Reading Peeps

Today was one of my favorite days so far this school year – I gave my students companions in their reading journeys. Each student was paired with a reader of similar ability and given time to interview each other, choose a reading partnership name, and design a logo for their partnership. We began by talking about what a good interviewer does and what kinds of questions they would need to ask to get the most out of their interviewee. This idea came from Lucy Calkins’ Readers’ Workshop books. I have been usingDaily 5/CAFE for the last two years, and now I’m trying out some of the original Readers’ Workshop ideas. I’ll admit I’m a little dubious about pairing children up long term. Up until now, my classroom has been all about choice – choosing who you read with and how often. But I can see the benefits of sticking with one partner, reading the same books, and having extended conversations about literature that are based on a shared reading history. So I’m giving it a go.

I have 2 classes of thirty fourth grade students. Today took a great deal of planning – I wanted to make sure each student was paired with someone that I felt would be an excellent reading companion, and a good match personality-wise. At the same time I was also looking to create ‘new’ partnerships by putting students together who wouldn’t naturally gravitate to each other. When you factor in the students who are overly shy, on the spectrum, or just generally anti-social, this becomes an overwhelming task. But today, I was ready.

And it worked. Really well.

My students were serious in their interviewing. They discovered shared likes and dislikes, created some very cool Partnership Names (The Reading Peeps, The Book Bros, The Fictioneers to name a few), and had fun designing a logo for their partnership (I scaffolded this activity by asking them if they were to design a t-shirt for their partnership what would it look like). What with all the preparation and the discussion of our next Project (creating a Book Trailer using iMovie) our 90 minutes flew by. They were literally groaning that they didn’t have time to read their book with their partner today! Actually, I’m glad, because it keeps that anticipation and excitement going for tomorrow. It’s like looking at the present under the tree that you can’t unwrap yet. So much of what we do in our classrooms involves framing things in the right way to motivate students and I can tell you, today was a BIGGIE!

Naturally, there were two or three partnerships in each class that I have some concerns about. I knew it would be more challenging for them to find common ground and/or communicate with each other. Some were boy/girl partnerships, some were students who would never choose to work together on their own, and some were challenged by their social skills – which is actually one of the main reasons I want to do this. I want my students to learn to converse with each other in a trusting, respectful manner about books and hopefully about life. I think this is a set of skills we need to TEACH – especially at a school like mine where students are struggling with so many of the issues associated with poverty and low Socio-economic status. So, here was my strategy for starting those groups off on the right foot today. As they were interviewing each other I approached them and told them, I was so very excited about this particular partnership. I outlined the strengths of each reader, and explained that both students were at a point in their reading lives where they were ‘taking off’ with their reading. I told them that together they would be unstoppable and I couldn’t wait to see how far they would go. Without fail, their eyes lit up with pride and they were excited to get back to work.

I know there is still so much work to do, but I feel great about our first day as long term reading partners and the way it will shape the learning that happens from here on out. I’m very proud of my Reading Peeps.