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Supplemental Instruction Program helps students boost grades

It’s a Tuesday morning in Room PS 113, and general psychology students are sitting attentively as student leader, Chelsea Kisela, reviews the previous week’s material.

The group session taking place is Supplemental Instruction, and it is designed to help students improve their understanding of course material and improve their grades.

During fall 2007, FAU implemented the program for its Math for Liberal Arts I course and instructors say they saw incredible success. Supplemental Instruction now is offered for 23 courses and keeps on expanding.

The Supplemental Instruction program is run by the Office for Student Retention and the sessions are free. The Supplemental Instruction concept, dating to 1973, is credited to Deanna Martin at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

During the voluntary sessions, student leaders, who have previously taken the course and earned an A, guide students through course concepts. The leaders do not re-lecture the material from classes and do not distribute their notes.

“A student leader will share the strategies he or she used to be successful in the course,” said Patricia Diaz, Supplemental Instruction leader for general psychology.

“The leader’s job is to help the students think about the lectures and the textbooks, and then put it all together into some kind of perspective during the session so the student can learn more efficiently,” she said.

The most important factor is that students learn how to integrate course content and study skills, said Jennifer Bebergal, director of the Office for Student Retention.

Students who attend the sessions on a regular basis usually average a full letter grade higher than those who do not attend and are more than twice as likely to pass their courses Bebergal said.

She said 77 percent of the students who did not attend the sessions for general psychology in the fall semester passed with a C or better, while 99 percent of the students who attended six or more sessions passed with a C or better.

“Supplemental Instruction is so successful because peer group learning works,” Bebergal said. “It has been shown that students who collaborate earn higher grades.”

“The program also works because I have had students come to me and tell me that SI has helped them get through the course and students feel they wouldn’t have earned the grade they did if they did not go to SI,” she said.

The sessions encourage students to discuss concepts and check accuracy of notes in small groups Bebergal said, adding that “Group learning also allows interaction and practice with the course concepts in a non-threatening environment.”

She added: “There may be a student in a group who is doing well in the course and for that student to be able to explain the nuances to someone else is reinforcing their learning and that’s what’s going to give them the best understanding of the material.”

This method of teaching also has proven highly successful in learning speed, she added.

Bebergal and some of her colleagues will also conduct research through the program and literature on what kind of instruments can be used to measure motivation.

“We will be looking into why someone goes to the sessions and why does someone who may be struggling in a course drop the course or fail the course and not go to the sessions,” she said.

Jennifer Peluso, instructor and undergraduate coordinator in the Psychology Department, will be studying psychology literature to determine if there are different instruments to measure motivation.

Bebergal said she also has contacted supplemental instruction coordinators at other universities to learn what other factors they have used to measure achievement based on motivation beyond grade-point average and percentage of students who drop courses.

“We are also looking at the transference of ideas and strategies to other courses because I feel that students are not just learning about a specific concept that relates to that course, but how to study better or organize concepts for a paper for any course,” she said.

If students can’t make the session for their section of a course because of their class or work schedule, they can attend another section’s session or see their student leader during office hours.

“Students should have no excuses for not going to a session,” Bebergal said.

There are a few reasons why Supplemental Instruction is offered only for certain courses, she said.

“The factors that go into the decision on whether to offer the program for a course are the enrollment, the percentage of students who withdraw and whether it’s a gateway course,” she said.

Junior Jessica Cusato says the sessions have helped her tremendously.

“I currently attend two sessions per week, and I believe my average in the class has risen at least 15 points,” Cusato said.




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