Having taught first- and second-grade students in a multiage classroom at Lincoln School for several years during the ‘90s, Stephanie Joyce came to appreciate how children learn from other children.
She is employing a similar strategy today in her pre-kindergarten classroom, borrowing from the wisdom of the one-room schoolhouse where children of all ages learned together at age-appropriate levels.
Joyce started having second-graders from Christine Kriwox’s room participate last year in what she calls her Expert Readers program after Kriwox suggested it. Those students came into Joyce’s classroom each day with a book they liked and took turns reading to Joyce’s students for 15 minutes.
This year, Joyce is having second-graders from Catherine Riley-Nicosia’s room, known as Sunshine Helpers, come to her classroom and interact with her students each day by playing a game or talking with them to help develop their social skills.
Joyce said both programs are working “beautifully.”
“It’s very successful,” Joyce said. “Children learn from each other, and in this case it’s the older students who are working with the younger. But there are even some instances where some of my students help one of the older students learn to play a game they are not familiar with.’’
The first- and second-grade students who participate in both programs are selected because they are exemplary, respectful role models in their own classrooms.
“They earn the privilege and are being rewarded,” Joyce said. “I think they really enjoy it.”
Second-grader Arianna Blount, a Sunshine Helper in Joyce’s classroom who recently played a game with one of the pre-kindergarteners, said she enjoys the role.
“It’s fun,” she said. “We get to play games and the kids are nice.”
Joyce’s classroom is not the only one at Lincoln seeing the benefits of having older students work with younger ones. Lincoln kindergarten teacher Martha Groot has students from Kriwox’s class read to her students twice a week. It’s working out so well, she’s thinking of expanding the program to more than twice a week.
“It’s awesome,” Groot said. “The second-graders are so responsible and so complimentary of the kindergarteners that it makes them feel good.’’
She said she sends two of her kindergarten pupils back to Kriwox’s room when the second-graders are finished reading so they can get a brief glimpse of what it’s like in the second-grade classroom. Then, one of the second-graders walks Groot’s students back to their classroom.
Physical education teacher Mez Chilcott has first- and second-graders assist kindergarten students when she teaches them how to roller skate each January.
“They coach them,” Chilcott said. “They show them how to put on their skates and which foot to put each skate on. You see future teachers in some of these students. They take it very seriously and are very responsible. Older children teaching the younger works amazingly. It is very powerful. I love that unit.”
Lincoln Principal Stephanie Miller agrees.
“It is natural for younger students to look up to older students and older students to want to show their talents to younger students,” Miller said. “It is a perfect combination, and this year a number of teachers have found ways to build this connection and collegiality between our kids.”
A similar older student helping program, Second-grade Helpers, is in place at Perkins School. Principal Sue Achille said students are selected based on behavior and sentences they write explaining why they want to participate. Selected second-graders help in one of the younger grade classrooms, assist with morning announcements or serve as hall safety monitors.
“It’s a great experience for the kids and they love it,’’ Achille said. “It really helps the second-graders develop leadership skills.”