Proximal Mentoring: Model for Implementation in Graduate Studies



            The purpose of this proposal is to provide a model for implementation of proximal mentors (PM) in graduate programs.

Theoretical Framework

      He suggested to me that I go and ask my classmate about what she didn’t understand, and try to patiently explain it to her, and if I couldn’t do it so she would understand perfectly, then he would be glad to help me. ‘But here is the most important thing’, he added, ‘you must do all this so your friend be sure [sic] you really want to help her, and really mean her well, and so it would not be unpleasant for her to accept your help’. (Vygodskaya, 1995, p. 115).

This quote from Lev Vygotsky’s daughter, Gita Vygodskaya, demonstrates her perception of his schooled learning philosophy. This quote nicely explicates Vygotsky’s stand that “students could also be teachers for each other as long as they took on a mentorship stance of being helpful but not domineering or overbearing in terms of their assistance” (L. G. Putney, personal communication, November 27, 2005). In mentoring, an expert assists the novice in incorporating the ways of being in their chosen field or discipline (Hager, 2003). In proximal mentoring, a more capable student assists novice students with both course content and the ways of being for the discipline while increasing their own knowledge base of the content.

Proximal mentors hold dual roles. First and foremost, they are students taking a course for graduate credit. As such, they are learners. However, they are also PMs sitting through a course again with the goal of mentoring the students who are in the course for the first time. This dual role necessitates a model for implementation. The model incorporates both the learning and mentoring aspects of the course. This model also extends Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) into the realm of adult learning.


Marshall and Rossman (1999) advocate the use of focus groups in qualitative research to “identify trends in the perceptions and opinions expressed” (p. 114). Dereshiwsky (1999) provides guidance for conducting focus groups. In focus group interviewing the researcher asks open-ended questions probing when necessary to clarify responses. These questions have no right or wrong answers. Focus groups allow the expression of a variety of perceptions on a topic while also allowing for a group consensus after discussion.

Proximal mentors from both fall 2005 and spring 2006 semesters were invited to participate in a focus group for the purpose of developing a model of implementation for proximal mentoring. The focus group was held after semester grades were recorded. PMs emic knowledge of the proximal mentoring role shaped and defined the model for future proximal mentors. In addition, the two course professors were also invited to participate in a focus group designed to refine the model produced by the PMs. A third focus group was conducted through email wherein each PM and course professor reviewed the generated model providing feedback for incorporation into the final model.

            Data sources for this proposal consist of videotaped direct observations of the focus groups, observation notes, syllabus generated during the meetings, emails, and feedback.

Data Analysis

Lincoln and Guba (1985) note the analysis of qualitative information is an inductive process of “‘making sense’ of the data” (p. 202). For the model, the data was combined, compared, and categorized using the syllabus and course structure framework in use at the university. The analyzed data is presented as a model for implementation.

Results and/or conclusions/point of view

            The Proximal Mentoring Model provides both flexibility and structure to the proximal mentor program. The model standardizes the proximal mentoring course expectations by explicating what PMs must do for their grade, thereby making the grading process more objective than subjective. The model also provides flexibility in the types of assignments and interactions proximal mentors have with both the course professor and the novice students while maintaining the standardized structure. The model helps to make clear the differences between students, proximal mentors, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, research assistants, and practicum students.

Educational importance of the study

Educational implications of a model for proximal-mentoring in graduate school are necessary to standardize the experience and grading of proximal mentoring courses. It is important to remember that as much as the PMs assist the course professor and the novice students, they are first and foremost students who are pursuing their own in-depth investigation on topics of their choosing. Having a model will help those who choose to implement the concept successfully incorporate the model into their program.



Dereshiwsky, M. (1999). E-Textbook: Focus Groups Interviewing, NAU. Retrieved on August 2, 2006 from

Hager, Mark James. (2003). Mentoring relationships in graduate education: Graduate students’ socialization into communities of practice. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64/02, 396. (AAT 3079453).

Lincoln, Yvonna S., & Guba, Egon G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications.

Vygodskaya, Gita. (1995). His life. School Psychology International, 16(2), 105-116.

Vygotsky, Lev Semenovich. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.