PAL aids learning skills

By Karri E. Christiansen

Students finding their grades slipping after that first exam or midterm might look for someone who could become a peer tutor.

If NIU students meet university requirements for tutoring, the Peer Accessed Learning (PAL) program might be able to boost their grades before final exams roll around, and students might learn some valuable study skills as well, said program coordinator Victoria Wohlt.

PAL’s goal is to teach students to “incorporate study skills,” Wohlt said. “Our long-term goal is not to teach the student to just answer a question, but to become an independent learner.”

Students requesting a tutor for classes are required to fill out a student profile form that enables tutors to better help the students, she said.

If students qualify for the program, they will be paired with peers who “know the ropes,” Wohlt said.

“Tutors might serve as models for how to do it right,” she said.

Most tutors are juniors or seniors, and they also must meet specific requirements. Students wishing to become tutors must have at least a 2.7 overall grade point average and at least a 3.0 in their major field of study, Wohlt said.

Furthermore, students must have recommendation from a faculty member and participate in an interview before they can become tutors, she said.

Although student tutors are paid about $4.10 per hour, the service is free to those who are eligible. If a student does not meet eligibility requirements, he might be given a contact name, and might then have to pay for the service if a tutor agrees to help him, Wohlt said.

About 400 students are using the service so far this semester, she said. More than 1,300 students used some form of peer tutoring last year.

Although there is not any one class that seems to give students the most trouble, “it appears that math in general or math-related courses” give students a hard time, Wohlt said.

NIU mathematics department chairman William Blair said math might give students trouble because of the “vertical nature of the subject.” He said success in upper-level math courses depends on students’ success in mathematics pre-requisite courses.

Blair said although he has no formal documentation concerning the grades of students who have received tutoring compared with those students who have not, he said he thinks there is “quite a bit of improvement” when students go for help.

“Students who take the initiative to get help do better,” Blair said.