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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - BSI

Adapt WRAC Course for Social Science


History 115
Michael Thompson


GNST 115 History utilized the established framework of English 115 to provide individualized tutoring for students enrolled in History classes. To accommodate more students, the tutoring sessions involved up to three students. In addition, workshops were created to provide instruction on and discussion on basic skills related to student success in history courses. These included specific skills such as reading, contextualizing and analyzing source material and more general skills such as the textbook reading and note-taking, lecture note-taking, exam preparation and history paper writing.

Instructors in the History discipline were provided with information about GNST 115 and encouraged to discuss it with their classes. In addition, after assessments in their classes, instructors were encouraged to approach individual students and discuss the benefits of individual tutoring. Enrollment in GNST 115 during the semester of Fall 2009 was very good. There were 32 students enrolled (above the 25 students at which English 115 sections are capped). Approximately 75 percent of the students enrolled were concurrently students in one of my History classes. Ideally, the percentage of students enrolled in GNST 115 taking History courses by other instructors will grow as the offering and its success become more widely known. During the first eight weeks of the semester, I visited a few sections of other instructors to provide information, answer questions and recruit students.

The WRAC Center provided the infrastructure for GNST 115 (Thanks Alisa, Chasity and everyone involved!) Because this section was so closely modeled on English 115, it was relatively easy to plug into the existing structures. Increased capacity was achieved by allowing for small group (up to three students) meetings. In addition, I provided discipline specific handouts (see Attachments) to aid students and begin conversations about reading, note-taking and writing papers in History classes.

Discoveries to Date

Individual and small group instruction appear to have been the most effective and productive interventions and led more directly to improvements in test and papers scores. In contrast, the workshops were not particularly well attended and might have to be re-imagined or scrapped. Despite the fact that students received equal credit for attending workshops and individual (or small group) sessions, they overwhelming prefer the smaller settings. The "one size fits all" intervention model didn't seem to have much draw for students who want to see improved results on individual test scores and papers.

Of, perhaps, equal importance to these improved results is the manner in which they have been achieved. Certainly, smaller settings appear to be more effective. In addition, the structure of a class (even one as loosely structured as 115) appeared to focus many student efforts. I presently hold both my office hours and my 115 tutoring sessions in the WRAC center. Students see me present in the Library for hours at a time. They, as I do, see distinctions between my office hours and my tutoring time. Students of mine drop by casually to ask questions and seek assistance during my office hours. Those students enrolled in 115, however, tend to view our meetings less casually and more as a part of a larger ongoing process to address their skills needs. They approach our meetings much more like a class (which, of course, is what it is).

he desire for more individualized tutoring created greater demand for individual or small group appointments. Often, “my” students and I took over the WRAC Center, occupying most of the tables. Also, I often found arranging appointments outside of the established hours to accommodate student needs. Expanding the number of available hours for appointments would create the potential for more student and faculty participation.
This potential, however, will only truly be realized as discipline-specific tutorial practices become more embedded in the discipline and the Learning Connection. That is, as both instructors and students develop their expectations of and participation in tutorial services, tutorial practices will be refined and the need for recruitment will decline. The 115 model will be most effective when partnered with a consistent presence of history peer tutors, learning assistants, and class workshops (See the work of Jane Wolford). In the History discipline we are just beginning to develop a culture of tutorial practice. Coordination between instructors and the development of a consistent pool of history tutors and learning assistants is a part of that development. As that culture and practice develops, structures to accommodate this practice must be created. What, for example, would the WRAC Center look like if discipline-specific tutors were available?

Interpreting the Data
Because the numbers being analyzed are relatively small and the data collected represent only a semester’s worth of work, any findings here are very preliminary. Also, the particular data collected demonstrates the need for more targeted data collection. Thank you Rajinder Samra and Alisa Klevens for helping me interpret this data.

Overall Success Rates in History 7, 20, 22 (Comparing students enrolled in GNST 115 and not enrolled):

  • with GNST 115 -- 52% Success
  • without GNST 115 - 53% Success

Therefore, overall success for students in History taking 115 >1% was slightly lower than rest of students taking history.

How should I interpret these numbers? On the surface they seem somewhat disappointing (though not entirely surprising.) It is possible, however, that the students enrolled in GNST 115 represent a narrower range of students than are present in the general population of students in the listed courses. Students enrolled in GNST 115 are seeking out and in need of tutorial assistance. Does this success rate represent the overall insignificance of this intervention or does it represent low-performing students being raised to the average outcome? I simply don’t know.

Success Rates in History 7, 20, 22 (Comparing students who received CR to NC for GNST 115):

  • success in history AND received CR 115 -- 67% Success
  • success in history AND received NC 115 -- 44% Success
Therefore, success for students taking History and receiving CR 115 <23% (much greater) than those receiving NC in 115. Receiving CR in 115 is indicated in success in History.
  • success in history and received CR 115 -- 67% Success
  • success in history without enrollment in 115 -- 53%

Therefore, success for students taking History and receiving CR 115 <14% (greater) than those not enrolled in 115. Taking 115 and receiving CR is indicated in success in History.

These numbers are encouraging and I would like to take full credit for them. I would, however, like to have a more specific picture of these “successful” students. What is their starting point? What skills and attitudes are they bringing into GNST 115? Is GNST 115 more effective for those students that already the possess skill sets and attitudes that enable them to engage and persist?

Retention Rates in History 7, 20, 22 (Comparing students who took 115 and didn't and retained in their History class):

  • Enrolled in 115 and retained -- 88%
  • Not enrolled in 115 and retained -- 77%

Therefore, retention rates in History were <11% if a student was enrolled in 115.


Retention Rates in History 7, 20, 22 (Comparing students who retained in History AND received CR or NC in 115):

  • Retained in history and received CR for 115 -- 100%
  • Retained in history and received NC for 115 -- 89%
  • Retained in history NOT enrolled in 115 -- 77%

Those students who received CR in 115 retained either <11% greater or <23% than students not enrolled in 115.

Again, these numbers are encouraging. Simply enrolling in a supplementary class likely indicates a willingness to engage in sustained effort.


Case Studies

Case Study: Medium Performance Student
Jacob: Identifies himself as a pretty good student, but needs assistance with organized, persistent effort.

Jacob enrolled in GNST 115 having just failed a quiz in his History class. He and other students from the class formed what became a permanent study group led by me through GNST 115.

The efforts of this study group focused on the series of study questions and review sheets students received in the class. At the beginning of his participation, it became clear that Jacob was not entirely organized in his efforts. His notes tended to be incomplete and out of order. Our focus became putting his notes in order and, with the help of the other students in the group, completing them.

Establishing this order seemed to motivate Jacob. He received a grade of “B” on his next quiz. In addition, this order allowed him to begin engaging in higher order thinking. That is, he began not only to answer the study questions more completely, but also see the relationship between the questions and their importance in developing an historical analysis. The focus of the study group began to develop in this direction as well.

This shift for Jacob was very important. It allowed him to move from cramming information toward creating a framework for learning. The study questions became a means through which he could begin creating an analytical narrative.
As the semester progressed, Jacob became the permanent fixture of the study group. Other members of the group flowed in and out, but Jacob remained. At times, our meetings were individual sessions during which we reviewed material he clearly already knew. These meetings appeared to confirm to Jacob that he was, indeed, mastering the material.

Jacob received credit for GNST 115 and received a “B” in his History class.

Case Study: High Performance Student
Spencer: Self-identifies the areas in which he needs assistance as writing History papers and fully comprehending the important points in the reading.

Spencer was not particularly weak in any area when he enrolled in GNST 115. As a student in one of my sections, he took advantage of every opportunity of improve his comprehension and writing skills. Simply put, Spencer was a student who was very focused and worked very hard to improve.

Our sessions generally focused on working on his papers or on a particular week’s reading. Critical thinking and higher order analyses were the areas in which Spencer needed additional work. Making the connections between primary documents and the textbook became the center of many of our conversations. Developing a system for organizing his reading and understanding of the course material was important to his success. One strategy we developed involved using the sub-headings of the textbook as a basis for breaking down the readings into discrete, but connected modules. Establishing study questions around these modules led to greater comprehension.

Spencer seemed to live at the WRAC Center. Whenever I was there, he was there. His consistent presence enabled us to have mini-appointments during which he would ask me specific questions about the reading or a paper topic. This is how Spencer worked. He was a grinder, who worked at something until he got better at it. (He seems to apply the discipline imposed upon him as a member of the baseball team to his performance in the classroom.)

Ultimately, Spencer’s disciplined work achieved results. I provided a framework for his efforts, but also realize that Spencer came to me motivated and ready to receive assistance.

Spencer received credit for GNST 115 and an “A” in his History class.

Case Study: Low Performance Student
Hanaa: Self-identifies the areas in which she needs assistance as following lectures, understanding exam questions, and comprehending the important points in the textbook.

Hanaa is an English language learner. She is not currently an ESL student, but self-reports to be at a pre-collegiate level of English. Hanaa's primary difficulties involved following lectures, note-taking, synthesizing the textbook with lecture notes and understanding the exams.

Initially, our sessions focused on in-class strategies. I advised her to ask questions during lecture. (This is advice I give all students, including my own. This practice not only helps students achieve a higher level of comprehension of lecture material, it also slows the pace of lectures and keeps students engaged.) Hanaa was hesitant to interrupt her instructor. I assured her that if she asked questions that others would quickly follow. Slowly, she found the courage to ask a few questions.

Hanaa and I also developed strategies to complete the reading and incorporate her understanding of the lecture into her reading notes. Generally, this process took a great deal of time for Hanaa to complete on a weekly basis. Her English reading skills, while pretty good, aren’t quite at college level.

This issue also made it difficult for her to succeed consistently when taking exams. While we developed a test-taking strategy, she often found that her comprehension of the exam questions was not at level that allowed her to move quickly from question to question.

Ultimately, Hanaa did not pass her history class. Certainly, her reading skills played a significant role in this result. I also feel that this particular history class was a poor match for Hanaa’s particular needs. This is not a pedagogical criticism of a colleague, but, perhaps a realization that all teaching methods do not fit all students.

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