AP Mentors: What to Do When Students Struggle

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA) allows Iowa students to take APTM classes online.  IOAPA is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes.  Educators can learn more here.

An IOAPA mentor provides guidance to students as they complete their APTM coursework, interact with instructors, and self-monitor progress across the semester.  Given this support role, what should mentors—especially those whose expertise lies in areas outside of their students’ APTM coursework—do to help struggling students?

Mentors may choose to do some research on their own or actively seek out training opportunities, as mentioned in a previous post.  However, we must stress that it is okay when a mentor cannot answer a question about instructional content.  A mentor should not take on the responsibilities of the student or the instructor.  Rather, he or she facilitates students’ growth toward independence.  Mentors should guide students toward tackling college-level content and toward approaching professors about difficult work on their own.

For example, a mentor can take the following actions to help a struggling student:

  • Ask the student whether he or she has already contacted the instructor.  If the student has not, provide encouragement to do so.
  • If the student has contacted the instructor but still appears confused, ask him or her if you could read through the instructor’s responses together.  Talking through the instructor’s reply may help the student better understand the information presented.
  • If the student is still unsure what to do next, you and the student can work through the instructor’s replies to determine which information specifically does not make sense.  Helping the student to explicitly communicate to the instructor where he or she feels lost may facilitate a productive interaction between instructor and student.

Although we hope that mentors can assist students in becoming more independent, we strongly encourage mentors to be cognizant of larger issues, like poor communication between student and instructor or technical issues.  In these cases, mentors should step in to not only support students but also to advocate for them.

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