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The Student-Led Classroom Blog - Join me as I explore the creation of self-autonomous, primary school learning environments

The Role of the Peer Mentor

Previously, I discussed the importance of children being aware of, and comfortable with, their own abilities. The realisation of potential and weakness is overarchingly significant when developing the student led classroom; one which buzzes with students who are ready to help, share or take the positive move to reach out for support when struggling.

My definition of a peer mentor evolved from watching individual high achievers work to levels which were, at times, well above those of their classmates. Often, these gifted and talented pupils are not given the push that they require to reach their potential - not through the lack of will of trying by the teacher, but because of the focus on helping our other children grasp a basic understanding, or hit age related expectations. It was also heavily influenced by the idea of 'mastery' - a bit of a buzz word in Bedfordshire - where children master their understanding in relation to any specific aspect of a wider subject, and/or become fluent in it. I was interested in creating a dynamic where those with the greatest ability could benefit the rest of the group, whilst being handed the opportunity to master their own understanding, share their ideas and knowledge bases, and, of course, lead from the front, gain in responsibility and improve their own confidence levels. The role of peer mentor felt like the perfect method of allowing this to happen.

I discussed my ideas with the group who showed instant interest in another opportunity to grab some authority! I selected the mentors, rather than them being democratically voted in, simply because this was an opportunity for me to select those who I had witnessed working carefully, and displaying a strong understanding or high ability. Those who I wanted to push.

Handwriting and spelling proved a great opportunity to introduce the concept to my new year 5s. I had a pair of children who consistently scored highly in their weekly spelling tests, and who joined accurately and consistently. These two students were presented with badges (everyone loves a badge, right!?) and tasked with circulating the room; identifying those who needed assistance or who would benefit from seeing a quality example, prior to producing their own work. They were handed green pens, to distinguish their inputs, and reminded that their role was one which involved supporting those in need, not just those who they enjoyed spending time with on the playground.

The lesson had many positive outcomes. The students selected for the role of mentor thrived on the opportunity to lead, whilst the demand on teacher and TA was greatly reduced, giving us the chance to concentrate our attention on those in most need. Team work was evident, and some of the weakest writers quickly upped their game when pushed to by their peers.

Of course, those selected for these roles would almost certainly be different depending on the subject and the specific aspect being looked at each lesson. This is partly why peer mentorship is such an exciting string to have in your bow - as any child could find themselves mentoring at any time. After using the concept regularly between 2017-19 with my previous group, (in pretty much every core and foundation subject going) I can honestly say it has been one of the most positive and progressive ideas I've instilled. My HA learners have progressed both academically and in confidence, whilst the remaining children have received additional support - much more quickly at times, and from peers who they feel comfortable listening to and working with.

Do you employ any similar methods within your classroom and how do you push those of higher ability to hit ever bigger highs? I'd love to hear about your own experiences. And, if you decide to give peer mentoring a go, let me know how you get on and whether it had positive outcomes on your class as a whole.


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