When we first started the project we sorted the students by their interest and gave them time to walk around the track and talk about their common topic. Some of the younger students reported that they continued “doing gymnastics” or “playing tag” with their buddy at recess. They were clearly excited to have a buddy. From there, we quickly began putting students to work, developing questions, reading, and writing facts. It wasn’t long before we noticed and heard from the younger students that they didn’t feel they had a voice. The younger student became quiet while the older student took over. The younger buddies also felt rushed by some older buddies who lacked patience for the time it took them to spell, write etc.
Something we noticed with our project was that the tutors (older buddies) seemed to be enjoying and benefitting more from the interaction more than the tutees (younger buddies). Robinson et al., address this in a discussion of role theory. “Role theory suggests that in trying to help the tutee learn, the tutor may come to better understand the importance of various behaviours that are part of the student role, such as employing certain study strategies, paying attention, and actively participating in learning activities. Another possible explanation for positive changes in the tutors’ behaviour and attitudes is that the tutor becomes aware of being a role model for the tutee” (349). The older buddies enjoyed their role as it gave them purpose, confidence and control. The older buddies voiced disappointment if a session was to be cancelled, and an at-risk older buddy participated in buddies effectively. This contrasted greatly from his regular classroom behaviour.
Teachers of the older students felt what their students were engaged in was a much better use of their time rather than the traditional, “help your little buddy with a craft time.” The little buddies however, wanted to work on their inquiry by themselves. I (as the primary teacher) still saw merit in the project and continued to think about the difference in attitudes. In order to reverse these roles, we decided to have a board game day. The younger student brought in their favourite board game to share with their big buddy. All of a sudden, the younger buddy had something to teach, and the older buddy was excited to do something fun! The younger buddies talked a lot, being an expert on their game. Laughter was heard throughout the classrooms and all students reported enjoying the buddy session that day. We quickly realized this was an important component that had been missing.
Reading the literature on this, after the fact, supports what we did. Tutoring programs in which students have both experiences may maximize positive outcomes” (355). Having the younger student be the tutor gave the younger student a voice, developed confidence and fostered a more equal relationship. In reading a review of studies on peer and cross age tutoring, we learned that peer and cross age tutoring programs have “found a variety of positive academic, attitudinal, and socioemotional outcomes for tutors as well as tutees (eg., Britz et al., 1989; Cohen et al., 1982) and a recent meta-analysis of the impact of peer assisted learning on elementary students also found positive outcomes” (Rohrbeck et al., 2003). We could see benefit to what we were doing, we just needed to improve it by encouraging the reversal of roles through fun relationship building time! We now believe that this is an important component that needs to be a part of a buddy project.
As we are nearing the end of the project, the strong relationships between the buddies is very apparent. There are always hugs and fist bumping between big and little buddies at the end of a buddy session. They both value their buddy time and are comfortable talking and sharing ideas. Next time, we plan to build in more relationship building activities in the beginning and throughout!
**Excerpts and research taken from Bonny Kelly's Masters thesis.
Also check out the references we used to support our findings.