When I was in eighth grade, my school started a reading buddy program. Once a week, we got to read to our Kindergarten buddies. I always looked forward to reading buddies, and choosing books that I knew my buddy would enjoy! In addition, this was a fun leadership opportunity–the oldest students at my school reading to the youngest students. We also did other things with our reading buddies throughout the year–we made gingerbread houses in the winter, made Valentine’s together in February, helped them with their Mother’s Day craft, and more. I remember thinking how fun it was to spend time with the cute Kindergarteners, read to them, talk with them, and do activities with them.
As I reflect more on my reading buddy experience as a child, I remember the impact it had on the struggling readers in my class. These classmates of mine particularly enjoyed reading buddies. I wonder now if they felt more comfortable reading to a Kindergartner who most likely couldn’t read the picture book, than they did reading aloud in class. In fact, I remember that these struggling readers never volunteered to read aloud during class, and only did if the teacher cold-called them. They would come to school with a plethora of books to read to their reading buddies. They would make comments such as, “I wish we could go read to the Kindergarteners every day!” At the time, I didn’t think much about these comments. I just chalked them up to be classmates who didn’t have much younger siblings and enjoyed spending time with a cute and silly Kindergarten student. Now, I see how significant these comments were. These students were saying that they felt comfortable reading to Kindergarten students. They probably didn’t feel as insecure if they didn’t know how to pronounce every word. They probably realized that a Kindergarten student looked up to them and they didn’t have to perform to be accepted by their peers. They were saying that reading during class was hard, and they needed a break.
I’ve thought a lot about my experience with reading buddies as my third grade students are reading buddies to the Pre-K and Kindergarten students at our school. They meet with their buddies once a month for twenty minutes, and it is a precious time! I love watching my students take on leadership roles. They nurture their buddy, engage their buddy in conversation, put much thought into the books they select, and practice reading the book using different voices for each character. I particularly enjoy watching how my struggling readers thrive in this environment. They are the ones who express the most excitement for reading buddies and are the ones who ask every week, “How many more weeks until we meet with our reading buddies again?” I see their confidence soar as they read to their buddy and hear their buddy laugh at the humorous parts of the story.
Thinking about the struggling readers that were in my class in middle school, and thinking about my own third grade students, I’ve been thinking about ways to partner with the Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers to see if my students could read to their kids more frequently. I’ve also thought about asking them if my struggling readers could come in once a week to read a book to the class or a student who might need a little more TLC. I’ve observed how students who struggle with reading shut down when they feel like they aren’t as good as everyone else. I wonder if by being chosen to read a book to the younger students more frequently, if I would see gains in their self-esteem, and begin to see this translate into the classroom. I wonder if as they grew in confidence reading aloud to a Kindergarten or Pre-K student, if they’d be more comfortable reading aloud. I wonder if the practice that this would provide would give them a break while also helping them become more fluent readers.
I look forward to talking with the Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers and seeing if we can work something out so it benefits everyone!