Friday, May 29, 2009

The Science of Reading Buddies

Reading Buddies is a popular program in which first or second graders, who are just learning to read, are paired with students who are few years older. By working together, both students improve their reading skills. They also develop cooperative learning behaviors, such as taking turns, listening, sharing knowledge, and praising one another’s efforts. In addition, the program fosters friendships across the grade levels, creating a stronger sense of community in schools.

Older buddies see themselves as role models. They take pride in mentoring younger students, and can see that their younger buddies look up to them. That can lead to a stronger sense of self worth, especially among children who are struggling academically or socially.

In a world where state assessment tests mandated by No Child Left Behind legislation have forced schools to focus on reading and math—often at the expense of science education—Reading Buddies provides a unique opportunity for teachers to sneak science into their language arts curriculum. And identifying appropriate science-themed picture books is easier than you might think.

In the last decade, what some people call “list books” have become an increasingly popular way of presenting science concepts to the picture book crowd. These books include two sections of text—short, simple text in large type conveys a general idea and longer sections in smaller type presents additional details.

In books like Beaks! and Wings by Sneed Collard and my own titles A Place for Birds and A Place for Butterflies, the two sections of text appear on each double-page spread. This structure invites younger buddies to read the larger, simpler type, while older children can focus on the longer, smaller text blocks. Thus, each child plays a role in “digesting” the spread, and reading becomes a shared endeavor. The buddies can then look at the artwork together and discuss what they’ve just learned before turning the page.

Books like An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston offer a more poetic main text. And while the language is simple, the statements are sometimes surprising and can provoke a bit of thoughtful discussion. For example, in An Egg is Quiet, the main text on one spread says, “An egg is clever.” Most children (and adults) have never thought of an egg in this way before. It is only after reading the smaller, supporting text scattered across the page that the real meaning of the main text becomes clear.

In most of the books created by Steve Jenkins, the spare main text is masterfully illustrated with paper collage art and enhanced by an extensive backmatter full of fascinating facts. As Reading Buddies work their way through books like Move! and What Would You Do with a Tail Like This?, the younger child can read the main text. Then the buddies can flip to the back of the book, and the older child can read the relevant section of backmatter.

Because each buddy makes his or her own contribution to exploring a science-themed list book and understanding its content, these titles accomplish several educational goals simultaneously. They strengthen reading skills, introduce and reinforce a range of age-appropriate science concepts, and promote cooperation and camaraderie. What could be better than that?

Recommended science books for Reading buddies programs:

Animals Asleep, Animal Dads, Beaks, Leaving Home, and Wings by Sneed Collard

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly?, Move!, and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins

The Moonflower by Peter Loewer and Jean Loewer

A Place for Birds and A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart


April Pulley Sayre said...

Great post, Melissa. I love the reading buddies idea. Buddy learning/sharing is an integral part of Montessori schooling. We were always helping each other. I'm so glad this is happening in public schools, too.

Regarding the books, I call this kind of technique "layered text." (Not sure where I first saw that term.) I analyzed it a bit in part of my MFA thesis. At that time Snowflake Bentley was the star on the scene and showed how you could use those sidebars on the page to extend age range. I think it's really effective and I love to use it, too. My book, Bumblebee Queen was my latest to do this. It's extra work for the designer to incorporate the older material in a natural way. But you're right, educators love it. Reading buddies, such as siblings, enjoy it at home, too.

Melissa Stewart said...

I like the term "layered text." I'll have to start using it, and I'll have to take another look at Bumblebee Queen. Thanks for mentioning Snowflake Bentley. I'd forgotten about that book's format.

Mrs. Hull's Class Blog said...

Melissa, I love the idea of incorporating the Science curriculum in with Buddy reading. I teach 1st grade and each year we read with a 3rd grade class. Many times we read a Scholastic News or a story from our basal reader but I love the idea of using layered Science books. Both grade levels would really benefit from those books. I am going to take your list of suggestions and give it to our librarian.
It would be a great idea to have the kids read together and discuss the books but then go back to the classroom and blog to each other. I think that would really help with comprehension and focus as well as add an essential technology skill into the classroom. It also would give the students a focus when they get together if they know they are going to have to go back and write to each other.

Thank you for the book ideas. I cannot wait to go back and start using the layered texts with my students and their reading buddies.


Melissa Stewart said...

Thanks fo rthese great ideas. You can read more about The Science of Reading Buddies in an article in the May/June issue of Science Books & Films. Teh article includes extension activities for students.