Cornerstone gets NSF grant for peer-led learning

Cornerstone: The Center for Advanced Learning has received a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research that will help modify the Peer Led Team Learning program (PLTL). The program helps to meet the needs of WUSTL students with disabilities enrolled in introductory chemistry, physics and calculus classes. The grant was developed by Christine Duden Street, assistant director for disability resources at the center.

“We are incredibly excited about this grant,” said Robert H. Koff, Ph.D., director of the center. “We are looking forward to identifying ways to increase academic achievement for undergraduate students with learning and attention disabilities. The grant will be a great help to strengthen what is already a very successful program.”

The PLTL program, started in 2001, pairs trained upperclassmen with small groups of students who work on group exercises directly connected to course work.

A study using data from the fall semesters of 2003 and 2004 found that students who participated in PLTL perform at least one-third of a grade point higher in first semester general chemistry than students who opt not to participate, even after controlling for differences in students’ background characteristics.

The study was conducted by Susan Hockings, Ph.D., lecturer in chemistry in Arts & Sciences; Regina Frey, Ph.D., senior lecturer in chemistry in Arts & Sciences and director of the Teaching Center; and Karen DeAngelis, assistant director of Cornerstone.

The goal of the NSF grant is to modify the PLTL curriculum to help students improve their mastery of specific academic subject matter and to help students strengthen executive function skills, particularly in the areas of organization, problem solving, reading comprehension, flexible shifting of actions to meet task demands and persistence toward a goal.

In addition, the proposal includes an experimental design to compare the calculus and chemistry performance of approximately 40 students with learning and attention disabilities to the performance of similar students enrolled in the same courses who do not participate in the program.