Two teachers from Wiscasset Elementary School attended a national conference to showcase the school’s Book Buddy program, a partnership with students from the University of Maine at Farmington.
Fifth grade teacher Kaden Pendleton and fourth grade teacher Becky Hallowell attended an annual convention hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English in Columbus, Ohio from Nov. 16-19. The two were able to share the Book Buddy program with other educators from across the nation, sparking interest in many to start their own versions where they teach.
“People loved hearing about the work that these kids are doing, and just the connection that we’re creating with the teaching college (at UMF),” said Pendleton.
The Book Buddy program began in 2021, with the now-sixth grade class at Wiscasset Middle High School. Kathryn Will, an associate professor of literacy at UMF and Pendleton’s college professor, approached Pendleton about a program to help UMF elementary education students obtain time in the classroom with students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How do they come in when we can’t have visitors?” said Pendleton.
Due to the importance of technology in educational settings since the onset of the pandemic, Pendleton and Will came up with the Book Buddy program.
“We are forever grateful for (the fifth graders),” said Will.
At the beginning of each academic year, each fifth grade student is assigned to a pair of UMF elementary education students, which they refer to as their book buddies, according to Pendleton.
Pendleton said that many students are able to participate in the Book Buddy program for two years because he alternates between teaching fourth grade and fifth grade. Each student is reassigned to new book buddies each year.
The Wiscasset students make an introduction video so that the students at UMF can begin learning about them, according to Pendleton. The elementary students then make a Google Slides presentation with a “brochure” about themselves so their buddies have enough information about their interests to start making book recommendations.
Once a month, the fifth grade class connects to a 40-minute Zoom meeting where they partake in a lesson from the UMF students they have been assigned to. Two or three fifth graders may be assigned to the same pair of UMF students, according to Pendleton.
In between the monthly Zoom meetings, students and their book buddies exchange letters, usually regarding book recommendations, so that they can prepare for the next meeting.
“The first Zoom is relationship building, the second zoom gets a little more into instruction and book recommendations, and the third (Zoom) builds off the second,” said Pendleton.
Zoom lessons between Wiscasset and UMF students are beneficial for both parties, according to Pendleton. UMF students learn how to teach online, utilizing technology such as Google Slides and interactive online whiteboards, while Wiscasset Elementary students create stories and poetry using different techniques provided by their buddies.
Pendleton said he thinks it is helpful for the UMF students to work in pairs, and for a few of the fifth graders to be assigned to the same book buddies, because both parties are able to work with others in their environment to troubleshoot any problems.
“It’s really good, too, for the college kids because they learn how to teach online, which is not something that’s going away any time soon, and that wasn’t a part of any curriculum,” said Pendleton. “It’s like a triple win. The college kids … they’re doing all the newest and the greatest stuff, so when I’m leaning over (my students’) shoulders and I’m looking at what they’re doing, it’s good to see what is being taught now, to (UMF students).”