Role of the Learning Mentor

A 2, 500 word assignment which examines the role of the learning mentor and analyses the strategies used in supporting science, evaluating the impact on pupils’ learning. This essay will explore and evaluate the role, the responsibilities and the purpose of the learning mentor. It will highlight and review strategies used in schools today to support children’s education, assisting them to develop skills and achieve their full potential. The learning mentor has a large range of duties which require the ability to encourage social inclusion, collaborate with external agencies for specialist support and expand care to families and carers.

Responsibilities also include the contribution to the assessment of pupils, the transition and pastoral care of vulnerable students and to identify and remove barriers to learning that some young people are faced with during their time in education. All of these areas will be considered and analysed. I will thoroughly examine current practice, theory and reflect upon my own development. Whilst examining the role of the learning mentor, I will be specifically looking at science and how it is taught and supported in schools today.

My aim is to highlight the importance of the learning mentor and the impact they have on a child’s achievement and success. It will also indicate how the learning mentor’s holistic approach builds self confidence, a sense of emotional belonging and overall creates the best conditions for students to flourish academically as well as personally. Consequently, this will allow me to develop and improve my own practice and professional progression in the future. Education has not always recognised the holistic needs and development of children.

However, over the years, the education system has seen a considerable amount of changes. It has been revolutionalised, transforming teaching from learning by rote to a multisensory, child centred, personalised education. This is due to many factors such as the development of technology, changes in society, values and attitudes, the recognition of children with additional needs and the implementation of learning mentors and support staff. So, when were learning mentors first introduced into schools and why?

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In 1999, as an out come from the 1997 White Paper, the Excellence in Cities (EiC) initiative was launched by the government to raise standards of attainment and was first piloted in disadvantaged, inner-city schools. As stated in Excellence in Cities: The National Evaluation of a Policy to Raise Standards in Urban Schools 2000-2003 (2005), Britain was in need of ‘inclusive schooling that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone’. To achieve this objective, EiC implemented a gifted and talented programme, to provide extra support for 5-10 per cent of pupils in each school.

Learning Support Units (LSU’s) were also introduced to provide intervention teaching and support programmes for difficult or vulnerable students and learning mentors were created to help students overcome educational or behaviour problems, ensuring that schools were inclusive of all. As highlighted by M. K Smith (1999) schools were able to utilise Learning Mentors for different matters according to their individuality, however the government did set out for the leaning mentor, four main objectives. These core beliefs from EiC are explained in Good Practice Guidelines for Learning Mentors (DFES 2001).

Firstly, the learning mentor should have high expectations for every pupil, meeting the needs of all and taking an individualised approach to teaching and learning, ensuring barriers are removed so children can aspire regardless of the difficulties they may come up against. Barriers to opportunities could include family problems, bullying, low self esteem and poor social skills. The learning mentor must also establish good working relationships with pupils, parents, the community and other outside agencies.

By creating a network, schools are able to work collaboratively to promote diversity, share good teaching practice and enhance performance throughout the area. The role of the learning mentor was not only introduced to improve the progress of low ability students, following a report by J. Freeman in 1998 which investigated research on the teaching and learning of high ability children, the government recognised that ‘provision for the highly able was not satisfactory’ and that children who are gifted and talented ‘have as much of an entitlement to have their needs addressed’ OFSTED (2001).

Therefore, learning mentors provide extended learning opportunities to pupils to assure the prevention of a ‘glass ceiling’ that could potentially restrict performance. Besides from the objectives set out by the government, the role of the learning mentor is complex and extensive. Good Practice Guidelines for Learning Mentors (DFES 2001) makes clear that they are disciplinarians, nor classroom assistants. They are an active listener, a role model, a guide who negotiates targets and supports pupils, carers and parents whilst remaining reliable, non judgemental and realistic. R.

Rose and M Doveston (2008:145) defines mentoring as ‘learning within a social context’ with learning mentors recognising ‘the necessity to ensure that students feel both comfortable with and in control of the learning process. ’ This social collaboration is clearly influenced by Vygotsky (1962) and his theory of social constructivism. A key point of Vygotskys theory is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). As explain by Oakley (2004), the ZPD is the gap between a child’s actual level and the level of which the child could achieve with the guidance from an experienced adult, in this case, the learning mentor.

This adult intervention can also be linked to the idea that Bruner put forward, labelling this type of assistance as ‘scaffolding’. A concept where a more able person provides guidance and support until the learner becomes independent. When evaluating the helping relationship, G. Egan’s theory takes a holistic, person centred approach, resulting in the ability to ‘develop more options in their lives’, Egan (1990:7). The changes brought about by EiC have shaped the way education system is today, with teachers and learning mentors taking on a child centred, holistic, inclusive and personalised approach.

In 2006, the Department for Education and Skills published the 2020 vision: report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review presenting a vision to provide pupils with personalised learning offering a more adaptable curriculum. The 2020 vision: report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review (2006:3) points out that ‘When taken as a whole across the education system, in all schools, for all pupils, we think personalising learning has the potential to transform education. ’ The Assessment for Learning Strategy 2008 explains the importance of assessment in education.

It aims to ensure every child is aware of their performance and how to improve allowing them to become independent initiators of their own learning and by informing parents and carers of assessment outcomes, children are also supported at home. In schools, assessment for learning happens constantly by teachers, learning mentors, teaching assistant and peers. Examples of formative assessment are precise learning objectives, peer and self assessment and immediate verbal or written feedback. Summative assessment gives a broader view of improvement and uses standardised tests.

Assessment is essential for schools to plan the next steps for pupils in order to close the gap in attainment and is vital to effective personalised teaching and learning. In 2008, OFSTED evaluated the impact of assessment for learning on inclusion identifying that it is beneficial to pupils with special educational needs (SEN), providing pupils with the opportunity to discuss, question, explore and review ‘builds an understanding of what success looks like and how to apply skills’ OFSTED (2008:21).

Assessment for learning therefore clearly goes hand in hand with personalised learning allowing children, teachers, learning mentors and parents to reflect, evaluate and advance. Subsequently, as indicated by Capel and Gervis (2009: 135) when feedback is given in conjunction with praise, pupils are more motivated to continue to make effort with a positive approach to the activity. Maslow (1970) made this very argument with his hierarchy of needs theory explaining that in order to feel the need to fulfil one’s potential, other needs such as self esteem or love and belonging must be met first. Aspects of Maslow’s theory can also be seen in government frameworks used in schools. Although currently under review, Every Child Matters (2003) has five outcomes, areas which are central to the learning mentors work. For example for children to ‘be healthy’, the learning mentor may be involved with setting up breakfast clubs, arrange sporting activities or promote healthy dinners. As for ‘staying safe’ they might organise police visits, implement a listening room or create an anti bullying initiative.

For children to ‘enjoy and achieve’ they may perhaps provide one to one intervention to support achievement, have homework clubs and offer assistance for transition. The learning mentor could also arrange community work, school council groups and circle time, giving pupils the opportunity to ‘make a positive contribution’. And to allow children to achieve economic well-being, the learning mentor may possibly organise work experience, seek career advice and work with parents and other outside agencies. As a teaching assistant, my role differs from that of the learning mentor.

The responsibitlies of the teaching assistant, although still aim to support pupils to reach their full potential are not as broad at the support offered by a learning mentor and is approached from a somewhat different angle. This is highlighted in a video at teachermedia. co. uk 2 outlining the differences between these two roles. From my experience, teaching assistants are usually classroom based; however work together with teachers and learning mentors to ensure the best type of individual support can be provided for all.

With experience of supporting and teaching the national curriculum in year 3, I have observed the learning and development of many children. One subject which always usually requires a range of support strategies is science. Science is not just the teaching of facts and theories. As stated in the report, Primary Science (2003), teaching science equips pupils with indispensable skills that are transferable throughout different parts of the curriculum. The report explains how the main aim of primary science is to ‘stimulate pupil’s curiosity in the world around them and encourage critical and creative thinking’ (2003:1).

The National Curriculum (1999) sets out the statutory programme of study for science, the four main areas of teaching are, life processes and living things, physical processes, materials and their properties and scientific enquiry. For pupils to achieve in science there is a balance needed between teaching factual knowledge and the skills of scientific enquiry. For example, students must be given the opportunity to address questions scientifically, plan and carrying out experiments, build on previous knowledge and interests, evaluate and discuss ideas.

The teaching of science is essential as it promotes learning across the curriculum including spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, key skills, thinking skills, communication, application of number, working with others and information technology. ‘Successful Science’, a report by OFSTED (2011) found that the impact of good teaching could be seen when more practical science lessons were taught, when pupils were involved in peer and self-evaluation and when the pupils were given the opportunity to develop the skills of scientific enquiry by taking part in decision-making, discussion and research.

Teaching was seen to be more engaging when the science that they were learning about had relevance to their lives and experiences. When I was asked to plan and teach block of lessons on magnets to a group of middle ability year 3 children, it was important to take into account many factors. How much science motivates children? What teaching strategies and theories to use? Would it need to be differentiated and how could I ensure progress had been made? The plan involved a range of multisensory activities such as testing magnetic materials around the school, finding the strongest magnet, watching videos, labelling the irections of force. Such activities were tailored for multiple intelligences, Gardner (1983) and also exercised both right and left brain skills ensuring the engagement and motivation of both boys and girls, Cheminais (2008). The lessons had clear, precise learning objectives as research shows that this works as classical conditioning, the action of providing a lesson objective will result in the learner’s response in knowing what to expect to learn, Gange and Medker (1996). Theories that influenced the teaching strategies used include both constructivists and social constructivist teaching.

For example, for the pupils to develop their scientific enquiry skills, the activities were designed to allow them to construct their own learning through experiences. This meant that by planning and carrying out an experiment to find the strongest magnets, the students gained the knowledge that the strongest magnet is not always the largest magnet. Alfrey (2003) explains that Piaget thought that children have to assemble their own comprehension and ‘assimilate’ from such experiences, creating mental structures called ‘schemas’.

Piagetian theory views the role of the adult as someone who is to provide a rich, stimulating environment for children to naturally discover, explore and actively build their own schemas through stage appropriate activities and tasks that will eventually support assimilation and accommodation. Some aspects of social constructivist teaching methods were used in the lesson, for instance the pupils were collaboratively seeking answers, and they shared their ideas, had group discussion and developed their listening skills.

During the session the children asked lots of questions, this again showed just how involved the children were and how they were actively seeking answers and explanations. Talking Science Pedagogy (2008) summarises five teaching models used in science. Direct interactive teaching was used in the lessons when the magnets were first introduced to the children. Scientific vocabulary was taught such as north and south pole, magnetic field, attracts and repel.

When the children learnt that opposites attract and the same repel, we used girls and boys to create an analogy in order to help them to picture it. During the lesson some issues did arise that could have potentially affect learning. The children had their own presumptions about magnets which lead to misconceptions. To identify these, the students were asked to discuss what they already knew about magnets, and then create a mind map with the findings. These included, ‘they stick to stuff’, ‘they stick to anything metal’ and ‘big magnets are strongest’. .

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