Cross-aged literacy program enhances motivation

iStock_000021514404SmallFenice B. Boyd, State University of New York/Buffalo, reports that the motivation and literacy learning of low-achieving ninth-graders increased when they tutored elementary- age students. Boyd was looking for ways to motivate older students with poor literacy skills. She wanted to find an environment that would help such students take ownership of their own learning, and students achieved this in the year-long cross-aged tutoring program.

Boyd speculates that as high-school students take responsibility for the learning of younger students, they may take more responsibility for their own learning. Previous research findings of crossaged tutoring programs reveal positive benefits such as improved communication, increased motivation and greater opportunities for literacy learning.

Since it has been shown that careful preparation of tutors increases the effectiveness of outcomes for all participants, Boyd designed a preparation seminar to help underachieving students develop needed skills and strategies related to fluency and expression in oral reading, story comprehension and communication. 

Ninth-graders read, wrote and discussed the literature with their peers. These high-school students learned to lead younger students in conversations about a piece of literature. They crafted lesson plans for their discussion groups and later met with their peers to reflect upon their experiences, considering what did and did not work well and outlining reasonable solutions for the next session.

Throughout the year, high-school students worked with small groups of four to six children in a fourth/fifth split classroom. Both tutors and tutees noted their personal responses to the literature in reading logs. They also wrote responses to comprehension questions, reflections on a comprehension strategy or specific literary element such as the setting, and personal experiences relating to the story. The tutors facilitated discussion by sharing their own responses to the text, asking the children if they had any comments or questions, asking questions to clarify ideas, making comments about shared ideas, initiating new topics, offering alternative views, and taking critical positions.

The goal of the seminar and discussion groups was to provide low-achieving high-school students with occasions to deepen their knowledge of reading, writing and discussing literature in meaningful and purposeful ways. These students had to make informed decisions about how to conduct literacy activities. This provided opportunities to enhance their leadership strategies and skills. Students became involved in their own learning by critiquing their leadership of discussion groups. Videotapes of group sessions helped students talk about their strengths and weaknesses and discuss how they needed to improve.

Giving tools to weak readers

These students, who did not read well, were expected to expand their literacy abilities to help younger students learn. The seminar setting was designed specifically to give them tools and opportunities to engage in reading, writing, responding to literature, discussion, debriefing, and reflection. Both picture books and then realistic fiction were used for these literary discussion groups. A picture book was used first because it did not challenge tutors’ reading skills. Students constructed their own stories by predicting what was happening. This was a new but not intimidating learning experience. The texts used in the discussion groups were written for younger children and offered these older students the opportunity for successful reading and reflection.

The written and oral language skills and social interactions that were embedded within each component of the program supported students’ feelings of competence and autonomy. Talking about their experiences with peers enabled students to acknowledge strengths and understand how working with younger children supported their own learning. They gained insight about how they might improve. They were engaged in problem solving about ways to enhance their leadership of interactive literary discussion groups. This assisted them in being responsible for supporting the learning of others and themselves. This study, while limited by the small number of students involved, offers educators a programmatic model that has potential to support the learning and motivation of underachieving high-school students.

(Editor’s Note: This study did not report on the effect tutoring had on the elementary students’ learning.)

“Motivation to Continue: Enhancing Literacy learning for Struggling Readers and Writers” Reading and Writing Quarterly Volume 18, Number 3, September 2002 pp. 257-277.

December 2002/January 2003 Volume 16 Number 1

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