You know when you see something that looks so super-fun, and is so simple, that you just have to share it?
Well, that was my experience visiting St John’s Catholic Primary School in Rickmansworth in the last week of the spring term.
Amongst other things, I’d gone in so that I could see the ‘buddy reading’ that had been introduced the previous November between Y5 and Y6 and which had been described to me by the English subject leader, Nicola O’Brien.
The routine is simple. Three times a week, for 15 minutes, half of year 6 go into the year 5 room and half of year 5 go into the Year 6 room, pairing up with prearranged partners of one Y5, one Y6 and taking a book they are currently reading. I’m sure this took some careful training and practising back in November, but by the time I saw it, transitions were smooth and the children so eager to start reading that the whole operation took barely two minutes.
Nicola told the children which of them would be starting first that day – year 5 or year 6, and then they began to read. Aloud. To each other.
And it was magical. I saw children listening intently to their partners and heard the readers take on characters’ voices; stumble over words and rephrase them; be helped by their partner; adopt a narrator’s voice – I could go on and on. After five minutes, a timer pinged and before the pairs swapped roles, they were told, “At the end, we’ll have a chat about some of the words you’ve liked from the books”.
Then they read to each other again for a second five minutes. Looking at their faces, as children listened to a snippet from their friend’s book, I felt (fanciful though it is) that I could see them peering through windows into other worlds. At least, it feels a bit fanciful to write it down, but it was what I felt at the time – and - check out below what the children themselves said…
Whilst this reading was going on, the adults in the room were able to whisk around those children who needed a little bit of extra help. This might have been those whose decoding fell away a little when faced with an unfamiliar multi-syllabic word; or whose fluency was not quite where it should be and needed encouragement to read something two or three times to ‘get it right’; or whose comprehension needed a bit more of a nudge than a peer-partner could offer. I thought to myself, and there’s the ‘but I never get to hear them read’ cry answered in one fell swoop.
Recently, the school has introduced ‘little yellow books’ for the children to record brief thoughts and comments on a theme. But it won’t interrupt the reading itself; they will be saved for afterwards. Today however, the three minutes reflection was all oral.
“What words and phrases did you find?”
“Show me what that feeling is.”
“How might you use that in your own writing?”
Then back they went to their own places and rooms. The school plan to roll this out to years 3 & 4 and years 1 & 2 in the summer. I can’t wait to go back.
And I couldn’t wait to talk to the children. So even though the next day was the last day of term, they welcomed me in again. Nicola assured me the children wouldn’t mind at all. And she was right.
I’d gone in armed with two prompts in my head: ‘Tell me about buddy reading?’ And, ‘tell me a bit more about that?’ In reserve, I had, ‘so what do you think you’re learning from all this?’ As it happened, I didn’t need that one – their recognition and understanding of what they were learning threaded through the whole conversation.
First of all, they were overwhelmingly positive about the process. They saw it as an end in itself, that let them enjoy reading and being read to, and something that developed their individual skills. They all had thoughts and examples they wanted to share, far too many for me to even record, let alone reproduce here, but below are a few that capture the mood of that half hour discussion.
I can help my partner as he needs to improve on his punctuation: like he doesn’t stop on it, so I can show him. I like having a reading partner because it’s interesting hearing them read and they tell you things you don’t know.
I think it grows people’s confidence because when you read in your head, only you can hear it and another voice helps. Just doing something together can really help your friendships too.
It can help us improve our expression. If, for example, you don’t stop, your partner can remind you. I really enjoy being able to read without having any distractions.
It’s nice to have reading partners because you can read to each other and help each other. It’s good to hear bits of other books too. Like, say you were fascinated by a bit, you can be inspired and get that book yourself. Sometimes I think I’m not going to like a book, but then when she starts reading it, I get really interested.
When you listen to someone reading it, it helps you know how to read it: like when to stop or have more expression. I like listening to my partner, and I helped her do different voices in Harry Potter and when we did it again, she’d improved a lot.
It’s good to have a reading partner because you’re more likely to make a mistake if you read it in your head, but reading out loud, 1) you can hear it and 2) if you don’t know something, your partner can tell you.
With thanks to Tony Hall, Head Teacher St John’s Catholic Primary Rickmansworth; Nicola O’Brien, Assistant Head and year 5 teacher; and Nancy Bailey, year 6 teacher.