Reading Buddies: The Power of Purpose

Some time ago, when Patricia, my PYP colleague, asked me if I could help her find an MYP group for a reading buddies project I checked the schedule, and the only suitable option I found did not precisely encourage me to go ahead with the idea. The MYP class that we could pair up with Patricia’s group presented some behavior challenges in the library (the school had scheduled one library lesson a week to encourage students to read for pleasure), and there had been some incidents that simply did not give us great confidence in the success of the project. However, we decided to give it a go, to try before giving up.

The outcome quickly impressed us. Kids who had previously been late to library lessons were now waiting for their PYP reading buddies at the door. Suddenly, one simple explanation of a task at the beginning of a class sufficed, and everybody was up and about finding books, flipping pages, and collaborating with their younger peers. All of this was something we were very pleased to witness, but the surprises did not stop there. When the primary students were unable to come to the library, the teenagers were effortlessly grabbing books and seemed more likely to settle down and read. Not only had the behavior of the students changed when their reading buddies were around, their attitude towards reading was shifting.

Some time ago, I came across a Facebook post that had a picture of a man playing darts and a caption that said something like “you miss all the shots you don’t take.” When given the chance, these students became caring members of their community and were learning, perhaps without fully realizing it, because their actions had a purpose. As teachers, we sometimes miss opportunities to facilitate meaningful learning experiences because we are unwilling to “take the shot.”

Darts picture taken from

Relevant feedback

One of the most important aspects of language teaching and learning (and of any kind of teaching, we’d argue) is feedback. It helps students make tangible progress and facilitates differentiation. Although it is commonly practiced, it is also often feared and misused.After discussion with some educators, we have put together a few tips to help you get the most out of your (summative and formative) assessment tasks:
1. Feedback must be timely: bearing in mind that the main purpose of assessment is to help students develop their language proficiency and not reporting, we must remember that the sooner we provide students with clear and specific advice, the better they will understand and assimilate feedback. As IB Educator Kim Edwards puts it, “in feedback, timely is transparent.
2. Choose what to address: overwhelming students with notes and advice will not help them improve. Let’s appeal to Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development,” and target a couple of aspects that students need to master before moving up to the next level.
3. Make students accountable by having them set targets and define specific actions they will take to improve. The key is to be specific and not too ambitious. For instance, a student who was struggling with reading came up with the following target: – “From Monday to Friday I will read one article a day on”