Book Buddies: Together, Tutors and Students Grow

At the 2009 Early Intervention Research Institute Symposium, Darrell Morris spoke about the importance of early identification and intervention.  Morris commented, “The most powerful intervention we have is a trained adult working one on one with a child for thirty minutes every day – reading, writing, and engaging in systematic word study.”

Morris noted that although one-to-one intervention is the most effective, it is often the most costly.  Thinking creatively about available resources, including time, personnel, and money, is essential.  Volunteer tutors are one inexpensive option.

Morris specifically highlighted his experiences with Early Steps, an early intervention tutoring model.  He attributes the success of Early Steps to its emphasis on tutor training and one to one instruction.  Book Buddies, developed by Marcia Invernizzi, is a similar intervention.

Charlottesville City Schools implemented Book Buddies in 1993. The program is in its sixteenth year of operation. In 2009, approximately 68 yearlong, tutor-student pairs were supervised by five reading specialists at five elementary schools. Volunteers meet with students for 45 minutes twice a week.  Tutors use explicit lesson plans developed and monitored by reading specialists.  The four-part lesson is well-balanced, including a reread of familiar material, word study, writing for sounds, and the introduction of a new book.

Jeanette Rosenberg, Charlottesville Book Buddies Coordinator, noted that, “The lesson plan and relationships are the backbone of the program.” PALS staff recently interviewed Jeanette to gather her insights about what makes Book Buddies a successful intervention.

Recruiting and Training Volunteers

Book Buddy tutors range in age and experience.  Jeanette works with graduate students through America Reads, corporate partners that allow work-release time, retired educators, and community members identified on Tutors participate in a two-hour training in September that emphasizes the traits and instructional needs of a beginning reader.  In December, tutors complete a survey that highlights areas in which they need further training and reconvene for a January training that focuses on fluency and comprehension.

In addition to the formal training sessions, the Book Buddy site coordinators provide continued, individualized support and modeling throughout the year and add “Tutor Tips” to a binder ring once a week.  Site coordinators are always present during tutoring sessions, monitoring activity and providing needed support.  Tutors volunteer twice a week, at a regularly scheduled hour, and work with the same child throughout the year.  Jeanette remarks that retaining volunteers is key to a quality program and that often the tutors themselves are the best recruiters.

In 2009, 45% of tutors had worked with Charlottesville Book Buddies for five years or more.  Debby, a Book Buddy for six years, remarked that, “Being a Book Buddy is one of the most satisfying volunteer opportunities of which I’ve ever been involved.”

Assessing Students

At the beginning of the year, Book Buddy Coordinators review kindergarten PALS data from the previous spring.  The coordinators identify the 25-30 lowest performing incoming first graders, administer PALS 1-3 during the fall window, and then rank students. The 10-12 lowest performing students will receive more intensive, daily intervention. The remaining 12-15 students are selected for Book Buddies.

Selection is a collaborative process.  Classroom teachers play a significant role and consider many factors in addition to PALS data, such as home support and student behavior.  Student progress is monitored throughout the year with running records, spelling inventories, and the PALS mid-year Form C assessment.  Book Buddies is a yearlong intervention, but after mid-year assessment data is reviewed, the classroom teachers and coordinators do consider whether or not a child needs more intensive intervention and should therefore exit Book Buddies to receive daily reading intervention.

Why It Works

Jeanette shared that she believes Book Buddies works because the individualized lesson plan and one-on-one tutoring enables them to “work with the child’s reality.”  The tutors and children have positive, trusting relationships and the classroom teachers help by being the program’s biggest supporters.  Classroom teachers assure students that they won’t miss an exciting whole-class activity.  Furthermore, classroom teachers often benefit from the copious, observational notes the tutors take at the conclusion of each session.

The one-on-one interaction between the tutor and student provides opportunities for the tutor to discover important things about the child, such as his/her responsiveness, attitude, motivation, self-concept, and tendencies.  The one-on-one model also allows the coordinators to put the student first and individualize the instruction based on the child’s interests.  Jeanette expressed that her personal goal is to have every student excited to discover what new read is waiting in his/her Book Buddy box.

Examining Growth

PALS staff had the privilege of reviewing one Book Buddy’s growth.  At the beginning of the school year, the student told his classroom teacher that “reading was hard and boring and he just didn’t like it.”  The student, entering first grade reading at a preprimer level and only writing when provided a dictated sentence from which to copy, is now reading books at a first grade level and independently completing concept webs with fascinating shark facts!  The tutor’s observational notes also show evidence of growth. At the beginning of the year, the tutor’s notes indicated that the child was frustrated, tired, controlling, afraid to make mistakes, and stubborn.

By mid-year, the tutor was commenting on improvements in attitude and motivation, noting, “He enjoyed this!,” and “He wants to read this book again!”  When asked to reflect on his growth over the year, the student shared, “I can read harder books and sound out big words.”  According to his classroom teacher, as a result of the Book Buddies intervention, the student, “takes great pride in his ability to read.  He sees himself as a good reader and an even better speller, which is completely true!”  His tutor is also overjoyed by the student’s progress, stating, “It is so rewarding to see him excited about reading and to watch him become proficient in areas that were once a struggle and challenge.”