When I envision partner reading in first grade, I see children sitting side by side holding a book across their laps, joyfully reading together. They point to the parts of the text they love, laugh together, and coach each other as they problem-solve.
I know that vision doesn’t work with COVID, but I was determined to make partner reading happen for these students. Let’s just say that my learning process was a bit bumpy this week.
Try 1: Each student chose a book to read with his/her partner. Then, I put the partners into breakout groups on Google Meet. The kids knew to echo read or take turns reading by holding one book up to the camera so their partner could read too.
I know those of you with more experience are laughing right now. Yup – that didn’t work so well. Young kids aren’t the best at holding a book up in a way that the other student can see. And, of course, three or four kids keep getting kicked out of their Google Meet. The room erupted into kids calling my name, “Mrs. Mulligan, I can’t see the words. Mrs. Mulligan, so- and-so isn’t _____________. Mrs. Mulligan, my iPad isn’t working.”
Try 2: I ask the technology specialist to come and observe partner reading to help me problem-solve. This time, fewer kids get kicked off of Google Meet, but things are still pretty chaotic. Some kids squirm in their seats, others stare into space, and a few yell into their headphones, “I can’t see the book!” My “consultant self” would say the lesson lacked provisioning. My teacher self said, “Well, that wasn’t my finest moment.”
Try 3, 4, and 5: I fix my provisioning problem by giving each partner a copy of the book. I assign some partners the same books on EPIC, and I scour the bookroom for books that kids will love and that they can read. (I regret that I didn’t purchase every Biscuit book ever created because these first graders are obsessed with Biscuit.)
I find paired sets of many Biscuit titles and a few other high-interest texts with my colleagues’ help. Now, I reteach kids how to echo partner read or take turns reading without showing the book to each other. I also decide only to put the students I want to confer with in breakout rooms on Google Meet. The other partners sit six-feet apart on carpet squares in the room.
Before I jump in to support kids, I watch, I listen, and I hold my breath. Thank goodness my mask covers the worry on my face.
And you know what? I hear kids reading. I hear pages turning, and I hear kids talking about books. More importantly, I see joyful eyes, because I can’t see smiles under those masks.
The beginnings of our partner reading system are in place.
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