Students learn the most when working together in small groups on assignments that make them think. Structured Learning supports this style of inquiry led by upper class peer mentors.
All students enrolled in an introductory science and math class for majors participate in Structured Learning Assistance, or SLA. In this program, introductory students are paired with PALs (peer learning assistants), who are upperclassmen who have already taken, and were successful in, the introductory courses. These PALs lead the SLA sessions, which are required of all students in the course. The SLA are part study groups, part tutoring sessions, and part mentoring sessions.
A key part of the SLA is that they are based on inquiry. Learning science and mathematics is about learning a particular way of thinking – inquiry. Memorizing facts or learning by rote isn’t what science and math classes are about. Through the SLA, students work on problems that require thinking through case studies, examining applications, or open ended problems. This work is done in small groups with a PAL so that students aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
This is great for both the PAL, and the student taking the course. The PAL develops leadership and teaching skills. The underclassman has access to a person who’s been there before, recently in fact. The PAL can act as a resource if the student is struggling in class and a mentor introducing the underclassman to the department.