While education has historically created academic improvement programs that follow the medical model of attempting to diagnose students who may have academic difficulty, the PAL program serves classes where a large portion of students will experience academic difficulty. PAL avoids a remedial stigma by focusing on classes rather than individual students. The PAL program provides systemic change in the learning environment for all students enrolled in the targeted subject. While all students may not take advantage of the voluntary service, it attracts an equal proportion of students from differing ability and cultural groups. PAL does not segregate students based on prior academic performance or predictions of academic success. Participating students receive higher measures of academic achievement in comparison to their nonparticipating counterparts.
The ideal PAL leader is a student who has recently taken the class and received a high final subject grade. All leaders should be recommended by a faculty member from the department in which they are leading PAL sessions for content competency. The PAL leader neither lectures nor introduces new material; instead, the leader’s responsibility is to organize and add structure to the PAL sessions. The primary function of the PAL leader is to facilitate discussion and collaborative learning/practice among PAL participants and model successful learning strategies at key moments in the PAL sessions.
The leader functions as “model student” of the discipline rather than authority figure. This process helps students develop a more sophisticated approach to learning while maintaining the focus on content mastery.
The PAL sessions integrate the review of lecture notes, textbook readings, outside supplemental readings along with appropriate modeling of learning strategies. “How to learn” is embedded into PAL sessions along with “what to learn.” Through practice and mastery of effective learning strategies, students can adopt and transfer these strategies to other subjects and content areas. Collaborative learning strategies are used in PAL sessions as a means of creating a more active learning environment for student participants.
Because the PAL leader attends a lecture section of the course, the leader is knowledgeable about what is occurring in the class sessions and has an opportunity to model “good student” behavior in the subject. The leader’s presence in the classroom also serves to market the PAL program to students.
The PAL leader participated in a two-day orientation prior to the start of term. In-service training continues throughout the academic term. These training sessions include specific teaching/learning theories and strategies. The PAL program is a certified Peer Mentoring program by the College Reading and Learning Association.
A trained professional staff member supervises the PAL leaders and the PAL program. Among other duties, the campus PAL Coordinator regularly attends PAL sessions throughout the academic term, facilitates leader training, hires all leaders, and provides helpful feedback for the improvement of the program. To assure the success of the PAL program, the professional staff member follows the model created by UMKC, as well as, individual program policies for UNC Charlotte.
The instructor of the targeted class should both understand the PAL program and support its attachment to his or her class. Faculty members generally are encouraged to find ways to fully integrate PAL into the overall subject, but are allowed to choose their level of involvement with the PAL program. Faculty also plays a role in selecting and screening leaders for content competency.
PAL is in place from the beginning of the academic term and sessions begin the day after the Drop/Add period. Generally, three or more sessions are offered each week, but the number of weekly sessions will vary depending on student demand or specific issues related to the subject. Students attend PAL sessions on a voluntary basis.
There are two reasons to evaluate the PAL program each academic term: (1) to continuously improve the overall quality of the program by gathering information about its strengths and weaknesses and; (2) to inform college administrators about the overall impact of the program. The PAL program will be evaluated by assessing institutional outcome measures (e.g., final subject grades, subject withdrawal rates). Assessment is an increasingly important issue in academic life and has a direct link to funding.