Early lessons in tutoring

Mentors: Pupils in fourth grade help first-graders who are learning to read.

June 04, 2000|By Diane B. Mikulis | Diane B. Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's never too early to start tutoring. Just ask the fourth-graders at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary in Howard County, who are helping first-graders with their reading in a program that educators say helps both groups.

The Partners At Learning - or PALs - initiative pairs older pupils with younger ones each week to help the first-graders improve their reading skills, under the direction of the school's reading specialist, Fran Clay.

"It's been wonderfully received on both ends," says Clay. The younger pupils receive help with their reading, and the older ones "take a great deal of pride in what the little ones are accomplishing. They're developing some nurturing skills, and they're modeling a lot of good teaching."

Since January, the PALs have met on Friday afternoons for a half-hour. The fourth-graders spend time preparing for the session and then go to the first-grade area to pair up.

Nineteen pairs of children sit or lie on the floor in Clay's room and in the first-grade common area. Armed with pencils and books, as well as smiles and enthusiasm, they have fun while covering the lessons.

"There are little games," says fourth-grader ElanaMetzman. "Now we're doing word cards."

Her pupil, PeytonSimmons, had to come up with a rhyme to describe a picture. Peyton enjoys the sessions and is quick to point out that it's something her twin brother, Tyler, isn't participating in. She is happy to have been chosen. And she's showing improvement as well, according to her mentor: "She's reading much better," Elana says.

In another area, fourth-grader Michael Silas and first-grader Jordan Montoya play a game that also involves rhyming words. They then move on to exercises emphasizing the short "e" sound.

Nearby, MeghanReeves, 10, and Paul Wissman, 7, unscramble the words in a mixed-up sentence so that it describes the accompanying picture. Meghan writes as Paul dictates.

Clay explains that the participating fourth-graders all are reading above their grade level and are in the same reading group. The first-graders were chosen based on teacher identification of "kids who need a little reinforcement," says Clay.

The pupils use a workbook called "Activity Phonics," which is full of exercises and games designed to reinforce reading skills. The activities center on vowel sounds, rhyming, composing sentences and sight-reading.

The tutors don't have to follow the book page for page - rather, they have the flexibility to move around within the book, based on their pupils' needs and interests.

"It's a recommended strategy" in reading instruction literature, Clay says of pairing older children as mentors to younger ones. The technique reinforces reading skills, she says.

Fourth-grader TrevorAuthknows what it's like to receive a little extra help. "In first grade, I had an experience something like this with a high school kid," he explains.

Now it's his turn to help. Trevor is working with Jake Weyer, 7, on the long "o" sound. He says that they are supposed to finish the workbook by the end of the year.

Clay ran the PALs program for several years at Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia before coming to Triadelphia Ridge.

"It's been very positive all around," she says. "I haven't had any situations where the partners don't work out."

She hopes to expand the program next school year to include fifth-graders paired with kindergartners. It seems like a good match: The younger children receive extra attention in areas where they need help, and the older ones get a chance to play teacher in subjects with which they are comfortable.

"It's not hard work, because we know all the stuff," says Elana. "But it's more fun than our work."

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