Bi-Modal Instructional Practices in Educational Psychology: Mentoring and Traditional Instruction.
Classically defined, a mentor is someone; perhaps a college professor, family member, coworker, or a friend who inspires you, helps you, and shows you the ropes of your surroundings in a new working environment (Portner, 1994). In education, mentors are usually veteran teachers who support colleagues and help those who are new to the profession to become acclimated to the everyday activities that take place in the schools. Ultimately, mentors can help the mentorees by encouraging them and helping them become better teachers (Mullen, 2000; Newton, Bergstrom, Brennan, Dunne, Gilbert, Ibarguen, Perez-Selles, & Thomas, 1994).
Most of the recent support for mentoring new and pre-service teachers can be attributed primarily to two plausible factors. One is the high rate of attrition among new teachers. According to the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), up to one third of new teachers in the U.S. leave the profession within their first three years. One reason for this, according to the commission, is the classical "sink-or-swim" mentality toward teacher education (NCTAF, 1996). As a result, many teachers are leaving the profession because they have no initial or ongoing support base (Colton, & Sparks, 1993). A second plausible reason that educational leaders across the country are beginning to support mentoring is the recognition of the unprecedented number of veteran teachers who are nearing retirement (Torres-Guzman & Goodwin, 1995). This is a problem projected across the U.S. Plainly stated, we are experiencing a national teacher shortage. Therefore, a mentorship in the teaching profession can lend itself nicely to preparing "new" teachers as well as take advantage of the "expertise" of the veteran teachers. As a result, the past 10 years have revealed some very positive effects upon teaching and learning through successful mentorship's (Johnson & Johnson, 1998; Reiman & Thies-Sprinthall, 1998).
So then, what can mentors do? Mentors can build and maintain relationships with their mentorees based on mutual respect, trust, and professionalism (Newton et al, 1994) as well as engage in a partnership for learning and instruction (Mullen, 2000). A second part of the mentorship is reported to be more difficult. In terms of guiding, mentors wean their mentorees away from dependence by guiding them through the process of reflecting on decisions and actions for themselves and encouraging them to construct their own informed teaching and learning approaches (Portner, 1998).
How can this be realized in the present study? Based on the recommendations of Manthei (1990) certain activities should be present in order for a mentorship to be successful. Three characteristics in particular that help build the theoretical premises of in the present study were that mentoring (1) is collegial and ongoing, (2) presents personal dialogue on how children learn and stimulates the personal, critical, and creative thinking about how to teach to these diverse children, and (3) helps to develop self-reliance for the mentoree and self-assurance for the mentor (Manthei, 1990).
The concept of mentoring holds a vehicle for educational reform. It is reported that more than 30 states in the U.S. have mandated beginning teacher support as a part of their teacher education programs (Portner, 1994). In response to the challenge imposed by these mandates, increasing numbers of educational programs are implementing mentoring programs to help their pre-service teachers as well as new teachers persist and develop beyond their first year of teaching (Maynard, 1997). Additionally, both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation's largest teachers' unions, are in accord in their encouragement of the establishment of peer review and assistance programs under which all beginning teachers would be assigned a mentor. With this in mind, the present study asks the question: Why not get the pre-service teachers started a little earlier, such as in their teacher education courses (Educational Psychology, in particular) to allow them to become familiar with the mentoring process?
The Present Study
A new course in Educational Psychology was developed and proposed as a split-level Educational Psychology course at a large public university in the Mid-west. The purpose of this course was to combine undergraduate (UG) pre-service teacher education students along with graduate (G) in-service teachers together in an innovative mentoring program.(1) The course was approved for the same instructor to teach two sections of split-level of Educational Psychology. Based on a three-year summer enrollment history, it was projected that these split-level classes needed to accommodate approximately 30-35 G's and 25-30 UG's respectively. By design, caps of 18 UG's and 20 G's were established to help control for near equal numbers of UG's and G's in both sections. Beginning enrollments in both sections were not exactly equal for the first class meetings. However, both sections enrolled approximate numbers (n=20 UG's, n=18 G's enrolled in section one; n=16 UG's, n=16 G's in section two).
Those who teach in higher education know that it is typical for students to drop a course throughout any given term. These split-level courses were no exceptions. As a result, the final enrollments for the two sections were affected by five students dropping the courses (four UG's and one G). Fortunately, both sections maintained approximate numbers (n=18 UG's, n=17 G's finished the course in section one; n=14 UG's, n=16 G's finished in section two). Two UG students from each section and one G student from the first section had dropped the course for unspecified reasons.
Upon completion of the course, the UG pre-service teachers received three credit hours in Educational Psychology and the G in-service teachers received three credit hours in Advanced Educational Psychology. The course was designed for the in-service teachers to "mentor" the pre-service teachers and to share their experiences as they relate to the theories discussed in class. How was this done? The following is a general extraction and compilation of the course syllabus describing the activities and criteria that was used for evaluation:
Paired-Group Presentations - Paired-groups (comprised of two UG's and two G's) chose a presentation topic from a list of topics from the course syllabus (e.g., Why multicultural education is important today) and presented on the assigned dates from a pre-determined schedule throughout the term. Groups earned up to 60 points on these presentations. A few groups consisted of more than two UG's and G's due to an odd number of students in class.
A Research Project was a required part of class. This project took place in class and covered class-related information. Students earned up to 20 points for participating in this University supported and IRB approved research project.
Five Quizzes were administered during the first six weeks of the term. These quizzes were individually graded. Each quiz was worth 15 points.
A Take Home Final was distributed to students in the tenth week of the term. Students worked in their mentoring groups and had two weeks to work together (in and out of class) before turning in the final. Each group was responsible for turning in one final. The final was related to the topics discussed in class as well as from the assigned readings from the final chapters (e.g., the pro's and con's of ability grouping). The groups earned up to 60 points on the final.
In addition to the listed activities, G's were required to complete one of the following research assignments and were required to share their papers with the UG's for class discussion in the seventh week of the course. Students were provided with explicit criteria for the research article critique following APA guidelines. Students earned up to 20 points for completing one of the following research papers.
A Research Article Critique from an approved research journal (e.g., Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of Instructional Psychology) was completed by a specified date on the syllabus. A Research Position Paper that discussed how the student uses a particular psychological theory or principle in their classes with their students. The title of the paper was "How I Use Psychology to Teach My Class."
Graduate students were specifically instructed to do one or the other, and though they may do both, they would ONLY receive credit for one assignment. Other than completing one of the research writing assignments presented above, the G's and UG's had the same expectations for completing the assignments. The G's were evaluated using an eight-point scale (i.e., 92-100=A) whereas the UG's were evaluated using a 10-point scale (i.e., 90-100=A).
An instructor created attitudinal survey was administered to all students in both classes at the end of the eighth week. A separate version was used for the UG's and G's respectively. The survey administered to the UG's asked questions focusing on their experiences as a mentoree by probing their attitudes about a) the class in general, b) their learning as a result of having mentors in class with them, c) having teachers in the same class with them, d) the mentoring climate that took place in the course thus far, and e) whether or not the student would be inclined to take another split-level course in the future. The survey administered to the G's asked similar questions, but geared more toward their experiences as the mentor, probing their attitudes about a) the class in general, b) their learning as a result of their mentoring, c) having UG's to mentor, d) the sharing that took place in the course thus far, and e) whether or not the student would be inclined to take another split-level course in the future. At the end of the 12-week period another formal course evaluation (faculty senate) was administered.
In summary of the qualitative responses, the students' feedbacks from the instructor-created attitudinal survey were generally positive, with more response coming from the UG's. For many of the G students, they indicated that the class challenged them to think about their teaching practices and to question the theories within the textbook. Why are behavioral theories effective in teaching first grade? Or, why isn't a certain behavioral techniques effective in teaching first grade? These were some of the comments made in class from the G mentors.
Many UG's shared their feelings of enhanced learning by real-life experiences shared by their group members (mentors) rather than relying on the textbook or the professors example's alone (with all due respect). It also allowed the UG's to "network" with the teachers, gaining valuable information regarding tangible issues (e.g., extra-curricular activities, contracts, school policies, how to manage a behaviorally challenged student, just to name a few). One of the UG's even secured a job for the upcoming year thanks to the connections she made with some teachers (G mentors) in the class.
For the final projects, the mentoring groups wrote about a variety of topics that included: Maintenance, Transitional, and ESL Bilingual Programs; The Pro's and Con's of Ability grouping; Classical Conditioning: Student's for Dogs in the Classroom; What is Intelligence?; Note-Taking Strategies; Curiosity Motivation and Learning; and Alternative Assessments
All exploratory and descriptive statistics were carried out on SPSS (version 9.0). Specifically, cross tab analyses were conducted on five questions from the instructor survey and on six questions from the senate survey across status (UG vs. G). Descriptive statistics for the total sample population of this study included 32 UG's (49%) in the combined sample: 18 in section one and 14 in section two, and 33 G's (51%) in the total sample: 17 in section one and 16 in section two. Thirty-five students completed the course in section one, and 30 students completed the course in section two. There were 19 males in the total sample (29%), 45 females (70%), and one student who did not report this information.
Cross tab analyses on the instructor survey (administered in the 8th week of the term) combined the sections across status: UG vs. G. A five-point Likert-type scale was presented on a legend where 1=Strongly Agree, 2=Agree, 3=Neither Agree or Disagree, 4-Disagree, and 5=Strongly Disagree and was used to help students respond to the items on the survey. Tables 1-5 present crosstab frequencies for each response on the five questions analyzed from the instructor surveys. To best describe the five questions analyzed in this survey, the italicized words indicate that the first word was used in the UG's survey, whereas the second italicized word was used in the G's survey. For example, the first questions on the instructor surveys were "I enjoyed having mentors/mentorees in class share their/my experiences." Because these questions are parallel and reflective of their opinions about the other, the UG's statement was presented with the first set of italicized words and the G's with the second set. The following questions included: "I felt class was more challenging having G's/UG's in class with me,"
"I felt intimidated having the G's/UG's in class with me," "I learned more having the G's/UG's in class with me than without," and "I would like to take another split level class."
Cross tab analyses were conducted on the senate surveys as well (administered in the 12th and final week of the term). These surveys also combined sections across status: UG vs. G. However, on these surveys, the five-point Likert-type scale was presented in reverse order from the Instructor survey. The legend on the senate survey was 1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neither Agree or Disagree, 4-Agree, and 5-Strongly Agree. Again, this legend was helpful for students to respond to the items on this survey. Tables 6-11 present crosstab frequencies for each response for the six questions analyzed from the senate surveys. Contrary to the instructor surveys, the senate survey was administered as one format. Therefore, the same form was completed by both the UG's and G's. The six questions analyzed from the senate survey included the following: The course was well planned, Students were treated fairly, The instructor encouraged all class members to participate in the class discussions, The course format was useful for application of theories presented in class, My overall rating of the course is ... and My overall rating of the instructor compared to other instructors that I've had at ... University.
Discussion and Conclusion
Based on the descriptive responses of the students, I believe that this structure of the split-level Educational Psychology mentoring program posed a win-win situation for both the teachers and the soon-to-be teachers in the class. I would support this belief by providing an overview of what the descriptive data suggests. Beginning with the instructor surveys, the majority of the students have responded favorably concerning their experiences in the class. While very few students found the class to be more challenging than a traditional class, the majority tended to describe their experience a moderately more challenging to very comparable to a traditional class. A few more UG's reported a sense of intimidation of having the G mentors in the class with them than the other way around. But as the open-ended comments suggest, that was an "initial" feeling and that once the term progressed, most of the UG's no longer felt intimidated. The vast majority of the students felt that they learned more in this class as a result of having the mentor/mentoree in class with them than without. Likewise, the majority of the students indicated that they would like to take another split-level course in the future. This finding was pre-qualified by the acknowledgement that there would be separate requirements (e.g., additional research paper for the G's) and separate grading scales for each group (e.g., UG's=10 point scale; G's=8 point scale).
From the senate surveys, the majority of students felt that the split-level course was well planned and that they were treated fairly, by the instructor and by one another. The majority also felt that the instructor encouraged all class members to participate in the discussions and activities equally. The majority of the students felt that the course format was useful for application of the theories presented in class. For the overall rating of the course, the UG's were slightly more complementary than the G's. The same was true regarding the overall rating of the instructor when compared to other instructors at that particular institution. Much to my surprise, the comments from the G's were fewer and less detailed, which may not be a good thing.(2)
A few things that I have learned from teaching the split-level classes are that students have a preferred mode for learning, but also that many students can benefit from a "non-traditional" mode of learning. Speculative as it may be, I would summarize that UG's are more likely to be intimidated by having G's in class with them. Perhaps this might explain why more UG's ended up dropping the course. But, for those that remained in the classes, once they realized that they were not competing with the G's, but rather, working with them, soon became acclimated after about three weeks of working together. So, there appears to be about a three- week "warming-up" period before the UG's feel comfortable. In addition, I believe that the UG's were more flexible in their learning mode by welcoming the G's to share and expand upon the course content with their work experiences. I'm not so sure the same generalization can be made about the G's. Although they learned the same material, they may have sensed an additional responsibility to help the UG's learn the concepts as well as the application of each concept throughout the term. Here, the results were mixed. Some G's willingly accepted the mentoring responsibility and did so with pride, whereas others were not as adamant. Perhaps a few reasons why some G's were not overly excited to engage in the mentoring at first might have been due to a lack of experience with mentoring. Obviously, if they have never mentored another teacher, they would not feel comfortable doing it in a class setting. Another reason may have been due to their initial expectation of the class. That is to say, they were expecting a traditional, lecture-base class. Or perhaps, they may have been annoyed of having UG's in the same class with them. Whatever the case, I believe that some sort of "pre-training" mentoring workshop for the G's would prove to be helpful. This would address the benefits of "mentoring" and would be helpful before enrolling into a split-level course like this study.
It should be noted that this is the first time that I have taught this class in the split-level format. Actually, it is the first time a split-level class had been taught in the department at this particular institution. Obviously, I have a lot to learn from this way of teaching and how students' learning may benefit from this format. My experience with these split-level mentoring courses has been extraordinary. I look forward to improving this way of teaching Educational Psychology in the future to fit the students needs and best interests. While this format may not be for every instructor of Educational Psychology, it certainly is a practical way to keep the lines open between pre-service teachers and practitioners in the field. One major limitation of this type of descriptive study of an experimental course is that it is based on the impression of one instructor and the reactions of students from two classes that the instructor has taught. Therefore, the descriptive results of this study cannot be generalized beyond the two sections of split-level classes examined in this study. Likewise, the results of this study cannot be generalized beyond the instructor of these classes. This is merely one instructor's experience in teaching Educational Psychology in a split-level mentoring program: A program that has some definite benefits as well as some major limitations. Overall, this study was a great experience from the instructors view, and I look forward to doing it again sometime in the near future.
(The author would like to express thanks to Dr. Daniel H. Robinson for his exceptional mentoring throughout the years and to Dr. Wayne Nelson for his support in offering these courses.)
(1) Note: for the purposes of this study, the term "pre-service teacher" is used to describe the traditional undergraduate teacher education students (UG), usually in the third year of the teacher education program. The term "in-service teacher" is used to describe the graduate student (G) who already hold a bachelor's degree in an educational discipline and are currently teaching in the public (or private) school system.
(2) Due to the rather lengthy nature of the qualitative responses and limited journal space, the author has summarized the open-ended responses. If you would like to obtain a copy of the compiled responses, please contact the author.
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Portner, H. (1998). Mentoring new teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc. A Sage Publications Company.
Reiman, A. J. & Thies-Sprinthall, L. (1998). Mentoring and Supervision for Teacher Development. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
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Andrew D. Katayama, Department of Advanced Educational Studies, West Virginia University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Andrew Katayama, Department of Advanced Educational Studies, West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6122 Allen Hall 509, Morgantown, WV 26506-6122, (304) 293-2515 ext. 1357, email@example.com
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|Author:||Katayama, Andrew D.|
|Publication:||Journal of Instructional Psychology|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2001|
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