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The Pedagogy behind the Tutorial Method

Executive Summary

The Centre for Tutorial Teaching identifies 10 pedagogical concepts that are central to the practice of the Tutorial Method:

  1. The Learning Ecosystem

  2. Key components of the tutorial learning sequence

  3. How the tutorial method relates to ‘lectures’ and OTJ learning

  4. Bloom’s Taxonomy

  5. Socratic Dialogue

  6. Metacognition, Self-efficacy, and Mastery

  7. Centre for Tutorial Teaching Foundational Toolkit Skills

  8. Centre for Tutorial Teaching Steps Towards Mastery in Discourse

  9. Conducive Learning Mindsets

  10. Progress monitoring

The Learning Ecosystem

The learning ecosystem is the sum of the various parts that make up a learner’s educational journey in your institution. For example, learners at the University of Oxford will engage in tutorials along with:

  • Lectures

  • Practicals

  • Classes

  • ‘Special’ lectures or keynote talks

  • Individual readings

  • Course assignments

Together, the sum of all of these components makes up the ‘learning ecosystem’ of the University of Oxford. There, the tutorial acts as the space where all of the learning from the activities listed above is assimilated through rigorous, inquiry-based discussion.

Learn more about The Tutorial Method within a Learning Ecosystem.

Key Components of the Tutorial Learning Sequence

  1. Larger group learning (lectures/seminars/classes): learners are introduced to core unit content and learn information

  2. Independent work: learners are set reading and a task (E.G. an essay question in the Humanities subjects or a Problem Sheet to solve in the STEM subjects) to gain critical understanding of the topic

  3. Apprenticeship placement experiences: learners apply their understanding to real-world scenarios through their on-the-job training

  4. Tutorial discussion: learners engage in a rigorous discussion to analyze their conceptual understanding and placement experience in a way that enables them to produce knowledge

How the Tutorial Method Relates to ‘Lectures’ and On-the-Job (OTJ) Learning

The Tutorial Method connects the core information that learners encounter in their larger group learning spaces (lectures) with the real-world understanding that learners gain through their apprenticeship experiences. The Tutorial Method achieves this by enabling learners to analyze and critique their conceptual understanding from courses and placement experiences on the job by engaging in a rigorous discussion with peers and a knowledgeable facilitator.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

According to The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, “The framework elaborated by Bloom and his collaborators consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as ‘skills and abilities,’ with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.”

In the Tutorial Method, learners engage in the lower levels of the pyramid in classes and on-the-job experiences before getting to the higher order levels of thinking in a tutorial. Instructors also use Bloom's Taxonomy to plan a range of questions for the discussion.

Socratic Dialogue

Socratic Dialogue is the practice of using questioning among a group of discussants to analyze a specific topic or to respond to a specific question. Some practices of Socratic Dialogue can be found within the Tutorial Method, such as: the skill of following up questions with more challenging, specific and analytical questions; considering different perspectives, sources and experiences to formulate knowledge in a group setting.

Metacognition, Self-efficacy and Mastery

The Tutorial Method supports learners in developing ‘mastery’ in a given area of study or practice. By mastery, we mean the ability to produce original work within the study/practice area that can meaningfully contribute to the broader field. To develop mastery in this way, the Tutorial Method supports learners in analyzing and reflecting on how they think and learn (metacognition), and in so doing supports them in building confidence and understanding around how they can reach their desired learning goals (self-efficacy).

Centre for Tutorial Teaching Foundational Toolkit Skills

These are skills that prepare learners for tutorial learning, but also for further study, the workplace and life! See the PDF below for a visual of this.

  1. Being motivated to study: In order for learners to complete tutorial assignments, they need to have the motivation and independence to seek out information on how to complete them well.

  2. Note taking: learners must be able to bring together information that they have retrieved in a way that is efficient, clear and effective to give them robust talking points for the tutorial.

  3. Reading to infer and retrieve: Tutorial assignments involve independent reading; learners must know how to pinpoint salient information in the text to discuss further in the tutorial with peers.

  4. Forming an argument: learners must be able to use the evidence that they have retrieved from the tutorial assignment to develop a justified argument; this will allow them to respond to their peers in the tutorial.

  5. Speaking clearly and confidently: learners must use economy of language to convey their points clearly and speak confidently without dominating the discussion, allowing others to listen and contribute.

  6. Being transparent about understanding: learners must practice asking for clarity if someone has said something that they do not understand. This ensures that misconceptions are addressed in the moment and that deeper understanding of the subject is achieved.

CTT Foundational Toolkit Skills
Download PDF • 79KB

Centre for Tutorial Teaching Steps Towards Mastery in Discourse

The Tutorial Method is unique in that it harnesses dialogue in an intensive forum so that learners can contribute original thought on a subject topic. The following are the steps that learners follow towards mastery in discourse.

  1. Discourse: ‘I can respond confidently to my facilitator’

  2. Peer-to-peer discourse: ‘I can speak/respond to my peers’

  3. Learner agency and challenge: ‘I can disagree with and challenge my facilitator and peers’

  4. Learner metacognition: 'I can openly name the learning process and shifts in my knowledge taking place because of the discussion I am having'

  5. Mastery and knowledge creation: 'I have a new perspective on the subject to contribute that has directly emerged from this conversation'

Conducive Learning Mindsets

In the Tutorial Method, the instructor explains how a growth mindset can support tutorial-style learning and vice-versa, praises effort when justified, teaches learners how to find answers themselves, and encourages learners to believe they can be 'experts' in their own right.

Progress Monitoring

The tutorial is a space of academic exploration and challenge, while the placement site or the degree program is the space where specific ‘marks’ or ‘standards’ need to be met. While the tutorial supports participants in being better able to reach academic and placement goals, ‘mastering’ the tutorial is not an end in itself (though there are indicators that we use to track how participants are faring with their tutorial learning progress).

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