Peer-leaders our (not so) secret tool for success: Reflection on the values of peer leaders in stimulating a Growth Mindset

Author: Karl C. Alvestad, Project Officer – University of Winchester

To the project team at Winchester, peer-leaders are integral to the implementation of a Growth Mindset environment and stimulating student engagement with the project. As a result, we have
been working hard to train our peer-leaders to prepare them for their role in the project, which includes the delivery of the student interventions. The plan is that these peer-leaders will help us with the implementation of this project by leading the student interventions, and that they will help us explore how to best stimulate students to develop a Growth Mindset. As different project partners are utilising peer-leaders differently, we feel that it would be beneficial for our story to explain why Winchester have chosen to go down the route of using peer-leaders at the core of our Changing Mindsets sessions.

My interest in learning and engagement (and my preferred career path) has made me interested in Changing Mindsets as I can see how I can help myself and others to engage with our attainment in a more constructive way.

Since the beginning of our engagement in the project, we have been working with the belief that the implementation of our interventions would work best if they were delivered or supported by peer-leaders. Crucial for our adaptation, was that we found it easier to get departmental buy-in for support the project by offering a CV enhancement opportunity for students recruited as peer-leaders. In this, the project and our peer-leaders would be comparable to other student engagement schemes at University of Winchester, such as PAL, Smart Buddies (Academic Skills Mentors) and Student Fellows. These schemes have had great success at Winchester and are well received by students and staff. The institutional familiarity with other peer-learning schemes made us believe that this would be the best option to secure departmental support for the implementation of the Changing Mindsets interventions at the University of Winchester.

By using peer-leaders at the core of our interventions we wanted to draw on some of the benefits of key learning. A growing body of literature on peer-led learning highlights a number of virtues of using peer-leaders in engaging students in learning such as:

  • Increased engagement in studies and subject
  • More effective delivery
  • Stronger personal relationships through small group learning
  • Personal relatability through shared experiences and subject familiarity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Encourages a more active engagement with learning
  • Provides academic role models on a personal level

These benefits are highlighted by Keith Topping (2001), Nancy Falchikov (2001) and Peter Collier (2015) and all contributed to our reasoning for recruiting peer-leaders to help with the delivery of the project. Among these benefits, we believe the ability to facilitate small group learning as part of the delivery is key to providing a positive and inclusive learning environment that can lead to an increased sense of belonging.

Some of the key aims of the project are to close the attainment gap and make a more inclusive learning environment in Higher Education. As a result, we believe that students feeling a sense of belonging in a higher education environment is key to their success, and to the success of the project. On the basis of the extensive literature on peer-led learning found that utilising peer leaders could help us stimulate a sense of belonging among the Changing Mindsets participants, and offer them easy to relate to role models. To ensure a good fit between our participants and our peer-leaders we have recruited leaders from among the second and third students in the involved departments (Accounting and Finance, Drama, Education Studies, and Psychology). Because of this recruitment, we believe the peer-leaders are well placed to facilitate engagement with the Growth Mindset materials. We have also observed that since the beginning of the training that our peer-leaders have brought an invigorating energy to the project and helped us translate Carol Dweck’s work into a relatable and accessible format for our participants.

I now see how I can use my feedback to develop and grow from assignment to assignment, and I am looking forward to using this material to help new students to engage better with their studies through a Growth Mindset engagement with studies and feedback.

On a practical level, we have found that our peer-leaders have so far been instrumental in making our interventions accessible to our participants and helped overcome discipline-specific approaches to learning and teaching. As a result, we believe our peer-leaders are some of our best tools for a successful development of Growth Mindsets among our participants and in higher education overall. I will return to this topic later on in the project to give reflect on the use of peer-leaders in the delivery of the Changing Mindsets interventions.

References

Collier, P. J., (2015) Developing Effective Student Peer Mentoring Programs: A Practitioner’s Guide to Program Design, Delivery, Evaluation, and Training. Stylus Publishing, USA.

Falchikov, N. (2001) Learning Together: Peer tutoring in higher education. RoutledgeFalmer, UK.

Topping, K. (2001) Peer Assisted Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Brookline Books, USA.

Disclaimer:  the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the values of the University of Portsmouth or the extended Partnership.

Peer-leaders our (not so) secret tool for success
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