A Love of Reading Starts Between Us

This post was originally published on the Nerdy Book Club blog on February 24th 2012.  Next week my Grade 2/3 class begins reading with their Kindergarten buddies for the 2012/2013 school year and I am excited about the magic bound to happen once again!

A Love of Reading Starts Between Us

I teach at a tiny inner city school, located in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The school is located in what some have described is the country’s poorest postal code. Looking at factors from census statistics like parents’ educational attainment and the number of families living below the poverty line, our school is described as vulnerable even amongst schools who also have inner city status.  So, like all teachers my mission is to teach children to read and hope that I can also make them passionate life long readers. But I know the statistics that link poverty to limited access to books and limited access to books to levels of school achievement. So I feel an urgency to create a community of readers in the classroom. And . . . I want that community to extend into children’s homes and futures.

We do a lot of fabulous things at my school to ensure that our children read and have access to fantastic books. What I am particularly passionate about this year is the buddy reading between my Grade 2/3 class and the K/1 class. (“Really? We’re the big buddies? Wow!” my students marveled when I revealed our buddy reading plan) We meet together Wednesday afternoons for forty minutes but my class spends time everyday making sure this weekly reading is as successful as possible.

My role is collecting books, modeling reading aloud, nurturing the joy and providing feedback. I have raided my home bookshelves for early picture books I read to my children. Beautiful alphabet books so letters can be chased all over the page, Thanks to Audrey Wood for the popular Alphabet Adventure.  I brought in lots of rhyme and repetition like Phoebe Gilman’s feisty Jillian Jiggs, Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? and all of the Five Little Monkeys books written by Eileen Christelow.

Recently I received some designated funds for my classroom book collections. I purchased board books for our buddy reading. My students will tell you that board books are great for little five year old hands and you don’t need to remind anybody to be gentle turning pages. Each morning I read a new book to my students with the intention of doing a few things. Of course, sparking excitement and interest in the new book is a priority. But I also model. “When you read to your little buddy you could ask them to guess which animal is on the next page,” I point out while sharing Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett. “Ask your little buddy to do the animal sounds with you,” I encourage as we read Alice Shertle’s Little Blue Truck. Now I have students coming to me with classroom books. “Look Ms. Gelson I could read this book to my little buddy and they could say the parts that repeat with me!” One girl found a Fairy Tale book told in rebus style. “This is a good one for little kids, you can ask them what the picture is.”  Thinking about our little buddies is hardly just a Wednesday afternoon event.

Now as I watch my students together with their little buddies, I am delighted to hear them trying out new things we’ve talked about. My eight year olds are encouraging choral reciting, asking little ones to guess, predict and turn the page to find out. There is reading, laughing, talking and much joy shared.

I have one student who won’t read to any adult who visits our class but he is a star in buddy reading. A little kindergarten girl who struggles a lot with managing her emotions in class and often needs breaks and extra supports makes a beeline for this boy every Wednesday afternoon. She sits engrossed in their book sharing for forty minutes. None of us can believe it. But of course we should. It is the magic of books doing their thing!

This boy in my class who shines as a buddy reader is reluctant to accept compliments. So I sneak them in casually but my feedback is specific. “Erich,” I say. “It is amazing to watch you read to Kayla. You involve her in the stories. You listen carefully to her questions. Reading with you is such a happy time for her.” Erich grins cautiously but his pride radiates. Now I am passing him books to take home and read to his younger siblings. “You are so great at this. It is such a wonderful thing to be able to share books.” He doesn’t tell me a lot about reading at home to his siblings but he brings the books back and he asks for more.

I know these Wednesday afternoons mean a lot to all of us. The little buddies and the big and the lucky teachers who witness it all. A love of reading starts between us and it spreads. Together my students and I are passing on the joy of reading. We are letting books work their magic. Books are the tickets to our future and we are loving every step of the journey!

Read more here about some of the board books we love for buddy reading.

One thought on “A Love of Reading Starts Between Us

  1. Pingback: Come on in and read with us! | There's a Book for That

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