Expert Vs Novice Teacher: The Mentoring Bridge

by Raymond J. Dagenais

You are hunched over the game table playing out the next three moves in your mind. If I move here, my opponent will counter with that move. And so goes the thinking. Chess is a new game to you. You have learned the rules through diligent study. You have played relatively few games but what you have learned and the prospect of winning has encouraged you to continue this pursuit. However, you are gradually becoming painfully aware that while you know the rules and have applied them by the book you are slowly succumbing to your opponent. What is wrong with this picture? Something is missing.

Experts and Novices
Checkmate! The word punctuates the pain of losing. Thinking back on the situation you realize that you learned more about playing chess by talking to your oppo nent after the game was over than you did during your many months of previous study. She has been playing chess for several years and not only knows the rules governing the game but she also understands how to win.

Research on the differences between experts and novices has revealed some interesting points. While novices spend a great deal of time with details, experts operate with a more global perspective. The early moves in a chess game are carefully plotted by the inexperienced player. In contrast, the master moves pieces with seeming abandon, unperturbed by the threat of the loss of a piece. The background experience built up by playing hundreds of games provides the master player with a "big picture" view of the situation. Eventually, even master players must put their powers of concentration to work when they are faced with unfamiliar situations.

After enduring the enjoyment of your chess game loss during your duty free thirty minute lunch hour you move back to your classroom. You deliver the mathematics presentation to your class in precisely the manner you were taught in undergraduate school a few months ago. However, your feelings of confidence and success begin to evaporate as you assess your students' progress by means of an end-of-the-class quiz. The students don't appear to know any more about the topic than they did before your presentation. You have proceeded according to the "rules" and yet success is eluding you once more. What is missing?

Is there something the inexperienced teacher can do to avoid the equivalent of checkmate in the teaching/learning process? One solution is to toil away for the many years required to gain the experience needed to adjust to the situation. Professional education training may provide the prerequisites to learn from the "losses" that will be encountered. Is there an alternative?

The Mentoring Bridge
The power of having a guide to help novices move through the stages leading to master status is well documented. Practically speaking, there are two available routes. Informal and formal mentoring experiences can be the bridges between these stages. Informally established experiences are characterized by novices seeking out a mentor and a set of conditions which favorably match the novice's needs to the proposed mentoring experience. Formalized mentoring experiences arise through the intervention of a third party who brings a novice and a mentor together and arranges the conditions for a favorable match.

The characteristics of a favorable mentoring experience match can be categorized into three dimensions. These dimen sions and the associated matching characteristics are listed in the following outline.
I. Affective Dimension A. Mentor's willingness to share
B. Mentor's willingness to listen
C. Mentor's warmth and caring
D. Mentor's ability to accept protege's mistakes
E. Mentor's ability to act as a role model
II. Physical Dimension A. Work location proximity to the mentor
B. Time spent with the mentor
C. Time allowed for the completion of the work
D. Equipment necessary for the completion of the work
E. Supplies necessary for the completion of the work
III.Technical Dimension A. Congruence of subject matter interest
B. Level of difficulty of the material
C. Entry level at which protege begins work
D. Mentor's knowledge of the subject matter
E. Amount of influence mentor commands in the field
Recent research has established a positive correlation between a favorable match as previously defined and a successful mentoring experience.

The difference between novice and expert status is situational. An individual may be a novice in the teaching profession but an expert in terms of knowledge about a particular disciplinary field. Regardless of whether the experience has been initiated on an informal or formal basis, attention to the characteristics of a favorable match will increase the probability of achieving a successful mentoring experience.

A properly designed mentoring experience can accelerate the move from novice to expert status.