Embedded tutors

A special supplemental instruction (SI) program at Johnson County Community College allows students to learn from their peers both inside and outside the classroom.

This is what happens: trained tutors are paid to take classes along with their classmates, and they act as model students for the others in the class who may not possess similar academic skills.

“This effort is to allow students to have more opportunities to be successful,” explained Kathryn Byrne, associate professor and director of the Writing Center at JCCC.

Where they are

Tutors are embedded in developmental classes in math, reading and writing because developmental classes are where students are most susceptible to becoming dejected and dropping out. They are placed in developmental classes because they are not yet working with college-level skills.

“A typical developmental education student was never a good student, or else they are nontraditional students who have forgotten their skills. Tutors model good-student behavior,” Byrne explained. “They show that it’s okay to stop and ask the teacher questions.”

The tutors also lead study groups outside of class, initially acting as organizer and teacher but quickly changing to facilitator and observer once the group is cohesive and functioning.

The tutor is paid for the study session, but the students in the class are not. Instead, they are “incentivized” to attend. Sometimes the instructors offer extra credit for attendance. Sometimes they drop a low test score.

What they do

Jane Blakeley, embedded tutor, has her own incentive program: candy and games.

“I try to make study sessions fun,” she said. “I start with anything that promotes social interaction. Team games are usually a great way to start.”

She’s opened up study sessions with spirited games of Apples to Apples and Jeopardy!, and one-quarter to one-half of the enrolled class shows up regularly.

What they accomplish

That extra effort may be paying off. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Research at JCCC surveyed students who took English 102 with an embedded tutor versus those traditional classes without a tutor.

The SI English 102 section, a class called Writing Strategies, had 100 percent completion rate (meaning students stayed in the class until the very last day) and an 86 percent success rate (meaning students received an A, B, C or P, which indicates a passing grade).

Conversely, English 102 classes taught without supplemental instruction had an 81 percent completion rate and only a 34 percent success rate.

Blakeley said walking “this very thin line” between non-teacher and non-student can be difficult to navigate.

“But I love it. It has been such a learning experience for me,” Blakeley said, who may one day want to teach college English.

“One thing that really helps is that I keep in constant contact with the professors (of each class), and they help me a lot,” she said. “The teachers here are amazing, and I have really enjoyed being part of the (supplemental instruction) program.”