BUTTERFLIES ALERT: The fluttering of wings has begun once again!!
Today is the first mentoring session and I am on my way to the school. Unfortunately, due to a family and university emergency I was short of two co-mentors. This meant that my one co-mentor would have to take much more responsibility for the session. I hope she wasn’t feeling as nervous as I was!
I had a nice surprise when I got to the school; my co-mentor got there at the same time and the tutor was waiting for us in reception with all the requested resources and photocopies! Not only that but all the students were seated and ready to start the session! Woo hooo!
The students greeted us with “good morning” as we settled in and that was a lovely gesture and enough to settle my nerves. It showed that they at least remembered who we were even if they did not fully remember our purpose there.
We engaged in short conversations with the students about their half term and the activities they did or didn’t do. As it turns out…the one activity they forgot about was the homework I set relating to current hot topics! Can’t say I was very surprised, as I expected that they would rather do their compulsory homework and then spend the rest of their time relax and doing fun activities like playing PS3 or going shopping! Oh, how I longed to be free of the responsibilities which attach themselves to you as you get older…
After taking the register and settling them down again, I introduced the students to the deep breathing exercise. It took a while for the giggling and nervousness to subside. The students hadn’t practised deep breathing exercises before, so I went through the steps with them. I demonstrated the method to them. Take a deep breath in, count to three and then slowly release the breath, taking as long as you possibly can. I explained that the purpose of this was to enable them to learn to focus and or concentrate or remember. Focus is an important part of education and life. Without that focus we can often lose our way and become side tracked, therefore taking longer to reach our goal. I demonstrated at the front of the class and Faiza walked around the class helping the students get the technique right.
We spent about five minutes on this exercise, which I felt was enough for a first taster, however the questions and answers took another five minutes! Some of the boys were saying this exercise was very girly and they felt it wasn’t manly enough. So I asked the boys, whether it was only girls who felt stressed out or tired, or if girls were the only ones who had to revise and sit exams or have to go to job interviews. The answer was of course NO!
Faiza gave a very relevant example. When she went to a school as part of her PGCE work experience, she was finding it rather difficult to concentrate in the midst of all the activity, so she stepped to the side and took some slow deep breaths to help her regain her focus and confidence. I asked that the students try to use this method during our mentoring sessions if they felt they were not focused on the session or if they felt the need to take a quick time out to redirect their energies to the activities at hand.
The deep breathing activity had taken longer than anticipated, but that was ok. I realised when working in such situations, sometimes it was unrealistic to stick to rigid time schedules. It was to be expected if the students are introduced to a new concept, it would take them some time to grasp the idea and digest it.
I knew the students would enjoy the next activity, which was a tick box questionnaire. They eagerly started to tick the boxes on the questionnaire and discuss the questions and answers amongst themselves, trying to establish the relevance of these questions. As Faiza and I went around the groups speaking to the students about the questionnaire, we realised that they already had a good idea what the questionnaire was about! We thought it would be useful to see what type of learners we had in our group, so that we could plan future sessions to best suit the learning needs of our students.
As it turned out the majority of our students are kinaesthetic learners, with a few who are joint with visual learning. They enjoy learning through activities and being physically involved, for example role plays or discussions. Looking back at the rapport-building session and this first mentoring session, I realised how accurate this was. The students thrived on having discussions and throwing ideas out and then being challenged on those ideas and asked to give reasoning. Being fully involved in the learning process is very important to them and actual physical participation is their contribution, rather than sitting and listening or copying things down from the blackboard.
When walking around the groups I saw that quite a few students whilst talking to each other would be doodling or drawing pictures. It goes to show how much more attractive learning is for them if they can see diagrams and colour which make learning so much more enjoyable. This of course doesn’t apply to all students. However, in this group, all our students are similar in their learning style.
We went through the results of the questionnaire with the students and they all agreed that they learnt through activities and found it very difficult to concentrate in a quiet class, where copying and or listening was concerned.
The learner style activity made me guiltily think back to my years in education and the many mornings and afternoons I had spent daydreaming and looking out of the window or doodling. I had found it so difficult to concentrate on my teachers standing at the front of the class talking to us, or copying things down from the black/white boards. The classes where there had been discussion, debates, activities and fun had been where I was most comfortable saying my thoughts and ideas out loud, where I had felt I learned something and contributed to everyone’s learning as a whole.
I remember long after these classes had ended, my mind would replay a scene from that class or if I was trying to recall some information which I knew I had heard before, if I concentrated using the deep breathing technique, I could take myself back to that class or session and replay the scenes. I wish in my time such a noble cause as mentoring had existed… it certainly would have made my learning much more enjoyable because I would have been able to have a certain amount of my learning tailored to a style which suited me!
Our final activity for today’s session was Mind Maps. We only had about 10 minutes for this activity, so I gave each group marker pens, flip chart paper and a topic; people, health, career and wealth. I asked the students, if they had to write an essay on any of the above topics, how would they do it? Where would they start and what would they include? The student’s responded that it was not possible to write an essay on these topics! The most you could write was a couple of sentences. So Faiza and I put this to a test.
We asked the students to write down as many words as they could associate with each topic – these words would be called trigger words and this activity would be seen as brain storming or planning preparation for the essay writing. At the end of the activity, we asked each group to call out some of the words from their flip chart. The whole group was rather surprised by the amount of different words they had found to associate with each of the topics. Faiza asked the students again, could they write an essay about that particular topic, and they all replied YES; we just have to mention these words from the brainstorm! RESULT!! It is amazing how just a simple activity like a brainstorm showed the students that it was possible to write an essay on any topic, as long as you take the time to plan it.
Planning is a topic which we will return to in session 2, so I didn’t spend too much time on it now as we were close to finish time. I did try to impress on the students though that trigger words and brainstorming is a very resourceful tool when revising for exams or interviews and especially if you want to remember specific information. Identifying trigger words appropriate to themselves would enable them to recall that specific information.
As the students were now itching to leave the classroom, I asked them in the coming weeks to practice the deep breathing exercise whenever they could to improve their focusing skills. This skill is a transferable skill; therefore it could also be used outside of school, whether it be at home or in a social environment.
As I walked home, I reflected on the session. It had been a successful session overall and I was very pleased with the results. I really, really hope the students will take something away from these mentoring sessions and utilise these skills, whether it be for self-improvement, future career improvement or immediate learning improvement/enhancement.