Supplemental Instruction Helps Students Succeed

Students helping other students learn is an idea that has become a reality at Ashland Community and Technical College.

The Supplemental Instruction (SI) program takes students who have successfully completed a course and puts them in charge of review sessions for students currently taking that course. The SI leaders go through training in teaching and learning methods, but their main strength as leaders comes from their personal experiences as a student.

As an older student myself, I had a hard time retaining the material we had gone over in class, and I had to be consistent and study every day, said Joanna Breeding, a student who has been a SI leader for math and biology classes. I wanted to help other students who were having a difficult time and show them different study techniques that had helped me.

Rather than targeting individual students who have academic difficulties, SI is designed for all students in historically difficult classes. Not only does this approach remove any stigma which might be attached to remedial instruction, it also recognizes that sometimes all students could benefit from some extra help.

Students attend out-of-class sessions, which are typically held right before or right after the class time. The free informal sessions are open to any students in a particular class section who want to review notes, discuss readings, develop organizational tools and prepare for exams.

I was introduced to SI my first semester at ACTC said Denita D. Amburgey, a pharmacy technology student from Flatwoods and one of the students helped by SI. I had English/Writing 090-091 and the pace of the class was much quicker than I had expected. I am very proud to have participated and my grade improved from a B to an A almost immediately.

SI is not like an average class room setting, said Amburgey. We had worksheets, worked with board games and interacted with our classmates and we had fun while we were learning. SI helped me learn the material in new ways and kept me from having to study as often.

SI Grant Approach

SI is funded by ACTCs Title III grant, Closing the Education Gap in Appalachian Kentucky, now in its fourth year of a five-year funding cycle. The grant emphasis is to improve student retention and success.

The SI model was first developed in 1973 with the goal of identifying and supporting the most challenging courses for students. The goal is to help students master course content while developing effective learning, critical thinking and study strategies. Because of its proven success, SI has been adopted by over 1,500 colleges and universities in 29 countries.

The whole goal of the program is to help our students be more successful and reach their educational goals, said Professor Becky Gehringer, Title III Supplemental Instruction Specialist. Although the focus is on students currently taking a difficult class, the program also helps the SI leaders with their own classwork.

The grant specifies the courses in which SI will be piloted: Developmental Writing and Math in year two, Writing I and II in year three, College Algebra, Biology and Chemistry this year, and Psychology, Political Science and History next year.

Participation in SI is open to all students enrolled in the targeted classes, and they may attend as many sessions as they choose.

SI leaders attend the classes , take notes, do homework, read all assigned materials including supplemental readings, and conduct three study sessions per week.

The SI study sessions are informal seminars in which they review notes, discuss readings, develop organizational tools, prepare for exams and engage in active learning activities designed to enhance learning.

The SI leaders are right in there with the students they are trying to help - attending class, working on assignments and taking notes, Gehringer said.

Most people don't know how to study math, and before SI, I was one of them, said Kandice Damron, SI leader for math classes. SI has taught me many strategies that I can use in my own courses, including the math ones, to help me better understand the materials.

Damron, an Ashland resident, plans to become a middle school teacher. She will graduate in May with both AA and AS degrees and will transfer to Morehead State University next fall.

Students who study in a group learn two and one half times more than students who study alone. Statistics show that students who attend SI sessions make one half to one letter grade higher than students who do not attend. They also achieve higher test scores and learn skills that make them better students.

In class, when the teacher asked questions, those who attended SI knew the subject and could answer questions on command, said Amburgey. Those who did not attend SI struggled with the material.

In Fall 2010, SI was offered in eight different classes and 96 of 239 enrolled students participated in SI. The combined pass rate average for the SI participants earning a final letter grade of A, B, or C was 80% compared to 55% for the non-SI group.

In Spring 2011, 100 of 299 students enrolled in the eight different courses participated in SI. The combined pass rate average for SI participants earning an A, B, or C was 81% compared to 50% for the non-SI group.

SI was a positive experience, said Darius O. Burden, a business major from Ashland whose goal is to open his own business one day. Students help each other and learn how they can better themselves. In addition to learning more about the subject, Ive learned how to speak out in a group and could see what was involved in being a group leader. This will help me in my career.

SI Leader Training

The SI sessions are led by SI leaders, students who have previously and successfully completed the targeted course, Gehringer said. Generally, SI leaders are recommended by faculty. They must have passed the class with an A or high B and need a GPA above 2.0.

SI leaders receive 12 hours of training before the beginning of the semester and have weekly in- service training throughout the semester. These training sessions include specific teaching/learning theories and strategies as well as topics for professional development. SI leaders learn skills that will benefit them now in the classroom and later in the workforce.

In addition to receiving a salary for nine hours of work a week, the leaders receive the benefits of learning to become a leader, deal with others and how to lead a discussion. Being an SI leader helps build self-confidence and responsibility, according to Gehringer.

My students have commented that SI helped them develop good study habits, better understand the assignments through teamwork and get better grades on their quizzes, said Breeding, an SI leader in Anatomy amp; Physiology. I enjoy seeing the light come on when they finally understand the material, and Ive improved my own study skills.

My original goal when I started back to school was to get my Bachelors degree in nursing; said Breeding. After being an SI Leader for three semesters, I realized I wanted to go even further in college and go for my Masters degree to teach nursing.

She will graduate this May with both AA and AS degrees and will start the Associate Degree Nursing program in fall.

Every success of the students attending SI, I count as one of my own as well. When they pass a test, I feel good, as if I myself had passed the test, said Damron. SI also provides me with the opportunity to experience how other people learn, which will help me in my teaching career in the future.

I like watching the SI leaders grow, said Professor Gehringer. Students look up to them as one of their own who cares enough to help other students succeed in class.

For more information on Supplemental Instruction, contact Gehringer at 606-326-2023 or email: becky.gehringer@kctcs.edu.