24. Reading Buddies

Margaret Mead described an aspect of Samoan culture that seemed downright utopian: growing up without adolescence. Children helped to raise their siblings, and the various traumas of pre-adolescence and adolescence didn’t happen. There was no niche in the culture for it.
I caught a glimpse of that utopia when I saw “reading buddies” at work in the Fort River School. Fifth-graders were reading with first-graders. For years, I’ve known that cross-grade tutoring of many types was a good thing. But scheduling conflicts and lack of cross-grade planning time usually discouraged most teachers, including me, from arranging opportunities for cross-grade tutoring. And anything that looked different from what people were used to usually involved some flack. It’s easier not to try anything unusual, even if you’re pretty sure it works.
Well, it works! I wish I had had a videocamera and some skill with it. But at least I can write. So I’ll try to portray a few of the children I saw, through a little mind-reading.
Child #1 (a fifth-grader): This is one of my favorite things we do in school. I spend most of the day having to look cool and mature. When the first-graders come, I can read books I used to read, and pretend I’m only doing it because the first-graders enjoy it, or because I have to. I wish the first graders could be here more often. They assume we’re cool, because we’re fifth-graders. We don’t have to prove anything. Sometimes I get so tired of proving that I’m growing up.
Child #2 (a first-grader): I am reading to a fifth-grader! And some people think we first-graders can’t read! Learning to read is hard work, and sometimes I feel like giving up, but this is so cool! And the fifth-graders are saying we’re good at it! It’s nice, of course, when teachers say we’re good at reading, but sometimes I think they would say that no matter what they really thought. But when a fifth-grader says it, I believe it. Maybe I actually am getting good at reading!
Child #3 (a fifth-grader): Wow! I’ve come a long way! When it’s just our class here, I feel as if I’m no good at reading. But when the first-graders are here, I remember how hard it used to be to read anything at all. And they’re so proud of themselves! If they feel that proud of reading books that seem so simple to me, maybe I ought to be proud of the reading I do. Helping them read makes me feel like an expert.
Child #4 (a first-grader): Out on the playground, fifth-graders are the bosses. You have to do what they say, unless a grown-up is around. Here, they seem more like real people. In fact, I think I’m making friends with a fifth-grader! I never thought I’d do that. I can’t wait till I’m in fifth grade so I can read to the little first-graders.
I’m not a mind-reader, but these are the thoughts I imagined children thinking as I sat and watched the “reading buddies.” Most good teaching, I believe, is not standing up in front of a bunch of people and imparting knowledge. I think most good teaching is arranging situations that do the kind of magic “reading buddies” time does.

Comments are closed.