Benefits of SLGs for Instructors
“Supporting students in high-risk courses can be a high impact practice”- Kimm Khagram, acting manager, Supported Learning Groups
Why do you teach? Think back to the days before your career as an educator. Was it your passion for the subject? Your love of learning and growth? The research opportunities? The reward in seeing your students succeed? Whatever the reason, at the University of Guelph our students are the heart of what we do and are an essential piece in our mission to Improve Life. We all want our students to succeed. We want lower dropout rates, lower withdrawal rates, higher grades, and higher averages. Supported Learning Groups (SLGs) help us support student success as well as help us to achieve those goals along the way.
In a recent interview with Kimm Khagram, acting manager, Supported Learning Groups, we discussed the details of SLGs—why faculty should support them—and the lesser known specifics of the SLG program. The following article highlights the key takeaways important for faculty.
What are Supported Learning Groups?
Supported Learning Groups, offered for free at the library, use an evidence—based approach to engage students in course content and review class material. SLGs combine essential academic skills with understanding course material. It’s what to learn meets how to learn. All students are welcome to attend SLG sessions because these groups support high-risk courses, not high-risk students.
What are high-risk courses?
High-risk courses are typically first, or second-year prerequisites taken by many students. “These courses have a high rate of D grades, failures, and withdrawals,” said Khagram. They’re difficult and often have content that can be tricky to fully understand. These courses are known as high risk because they cover content fundamental to subsequent studies in a variety of degree programs, and a fail grade has implications on a student's future courses and their ability to graduate as scheduled. “Succeeding in these courses demonstrates a high level of capability and improves student confidence,” said Khagram.
Who facilitates SLGs? What qualifications do they have?
Khagram spoke highly of SLG leaders, “We're dealing with some of the brightest students at the University of Guelph.” SLG leaders are high achieving, empathetic volunteer students who have already taken the course and succeeded in it. These service-oriented and academically engaged undergraduate students re-attend the lectures of the specified course and take notes in order to ensure their own understanding of the material. They plan weekly sessions that address the course content that week. SLG leaders are committed to areas of student life beyond academics and are students who have demonstrated the skills and attitudes that will help them succeed in university.
How are SLG leaders selected and how are they trained?
SLG leader positions are not easy to come by. Not everyone can be an SLG leader. “Applications are screened by current leaders and SLG program staff,” said Khagram. Current leaders are also part of the interview process where applicants are evaluated on interpersonal skills, study skills, academic experience, and essentially the whole person, not just what’s written on a resume. “Because current SLG leaders are part of that recruitment, we get to hear from a student perspective who they think would be good SLG leaders and they're often really insightful.” SLG hires must have exceptional interpersonal and time management skills as they are asked to balance 10 hours of volunteering a week with their regular course load. All SLG leaders receive two full days of pre-service training around learning theory, the key components of the role, how to facilitate group dynamics, and so much more related to being an effective SLG leader. The program also involves ongoing training to revisit and expand on those skills.
What does an SLG session look like?
All SLG sessions are drop-in, voluntary, and anonymous. They usually obtain 8-15 students per session but leaders are trained to modify their plan for smaller or larger groups. In an SLG session, the onus is on the student—this is not a tutoring session. In these sessions, students do all the processing, just as they would if the leader were not present. SLG leaders will direct students to resources: course materials or the textbook, TAs, other students—but they will never answer a question. Leaders plan activities that encourage students to work together to review aspects of the previous lecture. “The goal is that learning is active and engaged, not passive and received,” said Khagram.
What are the SLG benefits and outcomes?
SLGs are a great way for students to make connections on campus with others in their program or courses. “We know from research that people who are more connected on campus are more likely to stay in school and have a positive experience as a student,” said Khagram. Engagement is a factor in retention, making attending SLGs regularly beneficial for students’ academic success. From opportunities to use new terminology, to increased confidence in the course material, to learning effective study habits, the list of student benefits of SLGs is almost never-ending.
If you only read one section from this article...
You’re likely aware that as a faculty member you hold a large amount of authority and presence in the eyes of your students. Your students look up to you and are looking for your academic advice. If you tell them to buy the textbook, most will. If you encourage SLG attendance, more students will show up to sessions— and more importantly, the student success rate will increase.
If you’re wondering about the numbers and facts that back up these big claims read our article How to Increase Student Success Rate in the Classroom; Withouting Doing Anything.
Want to learn more about SLGs or find out if there is one for your class? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.