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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - BSI

Adapt WRAC Course for Social Science

Area of Inquiry

The WRAC (Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum) Center has partnered with the Social Sciences to provide an intervention for under-prepared students who need to improve their academic performance in college-level courses. The WRAC Center houses three types of student support services: 1) drop–in peer tutoring, 2) one-on-one faculty-student tutorial, and 3) computer-assisted instruction. While the center has the mission to provide writing and reading support to disciplines across campus, all three services had been, in recent years, largely assisting students in English. This grant project has provided an opportunity to extend those services to students and faculty in History and Psychology. Both Michael Thompson and Rani Nijjar are re-imagining the English 115 model to better support the needs of students in the Social Sciences, who require explicit instruction in discipline-specific reading and writing and for whom the lab is one vehicle to help students succeed.

Discoveries to Date

Fall 2009

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

Instructors in the History discipline have been 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. To date, enrollment in GNST 115 is very good. Currently there are 32 students enrolled (above the 25 students at which English 115 sections are capped). Approximately 75 percent of the students enrolled are currently 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 current semester, I have visited a few sections of other instructors to provide information, answer questions and recruit students.

While the results now are anecdotal and preliminary, they do suggest improvements in student comprehension and scores. These preliminary results appear to be largely the result of the individual (or small group) sessions. For example, three students (from another instructor’s History class) I have worked with as a small group, each saw improvement from one test to the next. Two students improved to the grade of “B” and one to a “C”. In fact, one student improved from the grade of “F’ to the grade of “B”. Other students I am tutoring have also seen improvement in their scores. Individual and small group instruction appear to be the most effective and productive interventions and lead more directly to improvements in test and papers scores. In contrast, the workshops have not been particularly well attended and might have to be re-imagined. Despite the fact that students receive equal credit for attending workshops and individual (or small group) sessions, they overwhelming prefer the smaller settings. The "one size fits all" intervention model doesn'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) appears to focus 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).

At the beginning of the Fall 2009 semester, Instructors in the Psychology discipline were provided with information about GNST PSYC 115. Outreach for the PSYC 115 was communicated to faculty individually and at discipline meetings. Also, informational flyers of PSYC 115 were distributed to students in all sections of psychology in the first four weeks of the semester. In addition, following class assessments including quizzes, exams, and essay papers, instructors were encouraged to approach individual students and discuss the benefits of focused tutoring support. To date, enrollment in PSYC 115 is very promising. Currently there are 23 students enrolled, 90 percent of the students enrolled are currently enrolled in my General Psychology and Abnormal Psychology sections. This high concurrent enrollment in my Psychology class and PSYC 115 is an encouraging indicator that students are looking for the opportunity to build basic skills and succeed in their classes. Specifically, they are linking the success with the opportunity to have individualized instructor to student instruction. If PSYC 115 becomes an established semester course offering, the percentage of enrollment in this type of tutoring design will no doubt continue to grow and support a wider pool of students across all sections of psychology classes offered at Chabot.

The preliminary results from PSYC 115 show improvement in student confidence, motivation and indicate development of new reading and writing skill set. These findings are based on subjective student case study and quantitative course scores. For example, ten of the students enrolled in PSYC 115 have shown significant improvement in their General psychology exam performances. In each case, student scores increased from a grade of “F” to a grade of “B”. The key intervention between baseline measure captured by Exam 1 and post measure captured by Exam 2, was the 20 minute instructor led tutoring session with individual/or small group of three students. The remaining students have maintained their scores from Exam 1 to Exam 2. Students that are enrolled in PSYC 115, but have not followed up with scheduling appointments have shown the least improvement from failing to passing grade.

The tutoring sessions have a focused, but informal conversational format allowing students to discuss their challenges and also allowing me, the instructor to assess individual student needs regarding their reading and writing. In these sessions, students feel comfortable revealing learning disabilities and also are willing to take greater responsibility in learning and applying new approaches to studying. In addition to addressing individualized student learning goals, courses in General Psychology and Abnormal Psychology have different tutoring needs. In General Psychology, reading the text, taking good lecture notes and organizing huge amounts of information into smaller meaningful chunks ready for learning and memory, is the key formula for comprehension and recall for exams. For the General Psychology students, the tutoring sessions have focused on building these specific skills. I have given students some of the handouts directed toward the GNST 115 student on “getting to know your textbook” and “taking lecture notes.” The students also participate in an online learning styles survey that provides a personal profile helping students understand if they are a visual, verbal, sequential or global learner. In Abnormal Psychology, the student needs are focused on writing an APA style research paper and writing exam essays. From discussions with students, they report feeling overwhelmed and lost when it comes to writing papers and essays. The tutoring sessions have focused on organization, including the skill of brainstorming and writing with purpose.

The experiences in PSYC 115 correspond closely with Professor Thompson’s experience in HIST 115, in terms of formal outcomes and anecdotal success of the pilot GNST 115 across the curriculum. Four workshops were originally proposed throughout the semester, but it became apparent very early on that the individual and small group instruction was the best approach to supporting students. As a final point, what can not be captured by quantitative performance, is student confidence seen by greater class participation and attendance, a decrease in anxiety and increased motivation to do even better on the next exam. It’s almost like the student has discovered ‘the secret’ to succeeding in class. These are the students who now raise their hands to answer questions and share study tips with others.

Spring 2010

One goal of this WRAC FIG project was to put the AC back in WRAC. Historically, one section of 115 (Faculty-Student Tutorial), was listed as a General Studies course. This allowed for a faculty person in a discipline outside of English to teach this section. However, the discipline-instructors presence was not enough to encourage students across the campus to utilize the supplemental instruction course to assist them in their discipline classes. Instead, this structure created a course where a discipline instructor was often assisting students with their English assignments, rather than students from their own courses. This seemed like a lost opportunity for both students and faculty.

In Fall 2009, we changed the 115 model to provide 2 dedicated sections of General Studies 115 – one for history and one for psychology. We focused on these two subject areas because for both of these departments, students are required to do a lot of reading and writing and, yet, these lecture classes do not provide any lab component for explicit instruction in reading and writing. We anticipated the need to change the 115 model to accommodate more students. Instead of solely offering one-on-one support, we allowed students to sign up for small-group sessions. This enabled the enrollment to expand from 25 to 45 students in one section of 115. Likewise, we provided large workshop discussions to all students in the subject area – whether enrolled in 115 or not. These workshop topics were more general and less connected to specific assignments. As the WRAC Coordinator, I was looking at both of these changes for guidance in how to develop the English 115 course. Perhaps English 115 would also move to small group work and/or the workshop model, to reach a wider audience of students who need help.

For Fall 2009, by the 8th week of instruction, all 4 sections of English 115 were full (with a total of 101 students enrolled across the sections). This was an improvement from previous semesters when 5 sections of English 115 were offered and, yet, these sections were not filling to capacity. The decision to reduce the number of sections of English 115 to 4 and donate 2 sections to the Social Sciences seems to be an appropriate response to the number of students who’d like to enroll in an English section.

History 115 had an enrollment of 32 students and Psychology 115 had an enrollment of 23 students. Both of these sections did not meet the capacity of 45 slots; however, the 55 students who did enroll exceeded the number of students who could otherwise enroll in an English 115 (50 total for two sections). Particularly with the History section, we are seeing the benefits of offering small group instruction, just in terms of access. These numbers are also reflective of a pilot program. As students become more aware of these services and their benefits, and as discipline faculty start promoting the class, we expect enrollments to increase. Both Michael Thompson and Rani Nijjar worked as tutoring coordinators for their departments and shared with their colleagues information about the class and even conducted classroom visits advertising the new WRAC services.

Likewise, the presence of faculty from the Social Sciences in the WRAC Center positively transformed the space. These faculty coordinators brought their students with them and the WRAC Center was busy with students who may not have been up to the library mezzanine before. In addition, WRAC tutors (who are English tutors), remarked that students were coming in for tutoring in these subjects. Providing discipline-specific peer tutoring continues to be a need.

Michael Thompson and Rani Nijjar will review the success and retention data related to their sections and reflect on the efficacy of providing supplemental instruction in their course areas. However, as the WRAC Coordinator, this pilot has only been a success. It has re-imagined the 115 course and the center as a whole as a service for the college, beyond English. Yet, it emphasizes the need for supplementary instruction courses to have a direct correlation to the subject area, rather than a general college-preparatory course.


  • Alisa Klevens - English, WRAC Coordinator
  • Michael Thompson - History
  • Rani Najjir - Psychology


WRAC Center Data Collection, April 2010

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