Starting Conversations in Office Hours
Based on a handout by Laurel Westbrook, Ph.D. Sociology
Many GSIs require students to attend office hours as a way to enhance the learning process. What happens, however, if students don’t bring questions? Below are some ideas about how to start up a conversation with students in office hours.
- Ask students to talk about their previous academic experience. This may give you a better sense of their current skills and knowledge, as well as expectations they may hold for your course.
- If you have students fill out an information sheet at the beginning of the term, you can use their responses as a starting point. I usually ask students to fill out an information sheet during the first week of the term. The sheet asks about their background in the subject area, what they hope to learn in the class, their known academic weaknesses (things they would like to get better at during the class), and their outside activities or hobbies. This can be a great starter for conversation in office hours. (“I see here that you say completing work on time is hard for you. Do you have any plans on how to get better at this during the semester? Would you like to brainstorm some ways to get better at meeting deadlines?”).
- Ask students about why they signed up for the class and whether there are any aspects of the class or syllabus that they are especially excited about.
- Ask students how they got interested in the subject area or the specific topic for the class (lots of my past students have really interesting stories about how they got into sociology), and these stories often reveal a lot about what sort of student they will be and how you can best reach them as a teacher.
- Talk with students about their progress in the course. Ask them what their goals were for the course and whether they feel like they are meeting them. If they feel they aren’t meeting their goals, brainstorm with them about ways that they could do that, including asking them about how they read, how they study, how far before the due date they start writing papers for the class, what teaching techniques work well for them that you could try to include more of, etc.
- Go over past course work with students. Most students carry past exams, papers, and short writing assignments (from section) with them. Have them take out one they did well on or one they were disappointed with and go over what you thought was really great about it and/or how you think they can improve.
- Discuss students’ plans for next semester. Once the class schedule for the next semester has been announced, you can talk with students about what they plan on taking the next semester, possibly steering them towards classes you think they might really like in your department.
- Talk about career options. If a student is interested in going to graduate school, talk about your experience and let them ask you questions.