Supplemental Instruction, peer group tutoring

The word is spreading about Supplemental Instruction, a free peer tutoring program ongoing since 2006 and available to all Santa Monica College students, with the support of President and Superintendent Chui L. Tsang. The program, which pays students working as SI leaders, has not been widely advertised to students. A top priority of the SI manager is to do so.

The SI Manager

Tony Prestby, newly appointed director of Supplemental Instruction after a vote at the Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, is now fully in charge of SI.

Prestby’s role as manager is to help SI leaders practice student-teaching methods, such as preparing and organizing classes by writing up lesson packets, as well as knowing how to ask students open-ended questions.

“Students sometimes don’t understand what it’s like to understand the importance of every course they take in sequence,” says Prestby, who considers himself a basic skills student, and scored low on the math placement exam.

Prestby says that, especially in math, if one does not understand the concept, it will be that much more difficult to understand the subject.

“I, myself, had homework problems Friday through Sunday, so I know the struggle,” he says.

The SI Classes

Prestby explains that a typical SI session begins with an opening activity, with the main activity consisting of the most difficult material and the closing activity. All SI classes are completely confidential for the attending students. Names and attendance are not disclosed to their professors.

“We want students to go because they want to go,” says Prestby. “Students can go or not go without feeling like someone is checking up on them.”

SI classes are available to every SMC student at no extra charge, and are taught and led by the students recommended to Prestby by professors.

The weekly SI classes available to enrolled students are held in a group setting two to three times per week throughout the semester. The scheduled meetings are decided upon when students are available.

During the semester, SI leaders also attend every scheduled SMC class they are going to lead, acting as model students, so as to not make attending students feel pressured.

If a student needs to complete three courses in succession, but is having trouble with the first or second prerequisites, getting to the third will prove challenging if the basic skills are not mastered.

“If students attend SI consistently, they have the chance to receive one letter grade higher than they would on their own,” Prestby says.

The SI Leaders

To become an SI leader, the student is first referred to Prestby by the student's professor, who recognizes a student who has mastered the subject and received an A or a B in the class he or she will lead.

“SI leaders have monthly training sessions to keep their skills updated and to learn new tactics,” says Prestby.

The SI leader is then assigned to the classes he or she will be teaching, and attends 16 hours of training before the beginning of the semester.

In short, student SI leader duties consist of attending the class he or she is tutoring, meeting with the instructor, creating mock exams, attending training, holding SI classes two to three times per week, and holding two-to-four hour final review sessions.

Vanessa Reynoso, a second year science major, is an SI leader for an introductory chemistry class.

She says the classes that offer SI sessions are those with higher fail and drop rates.

“Just being in the program, running the program has been fun and exciting as an SI Leader,” says Reynoso.

Working with her professor, Reynoso creates her own worksheets and tests for her SI sessions following each lesson taught in the class.

“More than tutoring, we add supplemental work but don’t have one-on-one sessions,” says Reynoso, reminding that SI is a group-learning environment.

Reynoso calls SI classes a great atmosphere and less intimidating for students to ask more questions.

“It’s really rewarding when students come up to me thanking me for understanding a concept,” Reynoso says. “It’s really nice.”

SI Availability and Offerings

Currently, SI sessions are provided for certain accounting, economics, biology, chemistry, English and math classes. Attending SI sessions for Math 31, 81 and 84 count toward the mandatory math lab hours.

Spanish 1 will be the newest addition to the SI classes beginning in the Spring of 2014. Beginning in spring of 2014, all classes offering SI sessions will be noted in the course catalog. Students can find more details on the SI website at

SI sessions are not available over the summer and winter semesters due to extensive hours and workload, says Prestby.

NewsVanessa BarajasComment