We’re pleased to have Jenny from Foreman Fun guest blogging for us today! She’s got a great post for us about how you can implement peer mentoring in a math block to build both confidence and community. Enjoy!
As teachers, we have all secretly wished we could clone ourselves so we could give each student the individual attention they need. While we wait for that to be a reality, peer mentoring can be the solution to the, “There’s only one of me” dilemma. I first instituted peer mentoring while teaching 4th grade in a low-income school district. Before long, peer mentoring transformed my class and my students more than I could have ever imagined.
Tips for Getting Started
- Have a class discussion about how everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
- Create a classroom culture of acceptance by explaining that, at some point this year, they will all struggle and, at some point, they will find something incredible easy.
- Use personal examples of your own struggles as a student. This is key to building trust and helps students realize that struggle is normal and not something to be ashamed of.
- Model, model, model, and then model some more! Once a day I’d put a math problem on the board and have a student pretend to get stuck or make a mistake on purpose. Then, I’d act as the mentor and give hints but NOT answers (this is the hardest part…teaching them to give hints without giving answers). After a few weeks, I started letting students come up and be the mentor, and I’d pretend to get stuck or make a mistake on purpose while they guided me through the problem (they LOVED this part).
Peer Mentor Rules
- Mentors look and listen: They needed to be watching what the mentee was writing down and what they were saying (mentees were to be narrating every step they were doing).
- Mentors count to 5: If the mentee stopped working, then mentors counted to 5 slowly in their heads, giving the mentee think time.
- Mentors give hints, not answers: THIS IS KEY! I modeled types of hints like:
- “Think of the steps…you multiplied, now what comes next?”
- “Look back at the examples in the book.”
- “If the problem says altogether, what operation should you do?”
- When I heard mentors giving good hints, I would stop the class and say, “I just heard so and so say _________. That’s a great way to give a hint and not an answer.” I was impressed with how well they did at this and the types of hints they’d come up with.
- Mentors are polite: If a mentee made a mistake (5×3=12), then a mentor was to politely stop them by saying something like, “Let’s check that fact,” rather than, “That’s wrong.” We never used the word “wrong” because saying they’re wrong doesn’t help them learn how to fix the mistake.
- We are all mentors: Every student, at some point, was going to be a mentor and a mentee. This goes back to the philosophy that everyone struggles at points and is critical to students accepting help from others without any negative feelings.
Mentoring in Action
There are lots of ways to do peer mentoring, but I used it in two different ways. The first was during independent work time during guided math. During the lesson and guided groups, I’d be keeping a close eye on who might need a mentor and who was mastering the concept and could be the mentor. When I felt there were students ready, I’d ask them if they wanted to keep working or if they wanted to go mentor (they almost ALWAYS chose mentor…who doesn’t want to get out of finishing their work!?). Then, I’d ask the class, “Who would like a mentor?” Hands would shoot up (this is when I knew I had built that culture of acceptance in my class…they weren’t ashamed…they wanted the help, and that was such a powerful thing to see). I’d pair the mentor(s) with someone, and keep helping other students.
The second way I used peer mentoring was during partner work time. I would give partners the same sheet to work on, and they would do the problems alternating who was the mentor and who was the mentee. Sometimes I would pair higher students with struggling students, but I also liked to pair students with the same ability level. That way I could give struggling students an easier sheet and give challenge sheets to the higher students. Peer mentoring during partner work time was so crucial, because it gave every student the chance to be a mentor and mentor successfully, since the sheet was at their ability level. This built their confidence in math, and I’m a firm believer that confidence is the cornerstone to student success.
Why It’s Worth It
First, it relinquishes the control to the students. Being able to catch mistakes and explain concepts to others are great higher-level thinking skills, and mentoring is just that. Second, walking around my room watching students working together and hearing their great math conversations and explanations made me so proud. The confidence and community it brought to my room was worth every minute I spent laying the foundation.
I am an 8th year teacher who currently specializes in teaching math, science, and social students to 1st and 2nd grade students. I spent six years teaching self-contained 4th grade, which is when I started my peer mentoring program. This past year, I started a TpT store, Foreman Fun. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my husband and two little girls (2 years old and 1 year old), going to the park and singing Frozen endlessly.