Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning Discussion

Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning Discussion

September Online Reading Group and Discussion - #fight4edu

We want to hear from you! Join the conversation by adding comments in the comments section below, and by posting on Twitter using #fight4edu. HASTAC is an open, free network. Log in or register as a new user to leave a comment.

Previous Conversations in the Series: 

Discussion Group Leaders:

Sponsoring Organization: The Futures Initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center

Suggested Readings and Viewings:

Discussion Questions:

  • How does peer mentoring relate to student-centered learning, if at all? Can they be one in the same and how? How do they inform one another?

  • Where do you see mentoring or student-centered practice in the reading or video above? How do teaching to learn and teaching with questions apply or translate to peer mentorship?

  • What approaches, philosophies, frameworks are critical to successful peer-to-peer learning and development? How have you experienced them as facilitator, participant, or both?

  • What are the primary goals for peer mentoring and student-centered learning? Where are the costs, the benefits, and the challenges?

  • How might these goals, challenges, and benefits best be addressed by students and teachers alike?

  • What are the points of intersection between peer mentoring/student-centered learning and pedagogies of equality?

Please join this student-led reading group, Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning. This is the second of eight conversations in The University Worth Fighting For, a year-long project designed to tie student-centered, engaged practices in our classrooms to larger issues of institutional change, equality, race, gender, and all forms of social justice.

We hope undergraduate and graduate students anywhere will join this conversation, and we hope faculty members might challenge their students to contribute. We encourage lively debate, respectful of difference.

Each month, we host a livestreamed workshop that corresponds to the online forum. Here are the details for this month:

Peer Mentoring and Student Centered Learning

  • WHEN: September 24, 2015, 1:00 PM-2:00 PM

  • WHERE: The Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, Room C198

  • CONTACT INFO: futuresinitiative [at]; (212) 817-7201



  • HASHTAG: #fight4edu

Join the discussion by adding your comments below!


In the video posted, it seems like the instructor is using a version of Paulo Freire's "problem-posing" model of education. I would have liked to hear more from the students, though! What did it feel like to have an instructor constantly questioning you? Did it help them learn? How did it compare to other approaches to teaching and learning? Was this method more effective for some students, and less effective for others? 

I recently found these remarks by science fiction writer and educator, Samuel Delany in which he writes (among many other brilliant things) "Teaching--even the teaching of writing--is always as much about shutting up as it is about imparting information" 

In my last class, students peer reviewed each other's first essays on Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The skill they were asked to demonstrate was close reading, something that is new to many of them. I think of peer review--teaching students how to respond generatively to one another's writing--as one of the single most valuable life learning skills that I have to pass on to them. It's also not something that comes naturally to any of us. I always give structured handouts that ask students to reflect on their own work, identify what they need help with, and find someone who can help them. Sure, I could edit their papers, and they would all get A's in my class. But what I want is to teach them how to produce effective writing for the rest of their lives. While I won't always be there to assist, they will always have networks of peers and colleagues to help them with writing, or other difficult tasks. If by the end of my class, students love peer review as much as I do--if they realize how working with other people drastically improves the quality of the final product--then I've done my job. 


Thanks Danica - for sharing your class's peer review process, and the interesting Samuel Delaney post. As he writes about teaching, or shutting up, in order to facilitate learning, I think of group work more generally and how there is a less formal process of peer review. In our high school equivalency program, our students often to work in groups, say, to design a math problem utilizing concepts they've been learning. Their teaching and learning with and off of one another is a revision process and 'academic mentoring' process in and of itself, and what they put up on chart paper to present to the class is also that - a process of drafting with one another, and getting a peer review from the whole class.


Danica: I like your clear, practical explanation of the importance of peer editing, and I'm going to paraphrase you on these points this semester. I'm not sure I've ever fully explained the importance of the process beyond its effects on the product at hand, prompting me to think yet again of what I take for granted, and the importance of being explicit/metacognition. 

Also, I feel like I've asked you this before, but I'm curious about the kind of structure you provide in your handouts for this activity? What kinds of questions/prompts do you give?


I can see both mentoring and student-centered practice in the reading or video above. Because the professor places the burden of inquiry on the student, the student becomes the researcher of their own question/problem. This type of indirect encouragement fosters a sort of student agency and this form of encouragement that which the professor provides is another form of mentorship. The peer-mentorship facet seems to come into place when students engage with each other to solve problems together and empower one another to do so. 


Yes, I agree! I find the tension in Teaching with Questions math classroom to be fascinating. In response to Danica's comment above, too, I've found students to be frustrated and emotionally triggered when they don't just get the answer from the teacher -- like they were used to in K-12. How do we successfully challenge and alter the student's understanding of what learning is and how it might work? Or do we?


I have been using a student-centered learning approach in my classroom for some time, particularly in my Computer Science Ethics class, some of which my students and I blogged about on HASTAC. Although, like Danica, I would have liked to hear more about the students in the "Teaching with Questions" video, I have used similar tactics to help keep discussions productive when undergraduates were teaching each other, often to make the students leading the session to feel more at ease. In my experience, a lot can be achieved through enlisting even some of these student-centered practices, and it is certainly a real driver of equity.

Although I have not structured mentoring into my classrooms, it seems to me that there is plenty of room for overlap between student-centered learning and mentoring. The idea of mentoring, to me, seems more generalized and advice-driven than what Annie Murphy Paul writes about in "The Protégé Effect," which is more skills-based. However, mentoring can be a more holistic approach to student-centered learning, and also enable students to help each other and create networks where perhaps another student may be better able to assist than a professor can (issues that may arise may be dealing with red tape from a student-perspective, disconnects between learning and teaching styles, commuting to campus from a certain part of the city, etc.).

The students in the Computer Science Ethics course were a mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores, and as they were all part of a very small major on campus they did tend to mentor each other before and after our class sessions. The students would consult on classes to take, whether they can substitute one class for another, what internship options may be available, and more. These were all issues that I was quite ignorant about, as it was only my second semester teaching at this institution. As this mentoring appears to happen organically in some classrooms, I am very interested in hearing how instructors may be able to help direct this energy in positive ways, and I am looking forward to watching the livestream of Thursday's event.


Thanks Lisa. Interesting stuff. One way I've turned mentoring from informal to still-informal-but-directed is to indicate to Student A who else in the class might be able to benefit from his or her experience, skill, knowledge in a particular area, and perhaps ask that student to reach out to share that info with the class or a particular student. Alternatively, you might hear Student A ask a question that you know Student B has the answer to (either academic, or campus resource-related, or other) and direct A to ask B. This sort of noticing and responding, validating learning, and showing that you really know the students and are listening goes so far in: 1) building the instructor's own relationship with the student, 2) empowering and building confidence of students suggested to be 'experts' and 'teachers', and 3) creating a learning and teaching opportunity for everyone (yourself included). I'm sure there's a 4, 5, and 6, to this too...


Noticing, responding and validating all sound very natural to integrate while also letting students realize the value they are adding, thank you, Rachel!


Lisa, I completely agree with your great points about mentoring being generalized and also holistic. I think students mentor each other all the time - they just don't think of the advice they give and examples they offer as being mentoring. Your specific examples from your CSE class are great fodder for more thinking! 


Thanks, Hilarie -- it sounds like making it a point to acknowledge the contribution of students as mentors may be a good place to start based on your comments here!


Here are some links to more resources that intersect with this topic in various ways. 

First, a recent article from the Huffington Post, "Thriving in College: The Power of Relationships." Here is the link:

Adam Weinberg is arguing that the quality of education hinges on the kinds of relationships that form between the various bodies involved in colleges, with the "right kind" of relationships making possible "the deepest education." He focuses on three types of mentoring relationships: student-faculty, peer-to-peer, and student-community. One thing I find interesting (and something that Rachel pointed out in earlier conversation), is how the establishment of these "right kinds" of relationships depends so much on the kind of educational environments we foster. How can we create these? And how can we maximize these networks, so that they work best for those involved? As Weinberg notes, mentorship relationships (especially between student-faculty) are not necessarily created through some sort of formulaic process, nor are they random. What might we make of all that blank space, or grey area, in between 1) having a collective body of individuals in an educational enviroment, and 2) having meaningful, organic, and productive mentoring relationships?

Perhaps the best we can do is work on the environmental aspect, creating the space and the opportunities for people to recognize the importance of these relationships, and to take advantage of them. In that vein, here are two great resources that work towards fostering very specific kinds of learning environments. This first is a classic, "10 Rules for Students and Teachers," popularized by John Cage, which you can find here:

The second is a riff on these rules, a beautiful expansion of them. Here are Anne Boyer's "Some Rules for Teachers," which you can access here:

My favourites include: "demonstrate uncertainty;" "give up any desire to be the smartest person in the room;" "every student is a genius;" and "conduct yourself in such a way that your students can eventually forget that you exist." Inherent in all of these is a denial of authority, ego, and insecurity (related, surely), and thus involves an ongoing, and maybe uncomfortable re-learning process on the part of both student and teacher, both of whom have spent years being taught that they should perhaps behave/operate in the exact opposite ways.

Anyone out there have any other favourites?




I cannot stop reading the Rules for Teaching. I am sending Boyer's riff to everyone I know who cares about students, either as "official" teachers or as informal ones or as lifelong learners or as students themselves. I should also send the Cage.

The points of Boyer's that resonate most with me are 2. demonstrate uncertainty and 5. give up any desire to be the smartest person in the room and 13. listen with your body. I try to tell my students as often as possible that THEY are experts and I want to know their ideas and what they've learned - but experts are people who know how much they don't know and are relatively excited by it. Body listening is so sorely absent from classroom practices, as my colleagues and I examined last semester in Cathy and Bill's class. Any chance I have to get students up and moving, I grab. I think the 8 am class especially appreciates it. 


I have at least two students per semester come to me and say a version of, "People have never asked me what I think before." (Or "Nobody has told me I was a great writer before.") This makes me so sad for these students and so frustrated with the way they've been put through the educational system. What are we doing as a country when we aren't asking our students what they think? (Perhaps their high school teachers were underpaid, overworked, and under the gun of standardized testing - I don't think it should be solely on them to ask these questions.)

What I try to do to rectify this is talk to my students early and often about the incredible expertise with which they enter the classroom. They all know things I don't know, I tell them. They all have unique perspectives and idiolects and sets of experiences that I want to allow them to share in their writing. They all have as much if not more to learn from each other than from me.

Not everyone likes to hear this - some students want to be told the answer, and I can understand that. And sixteen weeks is not actually that much time for the kind of learning I hope will happen. But regardless of how my expectations and theirs meet, each group of students together in a room performs some kind of magic as an educational community. They always teach me something, every session, and I get to see lightbulbs over their heads when they work in groups or when they ask questions. 

As I tell them, if I ever feel like I'm not learning from my students, it'll be time to quit teaching, because a central part of the purpose will be gone.


I believe there are many parallels between peer mentoring and pedagogies of equality. One of those parallels is the democratization of the knowledge being produced in the classroom. Drawing from Freire, in traditional teaching practices, it is the teacher who possesses knowledge and it is the students' role to passively absorb that knowledge. This is a one way street where the roles of the students and teachers are clearly defined and never interchange. Within peer mentoring and pedagogies of equality, the students and the teachers are both there to learn from each other and gain both as individuals and as a collective. 

I am reading bell hook’s Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, which I think anyone interested in pedagogies of equality should take a look at. hooks writes:

Whereas the conventional dominator classroom remained a place where students were simply given material to learn by rote and regurgitate, students in the progressive classroom were learning how to think critically. They were learning to open their minds. And the more they expanded their critical consciousness the less likely they were to support ideologies of domination. Progressive professors did not need to indoctrinate students and teach them that they should oppose domination. Students came to these positions via their own capacity to think critically and assess the world they live in. (pg. 8, 2003)


I am writing this from Italy and I don't know if it will "stick"--I've tried many times with no success.  But what is great is that, each time I fail, the comment section has grown and the dialogue has gotten richer, so my own thinking is getting deeper and deeper even though I am not actually writing anything that you are seeing.  Why that fascinates me is that in some ways it emulates the role of learning in a peer-empowered classroom, even though my contribution is invisible.  I write responding to the first two comments.  It disappears into the ether.  Next time I try to respond, there are four comments, so my response is much deeper.  Now, bell hooks is there, and also on email Hilarie and Prof Kandice Chuh and I have been corresponding about an Exploding the Text episode so, again, my thinking is deeper.  I have no idea if these thoughts will actually appear on this blog but, with each iteration, I am understanding more and more, because I'm engaging in a dialogue.   If I were simply reading or listening--not actually in this conversation (even if unrecorded due to bandwidth issues)--I am not sure this deepening would be happening. 


What I love is the idea that by finding a voice, one does not need to be told to question power.  By feeling empowered, one begins to question power. 


When one is mentored, one's position as One-Who-Needs-Mentoring is instantiated and reinforced.   When one is part of a peer-mentoring community of empowerment, one becomes a mentor of others, and of self.   One grows.  One becomes. One acts.   One becomes a mover and an actor in the world.  That is power.  That is powerful.

Now I get it.  Now I understand the relationship between a community "Exploding the Text" and peer mentoring.


It took me a while.  But I have it now.  Thank you all for this marvelous discussion.   I'm so sorry to miss the workshop but I'm loving this reading group from afar and am learning from it enormously. 


Thank you all so much for participating here, from near and far, in this fabulous discussion. We'd love to have you join us on October 22 from 1 to 2 PM for this semester's third installment in our The University Worth Fighting For series: Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill. Join us in person if you're in NYC, or via livestream if you can't get your body there. (Please RSVP here.) And we'll have another student-led discussion like this one in which we'd love for you to gather your thoughts! 

Take care,

The FuturesED Team

More info:

Thursday, October 22 | 1 PM to 2 PM | | #fight4edu


WHERE:                    The Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue
ROOM:                      9205
WHEN:                      Thursday, October 22, 1:00 PM-2:00 PM
CONTACT INFO:      futuresinitiative [at]; (212) 817-7201
HASHTAG:                #fight4edu


It’s so wonderful to see a conversation about peer mentoring among educators who are actively implementing it within their pedagogy! For the past several years I’ve assisted educators in setting up digital spaces for facilitating forms of peer pedagogy and thus have had a chance to hear multiple perspectives about the challenges of these practices. One concern that comes up often is how to deal with the fact that many students, who are already struggling with confidence issues in their writing, may feel further overwhelmed by the requirement to share it with their peers. As the contributor “Ms. Dannon,” explains in Women Writing the Academy, “writing is exposure. It’s like being naked and you can’t fake it with a lot of things. When you write it down, you’re pretty naked and you’re alone. There’s no one else there, and it’s just you, raw meat.”

Through Bourdieu’s concept of the “linguistic habitus,” we might better appreciate the reasons underlying the psychological pressures to write “well,” and also why there is a tendency to hide the struggle which one undertakes to effect that performance. As the editor of Bourdieu’s Language and Symbolic Power explains, the “linguistic habitus,” is a set of “dispositions acquired in the course of learning to speak in particular contexts (the family, the peer group, the school, etc.)” Thus, when one writes, one ostensibly reveals a socioeconomic and intellectual biography among peers whom they have no reason to yet trust. For many students, as instructors have informed me, this becomes yet another stress which hinders their intellectual growth and earnest participation.  

How then can we create classrooms environments that feel safe for all to earnestly participate when participation requires this personal exposure? It seems to me that it is not enough that the educator herself embody this ethic of inclusion, but that the students as well actively work to make the classroom a safe and welcoming environment. This would require that the class buy into this concept and begin practicing it very early on in the term, a hefty challenge in its own right.  Do other educators see this issue playing out in their classrooms, and if so, how do you work to overcome it?