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Background Information

Definition, Purpose and Participants

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic assistance program that utilizes peer-assisted study sessions. SI sessions are regularly scheduled, informal review sessions in which students compare notes, discuss readings, develop organizational tools, and predict test items. Students learn how to integrate course content and study skills while working together.


  1. to reduce rates of attrition within targeted historically difficult courses
  2. to improve student grades in targeted historically difficult courses
  3. to increase the graduation rates of students

Because all students in a targeted course are urged to attend SI sessions, students with varying ability levels and ethnicities participate. There is no remedial stigma attached to SI since the program targets high-risk courses rather than high-risk students.

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A Brief History of Supplemental Instruction 

SI was created by Deanna C. Martin, Ph.D., at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1973. Martin was assigned in the schools of medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry – and given a grant of $7,000 with which to do so. After initially offering SI at the health science professional schools, it was extended throughout the university.

After a rigorous review process in 1981, the SI Program became one of the few postsecondary programs to be designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an Exemplary Educational Program. The National Diffusion (NDN), the national dissemination agency for the U.S. Department of Education, provided federal funds for dissemination of SI. Although the NDN was discontinued by the U.S. government, national and international dissemination continues. Faculty and staff from hundreds of institutions across the nation have received training to implement their own SI programs. Outside the United States, SI operates in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the West Indies.

For more complete history of the program, see:

  • Weimar, G.E. (1994). Supplemental Instruction: From small beginnings to a national program.
  • In D.C. Martin & Martindale, D.R. (Eds.), Supplemental Instruction: Increasing achievement and retention (pp. 3-10). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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How Supplemental Instruction Works

The SI model involves key persons:SI Logo

  1. The SI Coordinator is a trained professional who is responsible for identifying the targeted courses, gaining faculty support, selecting and training SI leaders, and evaluating the program.
  2. The faculty members of the identified historically difficult courses invite and support SI. Faculty members screen SI leaders for content competency and approve selections.
  3. The SI leaders are students who have been deemed course competent, approved by the course instructor, and trained in proactive learning and study strategies.
  4. Students participating in the SI sessions, although mentioned last, are the most crucial component of SI.

SI is attached to specific historically difficult courses. These courses frequently introductory or “gatekeeper courses” but also include upper level graduate courses and courses in professional schools. SI leaders attend course lectures, takes notes, read all assigned materials, and conduct two to three out-of-class SI sessions a week. The SI leader is the “model student”, a facilitator who helps students to integrate course content and learning/ study strategies. 

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For more information, visit the the International Center for Supplemental Instruction Web site.


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