Peer Mentoring: a catalyst for personal growth
The FunKey Maths Peer Mentoring programme trains Year 5 students (age 9-10) to work with children in Year 2 (age 6-7) who have started to struggle in maths. The highly structured programme helps the younger children build their confidence and develop their maths skills. The programme started in Hereford but is now spreading across the UK. It now operates in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Kent, Ipswich, Huddersfield and South Wales. Thanks to support from Nesta’s Maths Mission hundreds of children are benefiting from the programme every year. Teachers talk enthusiastically about the positive impact it has on the Year 2s. They show far more confidence and volunteer answers in class, They get better marks and develop the language for talking about maths.
But teachers also talk with passion about the impact on the Year 5 Mentors. And for good reason. Every time we return to a school for the follow-up training, we hear about children who have overcome significant barriers by working as mentors.
One teacher from Port Talbot described one of her Year 5 mentors as a boy who, before mentoring, sometimes found it difficult to relate to others in his class. She was visibly moved by the change she’d seen in him. She said of the programme:
“It’s given him the words and the way to be positive with someone and be nice.”
I’ve reflected long on hard on what was going on for this boy. These are my thoughts.
We all get into behaviour patterns. It’s what happens. We might behave in one way at home, another way in the classroom and another way in front of our grandma. In each of these situations we adopt a persona, and that persona becomes our default way of being.
Imagine if you are in Year 5 and your role at school has been the class clown, or the tough one who never shows weakness, or the confrontational one who is always rude to the girls. You might have developed this role when you were six, and at nine you are stuck with it. Everyone expects it and it’s difficult to change. Change invites comment. You might lose face. And what do you change to? It’s all too much of a risk.
Changing one’s behaviour is challenging even for adults. There are vast tracts of academic research and thousands of self-help books on the subject. There’s no doubt that breaking any bad habit and replacing it with a good one requires focus and commitment. When you want a nine year old to change a bad habit, you need to give them guidance, structure and reward. And that is what the FunKey Maths Peer Mentoring programme provides.
The training which takes two half days starts with HOW to be a Mentor. It explores the characteristics of great teachers, the four different elements of communication, the impact on others of our communication style. Children look at how negative emotions can block someone’s ability to learn, how to correct someone’s errors in a positive way, and the importance of modelling what you want from the Year 2s. The training helps children understand that if they nurture and care for the Year 2 at a human level they will unlock the child’s potential to succeed.
In the first activity, the Year 5s are invited to step outside of their normal persona and cloak themselves in the mantle of the ideal mentor. Everyone, together, tries out a new way of being in a fun, energetic game. This activity gives permission to the trainees to try something new. It’s not embarrassing as everyone is doing it. They have good reason to change; it’s not self-serving, they want to do their best for their Mentees. They have a safe place in which to experiment with change. And of course, they get lots of positive feedback for risking the change. The energy in the room soars as the Year 5s encourage each other to become the best Mentors they can be.
Once the training on HOW to be a Mentor is done, the Year 5s work through the structured programme of activities. Structure reduces the burden of decision making and allows children more head space to focus on HOW they are being, not WHAT they are doing. The FunKey programme lays out a clear path, which becomes increasingly rewarding to follow as the Year 2 starts to make progress.
Success breeds success, not just for the Year 2s but also for the Year 5s. And when behaviour change is rewarding it is sustained. That is when bad habits are broken.
There is something wonderful about watching a child who couldn’t do something start to succeed. The Year 5s are just as delighted as a teacher or a parent when the Year 2s make progress. They then stay in the programme willingly because they can see they are making a difference.
The Year 5s see the changes in the Year 2 children. We see a maths peer mentoring scheme delivering personal growth for all participants.
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