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Students help younger readers

A reading mentor project was set up at our girls' comprehensive school about two years ago to boost the reading skills of students in Years 8 and 9. Our learning mentor leads the project alongside the literacy consultant from the Norwood Achievement Partnership - part of our Education Action Zone, which originally funded the project. They identify 28 to 30 students with a reading age below nine years as "reading mentors". These girls receive training for an hour each week to boost their reading skills, and on alternate weeks they use this hour to work with Year 1 children at nearby St Luke's Primary School. The programme lasts for around 20 weeks.

Norwood girls work in small groups, each matched with a Year 1 pupil, generally for the whole of the project. The learning mentor liaises closely with the head of Year 1 at St Luke's.

Each session with the primary pupil follows the same format, which the older girls have practised first with the learning mentor. This involves speed-writing, tricky words, a pairs game and, finally, reading.

The girls are given one or two easy words to speed-write, such as "just" and "must", and have one minute to write it as many times and as neatly as they can. Examples of tricky words are "there" and "their". The girls explain why a word is tricky and then ask the younger child either to speed-write the words or make sentences using it.

In the simple pairs game of memory and skill, cards are placed face down and the older and younger player alternately turn over two cards to find the pair. The pack contains simple rhyming pairs, such as "man" and "ran"; as the skills of both sets of students develop, the cards will be pairs like "can't" and "don't" or "push" and "pull". The Norwood student ends the session by reading that week's chosen book together with the Year 1 child.

Our girls are always enthusiastic about the project and love the responsibility. They often develop an interest in reading books, and evaluations have shown an increase in the use of the school's library and resources centre. The reading ages of the girls who have completed the project have increased by as much as one year in just four months.

Emma Ferrey

Learning mentor, Norwood School, London borough of Lambeth Norwood

Achievement Partnership: www.literacytrust.org.uksocialinclusionyoungpeoplenorwoodeaz.html

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