Supporting our young readers GISSV's Reading Partners program started in 2010/11.
Author: Liliana Castañeda de Rossmann, Ph.D., PA VP
Since the 2010/11 school year, GISSV parents have been stepping up to sit down with Elementary school students in partnerships designed to augment students' reading skills. Head of Elementary School Franke Mercer and former teacher Mona Schilkowski teamed up to devise the Reading Partners program in order to address the different reading abilities of our diverse and multilingual student population. It was crucial for these two teachers that young readers had the opportunity to read aloud with a grown-up by their side so they could develop good diction, pronunciation, and enunciation in either German or English, or both.
To apply that creative answer to a pressing pedagogical need, at the beginning of each school year, the GISSV office staff sends an email on behalf of Ms. Mercer to all parents with children in grades one through five. This communication plumbs parents' interest and availability to participate in this much-needed task. The purpose of the program is for parents, acting as reading partners, to sit down with students so kids can read aloud in either German or English, depending on their differentiated needs. Interested parents are asked to provide days and times when they are available on a shared document. Monika Droste, Lead Afternoon Club Teacher also benefits from this coordinated effort in that parents whose schedules are more flexible in the afternoon can also partner with kids enrolled in the AC. Once a list of available parents is compiled, each teacher matches students with a volunteer and the fun begins.
Anett Kruse is one such volunteer who stepped up and sat down with young readers. "I was new to GISSV in 2017, so when I got the email asking parents if they liked to read with Elementary kids, I responded," she says. "Soon I heard from Ms. Glaus in fourth grade. We met and talked about how to manage the project. Since I had time in the mornings two or three times after drop-off, she gave me a list of kids and I got started." She enthusiastically recollects her experience this way: "I would come to class, call a kid on my list, and sit down with them at the picnic tables outside the library. After 20 to 30 minutes, I'd bring them back to the class and then call another kid." She emphasizes that she had the option of bringing books from her home library for the young ones to read. For her own record-keeping, she kept a log of which books each child was reading, as well as the page where she or he had stopped. "Depending on the kid, they could finish The Magic Tree House in five sessions." If a child needed more help, Anett would consult with Frau Glaus for guidance. "One kid began feeling a little embarrassed, struggling to read, but with patience and practice, got better over time and learned to have fun while reading," she adds. As she summarizes the experience, "It's a really easy job; you can be independent, work outside, and teachers are very flexible about when you can come. All kids always look forward to it!"
Friederike Broschek-Lumsden, parent of a child in Kibili, a 3rd grader, and a 5th grader, is one of this year's new Reading Partners. She reminisces about her own experience: "I loved reading as a child a lot. I loved reading Christine Nöstlinger books, who is from Vienna, as I am. I love the way she would use actual Austrian dialect and the melody that comes with it." Friederike believes that every child likes to read, but they have to find the right book. "That's why I have the kids usually choose between a variety of books, that I either bring from home, or pick from the library." To emphasize the idea that a love for reading begins with familiar topics, she describes her method for engaging young readers this way: "Today, we were reading the Länderlexikon (world encyclopedia) and, as the school is fairly international, every child would read and learn something about the countries their families were from. They enjoyed it a lot as they were reminded of their families and it put a big smile on their faces," she adds.
Teacher Marina Glaus sums up her experiences with Reading Partners this way: "I've always appreciated having the reading partner. With the reading partners the students get additional and valuable one-on-one reading experience in German that especially non-native speakers might not get at home. I've always told the reading partners to ask questions about what they've read which is very important for the students. The students really enjoy the one-on-one attention they get from the reading partners."
Franke Mercer remarks "Of course, the bond that parents have with their own children around reading is invaluable and the Reading Partners program does not replace that, but when we have D.E.A.R. Time (Drop Everything And Read), it's wonderful to have another proficient reader in the room to help kids with the activity." Since a bilingual curriculum implies doing more in two different languages, there is often scant time in the school day to spend fifteen minutes of exclusive attention with young readers who struggle. Another adult can help with that, as the student-teacher ratio narrows. "Reading aloud gives kids an opportunity to fall in love with language and to become lifelong readers," adds Ms. Mercer.