Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reading Buddies – to encourage readers

Facing an increasingly diverse school population and students who were reluctant to read, I decided to create a community of leaders. In the train-the-trainer fashion, I created mini-literacy consultants! My young charges had mixed emotions about working with the young senior kindergarten students, but they rose to the challenge. I teach in the elementary panel. One year, faced with a grade 4/5 split grade class and wanting to encourage my students to read, I spoke to a colleague and asked her if she would like to have my students read to her students.

The Plan
Mme. Craddock and I decided that we could create a better literacy program by involving my grade 4/5 students in a program to read to her French Immersion Senior Kindergarteners (SKs). My students were not exceptionally strong ones, but they had a willingness to learn to read, especially for their reading buddies, and in French. My students were wary as they were unsure how to communicate with these French-speaking students! I explained that the SKs were just learning French and that they wouldn't have any problems.

We chose to meet every Wednesday at first period when students were fresh. The first day off we all went down to the SK class. I had prepared my students by having them practice reading a French picture book that they had chosen from our school library. When we had spare time, students would pick out a book and try to read it. The students created a list of French words that they didn't know and we practiced them beforehand. I placed the list of difficult words on our sentence charts on a piece of oaktag paper. Once in awhile we would practice them. After the first few visits, we abandoned the idea of reading French texts, since my student were unable to master the French vocabulary, and began reading more familiar English picture books. This proved much more satisfactory.

The Mechanics
We introduced ourselves, chose a partner and hunkered down on the floor. Students were allowed to make their own choices of both buddies and books. At that point, I simply paired students with anyone who was left over. There were no disputes over gender, race or religion, at least not in the beginning. Students sat on the carpet, or went to a table to read- wherever they could find a cozy spot. We ended up reading to them in English, choosing from picture books in the classroom. Sometimes, one of my students would select a text from his or her home library, and that was a positive sign that they were turning into literacy consultants.

When were finished reading the books during our session, we would ask them if they could see the letters that make their names in the picture book. If they could, the kids looked for the letters that started their names in the text. It was a great treasure hunt. Students also talked to them what was the book about. I suggested to the students that when they finished the book that they ask their little buddy if they could identify any letters in any one the words. In addition, the SKs were focusing on numbers and colours, and they tried to figure out how to review them with their reading buddy in French. That encouraged both children to learn the French vocabulary. At the end of the reading session we “broke bread together”, when we shared conversation and snacks. The big kids helped the little kids open up yogurt containers and find spoons, and clean up spilled juice. It was a terrific time for bonding.

Somewhere along the way we decided that I would keep the Grade 4s with me, send the 5s to the other room and split the class, the kindergarten class had become somewhat crowded. This made a huge difference. During this time the older students showed the kids the plants we were growing, their times tables chart, their art and any thing else that interested them. Our class had been recording the growth of plants; taking photos of the change in height each day and describing the root system and its development.

Around this session I came up with a new idea and we created books together - in a joint partnership. The kids were given a primary printing book with lines on the bottom of the page and space for a picture above the text. They asked the kids to tell them a story and then the SKs drew a picture to go with their story. The story was read back to them. The Grade 4/5s had to make sure that they truly wrote what they meant to write, since the SKs were quite certain to correct editing mistakes! This is a skill I have not figured out how to teach but the pairings worked well! It was a blessing in disguise. We found a lot of stories in their ‘journal’ related to their real lives, which to many of them included TV and cartoon characters. We learned about Square Pants Sponge Bob, animal crackers, hamburgers and their pets. But we learned to write real stories for our buddies. They were precious mementos for parents as their children matured over the school year. Some perseverated on their favourite creatures and we read the hilarious adventures of Mr. Hamburger over a series of weeks. I was sorry to have to send these stories home, as I we used them to learn about our charges.

The little kids came into our room with awe and a certain amount of fear. But they gained in confidence and learned to work with others. My students learned to handle discipline issues, learned patience, tolerance and respect for others. My grade 4/5s would read over the stories in class time and we would correct spelling, compare our stories and solve any problems that had been created. The honeymoon did not last!

We resolved a racism incident. Where do kids get these ideas? As we sat in circle, one of my girls, Sarah, began to speak of a sad incident. A SK girl would not have Sarah, a black girl, as her reading buddy. It was shocking to all of us. The girls involved were justifiably horrified over this incident and asked to speak to me privately at recess. I decided we needed a class meeting. Their shock at racism rearing its ugly head was a powerful message to me.

We talked about racism back in the class, we thought the entire group should know about the situation and it was a learning experience for us all. We figured out how to resolve the problem, talked about why the child should say such a thing. We dealt with it well and came to an

understanding of inappropriate behaviours. My Sarah learned that she could speak up for herself, and that this was a crime against us all. She used her words to talk to the child politely, and the SK student, an only child in her family, had a word with her mom as well as her teacher, about prejudice and attention seeking behaviour. It turned out too be an attention-getting device and we felt stronger for working through this difficult issue. My student learned that we are all in this together and felt supported by her peers. We gave each other the courage and strategies to handle the problem.

The linguistic lessons continued. My students learned how to give clues, as they attempted to match numbers symbols with the French words for our pre-readers. They gave them the first letter of the word, pointed, coached, cajoled and generally had a quiet moment of the day when we shared literature and laughter. They are so precious. They figured out some games that they could do with their buddies, to help them improve linguistic and numeracy skills in French. I need not tell you that the learning was reciprocal!

I taught the grade 4/5s about the Key Experiences:
*in active learning
*in using language
*in representing experiences and ideas
*in developing logical reasoning:
*in spatial relations
*in temporal relations
Our reading and writing journals were a fun way to integrate reading, writing, listening speaking activities. They socialized and logically organized their work and their ideas.
We spoke of colours, ordered our ideas and compared.

I asked a couple of students to begin writing about our progress in this endeavour. We created a web page and they would jot notes down after each visit. The parts in italics (see below) were written by two of my Grade 6 students who collaborated on a web page about the experience.
About Day One
When were done reading the books we ask them if they see their names or the letters that starts with their name. We also tell them what is the book about. They had a book rack full of books and now they get to choose their own books that they want us to read to them. This program lasts about 45 minutes.

About Day Two

Day 2 was really different from the normal Reading Buddies because we had to help the Kindergartens to do their "Must Do" work. There was different work at each table. (Students were able to choose from most centers, however, there was some pre-reading work that they were required to do.) When they were done doing their "Must Do" work they got to play games with us there and it was really fun. We were like baby sitters and trying to help them play the game and what they had to do! Well, that's all the things we did in the second day of Reading Buddies!

About Day Three (100th Day of School)
The day three wasn't really a Reading Buddies program because we got to celebrate the "Hundredth Day Of School". We had to bring our snack to the kindergarten class. We also practiced a presentation about the hundredth day of school there were about 5 groups that presented there was a play, skit, chant, song that the grade 4/5s had created during Music/Art/Drama (M.A.D.) time. We videotaped the event, created an iMovie from it. Two students have created a slide show about our Reading Buddies.

After we had presented we had to count up to 100 en francais! Mme. Craddock also told us that in the first day of school she took a string and somebody or a student will get a bead and the student will put the bead on the string and the next day they will do the same thing until they get to the 100th bead and that means it's the 100th day of school. After she told us that we get to have marshmallows and our snack, too. This was a really fun time!
The videotape is quite comical. During the 100th day celebration, the students were told to try and keep quiet for 100 seconds. It really worked! We took photos and made an iMovie of the project. Students had prepared skits and songs and raps to share with their buddies. They developed character and confidence during this great event.

Day Four
In day four we played three rounds of bingo (French letters, colours and numbers) but before we went inside their room we had to bring our snacks because we were going to eat in the room. Mme. Craddock wasn't here, so they got a supply teacher and a helper, too. We played three rounds of Bingo and it was really fun after we played the Bingo game. We ate our snacks. The day 4 Reading Buddies felt like only 10 minutes but it was actually 45 minutes. Well, that's all we have to say about day 4!

Days 5 & 6 - May 27th and June 2nd, 2004

Today, we had fun at reading buddies. The Gr. 5's get to make stained glass butterflies with our reading buddies. On June 2nd, we switched. The Gr. 4's presented their pet projects to their buddy that we've been working on for about 2 weeks. After they had presented their projects we asked them what kind of pets they have and how many. When we were done our reading buddy we always write the things we did on a journal. We had fun!

This was a most effective time for all. After each of the visitations we debriefed, spoke of problems we had, or successes and tried to improve our teaching techniques for next time. We reviewed phonics, reviewed listening skills and read student stories to each other. We became better learners and better leaders, all at the same time. Students developed an understanding for their little brothers and sisters and a camaraderie that most students in isolated classrooms do not experience. During full-school assemblies, my students would wave to their little buddies, “Oh, look at them, they’re so cute!” was the phrase. They became more sensitive and understanding of the younger children and better able to respond to their needs over the course of the year.

In summary: it was a great experience. We learned patience for the little ones, and reinforced learning and teaching skills that carried on with us when peer-tutoring in our cooperative learning groups. My students improved their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, including their French skills. It gave them a purpose and a project. It helped us get excited about learning and moved us all towards becoming better human beings. I would suggest you get started today!


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