Sunday, February 4, 2018

Book Buddies: Growing a Love of Reading with Buddy Readers

Building a community of readers and writers should be #1 on our literacy priority list. Kids who read and write, and share those things with others, become lifelong readers, writers, and learners!

But that's easier said than done. Many of our kids, especially once they reach the upper grades, have had experiences with literacy that are less than positive.

They may have preconceived ideas about themselves such as...
* I'm not a good reader.
* I'm not a good writer.

They may have preconceived ideas about reading such as...
* Reading is boring.
* There aren't any books I like.
* Books are too hard to read.

This includes who are either struggling readers or kids who just don't enjoy reading.

I firmly believe that kids who don't enjoy reading need exposure to books they might enjoy and people who will talk about those books with them. But those kids don't know that. They think that reading is not for them.

So sometimes we have to try some pretty novel things to get them interested. One strategy I used with kids at my school was "Book Buddies." Book Buddies are buddy readers.

The goals of the Book Buddies program were many:
* To encourage the big buddies to find joy in helping someone read.
* To encourage the big buddies to have positive book experiences.
* To motivate the big buddies to be responsible at school, because they were serving as role models.
* To support the little buddies in their reading.
* To provide a positive book experience for the little buddies.

Getting Started
This is how it worked: I asked teachers to choose 5th grade students who were able to read at least at a 4th grade level, but who didn't engage in reading by choice. Then, I asked kindergarten and first grade teachers to choose students from their classes who struggled to read at or near grade level.

I paired up the big buddies with the little buddies. I trained the big buddies on how to do a read-to (like a read-aloud, but 1:1) and how to talk to their little buddies about interests and reading. I gathered them together in the school library and we decorated little canvas bags for them to keep their books in each week.

I also stapled their book buddy card to the bag. It included their name, the name of their buddy, and their buddy's room number, in case they forgot. Each big buddy also received a bookmark with directions about how to work with their little buddy.

We gave the little buddies surveys about their interests and the big buddies and I met in the school library to choose a great book to read to them. Once a week, the big buddy would visit the little buddy's class and read with them.

They would talk to the buddy first, read the book to them, and then have the little buddy read their books (usually guided reading books they had previously read) to them.

Although the program was far from perfect, we had many successes. Little buddies loved their big buddies. They looked forward to visiting with them and were so proud to read their books to them.

Many (sadly, not all, but many) of the big buddies had a lot of pride in choosing books for their little buddies. They had to be responsible for choosing a book and practicing it, and the little buddies held them accountable for that.

Special Events
A couple times a year, we got our buddies together to celebrate their partnership in a group. At Christmas, we had a little mid-year celebration. We read a book together as a group and the buddies got to work on a fun Christmas-sy craft. 

At the end of the year, we had a Book Buddies Pancake Breakfast. Big and little buddies were able to invite their parents to celebrate their year of reading.

We made pancakes for them and watched a slide show with all of their pictures. They received a certificate and a free book (we gave out books at the slightest excuse!), and we included some goodies like pencils, erasers, and coupons for pizza and ice cream at places from the area.

With the incessant focus on testing, and the constant demands of levels and mandates from the state and district, it can be hard to find the time to do these sorts of programs. But really, isn't that what school is about? Growing readers, and growing people?

I really recommend trying a program like this out in your school to grow and support your reluctant readers, and struggling readers, too. They can really help each other grow.

This post should provide enough information to help you get started with something similar on your campus, but to make your life easier and give you a head start, I put together a resource that includes a facilitator's guide, printable, and editable materials to help your program grow! Check it out on TpT!

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