by Eleanore MacLean, AmeriCorps member on the Bank of America team with Young Achievers Science And Math Pilot K-8 School

At the beginning of a literacy tutoring session, the two or three students I’m reading with walk with me up to the City Year room on the second floor. Because the third grade classrooms are downstairs, working upstairs is a special part of getting to read together. Students tend to be on their best behavior because they don’t want to lose that privilege!

We start off each session with a warm up. This ranges from sharing one fun thing that happened over the weekend, a four line poem that finishes the lines just because/doesn’t mean/my name is/and, or answering a question that the characters will also answer in the chapter we’re reading (if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?).

Though we’ve read nonfiction articles found on NEWSELA (a website that changes the syntax and vocabulary of news articles into grade-level appropriate pieces while preserving content) and read and performed several reader’s theater pieces (books read as plays, such as Where The Wild Things Are), the students I work with really enjoy reading novels because they get to talk about the characters and make connections to their own lives. When I ask questions like “how do you think Jake feels when his older sister Abigail tells him that winning isn’t everything?” or “what advice would you give Judy Moody?” students have lots of insightful things to say and creative—and often accurate—predictions to make. We recently began a new novel by Judy Blume, Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One. The book is a collection of episodes in the lives of two siblings, Jake (the Pain) and Abigail (the Great One). Jake is in first grade and Abigail in third, which creates a dynamic many of my 3rd- graders can relate to. We spend a lot of time each lesson working in fluency: reading at an appropriate speed, enunciating, chunking unfamiliar words, and reading with expression.

Reading with expression has been our big focus this year. We’ve worked hard on not only reading with expression but also creating different tones for different characters to reflect their unique voice and perspective in the story. The seven students I work with most have made so much progress in reading for punctuation and accuracy, which helps them read for meaning. This in turn allows them to read for understanding so they know how the characters might be feeling and can add expression accordingly.

After finishing the chapter for the day, we usually end the lesson with a read-off. Each student gets to pick their favorite passage from the day’s reading and spend a few minutes preparing it on their own, making sure they know every word in the section they chose before coming back together to present our passages. Sometimes the students decide on the same passage and challenge themselves to read with a better “reading-like-gold” voice than me. The students know the phrase “reading like gold” from their classroom. It means using facial expression, gestures, and inflecting emotion into dialogue to show that they understand the text. Other times everyone chooses different passage and we give constructive feedback: what’s something your classmate did well? What’s something they could continue to work on? By far the favorite way to run the read-off is to have another City Year serve as a guest judge. In this version, the students present their passage to the mystery judge and provide input for scoring their peers on a scale of good, great, and excellent. The encouragement I’ve seen students give each other during this activity is incredible! It’s one thing to be able to tell Angel* that he read twice as many words on his mid-year fluency assessment than his start-of-year assessment, but it’s another to see how excited students get about reading to each other and wanting each other to do well. The read-off ends the lesson on a fun note, and also helps students know that all the hard work and practice they put in during sessions, in class, and on their own is helping them improve!


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