Bringing students of different ages together to share in the learning experience is helping improve the literacy skills of French immersion students.
Peer tutoring is a co-operative learning strategy that has been adopted by all of Saskatoon Public Schools’ elementary French Immersion schools. Older students are partnered with younger students who are still building their fluency and vocabulary and together they have the opportunity to read, discuss and think about reading, language and comprehension in a unique manner.
“Two students -- one older, one younger -- spend time reading together and the older one helps the younger student become a better reader. At the same time the older student continues to develop fluency and vocabulary in French,” explains Kaleb, a Grade 7 student at École Henry Kelsey who was paired with Grade 2 student Zohaib.
“I really like peer-to-peer and I know Zohaib does too. We had an understanding that if we got the work done we could also have fun. We both benefit because we both have a special bond … because of our connection Zohaib was willing to take risks; he got lots of compliments in reading. I found that I learned new words as I was teaching Zohaib. I really believe that he had a greater experience learning from another student than his teacher.”
Paul Bazin, the division’s instructional consultant for French immersion education, said peer tutoring is an excellent complement to classroom instruction and a positive way to encourage daily reading, particularly among younger students who benefit from the model provided by their older peer partners. The program has common format in each of the division’s seven elementary French immersion schools.
“The French Immersion elementary community has been applying a new, research-based approach to raise all students’ reading ability towards grade-level fluency through guided reading sessions with specially trained intermediate students as tutors,” Bazin explains. “Multiple researchers state that daily reading to self and others is beneficial and supports growth in oral fluency, reading fluency, and comprehension.”
Principal Yvonne Denomy said the experience of the school’s teacher-librarian with peer tutoring was a valuable resource when staff at École Henry Kelsey were considering how such an initiative could benefit students.
“Our journey with peer tutoring initiative began last year. As our staff and community explored the learning data we wondered what else we could do to impact our students’ learning. We wanted to really maximize our impact by providing time and positive French-language models throughout every minute of our school day,” Denomy said.
“Our entire school population, from kindergarten to Grade 8, took part in our first-ever experience with peer tutoring which lasted five weeks and included four, 20-minute blocks per week."
While building literacy skills and promoting reading is the primary goal of peer tutoring, it also created partnerships between junior and senior classrooms, provided regular inter-classroom collaborative learning activities and emphasized social responsibility, leadership and volunteerism.
“Over the first five weeks we noticed a change in how our students reacted to reading. They were asking ‘When is our peer reading time?’ and they have been waiting with anticipation for the next cycle,” said teacher Venessa Austin. “We noticed growth in both our younger and older students in various areas especially in fluency, confidence, engagement and comprehension.”
Teacher Analee Griffin said the experience of students in different grades spending time learning together has paid dividends in a number of ways.
“In particular, our older students were projecting a greater sense of responsibility,” Griffin said. “We felt like it brought our learning community closer together in regard to the students as well as the teachers. It transcended the classroom and into the hallways, the playground and into the entire school.”
The school’s second five-week peer tutoring block is already underway and Denomy says teachers and the entire École Henry Kelsey community work together toward the goal of ensuring all students are reading at or above grade level. That partnership approach includes funds from the school’s parent organization for the purchase of additional books.
“Our community recognized the value and supported out pathway to improving readers by providing financial support, in addition to their partner support.”