While there is always more I can teach a student in the library, sometimes I have those weeks where I get stuck planning for my 4th and 5th grade students with my fixed weekly schedule. We do a lot of great activities with research, library skills, and makerspace materials, but what I really wanted to add to it all was a meaningful literacy experience. My students read a lot, but silently and independently. In my experience with the students reading aloud in the library, I found that many of them read with little expression or enthusiasm.
I decided to form a partnership with some preschool classrooms on campus. Our 4th and 5th graders would go over to the preschool to read to their students every 3 weeks or so. I set the schedule with the preschool teachers based on my schedule and the preschool schedule, so different classes went different weeks. Classes that get more sessions (those Tuesday and Wednesday groups) tended to get to go over more often, but all classes went at least 2 times this fall.
Before we started going to the preschool, I read picture books to my big kids so they could see how I made it interesting, added voices or side comments, and asked questions related to the stories or illustrations. I gave my students a chance to read books to each other and help each other become better at reading. We also talked about the type of book and length of book that would be appropriate for a 3 year old child. My students check out their picture books the week before we go so that they have time to practice.
When we go to the preschool, the little buddies get to pick a big buddy to read to them. Some base their choice on the book the big buddy has selected, but others just choose someone at random. The big buddies read the book, trying to engage the preschool student in the story. After the book, little buddies can choose another book from the classroom, or they can chose to show their big buddy one of the learning centers in the room. The little buddies love being able to show their big buddies how to do something. At the 2 minute warning, I ask my big buddies to make sure to find out something about their buddies including their name.
When we return to the library, my students write a short reflection about their experience in their library notebook before we have check out time. I have enjoyed reading these reflections. In September, students wrote about preschoolers not being interested in the book or about how they didn’t know their preschooler’s name. Now reflections often include additional activities they did with the books or something interesting they learned about from their preschooler.
Next year I would love partner with my teachers to use the data they already have from fluency checks on the students before and after, but this year I have chosen to evaluate the program based on my informal evaluations of students as they read to the preschool students. My shy students don’t seem shy talking to a preschool student. In the library, students are also more likely to chose a nonfiction or picture book to read for pleasure. They still read away on their chapter books, but they are also exploring more sections in the library.
We hope to add more groups to our book buddies program! It does depend on the schedule, but you could even do this with a kindergarten or 1st grade class if you do not have preschool students available to you. I highly recommend the Book Buddies program to all librarians.