A few weeks ago, I attended an afternoon of professional development with some teachers from my school.  It was lead by our amazing literacy leader and all about flexible grouping.  Like most, I thought flexible grouping was all about putting the low kids in a group, the high kids in a group, etc.  Boy, was I wrong.

After learning some amazingly varied ways to group kids I decided to try one of them out in my own classroom.  Calling them ‘Learning Buddies’ I paired sprouts up with each other based on a very specific criteria.  In the past, I usually matched a very low child with a very high one so the more advanced learner could help the other.  Sometimes I’d match closely related levels so they could challenge each other.

This new methodology was to pair up children who weren’t exactly on the same level as each other, but close.  One is a little higher than the other (depending on the skill) but the gap isn’t so huge that one does all the heavy lifting.  A simple way to setup buddies is to number your class from 1-20 (or however many sprouts you have) with 1 being your lowest child and 20 your highest.  Then you pair them up with about a 4 span gap – so 20 with 16; 19 with 15, and so on.

I presented the Learning Buddy idea to my class by really pumping up their readiness to help each other.  We modeled and role-played ways to help and interact with your Learning Buddy.  And then, I paired them up.

Now it wasn’t all rosy and perfect.  There were a few buddies that needed talking to, reminded of, and for some – reassignment, but for the most part, I was blown away at the patience and guidance they showed each other.

While working on a counting book (they had to read the number on each page, color the correct number of cubes, and finally draw that number of ‘things’) I overhead Brian helping his buddy Carla, who is only just beginning to learn English.

“That number is four Carla, look – (using his fingers) uno, dos, tres, quatro – four!” Brian instructed.

I’d never heard him speak Spanish before.  To be honest, I didn’t know he had it in him.  The patience or the Spanish.

I spotted another pair of buddies holding hands as we walked down to the cafeteria.  This was a boy and girl that as far as I could tell, hadn’t given each other the time of day before I’d assigned them to be Learning Buddies.

For some activities, I have kids sit with their Learning Buddy.  When hands shoot up (and they always do), I now can say, “Check with your buddy first.”

We always have someone to share our ideas, predictions, and writing with too.  I don’t know why I never thought of this before… but that’s what good professional development with amazing peers can do for you – change up the status quo for the better.

Have you ever used Learning Buddies?  What was your experience with them?