Yesterday was my first session as a Reading Buddy. I turned up at the inner city primary school, which nestles between some university buildings and a church and had to buzz an intercom to be let through the gates. Some of the children were still playing outside and as I walked into the playground I was overcome by feelings of nostalgia and nervousness. As I trekked to the school office I felt like it was my first day back at school.
Inside the school it appeared to be a little chaotic and somewhat cosy. The corridors were filled with pictures and fairy lights and I could hear a choir of young voices from somewhere down the hall. I was shown upstairs to the year 6 classroom and waited for the arrival of the teacher.
When she breezed in she quickly told me that my reading buddy was of dual nationality and although a competent reader, he sometimes didn't actually understand the meaning of the words. It was suggested that we read some non-fiction and that I concentrate on building up his comprehension of the English language.
When Careem* arrived, he had chosen two books. One on tunnels and the other on continents. I followed him back to the playground where we found a bench to sit at. His interest in these subjects was obvious and he immediately started to read the book about tunnels. I was very impressed as he read fluently and with ease and when I asked him various questions he really seemed to know the meaning of the words.
Then he picked up the book on continents. "Do you know the continents?" I asked before he opened the book. "Oh yes" he said and began to reel them off. My mind was already racing ahead with thoughts about what else I could ask him as he seemed so knowledgeable. So when Careem said "North America and South America" I nodded and replied "Yes the Americas are all one." I noticed that he looked at me a little strangely but he didn't say anything.
So we opened the book and he began to read. We went through Europe and Australia and Asia. There was a brief paragraph about Mount Everest and a line which mentioned the word "summit". "Do you know what summit means?" I asked. "Oh yeah, it's like when we're doing summit" he said. I tried not to laugh and asked him to read the sentence again. As he did he eyes widened and he said "oh I know, it means the top of the mountain." His understanding is actually very good, he just hadn't concentrated when he looked at the sentence the first time.
Then we got to the page with the title North America. He read that through, turned to the next page and I saw, with much embarrassment that it said South America. There was nothing for it, I turned to him and said "Careem I apologise. You were right and I was wrong. North America and South America are two different continents." He glanced across and then said "I thought so." Then he pointed to the map and said "They are joined together though" and then looked at me. I really think he was trying to make me feel better.
All too soon our thirty minutes came to an end. I had discovered a little about him during our reading time, such as the fact that he had been to Somalia when he was three and so missed out on nursery and went straight to primary school. I know he has a bike and loves to ride. I also know that he is a very intelligent boy with an excellent grasp of the English language and an articulate reader. He also knows a lot more about continents than I do.
You learn something new every day.
*I have changed my reading buddy's name for the purposes of privacy.