Apprenticeship in Teaching

Empowering Students as Mentors

Doyle Faculty Project

...the motivation for my Doyle project was to find ways to get out of the way and enable students to teach each other more effectively.

Libbie Rifkin

For her 2011-12 Doyle curriculum infusion project, Libbie Rifkin targeted her Humanities and Writing course on The Poetry and Culture of Washington, D.C. Her first-year students, who came from Georgetown’s Community Scholars program, represented racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. These students had spent the previous summer on campus getting acclimated to college life. For her Doyle course, Rifkin hoped to capitalize on the tight bond formed among her students over the summer to foster peer-to-peer teaching and learning.

Rifkin set out to create the conditions that would allow her students to help each other. Feeling like her teaching style had become too “top-down,” Rifkin sought ways “to disseminate authority, particularly with respect to developing ideas for papers.”

Her redesign efforts centered on blog assignments that asked students to mentor one another as writers. While she found that her students still needed significant guidance from her during the paper-writing process, Rifkin was impressed with the quality of their informal writing on the blog and found that her new approach led to “far better, richer, and more carefully thought through [writing] than in previous semesters.”

The blogging assignment also allowed Rifkin to tap into her students’ personal experiences by providing a forum that bridged analytical and reflective writing. Through the blog, students were able to see how their experiences differed from their classmates’. Ultimately, this diversity of perspective became the basis of their writing practice as they used the blog interaction with peers to bring their own writing into better focus.