Students can gain many benefits from cross-grade mentoring and peer-pal opportunities in academic, social emotional, and life skills success. Research shows such programs can generate a school environment that is more inclusive and supportive. Hear the results reported by educators at both the elementary and secondary levels.
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[00:00:00.300] – Steve [Intro]
Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding, and my curiosity is piqued whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.
[00:00:32.680] – Steve
Creating cross grade partnering opportunities for students. I was recently coaching and consulting with a small K-8 school, exploring learning opportunities that would impact student success in academic, social, emotional, and life skills. One of the options that we examined was looking at ways that students from upper grades could take on tutoring and mentoring roles with younger students. For example, we considered pairing grade eight with four, seven with three, six with two, and five with one. I’ve always been a promoter of the benefits that can be achieved by creating these experiences. Most of the learning that students engage in outside of school is in a multi age setting. In areas like athletics and scouting, choirs and bands.
[00:01:35.950] – Steve
Much can be gained by both the younger and the older student in these opportunities. Here’s the list of benefits I was able to find as I combed through some of the research. In the areas of academics, one benefit is a diverse perspective. Cross-age peer tutoring programs provide students to learn different perspectives that come from the different grade levels collaborating. They each can bring something unique to the learning opportunity. For example, the younger student may offer a fresh perspective or an innovative solution, while an older peer can provide a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Cross-age tutoring can provide reinforcement of skills. When older students tutor their younger peers, they revisit and reteach foundational concepts which can help them retain and apply that knowledge effectively. Cross-age tutoring can also offer individualized support. Tutors can adapt their teaching to cater to the specific needs and learning styles of the student they’re working with. The personalized approach can be particularly beneficial for students who are struggling. Studies have shown that peer tutoring, especially in cross-age settings, can lead to significant improvements in academic performance.
[00:03:14.730] – Steve
Students being tutored typically experience better understanding of the subject matter. They tend to have an increased motivation to learn, which actually has resulted in higher test scores. Additionally, the tutors benefit from experience as well as the teaching reinforces their own knowledge and understanding of the material. Cross-age tutoring has also shown to enhance communication skills. As tutors, students must explain more complex concepts in a way that the younger peer can grasp them. This process fosters clarity and adaptability in their communication. For the student being tutored, they frequently learned to ask questions and seek clarification, improving their active listening and comprehension abilities. This is another set of benefits that are found in the area of social-emotional, and life skills. These cross-age programs empower students to take on leadership roles and responsibilities. Older students, as tutors, are entrusted with guiding their younger peers, which promotes a sense of responsibility and accountability. Interacting with students from different grade levels can foster empathy and compassion. Older students often develop a greater understanding of the challenges faced by their younger peers, leading to a more compassionate outlook.
[00:04:48.730] – Steve
These programs can promote a sense of belonging and support within the school community. Students, both as tutors and two tutees, form meaningful connections with peers from various grade levels, which can combat feelings of isolation or alienation. This sense of belonging contributes to a positive school environment and enhances students well-being overall. Confidence and self esteem can be increased from these partnerships. Tutors gain confidence in their abilities to teach and help others. While the tutees experience increased self esteem as they gain new concepts and improve and enhance their learning. These improvements in self confidence can have a lasting impact on students academic as well as personal lives. These cross age match ups can also provide opportunities for practicing problem solving and conflict resolution. Collaborating with peers from different grade levels can expose students to various perspectives and ideas, which can lead to constructive discussions and problem solving. They can learn to navigate differences in opinion and resolve conflicts peacefully. These conflicts resolution skills are valuable life skills, aiding students in their personal relationships and even in future professional endeavors. I came across a program at the secondary level which reinforces this same list of benefits.
[00:06:31.340] – Steve
Cumberland Regional High School in Bridgeton, New Jersey, has a program that’s over a decade old that matches senior mentors with incoming high school freshmen. The freshmen and the senior mentors are enrolled in a class that meets for 80 minutes each day during the first semester. Freshmen get credits as a general course. For seniors, it’s an honors elective course. The overall goal is for seniors to provide guidance to their younger peers about day to day stressors and challenges, but also to teach incoming freshmen important academic skills, including study habits, organization, time management, goal setting, conflict resolution, interview preparation, and note taking. The freshmen complete projects throughout the semester. They use a college and career readiness program, which analyzes their skills and interest and possibilities for future careers. Students do a research project about potential careers, and they present their findings to the class. The senior mentors are graded based on weekly written reflections, in which they reflect on their work and progress with their freshmen. They also receive grades from their teacher who oversees the class based on projects they helped a freshmen complete one on one counseling skills during the weekly meetings with freshmen and the final exam.
[00:08:17.130] – Steve
Research would certainly support schools looking at such crossed-grade mentoring opportunities. The freshman year is often the most challenging socially and academically for students. The highest course failure rates generally occur in grade nine, and students who fail freshman year are at best, about half as likely to graduate with their peers who post better grade point averages. I like this quote from the high school principal: “One of the things that we tell our senior mentors is that the class is not academically rigorous, but it is emotionally rigorous because you’re not just responsible for yourself. You’re responsible for 2 or 3 other freshmen, and now their success means something to you. And them not doing well means something to you.” Wow. I find that really powerful to give high school students the opportunity to step into that level of responsibility and understanding about being of service to others. I’ll place the link to the article about that program in the lead-in to this podcast, as well as another link to an Edutopia blog that provides some suggestions for starting an elementary buddy program.
[00:09:59.400] – Steve
Several years back, I had the opportunity to work with a K-5 school that implemented Peer Pals. Here’s some of the comments that teachers shared with me after only 12 weeks of implementation of the program. A fourth grade teacher, wrote: “after the student’s first few Peer Pal meetings, I have been amazed with the results. All of my doubts have been erased. Low confidence students have found a leadership role as they work with their first grade peers, these students transform into confident mentors. As I walk through the classroom at our last meeting, I heard many fourth graders talk in a tone that I hadn’t heard before. A tone of self-assurance and fearlessness. They are proud of their relationships with their peer pals, and they take initiative to plan activities for their pals.” A first grade teacher wrote: “schoolwide relationships have strengthened. I have witnessed the fourth graders begin to step out of their fourth grade bubbles and take initiative to form relationships with students in younger grades. Today, as my students were waiting in the hallway to switch to their next class, our Peer pal first graders walked by and as they passed, huge smiles appeared on everyone’s faces.
[00:11:19.500] – Steve
Students were high fiving and giving fist bumps left and right. The strengthening of student relationships across the school is remarkable.” Lastly, another teacher at the school has noted: “Peer Pals has helped our excelling students as well as our struggling, less confident students. Our students that excel in academics have been able to use their skills to teach their younger pals. Our students who are struggling or who are less confident in their academics, have gotten a boost of confidence through being able to help their younger pal. The relationships that are forming through the program are solid and extremely beneficial to both age groups. I have heard students ask, ‘can I go and check on my peer pal to make sure they’re having a great day?’ Or, ‘can I check on my peer pal on their math facts?’ Students are truly seeing the rewards of helping others and building others up.” These peer pals and mentoring programs offer a great opportunity for a school wide program, bringing staff together to make these opportunities happen.
[00:12:42.270] – Steve
But if your school isn’t ready, I think individual teachers can reach out with just one colleague and generate an opportunity for your students to experience the many benefits that can come from stepping into these peer mentoring relationships. Give it a try. I’d love to hear your thinking about it. You can always reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
[00:13:18.820] – Steve [Outro]
Thanks for listening in, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.