How to Increase Student Success Rate in the Classroom; Without Doing Anything

What if we told you that you could boost your course average without doing anything differently?

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. 

You can change up your course assignments, opt for another textbook, drop the textbook altogether, switch the background on your PowerPoint slides, the list of ways to improve goes on and on. But what if we told you that you could boost your course average by not doing anything differently? You’d be interested right? 

Supported Learning Groups (SLGs) are regular study groups facilitated by an upper year student. You’ve probably heard of them (if you want some more details on SLGs, read our article Benefits of SLGs for Instructors). By advocating and promoting SLGs to your students, you can increase your course grades and averages as well as lower the fail and withdrawal rates. Wondering about the facts and numbers that back up this claim? We’ve got them. 

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 important facts and figures that support SLGs. The following article will describe the key takeaways important for faculty.

Let’s Refresh

The SLG program uses active, collaborative, peer-to-peer learning techniques proven to engage students in course content. These strategies support student retention, social inclusion, and academic success. In SLG sessions students work together to figure out what they do and do not know about course content with an SLG leader as the facilitator. SLG student leaders are trained in effective pedagogy and other learning techniques. SLG leaders are undergraduate students looking for challenging experiences and opportunities for development. An SLG session can involve working through problems on a whiteboard, playing a game, or leaving the decisions about review up to the students who are attending. Through SLG sessions students deepen their understanding of the course content and learn skills that are transferable to other courses and future studies. 

The Numbers

National Data

National data collected from 2005-2015 across 70 institutions and involving 703,876 students, validated by the U.S. Department of Education, states that supplemental instruction (SI) participants have a lower rate of D and F grades as well as withdrawals. The data shows that SI participants earn higher mean final course grades. According to the US Department of Education Research, SI programs like the University of Guelph’s SLGs increase final grades in business, health, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, math, computers, and other disciplines beyond those listed. 

The University of Guelph Data

The University of Guelph SLG program aggregated data collected from 2003- 2012 shows over a two per cent increase in final grades of SLG participants over non-participants. Students who attend SLGs at U of G receive eight per cent more A grades across all courses and seven percent more B grades across all courses. Those who attend SLGs also have a three percent withdrawal rate compared to 21 per cent among the non-SLG attendees in this study. Though D and F grades remain similar regardless of SLG participation it could be argued, that students considering dropping a specific course attended SLG sessions, decided to stick with it, and received a final letter grade of D or F at the end of the course. According to U of G’s end of semester surveys, by self-report, students felt that participating in SLGs greatly helped them to understand the course content (88 per cent said four or five on a five-point scale). The same survey revealed that 69 per cent of SLG participants felt that their participation helped to improve their study skills.

Supplemental Instruction

SI started in Kansas City at the University of Missouri in 1973, known today as the International Center for SI. The University of Guelph was the first SI program in Canada, and we have been the National Centre for Supplemental Instruction since 2008. We provide training for SI supervisors across the country and do outreach and development for the field of SI in Canada, as well as work with other national centres across the world and the University of Missouri on research and outreach and development of the field. There are five national centres for SI all over the world including Australia, South Africa, and the United States. In Canada, 26 institutions have adopted SI programs including Carleton University, Queens University, and the University of British Columbia. 

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As a member of faculty, students look up to you and are looking for your academic advice. By simply placing your stamp of approval on SLGs you can increase the student success rate in your classroom without changing the way you run your course. 

Want to learn more about SLGs or find out if there is one for your class? Email library@uoguelph.ca