Mentoring beyond the project

Part of the rationale behind taking a peer assisted learning approach to our mentoring programme this year was to offer additional support to mentors and mentees through having set sessions when academic staff could be present. In the past mentors and mentees have arranged their own time to meet and this has led to some very positive partnerships, some partnerships which never really got off the ground and some incidents when the ethos of a mentoring relationship has been lost along the way. 

For this project it was hoped that the mentors would feel they could offer additional support beyond the arranged sessions within a safe context but this was not an organised part of the project. 

In the past week an opportunity arose when an issue of timetabling meant a group of first year students found themselves in a classroom without a tutor or organised activity to complete. One of our second year mentors was there and within her role as a student mentor decided to lead the group through a discussion on the modules assessment items, which had been introduced the previous week, whilst awaiting confirmation from academic staff about session content. 

Demonstrating that she feels comfortable in her role as a student mentor and has developed skills and confidence in being able to initiate and lead group discussion outside of the organised activity for the project. This event also demonstrates the value of having student mentors who can lead their peers in academic activity for the programme.

It would have been good to have captured some of the thoughts from the first students who were there and maybe that is something we can factor into the data gathering for the project, it would be great to know if being able to chat assessments over with peers rather than tutors offers students additional benefits. There maybe questions they do not feel confident asking in front of a tutor or the student mentor may have been able to offer an explanation of the activity which is more applicable to the students than tutors can offer. Conversely it may have negative implications with incorrect information being given but if student mentors were integrated into offering assignment support as part of their role this could be mitigated through the developing of their skills in deciphering briefs which leads us nicely onto…

Our next session, session 3, which will focus on assessments; understanding assignment briefs, using our online system to gather the relevant data to complete work and issues of plagiarism.  

Session 2

On the 8th January 2019 we ran our second PALM session with one of our second year mentors leading proceedings. The first years had just completed their first term of study with us so it was a time for reflections and new starts.

When designing the session our second year mentor discussed with first year students what they would like to cover and come up with a session on Study Buddies. She wanted to share some of the ways in which she had found it useful to work with peers on academic work alongside gaining emotional support when times are stressful or challenging. 

She designed the session to include:

  • Discussions on how to work with peers offering tips and techniques she had picked up along the way;
  • Engagement with a ‘Tree of Me’ task which had been set by tutors for a reflective session on one of the modules;
  • and a burn box for student to write down anything from their first term of study which they would like to let go of. 

We had just two students attend but considering the time of year and it being only the second day back after the Christmas break we thought this was a fair turnout. Those who attended were highly engaged, the low numbers gave the mentor an opportunity to work 1 to 1 with each attendee.

Interestingly all three students in attendance would be considered to be mature students who are returning to education following a break. This led to a powerful discussion around maturity as an undergraduate student being both a challenge and of benefit to individuals in their studies, students identified that confidence can be one of the biggest barriers they face when engaging in class and preparing for assignments. The student mentor led discussions which served to identify key strengths for both participants and offer practical methods to support study.

Despite the low numbers attending this session really offered our mentor the opportunity to showcase her skills; she led the session, facilitated meaningful discussion and responded to issues raised through offering supportive and practical ideas. The first year students had half an hour between the organised end of the PALM session and their next lesson, they chose to stay for this time and work with the mentor which speaks volumes.  

Looking forward to our next session.

The poster for session 2 shared with first year students via the universities VLE.