Modern classrooms are filled with useful resources. From tablets to interactive blackboards to e-books and educational computer games, there’s always a wealth of information at students’ fingertips. But with all the distractions the steady march of technological advancement brings, it can be easy for students to neglect one of the greatest resources of all: one another.
The concept of peer mentoring in schools has existed since the days of Aristotle and his famous Lyceum. The idea behind cooperative learning is that students will often respond better to lessons or guidance imparted by one of their fellows – someone who’s been through the same or similar experiences. While the teacher provides the fundamentals of the lesson, that foundation is strengthened, tested and built upon by the other students.
It’s like being part of a sports team: the coach provides knowledge and direction, but it’s the training with other players that allows skills to develop. By discussing, arguing, sharing and demonstrating, students are exposed to new perspectives that may help them learn more deeply and effectively. They’re also encouraged to develop skills such as self-organisation, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Peer mentoring also has benefits beyond the academic. Pairing new students with experienced students can ease the transition into what can be an intimidating environment. And teaming younger students up with older student tutors can establish a comfortable environment in which the younger students may feel more able to express ideas while developing interpersonal skills with those outside their usual social circles. Studies have shown that cross-age mentoring programs are beneficial to both tutors and tutees.
Here are some tips for implementing successful peer mentorship programs in your school or classroom.
- Clearly define the objectives of the program. What ideas or skills are being shared? What should students gain from the program?
- Pair your students wisely. Select mentors or tutors who are sociable, reliable and have a good understanding of the subject matter.
- Be there to support your students. Peer-to-peer learning is a supplement for teaching, not its replacement.
- Use the resources at hand. With proper supervision, computers and the internet can be excellent ways for students to learn with their peers beyond the school’s walls.
- Continuously assess the program’s effectiveness. How are students responding intellectually and emotionally? Are they making measurable progress? If your class isn’t achieving the desired goals, the program may need to be adjusted.
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.