traversing the academic ocean alone, untethered.

Tutorials are, in many cases, our sole chance to engage the subject matter, our chance to be heard and to hear others. If there are voices willing to be heard at all, that is.

I would categorise myself as one who does in fact speak in these small-group settings. I find it rather unacceptable to enter into such a conversation – having read the material and formulated ideas on the subject – and withhold those ideas from others who might benefit from my contribution (Assuming I have remained up to date with the workload, which is generally true. Most weeks. Nobody’s perfect.)

Likewise, I find it disappointing when the majority of my peers in any given tutorial seem to have nothing to share, even when they nod their assent to the TA’s initial question: “Has everyone read the material?”

If you’ve read the material, you have something worth saying. Something. Anything. I beg of you.

I think we can all agree that there is nothing more awkward than a tutorial in which silence predominates as the teaching assistant desperately roots around for answers from students, but to no avail. We’re meant to take hold of these academic opportunities, to seize the silence with both hands and morph that uncomfortable lack of communication into discourse that will benefit us all. Tutorials aren’t of any real use to teaching assistants, after all. They’re for us: the students, but so many of us choose to keep our mouths shut regardless.

I think we can all agree that there is nothing more awkward than a tutorial in which silence predominates as the teaching assistant desperately roots around for answers from students, but to no avail

Those who don’t speak, even if they have prepared material or are cognisant of more information than other participants who are running their mouths, are holding the group back. Share your ingenuity. If you know the material, if you have opinions and thoughts that have not been vocalised by another student, it’s your responsibility to share those convictions. Please, for the sake of everyone, put aside your shyness, your pride or your passivity. I promise you will leave the tutorial feeling far more aware than you would otherwise, and your peers will, too.

Of course, some who speak up will inevitably cross the faint boundary of welcome contribution to the contemptible area of “over-contributing” – embellishing their speech to the point of pretentious nonsense. My Arts Block compatriots will know precisely what I mean. Such participation, while it is still better than none at all, is unproductive. If you’re speaking with the intention to impress and to befuddle rather than to clarify, express a new idea or a concurrence with one already put forth, then you’re not contributing meaningfully. There’s a middle ground here, and it is a place of sincerity and curiosity.

Of course, some who speak up will inevitably cross the faint boundary of welcome contribution to the contemptible area of “over-contributing” – embellishing their speech to the point of pretentious nonsense

The sole loophole in all of this is the scenario in which you have not prepared the material. We’ve all been there, myself included. You show up because tutorials are compulsory, and you’ll be worse off for not having attended at all, but you genuinely have nothing to add to the discussion because you haven’t yet accumulated any ideas of your own. Such is life sometimes. In this case honesty, and a good ear for listening, is the best policy.

We should ideally come away from our tutorials with a much deeper knowledge of an issue, passage, theme, language, etc. thanks to the wealth of ideas provided by our peers, who will inevitably have varying perspectives on and experiences of the content at hand. Through this group contribution of ideas, we’ll head off to write essays and take exams with the advantage of a wide-ranging and thorough interpretation of our course work.

As we edge nearer to the thick of our modules and to the learned consistency of our schedules, it’s important to bear in mind the essence of these tutorials to which we drag ourselves day in and day out. This exchange of views among those plugging away at the same content is absolutely vital to our curriculum at Trinity, and your voice (yes, you, I do mean you) matters. So please, for the sake of my grades if not your own, speak up.

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