Peer mentorship is an extremely effective and underutilized practice in schools. The findings of one study imply that students who are older and more skilled readers can act as mentors for younger students and that this can have a favorable impact on the student’s overall performance. This has guided my usage of a programme called Reading Buddies in elementary schools, which has proven to be extremely effective.
Reading Buddies is a concept that pairs students from different grade levels for community reading time. For example, an upper-grade classroom may connect with a lower-grade classroom, and kids would work together to read books.
ESTABLISHING A READING BUDDIES PROGRAM
The structure is straightforward: Classes from higher grades should be paired with classes from lower grades. Third graders should pair with prekindergartners or kindergartners in a pre-K through fifth-grade elementary school, fourth graders with first graders, and fifth graders with second-graders in a pre-K through fifth-grade primary school. Pupils should work in pairs, but groups of three can also be acceptable. Each month, set aside at least one 30-minute session for the children to read aloud together.
Students should be grouped together either in a classroom or in a library or a cafeteria, or even outside on a nice afternoon. Allow the younger pupils to select the books at the beginning of the semester so that they become engaged with an intriguing read. Later on, you might ask the older pupils to share some of their favourite books with the class. As the year passes and the abilities of the younger readers improve, you might have the kids take turns reading to one another, providing everyone with an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to one another.
The advantages are numerous and significant. Having a peer model who is fluent in reading helps younger readers realise what it looks like to be fluent in reading. They can also obtain a positive role model through some intentional pairing in Reading Buddies. The older kids learn social and emotional qualities such as patience and empathy as they work with their younger peers in a supportive environment.
A positive experience with an activity that would otherwise be less than enjoyable can be created for upper elementary students who are struggling with grade-level reading because they can access easier reading material without feeling stigmatised or ashamed while also sharing it with a novice reader. As classes from across campus collaborate and share ideas, the roots of the school community are strengthened.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Your concerns concerning the reading level and behaviour among older pupils are understandable; you have excellent reason to be concerned. However, this opportunity might be exactly what they’ve been looking for: Students can thrive when they are given the opportunity to be better, to strive for something greater than themselves, and to mentor others. Anyone struggling to read on grade level will get the opportunity to practise with picture books that they might not normally choose and to gain confidence as they read to a mesmerised kindergarten during the programme.
This has been seen in my experience with pupils that have behavioural challenges. Permit me to tell you about a student I’ll refer to as Marcus, a fifth-grade student with attention issues who read at a first-grade level and was frequently in trouble, but who also had an incredible heart. His teacher, who was understandably concerned about his progress, formed a Reading Buddies partnership with a kindergarten class to help him. Marcus was matched with Tony, a diminutive young man who had his own set of challenges, including resistance, the use of profanity, and physical aggressiveness.
They got along OK, but it wasn’t until after a few sessions that their connection began to grow. Tony was talking to his instructor outside of the classroom, and Marcus noticed that he was being less than respectful while walking to meet the beginner class. The moment Tony finally made it to Reading Buddies, Marcus wrapped his arm around him and immediately began mentoring him. Marcus delivered the classic “Don’t be like me, kid” lecture to him. Tony stared at Marcus with a mixture of embarrassment and admiration for someone who had gone through similar hardships over the years as he did.
Over time, the teachers devised an intervention in which Marcus could spend time with Tony outside of Reading Buddies, both as a reward and as a means of intervening when Tony’s day became difficult. To earn token rewards, Tony might invite Marcus to join him for lunch or recess as part of a token-based system. To facilitate the intervention, Marcus would occasionally come down to the kindergarten and give Tony a pep talk. This was a beneficial interaction for both kids since Tony gained a role model and Marcus gained a mentor, both of whom assisted him in his growth.
This cooperative learning program is an excellent approach to fostering a sense of community in the school while also encouraging reading, both of which are objectives shared by practically every school. Reading Buddies time is much anticipated by both sets of children because it provides an opportunity to get out of class, have fun, and meet a new buddy. I’ve witnessed kindergarten and first-grade students write letters of encouragement to their companions in the weeks leading up to the dreaded state examinations.
The relationships can last beyond a single school year and even beyond the reading of books if they are nurtured with consideration. It is possible to have powerful moments of connection, and social and emotional lessons will certainly be learned. All of these fantastic things came about as a result of simply sharing a book.