Common Leader Pitfalls

Problems in session aren’t as rare as you think, but they don’t have to hold you back from achieving your goals. Some problems are simple; the problems here are presented as the most common and easiest to improve. Other problems may be more serious; always refer to your mentor or an SI supervisor if you think any problem in your session needs special attention.

Silence in Session

SI doesn’t work by diffusion! For students to benefit from SI, they must be actively engaged in a productive learning process. The strength of SI comes from the collaboration and connections it fosters. Try these tips:

  • Take a look at your wait time1. Students need time to formulate their answers and develop their questions, so wait them out when they are not being responsive – they may just be thinking.
  • Maybe you’re talking too much (no offense). If the SI is doing even 50% of the talking, it’s too much.
  • Make sure your sessions are a nonthreatening atmosphere. Sometimes students are just overwhelmed. When their faces go blank, stop and reassess what’s going wrong!

Re-lecturing Class Material

If your session is just another lecture, the students are not becoming independent learners. SI should help them acquire the tools they need to make sense of lecture, text, and other resources. So what can be done when the students want just another lecture?

  • Fight the desire to give direct answers, even on the simplest of questions. It sets a bad precedent.
  • It may be easy to give an explanation, but it’s much better to pull an explanation out of someone else. Help the students help each other in developing note-taking and study skills.
  • Use leading questions that you’ve put thought into. You should help the students reach a conclusion on their own, not drag them along your logic they may not understand.

The “Gimmes”

Most leaders experience the “gimmes,” students who just want a handout. It may seem unfair to deny a student help (that’s what you’re there for, after all), but your good nature can be abused when students expect you to provide for them. By giving in, you’re only reinforcing dependent behaviors. Things to try:

  • Remember your expectations, or more aptly, the expectations of your students (Figure 1, p. 5). You should expect your students to stay if they want to keep your handouts.
  • Maybe your handouts are a little too helpful (really). Good handouts are never handed out in a completely usable state. The process of participating in SI completes the handout in some way.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Somewhere in the process of growing up, we’ve grown out… of being relaxed. Sometimes students react poorly when asked to be “silly” or play games in session. It is important for students to be in an environment where they can feel secure when playing games, and it only takes one dissenter to unravel a group’s dynamic. Can the games go on?

  • Don’t start playing too many games before your group is comfortable around each other. If that means you have to wait a few weeks before trying a game, your patience will be rewarded.
  • If someone gets defensive, have a heart-to-heart. If they make an honest effort to learn and participate in a game but still don’t feel like they benefit, work with them on improving other kinds of activities.

Mixed Signals

Supplemental Instruction is different from other types of academic assistance, and its uniqueness may cause some confusion. While each instructor sets his or her own expectations of a course’s leader, there are some limitations. We aim to establish a respectful partnership. What happens if things are amiss?

  • Communication is important! If you are comfortable speaking with your professor, speak up and politely but assertively explain your situation and suggest a resolution.
  • If you are not comfortable approaching your professor, your mentor can help you find a solution.

Once Again, With Feeling

Part of SI’s draw is the diverse way it helps students learn. If your sessions become repetitive, overusing a specific activity or study skill, students have very little incentive to attend. You don’t have to have something amazing for every session, but it is essential to maintain some variety. How?

  • Don’t get distressed! Most leaders fall into a rut at some point. Focus on getting your session back on track rather than on “mistakes” you’ve made.
  • Section 3 is a haven for new ideas, as are your mentor and activities run by previous leaders. Don’t reinvent the wheel when there are perfectly good jet engines you can take for a spin.
  • If nothing else, try reading through more tips in Section 4. Sometimes thinking about something in a different light can help spark your inner creativity. If you have any notes or handouts from in-service trainings, those would work, too.