Three Steps to Productive Office Hours

Posted by Mary Ellen Guffey

Dana Loewy and Mary Ellen Guffey at 2014 ABC Convention

Dana Loewy and Mary Ellen Guffey at 2014 ABC Convention

At the recent Association for Business Communication conference in Philadelphia, my co-author Dana Loewy and I enjoyed many of the sessions. But one of our favorites was “Red Pens Down! Tutoring Strategies to Make 1-on-1 Appointments More Effective for Both You and Your Students.”

In the session, Professor Emily Eisner Twesme, from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, presented her three-step plan for helping students when they show up for office hours with a blank look and expect you to tell them what is “wrong” with their written assignments. She advises (1) sitting on your hands, (2) asking open-ended questions, and (3) focusing on document organization rather than marking writing errors.

Instead of having instructors jump right in and immediately begin editing the student’s paper, she advised greeting the student with a casual statement such as, “How’s your semester going?” to open a conversation. When the student asks for “help” with his/her paper, instructors are to “sit on their hands” and ask open-ended questions such as “What are you having trouble with?” When the student can’t articulate a specific problem, the professor might suggest focusing on the document’s organization, while avoiding marking the paper.

After outlining her three-step procedure, Professor Twesme had the audience break up into pairs to role-play the procedure. I played the part of a demanding and obstinate student while Dana tried her best to implement the plan. We actually learned important techniques—and laughed a lot!

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