Integrating Peer Mentors into the Classroom

Posted: October 1, 2019 12:00:00 AM CDT

According to Chism and Graziano, the aim of learning communities is to help students to successfully integrate into college by helping them build a connection among students, faculty, and staff (2016).  One way that a learning community can foster that critical integration is by incorporating peer mentors into their classroom. In the past eight years, I have had the pleasure of having over 13 mentors in my classroom. Not only have my students benefited from having them in the classroom, but I also learned a lot about their benefits. The peer mentoring program is a way to encourage student engagement and belonging to the university through student-student interaction (Egege & Kitieleh, 2015).  Throughout the years, research has been done on the benefits of peer mentors in the classroom and have shown it to have four distinctive benefits for students: 

  1. Support, friendship, and empathy 
  2. Help with strategies and subject knowledge through role modeling 
  3. Discussion, advice, and sharing 
  4. Feedback and constructive criticism 
                                                                                      

The Initial Meeting 

Often I get the question of “What do I talk about with my mentor when I meet them?” or “What am I able to ask them to do?”.  Each semester, when I am assigned a new mentor, I will receive an email from them that briefly introduces themselves and offers to meet with me.  This is really the only time that I set aside a special office hour for the mentor. I will usually meet with them on a Friday so that we can get to know each other and even discuss what the upcoming week’s lesson plans are. 

 

Our discussions typically begin with introductions of ourselves and about our interests. Once we’ve gotten to know each other, we begin to discuss what my goals are for the class and the semester, along with what type of role I want the mentors to play. It’s important to be clear on how active and in what way I want the mentor to be active in the classroom. For me, I want my mentor in the front of the classroom with me so that they are seen each day by the students. I also prefer my mentor to have an active speaking role in the classroom. That means, whenever I am lecturing, if the mentor thinks of an example or want to stress the importance of a skill such as APA, then they are more than welcomed to speak up and share. It is also important for the professor to discuss examples of how the mentor can help with classroom activities, discuss the type of style of exams that large lecture has, and what the Integrated Assignment is. This helps the mentor to understand how to help the students and where the students may be needing some extra help.  Finally, our meeting ends with me offering the mentor to sit in our learning community meetings and lectures. Both of these help with mentor understanding what the learning community goals are along with being able to experience what style of lecture the students are receiving. 
 

How Mentors Can Help In Seminar 

Teaching a freshman seminar class can at times feel daunting, particularly during times of preparing for the First Year Symposium and First Year Research Conference, but it doesn't have to be. The student mentor can help tremendously.  The following is a list of how I have come to have the mentors’ help in my classroom: 

 

Lesson Planning 

Providing a peer perspective 

Taking Attendance / Welcoming Class 

Time for interaction and building connections 

Class Management 

Keeping students on track with in-class activities / Mentor is an extra pair of eyes for students’ questions 

Assist with Student Presentations 

Helping students with setting up presentations and an extra pair of eyes for when the professor is taking notes/grading 

Sharing First-Hand Student Experiences 

Let’s students know they’re not alone in their first-year experiences 

Email Reminders on Campus Activity & LC Assignment Due Dates 

Helps to send the LC syllabi and having them as a TA on blackboard. 

 

Mentor Presentations 

Several times a semester, I do have the mentors present to my class. They have a selection of presentations that professors can choose from, and each one is adaptable for what the professor feels the students need the most for the time allotted to the mentor.  Presentations can be adapted for lasting anywhere from 10-30 minutes and can include class activities. The following are just a few of the available presentations and Dr. Noelle Balmer has an exact list of them along with a short description for each: 
 
  • Academic Probation / Suspension 
  • Exam Preparation / Recovery 
  • Getting Involved on Campus 
  • SAIL 
  • Productivity and Procrastination 
  • How to Study / Taking Notes 
  • Time Management 

 

From my experience, the two most interactive sessions are Academic Probation / Suspension and Time Management.  They are the sessions that the students have the most questions about and can easily be adapted to include hands-on activities.  Each presentation does not have to be only presented by the peer mentor. Presentations can be done with both the mentor and professor having speaking roles. Presentations given in my classroom are primarily given by the mentor with me interjecting every so often with examples or confirmation of what is being discussed by the mentor. 

 

A final question that has been brought to me is “How much time does it take to plan with the mentor?”. In all honesty, it does not take hardly any time at all. In my years, I will plan with the mentor while walking to my next class or after my last class of the week as we walk to my office or car. I believe that the fact that I have added my mentors as a TA, that they have access to my lesson plan website, have the LC syllabi and attend the LC meetings is what helps to reduce the time needed with lesson planning.  But if including a mentor and planning with them can help students succeed both in and out of the classroom, help them build a connection to the university, then isn’t worth the extra time worth it? If it’s for the benefit of the students, then isn’t the extra time worth it?  

By: Jennifer L. Simpson

Category: Best Practices