Reading Buddies

The best way I ever heard professional learning from our peers put was “steal something good”. It’s always very intimidating to have our teaching peers in our classroom when we feel that we are being “evaluated”,  but sharing something successful always comes more easily. My reading buddy structure is something I stole from @TSpasoff when we worked together #Hawrylak in Saskatchewan. I was always the big buddies and she was always the little buddies.

Each student in my class has a magazine box ($1 per 2 boxes from the dollar store) and each student has a pencil case ($1 ea from the dollar store). I could use plastic ziploc bags, but the canvas pencil cases are more durable and I have used the boxes and pencil cases for the past 4 years for various purposes.

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I spent one 30 minute session with the Grade 4 students, teaching them the routine. I walked them through the routine and modeled with them. The Grade 4 teacher, M. Corbeil, came to my classroom and spent the half hour with my students. After this initial training session, the Big Buddies know how to be a “teacher” for the Little Buddies.

Inside the pencil cases, I have placed flash cards that are leveled for my students. Some begin with letters of the alphabet, some with sounds taken from the “Village des sons” kit, and some are working with the first 100 sight words for Grade 1 French Immersion in Alberta, which I took from @Shannon_Wiebe who has her blog here. (I initially met Shannon online via Twitter when I first moved to Alberta and was looking to make professional connections)

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Inside each box is a pencil case for sight words, two or three books from our home reading program, and a notebook. You might notice that I’m slightly obsessive about numbering my students. That way it’s easy to put any missing pieces back in the right place. When I was a grade 4 teacher, I even had my students number each of the words in their pocket just in case of words that were dropped on the floor.

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The Big Buddies are in charge of running students through their flashcards and know that I only want them to give students positive feedback. When a word is read correctly, the Big Buddy puts a check mark on it. If it is read incorrectly, the Big Buddy reads it, the Little Buddy repeats it, and it goes into another pile for more practice. Once a word has three check marks the Little Buddy has mastered it and it goes home. When the pile of flashcards gets low the Big Buddy lets me know and I refresh the pile with the next level up.

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After working through the flashcards, Big Buddies help their Little Buddies move on to reading the books. Little Buddies are responsible for reading and Big Buddies are responsible for “helping” to read by using reading strategies (sound it out, use the picture cues, what sounds do you recognize).

After reading, big buddies must provide feedback, both by “telling” their buddy and by “writing” their feedback so that I can see it. I have trained the Big Buddies to share two stars and a wish: two things their buddy did very well and one thing they might keep working on for next time. This feedback is valuable for me and my mentor teacher also had big buddies prepare a feedback sheet for parents at the end of the term. My hope is to have big buddies prepare this to share with one of our “Sharing my learning” sheets for parents, which my Grade 1 team sends home approximately once per month.

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Little Buddies are then asked to write and draw about the story that they read that week by using words that they know, that they find in the classroom or that they have in their pencil cases.

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When students are ready for a new book, I have them make the exchange during a quiet reading time – 10 minutes after lunch recess – students know their reading level and are responsible for making the exchange. The books come from the baskets I have organized for our home reading program. I have the good fortune to be teaching in a school and in a classroom with LOTS of leveled books in our reading program. As a part of our home reading, the Grade 1 students take home 3 books per week. There are generally lots of books left over in the classroom to put another 2 or 3 into each reading box.

During the 30 minute buddy period,  M. Corbeil and I circulate, ensuring that all students are on task and giving Big Buddies feedback. So far we have found this to be very successful and we have had very little trouble keeping students engaged. The Little Buddies get good one-on-one practice and Big Buddies get to review reading techniques, modeling and mentoring their Little Buddies.

In addition, I find that the reading boxes are easy for me to pull out if I find that I have a quiet few moments in the class; it’s easy to pull a student and their box and do an intensive 10 minutes of practice.

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