Bi-Modal Instructional Practices in Educational Psychology: Mentoring and Traditional Instruction

Article excerpt

This paper describes an innovative, non-traditional approach to teaching Educational Psychology to undergraduates (UG's) and graduates (G's) together in split-level classes where traditional instruction was complemented by a mentoring program. Approximately half of the students enrolled in the classes were traditional UG Educational Psychology students and the other half were G students and practicing teachers who received graduate credit in Advanced Educational Psychology. These "new" courses were offered as 12-week summer sessions and were designed for the G's to "mentor" the pre-service teachers as well as share their experiences as they relate to the theories discussed in class (especially in the areas of multi-cultural and bi-lingual education). After eight and twelve weeks respectively, evaluations were given to the students to assess their attitudes of this course. Two separate versions were used: One for the UG's and one for the G's. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods was used to describe the students' reactions, attitudes, and evaluations of the course, which, in general, yielded positive and consistent feedback from both the mentors and the mentorees.

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). …