Leaps and Bounds in Peer Mentoring

We all have childhood memories of idolizing the kids that were just slightly older than ourselves, aspiring to be that grown-up, cool etc. Somehow, trying to catch up to those kids was very motivating. Since the launch of the Newport String Project, we have noticed how much our older students are inspirations and role models for the newest students!

One of the values we try to impart to our students is that once you have learned something, you have a treasure to pass on to someone else. This idea is a fundamental part of music-making as an oral tradition. The phenomenon of students helping other students to learn has been a notable feature of Venezuela's El Sistema and of course at Community MusicWorks. Naturally, it takes a long time to nurture and cultivate this atmosphere but there have already been several incredibly promising signs that it is starting to become the norm for Newport String Project students. 

Why is peer mentoring such a powerful context for learning? It's a dynamic two-way relationship. The mentors feel empowered and proud to share their expertise and can connect their own learning to positive outcomes for the kids around them. It makes their learning meaningful. The mentees feel especially inspired to learn from kids, close to their age and life experiences.

Another surprising benefit revealed itself recently to us. The time had come for us to introduce the bowhold to our newest class of beginners. We thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to bring in several of the second year students who had expressed interest in volunteering to be classroom assistants. Helping a student make a great bowhold is a finnicky detailed process. With only two teachers and 13 students, it's easy for students to get bored waiting for their turn. However, thanks to second year students J and R, we had two additional bowhold experts in the room making the process fly by. This peer mentoring moment had the unanticipated benefit of streamlining the lesson and enabling the students to stay engaged throughout! After class, J and R could be heard chattering happily how much fun they had and how they couldn't wait to do it again.

Another great peer mentoring moment happened this March when we had a visit from the students of the Rhode Island Fiddle Project in Pawtucket. These teens had spent several weeks developing ideas for what they could teach our young students. What a treat it was to see them in action and to see how much young people can learn from each other when given the space to do so. From a snazzy call and response fiddle tune called Hop Skip and Jump to a folksy rendition of Spongebob Squarepants, our NSP students were enthralled! For us teachers, it was a great reminder that sometimes your job is to get out of the way and let the magic happen for itself.