Oct 30

An Old Idea: The Cyber-Mentoring Guide

[The text of this post was taken from the old Cyber-Mentoring site I had back on the Beacon School site. I ran this program from the 1998-99 school year to the 2000-2001 school year. I stopped it, as I recall, because it just became somewhat clunky, and I don't think I did a very good job of reacting to the advances in web publishing which could have made it much easier. Interestingly, it was an interest in restarting this project that led me to first install a Movable Type server on beaconschool.org which then led to my own journey as a blogger.

This text was the "Cyber-Mentoring Guide" that I used to help volunteer mentors work with kids. Sadly, the intro docs I used with the kids seem to have been lost to the ether. As I recall, it wasn't that hard to get kids on-board with the project. But also, as I recall, the program was a bit of a nightmare to administer back then - partially because of the tools we were using, but partially because managing two sets of deadlines - mentor and student - was really hard. Turns out adults aren't much better at deadlines than teenagers. That shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. Learning that, however, has informed many of the decisions I have made as an admin since then.

I would love to see someone take this project on with the modern tools we now have. If you do, please let me know. And if any of the docs I've posted help, that, too, would be great to know. And if you make them better, let me know that too.

Enjoy. -- Chris]

These pages are a guide for the Cyber-Mentoring project. The most important thing to remember is that there is no one way to be a mentor. Different people will bring different strengths to the table as mentors. Just as no two teachers would write the same comments on a paper, I wouldn’t expect two mentors to react the same way. That’s a good thing, I think. But, that being said, there are some basic questions that can be answered and some basic guidelines to deal with. Hopefully, this page will deal with them.

  • How does this whole thing work, anyway? That’s the easy part. The students will be putting their work up on their web pages. You read the pages on the web and write back to the students, critiquing their writing. You will find a style of critique that is comfortable to you. Some people like to quote the essay and other mentors like to write about the essay without directly quoting. Most often, mentors find a comfortable balance.
  • How often should I check their pages? Well, in an ideal world, you would only check their pages when your students have written to you, telling you that their rough drafts or final drafts are up. However, you also will be made aware of deadlines through the mentoring list-serv, and I think that checking out their pages on the days their rough drafts are due, just to see if they posted it and forgot to email you is always a good idea.
  • Why am I working with them? Basically, because the more good critiques of our writing we get, the better. More specifically than that, the students will be given a lot of time in class to be working on their writing, and with that time, they will get the chance to revise their pieces before submitting it for a grade. In addition, grades can be changed if students resubmit work after a due date. Working with mentors means that students can get a lot more one on one time with an adult on their writing than they can get in the standard 30 student class. It’s been my experience that the mentoring project gets students committed to revision and the writing process better than any other writing methodology that I’ve tried to use in the classroom.
  • What sort of comments am I expected to make? That really does depend. You don’t necessarily have to know the difference between a gerund and a dangling participle to be a good mentor, but helping students to create a stronger writer’s voice is a big part of the mentoring process. The students will be doing everything from short stories to expository essays to poetry, and your comments will vary from piece to piece. On the creative pieces, working with form, dialogue, characterizations, plot, symbolism will all take place. On the essays, helping students prove arguments and write structured essays will be important.
  • Am I expected to grade their work? Nope. That’s still my job. Input is always welcome, though.
  • How will I keep up on their assignments? Two ways. The main mentor page will have all the due dates for all three classes posted for everyone to see, but more importantly, the mentor list-serv will be the place that new assignments are announced and discussed.
  • What do I if I feel over my head? Student writing can get very personal and very powerful, which can make it very hard to respond to critically. Don’t feel like you have to deal with a piece of writing that leaves you stumped, you’ve got lots of options here. First, do not carry on a discussion with a student where you feel really uncomfortable. Trust that instinct. Remember, you are not alone. The Mentor-List is a place where you can discuss how to respond to a student. Also, you can always e-mail (or call) me privately to discuss it. Finally, you can always cc: on the e-mail discussion between you and the student.
  • My vacations don’t correspond with school vacations, now what? Not a problem. Just please let me and your students know in advance, so we can plan around it.

If there are any other questions that you think should be answered on this page, please e-mail me, and I’ll put them up. The Mentor-List will be as important a resource for the mentors as these pages will be, I suspect, so make sure that you use that if you have any questions as well.

The Top Ten Things To Remember About Mentoring

  1. Comment what you care about. If you are a grammar freak, by all means, tell the students that.
  2. Know that you won’t get as much feedback as you want to get from them. Don’t take it personally.
  3. Try to strike up a good working relationship with your students.
  4. Balance your criticism with praise. Don’t assume the students know what the good parts of their writing are.
  5. Let them know what you are thinking… if you haven’t heard from them about the feedback you’ve given. Let them know you’d like to know if it was helpful. Kids aren’t used to doing that, but mentors do need it.
  6. Meet the deadlines whenever humanly possible. The best critiques are the ones they get with enough time to use them in revision. If that means writing a little less than you would otherwise, that’s o.k.
  7. Pace yourself. A year is a long time. If you start out writing ten pages of critique, you won’t last as a mentor.
  8. We’re the adults. Don’t make the same excuses to your students that they make to us.
  9. They are the kids. They act like them some times. Don’t be surprised when they do.
  10. Remember that improvement takes time. You will see the same mistakes, even though you’ve told them about them before.