What is Supplemental Instruction?

Supplemental Instruction  (SI) is a unique method of academic assistance, one that may not be familiar. Most students thinking about academic help will arrive first at “tutoring.” In this method of assistance, a student seeks help (or is referred to seek help by the professor) from someone who is an expert in the subject area – a tutor. Is tutoring an ideal method of helping students in classes that are difficult?

Tutoring: Benefits and Weaknesses

Traditional tutoring has several strong benefits. It allows students to seek help in the specific topics in which they need help and work one-on-one with an expert to address those issues. This is certainly a winning combination, but only if the student is a strongly motivated, self-regulated learner. Where does that leave other students?

Many students do not realize they need academic help until they have performed poorly on the first exam. The time lag between the beginning of class and introduction of assistance could be weeks. By that time, the student is already so far behind that it may be impossible to “catch up.” Even worse, because professors recommend that students who are performing poorly attend tutoring sessions, tutoring can have a very negative connotation. While the reality is that all students can greatly benefit from tutoring if they are properly prepared, the students who could benefit most from tutoring are often the last to seek it.

Supplemental Instruction: An Alternative Approach

SI is different. Developed in 1973 by Dr. Deanna Martin  at the University of Missouri–Kansas City , SI employs fellow students rather than content experts to deliver assistance. SI targets difficult classes and is open to all students in a course, not just those who are struggling.

SI leaders attend class lectures and hold informal group study sessions from day one. By focusing on the inherent difficulty in the class material and development of study skills and strategies students can use to overcome it, SI sessions provide a constructive learning environment. Students have the opportunity to become actively engaged with the new material and thus, increase retention.

SI blends “what to learn” with “how to learn.” It is the SI leaders’ goal, therefore, to help students develop content skills that they can use to succeed in the present and cognitive skills they can use to succeed in future classes. This hybrid focus is the major benefit of SI, but also the hardest goal for new leaders. You’ll learn how to create engaging activities like these in Section 3.

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