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Real Stories From Real Classrooms

Hilary Jo Seitz and Carol Bartholomew

Grades 2 and 3

Reading Together: Primary Grade Children Connect With Preschoolers “You can turn the page now.” “Okay. I think it’s gonna be Biscuit’s birthday.” —8-Year-Old Kaya Reading to 3-Year-Old Chloe

C Photos courtesy of Hilary Jo Seitz except where noted.


hildren learn and build confidence as they interact and converse with more knowledgeable peers in a comfortable environment. Lev Vygotsky (1978) theorized that children use their language experiences to become aware of their own thinking so they can link their ideas to the ideas of others, which serves to expand their thoughts and learning. When second- and third-graders have opportunities to buddy read with preschoolers, children in both age groups feel more successful about their reading abilities. The older children’s reading fluency improves and their attitudes about reading grow more positive. In addition, these children feel more confident in themselves

as readers and learners, particularly when learning is presented in fun and meaningful ways. Young children may encounter many hurdles when they are learning to read. For example, some children are easily frustrated when they don’t know a letter combination sound or what a word means. Having enjoyable and positive reading opportunities helps support the process. Children need to master specific phonetic skills, incorporate previous letter and word knowledge, use vocabulary, and connect the meaning of thoughts and ideas (Bennett-Armistead, Duke, & Moses 2005; Pikulski & Chard 2005; Hasbrouck 2006; Morrow & Schickedanz 2006). Children can best master these skills when they have positive experiences—those that are fun and meaningful—and appropriate motivation. A multiage reading opportunity such as buddy reading enhances the learning-to-read process for both the younger and older child. n Young Children

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The buddy-reading project Carol, a primary grade teacher at Polaris K–12 Optional School in Anchorage, Alaska, was looking for ways to engage the children in positive experiences that would encourage reading skills, such as fluency, as well as promote enjoyment in reading. The school district in which Carol works adopted a curriculum program to support the essential elements of reading—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, as outlined by the Common Core State Standards (NGA & CCSSO 2010). In addition, the school’s mission promotes an environment that challenges students, teachers, and parents to personal excellence, lifelong learning, and ethical responsibility to self, community, and the world (Polaris 2012). Carol wanted the second and third grade children to have a service-learning opportunity that would augment their reading skills while promoting the school’s literacy program and mission. She contacted families, local child care centers and preschool programs, and university faculty for advice and support. Carol, a school administrator, and a university faculty advisor (Hilary) decided that the older children would visit the preschool children at Tanaina Child Development Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus one morning a month, bringing books to share and read with the younger children. This was a natural collaboration because both the school and the child care center already work closely with faculty, staff, and students from the university’s early childhood program. There were 25 children in the second and third grade multiage classroom and 30 preschool children at the child care center. Each preschooler was paired with an older child. In a few of the matches, there were two preschool children with one older child. Teachers at both sites reviewed the pairings before the children met to make sure they would be a good fit. In most cases, girls were paired with girls and boys with boys. The child care center provided monthly family-style meals for the children, families, and teachers who participated. Many of the second- and third-graders’ families joined the meal after driving and chaperoning the children from the Polaris school to the Tanaina Center. Several of the younger children’s families also joined the meals.

About the Authors

Hilary Jo Seitz, PhD, is an associate dean in the College of Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is also a professor in the Early Childhood Department. Hilary researches early literacy in preschool and primary grades and culturally responsive teaching practices. Carol Bartholomew, MA, is the principal at Polaris K–12 Optional School in Anchorage. She was the second/third grade teacher during the time of this project.

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The Children’s Favorite Books n Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish, illus. by Fritz Seibel n Biscuit’s Birthday, by Allysa Satin Capucilli, illus. by

Pat Schories

n Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and

John Archambault

n Clifford, the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell n Corduroy, by Don Freeman n Curious George, by Hans Augusto Rey n David Goes to School, by David Shannon n Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems n Heckedy Peg, by Audrey Wood, illus. by Don Wood n I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Glen

Rounds, illus. by Pam Adams

n If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Numeroff, illus.

by Felicia Bond

n Ladybug Girl, by David Soman and Jacky Davis n Swimmy, by Leo Lionni n The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, by Shirley Neitzel,

illus. by Nancy Winslow Parker

n The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, illus. by

Michael Martchenko

n The Three Snow Bears, by Jan Brett n We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and

Helen Oxenbury

n Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

The school-age children selected appropriate books to read to the preschoolers. They also decided to bring followup activities connected to some of the stories to build on the book-reading experience. They chose activities like making paper collages similar to those in Eric Carle’s book illustrations and molding playdough to make a story’s characters. For example, after reading Swimmy together, the children

Authors’ Note We would like to thank the children, staff, and families of Tanaina Child Development Center for hosting 25 second and third grade children and their families. We also thank the Polaris families who drove the children to the Tanaina Child Development Center, and the student interns from University of Alaska Anchorage who helped support the project.


Regular literacy instruction continued, but the buddy reading enhanced the children’s skills. Carol and Hilary observed and documented a variety of positive literacy behaviors in the primary school children while preparing for and during the buddy-reading experiences at the center over the year. The children were excited about finding the right book and anticipated field trips to the 24

center. Even reluctant readers improved their oral reading. In addition, the older readers achieved greater fluency and experienced empathy for the preschool children. Carol administered required literacy assessments before and after the project and noticed gains in fluency rates as well as more positive attitudes about reading aloud. At the end of the year, Carol and Hilary interviewed the second and third grade children to learn their thoughts and decide whether the buddy-reading project should be continued next year. Overwhelmingly, the children said “Yes!”

Fluency connections The National Reading Panel (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn 2010) defines fluency as the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. Fluent readers read out loud effortlessly and with expression, as if they are speaking. Fluency bridges the gap from word recognition to comprehension. When readers do not need to focus their energy on recognizing a word, they can make comprehension connections much more quickly. According to the end-of-year reading assessments, the second- and third-graders’ fluency greatly improved, based on comparisons from previous years and on their growth during the year. Buddy reading helped support the children—as they repeated passages of text with the preschoolers, they became more familiar with the words and the n Young Children

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© Ellen B. Senisi

made sponge paintings that resembled the artwork in the book, written and illustrated by Leo Lionni. Before going to the preschool, Roxanne, an early childhood intern from the university, and Hilary worked with the second- and third-graders to think about books the preschoolers would enjoy. (See “The Children’s Favorite Books,” p. 23, for those they suggested and read.) They discussed with the children how to use different voice tones and expressions to engage the preschoolers during the readalouds and ways to read and hold a book so a younger child could see the pictures. They talked about comfy spaces, such as a beanbag chair or pillow, or a corner on the floor to make the experience more personal. They practiced reading their books in their classroom. When the second- and third-graders finally met the preschoolers, they were eager and prepared to read and interact with their new reading buddies.

structure of books. They were able to process words in meaningful chunks, thus improving their fluency. Greater fluency led to more ease and enjoyment of reading.

Comprehension connections To prepare for the buddy reading, the older children selected books that were appropriate for preschoolers and were at their own independent reading level. They practiced reading these books daily during independent reading time. Children did not have to concentrate on decoding (applying their knowledge of letter–sound relationships to correctly pronounce written words) and were able to focus their attention on text meaning. The focus on comprehension allowed children to make connections and have a deeper understanding of the content they were reading. They used this knowledge to develop guiding questions to ask as they worked with their preschool buddies. For example, Rylan used his knowledge of the characters in a story to help his partner, Suzie, make a paper bag puppet. Rylan’s questions (“Who was your favorite animal in the story?” “Why do you like the bear best?” “What did the bear like to do?”) helped guide Suzie to decide which character to make and what it would be doing. Children’s comprehension skills improved on literacy assessments, including informal assessments, such as oneon-one conferencing, and the formal assessments that were

given several times throughout the year. Regular literacy instruction continued, but the buddy reading enhanced the children’s skills. Carol noted these comprehension- and fluency-rate findings in the literacy assessments (end-ofyear reading assessments and running records) used in the classroom.

Expressive reading connections Children showed growth in their ability to read with expression, add voice, and prosody (rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech), based on teacher and faculty member observations of the buddy-reading experiences. Children, particularly those struggling with reading, showed growth in their ability to read with expression. They became mindful of sentence structure, including when to change emphasis and tone. Carol offered activities to help the children to focus on rhythm, which they took part in and practiced before their visits to the preschoolers. For example, Diego practiced reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear several times. Carol encouraged a chant-like style to show the words’ rhythms in Diego’s oral reading by tapping her hands and legs. When Diego arrived at the center, he gave the book to his buddy, Josh, and showed him how to tap his hands and legs together, finding a rhythm. As Diego read the story aloud, Josh continued to keep the beat.

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Starting a Buddy-Reading Program


tarting such a program is easy, with a little planning. Use the following questions to begin your own program.

n  Why do we want a buddy-reading program? n  Will the school and families support it? How will we

communicate with families about the program and children’s progress? How will we involve families?

n  Is there an accessible local preschool, child care

program, or elementary school that we could partner with? Is the program willing to partner? Willing to host some of the sessions? What are the spaces like?

n  How will we support dual language learners? n  How will we transport the children? n  How will we plan the experiences with our partner


n  How will we match the children in pairs? n  How will we prepare the children? n  Will we interview, observe, or assess the children’s

skills and behaviors (literacy, social, emotional)? What will we do with this information (create portfolios, newsletters, websites)?

Reflective thinking The interviews and children’s and teachers’ comments were enlightening. The most revealing observation Carol made was that the struggling readers in the second and third grade classroom changed their attitudes about reading. As a result of the buddy-reading project, they felt more confident in their reading, and their literacy skills greatly improved. The children expressed their thoughts about their own reading behaviors in interviews. Sydney, a third-grader, wrote, “I learned to add lots and lots of voices and [make my] reading sound more like talking.”

Children gave specific examples of what they liked about reading with the preschoolers. Abbigale, a second-grader, said, “You have to come with lots of energy, but it is fun! I like to read to my buddy. She is cute and likes to sit in my lap.”

During independent learning times at Polaris K–12, second and third grade children frequently self-selected books that they were familiar with. This behavior was noted in 26

struggling readers even during open-choice time, when the children had free choice of materials, not just books.

Empathy and compassion In addition to seeing increased beneficial reading behaviors, Hilary and Carol noted that the older children (particularly boys) showed more empathy and compassion for the preschoolers than the two had seen in similar situations in the second and third grade classroom. They saw some older boys helping their 3-year-old buddies zip up their jackets or put on snow gear. Many boys had smiles on their faces when their younger buddies gave them hugs on arrival— and they hugged back. This was particularly heartwarming for these older boys’ families to learn about. The center teachers mentioned that the preschoolers showed a greater interest in reading books independently after the school-age children came to visit, particularly the books that had been read to them. The younger children looked up to the older ones and asked them for help and guidance. Several families commented on how much their preschooler looked forward to their buddy coming to school. This anecdotal information was passed on to Tanaina’s advisory board of directors to let them know how important the buddy-reading program was for the preschool children. Children from the school-age classroom, as well as their families, were excited about participating in the service learning. They were expected to be at the center on a regular basis, and they had to work hard and practice reading to be successful. Research shows that children who participate in service-learning opportunities in elementary school perform better and display more positive behaviors and dispositions at school (Lake & Jones 2012).

Conclusion Buddy reading with older and younger children is a great way for children to have positive and successful reading experiences. The preschoolers and second- and third-graders enjoyed and looked forward to the buddy-reading time at the child care center. The older children enjoyed the experience of repeated oral readings with familiar texts—books they felt confident reading. Practicing their reading and having a motivating purpose for reading greatly enhanced the older children’s reading fluency and comprehension skills. They improved their own reading and modeled positive reading behaviors, supporting the preschoolers’ love of reading and stories. All the children enjoyed the reading experience and looked forward to spending time with their “special person.” Children displayed positive social behaviors, such as hugging, smiling, helping others, conversing joyfully about the stories, and respecting others. The older children particularly enjoyed the family-style meals and have adopted a n Young Children

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family meal potluck once a month at their school. Overall, the experience was positive for all the children. Because of its success, the school and center have continued the buddyreading program. Third-grader Marc stated, “They [preschoolers] like reading books more than once and so do I.”

Morrow, L.M., & J.A. Schickedanz. 2006. “The Relationships Between Sociodramatic Play and Literacy Development.” Vol. 2 of Handbook of Early Literacy Research, eds. D. Dickinson & S. Neuman, 269–80. New York: Guilford. NGA (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices) & CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers). 2010. “Common Core State Standards—English Language Arts.” Washington, DC: NGA & CCSSO. Pikulski, J.J., & D.J. Chard. 2005. “Fluency: Bridge Between Decoding and Reading Comprehension.” The Reading Teacher 58 (6): 510–19. Polaris (Polaris K–12 School). 2012. “Polaris Mission Statement.” www.

References Armbruster, B.B., F. Lehr, & J. Osborn. 2010. Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, Kindergarten Through Grade 3. 3rd ed. Jessup, MD: National Institute for Literacy.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, eds. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bennett-Armistead, V.S., N.K. Duke, & A.M. Moses. 2005. Literacy and the Youngest Learner: Best Practices for Educators of Children From Birth to 5. New York: Scholastic. Hasbrouck, J. 2006. “Drop Everything and Read—But How? For Students Who Are Not Yet Fluent, Silent Reading Is Not the Best Use of Classroom Time.” American Educator 30 (2): 22–31. Lake, V.E., & I. Jones. 2012. Service Learning in the PreK–3 Classroom: The What, Why, and How-to Guide for Every Teacher. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.

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Reading Together: Primary Grade Children Connect With Preschoolers  
Reading Together: Primary Grade Children Connect With Preschoolers