Supplemental Instruction Revisited

Randy Beach, ASCCC Executive Committee
Christopher Howerton, ASCCC Educational Policies Committee

The value of learning support and tutoring services to student success cannot be overestimated given the various levels of preparation our students bring to the classroom. In-person tutoring, online tutoring, embedded tutoring and other academic supports for students have grown in popularity in the California community college system, and colleges are looking at current and prospective learning support models as they build their guided pathways frameworks or look for strategies to address the mandates of AB 705.

A 2015 survey conducted by California Community College’s Success Network’s (3CSN)  Learning Assistance Project, in partnership with the ASCCC and the Association of Colleges for Tutoring & Learning Assistance (ACTLA), focused specifically on the practice of embedded tutoring called Supplemental Instruction, a program designed and supported by the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). According to the UMKC website, Supplemental Instruction (SI) “is an academic assistance program that utilizes peer-assisted study sessions. SI sessions are regularly scheduled, informal review sessions in which students compare notes, discuss readings, develop organizational tools, and predict test items. Students learn how to integrate course content and study skills while working together.”[1] Several ASCCC resolutions[2],[3] from 2011 in support of SI make now a good time to review the program, especially within the context of recent systemwide changes.

The term “Supplemental Instruction” (uppercase “SI”) refers to the program created and owned by the UMKC. UMKC’s SI program has specific training curriculum and program parameters that SI leaders and supervisors learn during trainings which are provided for a fee. SI training includes procedures for selecting SI courses and training SI leaders as well as effective learning strategies and SI session activities. An SI program offers direct support for specific courses where tutors are embedded in course sections and work closely with faculty to support students in the class. SI leaders are students who have taken the class, preferably with the same instructor, and have earned at least a B. These embedded SI leaders attend all lectures, act as role models to students, hold study sessions, act as facilitators for student study sessions, and meet regularly with the faculty. Also, in the UMKC model, SI leaders are paid for their preparation time and often create session plans that are hands-on and interactive. Students are highly motivated to attend these sessions since the support work in study sessions is specific to the course.

However, the survey conducted in 2015 shows that many colleges have adopted a variety of approaches under the name of “supplemental instruction” (lowercase “si”) but have not formally implemented the official UMKC Supplemental Instruction model in order to support their local programs. Some colleges report thriving and comprehensive embedded tutoring programs that were created without any knowledge of the UMKC model.  Similarities in both the official UMKC Supplemental Instruction and homegrown “si” include: tutors working with faculty to support students in a specific section of a class; tutors receiving training to help students develop their learning skills; and some form of supervision. Tutor trainings vary as well.  These trainings may be designed to help students surface their own existing strategies (rather than modeling strategies) and can also emphasize helping students learn strategies to include: stress management, test-taking, deep breathing techniques and other support. The common theme among all supplemental instruction programs is that they go beyond the one-to-one model traditionally thought of around tutoring.

While the 2015 survey gives some insight into supplemental instruction efforts (lowercase and uppercase) within the system, today’s landscape of change within our system would suggest that a similar survey today would yield very different results.  Since 2015, the expansion of Student Support and Success Programs, Equity, and Basic Skills Initiative funding (SSSP /Equity/ BSI), as well as the Basic Skills and Student Outcomes Transformation (BSSOT) program, have provided colleges with much needed resources to explore both upper and lowercase supplemental instruction approaches and to expand what they know is working locally for their students.  As a whole, the impact of supplemental instruction  has led to more high touch learning assistance models.  As the results of the survey were collected before the passage of AB 705, the integration of SSSP /Equity/ BSI, the College Promise program, and the Guided Pathways discussions that have swept through the system, colleges are encouraged to review the foundations of embedded tutoring practices found in all versions of supplemental instruction and to consider student services that provide more high touch, direct support to students where it can really matter, in the classroom.

The results of the California Community College’s Success Network’s Learning Assistance Project survey can be found at the 3CSN website[4].

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