The ABC of peer mentoring – what secondary students have to say about cross-age peer mentoring

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 7.37.37 PMWillis, P., Bland, R., Manka, L., & Craft, C. (2012).  The ABC of peer mentoring – what secondary students have to say about cross-age peer mentoring in a regional Australian school, Educational  Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 18 (2), 173-185.

Cross-age peer mentoring


Cross-age peer mentoring is a community-based model that utilizes peer relationships in order to promote positive youth development. In order to maintain a greater degree of power imbalance than typical of a friendship, there is a minimum of a 2 year age difference between the mentor and mentee, this allows the older youth to help promote the younger youth’s development (Karcher, 2005).  The current study evaluates the implementation of a cross-age peer mentoring program, with a specific focus on its ability to enhance social well-being and development of literacy skills.


This study utilizes a qualitative approach to evaluate The Peer Mentoring Literacy Program, an Australian school-based, cross-age peer mentoring program between Year 7 (ages 12-13)  and Year 10 students (ages 16-17). The year-long program was a blend of mentoring, tutoring, and support – it focused on building strong mentoring relationships that allowed for flexible teaching.

The specific aims of the program were:

1) to increase overall literacy skills of both peer mentors and students

2) develop strategies to assist in developing literacy skills

3) develop confidence in approaching literacy tasks and information technology

4) recognize peer mentors for their roles and contributions

Mentees were identified based on low literacy skills. Mentors were selected by an interview process and then received seven 1-hour training modules which included communication, teaching skills, managing difficult behaviors, and an emphasis on “personal power” highlighting the importance of empowerment in meaningful mentoring relationships. Pairs met weekly for 1 hour, mentors also met weekly with the English teacher in order to discuss lesson plans and any issues.

Data was collected at 3-time points: after mentor training, 4 months, and upon completion of the program.  Repeated focus groups with peer mentors, parents, and guardians of participating students were conducted. Telephone interviews with parents/guardians and other informants (i.e., teachers) were also conducted.


Mentees’ and Mentors’ perception of cross-age mentoring:

– The length of the program played in important factor with mentee satisfaction; mentees spoke more positively about the experience in the second round of the focus groups.

– Some mentees initially felt stigmatized as being a “poor reader.”  However, upon completion of the program, they no longer experienced this and actually felt that their peers were jealous of their older buddies.  Mentees reported their mentors as being “fun”, “nice”, and “understanding them more than teachers” among other anecdotes to suggest close attachments.

– Mentees also showed increased understanding and appreciation for literacy skills and their attitudes toward learning.

– Mentors believed that mentees felt more comfortable talking to a fellow student as opposed to a more authoritative figure about interpersonal or learning issues.

Learning techniques in the mentoring relationship:

– Mentors described using student-oriented approaches to learning, which included giving their mentees choice in activities, the amount of time per activity, varying the activities and using a reward system.

– Mentors reported increased confidence in mentee’s social relationships, as well as less friction with some student-teacher relationships.

– Academically, mentors reported an increase in mentee confidence in reading and improvements in spelling.

– Mentors also benefited from the cross-age matching, as they reported positive interpersonal changes and increased confidence, specifically stating identifying problem-solving and the importance of “leading by example”.


This study highlights the social and academic benefits that school-based cross-age peer mentoring can produce for both the mentee and mentor. By taking a student-oriented approach, the mentors were able to help affect change by increasing mentee agency and sense of empowerment. Such findings confirm the benefits of the cross-age mentoring approach put forth by Karcher (2007), as well as aligning with the social, cognitive, and identity development processes mentors help facilitate in Rhodes’s model of youth mentoring (2006).  In addition to the primarily academic focus, this study shows the potential for cross-age peer mentoring to “promote socially responsible relationships amongst students and to enhance social inclusion in school environments.”


This article was summarized by UMass Boston doctoral student Laura Yoviene.