Building Literacy and Friendships

By Hannah Sunshine, grade 4 teacher

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The beginning of reading buddies was a highly anticipated event in the 4th grade classroom.  The students had participated in buddy partnerships in the past, but always as the younger students. Partnering with the Pre-K as the older reading buddies was new territory, and it brought out a clear sense of excitement, but also responsibility.  The 4th graders were abuzz as they picked out stories to share with their buddies for the first time, recalling what books they had enjoyed at that stage and getting pulled into new stories as they leafed through picture books. When we finally got to the Pre-K classroom, the 4th graders settled into their new roles with ease, holding their books with the pictures on display, as they have seen their teachers do so many times before.

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Since the first meeting with our reading buddies, excitement has remained high, and the connections have deepened.  Grade 4 students have begun to think about what they know about their Pre-K buddy when selecting books in the hopes of finding a story that will spark their interest. They have developed question and answer games that keep the younger students involved as they read. In Spanish class, the 4th graders are writing books to share with their buddies.  As I observed the class working on this, I overheard a lot of conversation about how each person was planning to incorporate the things their reading buddy enjoys into their book.  I watched as one student diligently searched for images of fictional pigs to include in her illustrations because she knows that her buddy loves pigs. One 4th grader said  with a sense of accomplishment, “My buddy is shy, but the last time we had reading buddies she was talking to me a lot more.”
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There is so much packed into this special relationship.  It is clear that there are literacy benefits for both the 4th graders, who are practicing reading aloud in an emotive and engaging manner, and for Pre-K students who are hearing and enjoying stories. However, it is evident from the way that the 4th graders have taken to their new role as mentors and teachers that the benefits far exceed the realm of reading. In the coming years at PDS, they will have many more opportunities to connect and collaborate with students in different grades. The thoughtful and enthusiastic approach that they bring to reading buddies instills confidence that this will be time well spent.