The EAP programs in Ontario vary considerably in many regards (e.g., curriculum), but what connects them is a shared interest in student retention and seeing EAP learners progress to becoming students enrolled in diploma, certificate, and degree programs.
One method that has been shown to increase student performance and retention is Supplemental Instruction (SI). Though SI has been used for decades in a variety of post-secondary programs, it is very rarely used in EAP contexts. So, in this post, I will present the case for implementing SI in Ontario EAP programs.
What is Supplemental Instruction?
In a nutshell, SI is a form of peer-facilitated instruction that allows students to develop academic skills for short-term and long-term success. Instead of targeting at-risk students, SI focuses on providing support in high-risk courses (e.g., high percentage of D and F grades, prerequisites for upper-level courses, high enrollment courses with little teacher interaction). SI often goes by other names with catchy acronyms, such as Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) and Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL), to make its purpose clear.
Given the fact that courses in EAP programs meet a key requirement for being deemed high-risk (i.e., prerequisite for other courses), it seems that SI would be a great addition to EAP programs to facilitate greater student success.
Why is SI effective?
A clear sign of learning is when students can talk about what they know. However, on top of the general language challenges EAP students face, there are two other barriers that often prevent students from expressing their knowledge during class. Firstly, there is the power differential between the teacher and the students, which will always exist regardless of the level of rapport that an instructor builds with the learners. Secondly, there are time constraints, and it is very challenging for an instructor to engage every student in dialogue to assess their understanding. So, through regular peer-led study sessions, SI can help to remove these barriers.
What are the benefits of SI?
Besides improving academic performance and retention rates, SI helps to enrich the quality of the student’s experience. Students who take advantage of SI can make stronger connections with their classmates and develop learning skills which can be transferred to subsequent courses.
Since SI involves peer-led learning, it allows those who facilitate the sessions (often called SI Leaders) to heighten their leadership skills. SI Leaders, who are trained in creating and delivering effective lessons, are typically upper-level students who have performed well in the course they are leading study sessions for. However, it is possible to select SI Leaders who have a strong understanding of course content. For EAP programs, good candidates for SI Leaders would be EAP program graduates or TESL program candidates. These roles could be paid or volunteer.
How can you learn more about SI?
I have provided a very basic introduction to SI in this post. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit the National Centre for Supplemental Instruction in Canada website. There you will also find a soon-to-be updated and expanded list of the post-secondary institutions in Ontario that offer SI, many of which also have an EAP program (e.g., University of Guelph, York University, Mohawk College). You can also contact me, and I’d be happy to share additional information.