Intergenerational Journal Buddies and Cross-Age Tutoring: Connections Worth Making

Adrienne Chasteen Snow
CARR Scholarship Research Report

In this study, nine high school juniors and seniors enrolled in a remedial reading course designed to enhance their literacy skills were paired up with sixteen kindergarten students in a cross-age intergenerational dialogue journal exchange project. The journals were used as a vehicle to put the high school students into the role of “literacy expert” for their kindergarten buddies. Through this project, the high school students focused on learning about children’s literature, improving their oral reading abilities, writing autobiographies, and increasing their communication skills. This researcher examined the students’ attitudes about literacy before and after the exchange, self-evaluations that the students completed throughout the project, and the affect of authentic audience and purpose on reluctant readers and writers.

Statement of Purpose

The primary questions in this research project were:

  1. What are the different structures involved in cross-age tutoring?
  2. What is known about the benefits of cross-age tutoring and how does this partnership benefit both students?
  3. What types of roles does the tutor play?
  4. How does cross-age tutoring aid the construction of literary understanding?
  5. How does being a cross-age tutor or tutee benefit a high school student?
  6. Does cross-age tutoring improve one’s self-concept?

Background Literature Review

Question 1: Cross-Age Tutoring Structures

The first question that I wanted to examine as I read through the research articles on cross-age tutoring was: What are the different structures involved in crossage tutoring? Structures in a cross-age tutoring program can take on many different forms. One researcher described the relationship between the tutee and the tutor as being on either a teeter-totter or a tandem bike (Zukowski, 1997). In both of these scenarios the tutor is an active partner with his or her tutee. In the teeter-totter analogy the tutor serves as an equal mate with his or her tutee in that the action of the teeter-totter, the learning, relies on the interaction of the two individuals, both giving to and taking from the other. In the analogy of the tandem bike the tutor takes on a definite role as leader. It is the tutor who is sitting up front, leading the way through the path of study. Yet, a tandem bike needs two people to work correctly. Without the tutee in the rear, the trip would be pointless, and certainly much less fun.

The structure of a cross-age tutoring program is not only personal but is professional as well. In most studies of cross-age tutoring, a bond forms between tutor and tutee. This bond is quite unique in that it has both professional and personal connections. The professional connections come from the structured program in which the pair is participating and the responsibility for learning implicit in such a relationship. Yet the personal connections can extend much farther. These connections may be built over time or initially through the discovery of a common interest or goal. The personal connections are the ones that enable the instructional material to really matter to both the tutor and the tutee. They also directly influence the responsibility for learning that is shared in a cross-age tutoring pair.

A performer/audience structure may also be observed throughout many instances of cross-age tutoring. This structure is a positive one in that it suggests a mutual respect both for the partner and the learning objective (Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000; Schall, 1995; Zukowski, 1997). In a rather formal structure, the performer/audience structure allows for much learning to take place and for assessment, both of other and self, to take place.

Another structure of a cross-age tutoring program is that of reciprocity. This results from the give and take element present in such a partnership. While the tutor is unquestionably at the helm of the instructional aspect of the relationship, the tutee’s participation and willingness to learn are also central to the development and progression of learning for both the tutee and the tutor (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Jacobson, et al., 2001; Kaiser, 1995; Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000; Zukowski, 1997).

With that reciprocity element in play, the structural necessity of total dedication becomes really central to a successful cross-age tutoring program (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kaiser, 1995; Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997, Fisher, 2001). Although certain system requirements may necessitate the occasional missed session, without consistent participation from both parties involved, the learning simply cannot take place and the bonding will not be able to happen.

Cross-age tutoring builds upon the traditional structures and roles within the classroom Yet, cross-age tutoring departs from the norm and allows an element of uncertainty to enter the classroom environment It is this decentralization process that allows students a freedom to expand their own learning and to draw from the knowledge and experience (or lack of experience) of a partner (Zukowski, 1997).

In addition to having its own structure, in some cases the partnership program becomes an underlying structure for the whole school. Then, the first cross-age tutoring program becomes the example from which other like-minded programs are built and developed. In one program college-level tutors were paired with 5th graders in a cross-age tutoring project that focused on common interests. The researcher said that she knew that the program had been well accepted into the norms of the school when a 5th grader asked the school counselor, “Mrs. Yuratovac, could I have a big kid to help me with my work this year?” (Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997, p. 57).

Cross-age tutoring is often combined with another learning objective to create a new educational structure. It has been combined with various programs such as small group intervention (Taylor & Hanson, 1997), special education (Thrope & Wood, 2000), teacher education courses (Kaiser, 1995; Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000; Marahall, 1999), international pen pals (Allen, 1995; McClanahan, 2001), authentic audience type projects (Irvin, 1997; Kaiser, 1995; Keiser, 1991; Marshall, 1999; Schall, 1995), strategic reading (Jacobson, et al., 2001), the reading resource room (Fisher, 2001), extensive reading (Jacobs & Gallo, 2002), intergenerational dialogue discussion journals (Bean & Rigoni, 2001), reader response (Bean & Rigoni, 2001), and school-university partnerships involving technology (Allen, 1995; Bauer & Anderson, 2001; Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000).

The structure of a cross-age tutoring program can have many variables. Often researchers or teachers will look to include students who meet specific criteria (Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997; Jacobson, et al., 2001; Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000; Schneider & Barone, 1997; Taylor & Hanson, 1997). In addition they will pair students according to common interests or talents (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997; Fisher, 2001; Marious, 2000). Another structure that really underlies an accomplished cross-age tutoring program is that of training sessions for the tutors. In these training sessions a multitude of subjects may be broached, but some common subjects include interpersonal skills, management skills, and content skills.

Question 2: Benefits of Cross-Age Tutoring

The second question researched was: What is known about the benefits of cross-age tutoring and how does this partnership benefit both students?

Cross-age tutoring proved to be feasible in situations with the brightest of students as well as with the struggling students. This research supports the DixonKrauss (1996) description of the benefits of tutoring to students:

The lower achiever benefits from modeling and interacting with the higher achiever whereas the higher achiever learns how to be tolerant and understanding of individual differences. He learns to respect others for who they are and what they are able to do. While learning to organize and teach what he knows, he also learns to reflect on and monitor his own thought process. (p.89)

This study supports previous research about the positive benefits of cross-age tutoring for the students’ construction of literary understanding and for the student’s self-concept. Both students in the partnership gain personal as well as academic benefits. They can both feel a sense of accomplishment and competence. Through the tutoring process, the pair grows in their understanding and compassion for each other (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Thrope & Wood, 2000). This healthy way of relating to another person has many positive implications for personal relationships outside of school.

Because cross-age tutoring is an active cooperative learning strategy, tutees receive immediate feedback that results in the ability for identifying and correcting basic misunderstandings in a timely fashion, moving on immediately to areas which the tutee or tutor designate as weak or needing practice, and then the rapid introduction of more difficult material when the learner is most ready for it (Maring, Boxie, & Wiseman, 2000; Thrope & Wood, 2000; Zukowski, 1997). Rather than progressing along steadily with a regular class, a cross-age tutoring pair is able to progress at their own, individually determined rate.

Cross-age tutoring is particularly efficient with literary partnerships because of the discussion of social issues, for instance in a novel. Cross-age tutoring is itself a social process; much of the best learning takes place within a social atmosphere, including the study of a novel, short story, or even poetry.

Cross-age tutoring allows for creativity in the students :that is often encouraged and fostered in the regular classroom, but is not always accomplished. By breaking out of the traditional roles held by teacher and student, an open space is created. By using this creativity, students process information in different modes and use parts of their brains that are ready to absorb new information. The decentralization (Zukowski, 1997) of the typical classroom environment allows fresh ideas anci independent, fulfilling study to take place.

Question 3: Types of Tutor Roles

A third question that I researched investigated the types of roles that the tutor plays throughout a cross-age tutoring experience. In much of the research the role of mentor is discussed, particularly in studies where the older of the pair, the tutor, was three or more years older than the tutee (Bauer & Anderson, 2001; Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 1999; Schneider & Barone, 1997; Thrope and Wood, 2000; Zukowski, 1997). This role of mentor leads the tutor towards many positive possible experiences outside the academic world.

The role of audience is also found to be a common theme in much of the research (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Cavanaugh, Johnson, Kitay, & Yuratovac, 1997; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 1999; Taylor & Hanson, 1997; Zukowski, 1997). As an audience for the tutee, the tutor learns to assess both the tutee and him/herself in seeing the development of the instructional material. By paying attention to his or her tutee, the tutor is demonstrating awareness of the importance of the learning of that individual as well as a high level of respect that may serve to strengthen the tutee’s self-concept.

Tutors in a cross-age partnership are also quite conscious of their role as role models for their young friends (Bean & Rigoni, 2001; Thrope & Wood, 2000; Zukowski, 1997). The tutor as role model may possibly have the most lasting effect on the tutee. Because we naturally participate in activities that are demonstrated by those we respect, like, or admire, if the tutor is demonstrating a positive attitude towards literacy or learning and then develops a role model type relationship with their tutee, the likelihood that the tutee will continue in a path of literacy or learning is greatly increased.

The remaining three questions of the research were addressed in the study and are discussed in the Results.

Participants and Context

The objectives of the study were to assess and observe behaviors and opinions regarding reading and writing in the high school students, designated the “literacy experts,” prior to the study, during the study, and then at the completion of the study to see if those behaviors changed throughout the process of keeping exchange journals. Observations included the effect of cross-age tutoring on the construction of literary understanding, on the benefit of cross-age tutoring on high school students, and on the influence on enthusiasm and motivation. Other observations included the development of authentic purpose and audience for reluctant readers, the development of the reader’s voice, the improvement of diction, pronunciation, and inflection in the reader; and the quality of the responses during the cross-age exchanges.

A total of twenty-five students were involved in this case study. The participants consisted of nine high school students (5 male, 4 female), all of which were students of the researcher, and sixteen kindergarten students (9 male, 7 female).

High School Students

The high school students were 16 to 18 years old and had reading levels 3’d grade to 9th grade. They were all students in a remedial reading class designed to improve their reading levels and to enhance their learning throughout their curriculum. Seventy-eight percent of the students were also identified as special education students. The students attended a high school that has approximately 1,000 students and is set in a lower-middle-class community; sixty percent of the students are currently employed an average of 18 hours per week.

Students in the high school reading class completed a unit investigating children’s literature prior to beginning the cross-age dialogue journal exchange project. In that unit students learned about the different types of children’s literature, explored the different types of children’s literature, selected a favorite type of children’s literature, went on a field trip to the local library where they had a tour of the children’s literature section, completed critiques often children’s literature books, and then selected a favorite book and created a PowerPoint presentation on that book using before, during, and after reading strategies.

For the cross-age dialogue journal exchange project the researcher worked with the local library and selected a wide variety of texts to create a temporary minichildren’s literature library in her classroom from which her students could self select books to use with the project. A general theme of friendship and multiculturalism was selected in discussions with the cooperating teacher.

Kindergarten Students

The kindergarten students were between the ages of 4 and 6. They came from an average middle class population. They were in a heterogeneously mixed ability classroom. There were three ESL students and three special education students. Their reading levels varied from early emergent to transitional.


A qualitative multiple case study design was used to observe and assess the students. The design used a pre- and post-questionnaire and writing sample, observations by the teacher/researcher, and cross-age dialogue journals, which consisted of an introductory page, letters, responses to texts, pre-reading activities, cards, and drawings/decorations made especially for the paired ”buddy.”

The cross-age dialogue journal exchanges began with an introductory page that was created by the kindergarten students. The kindergarten class created the journal booklets and wrote on the first page. The students filled in the blanks for three sentences that told simple biographical information. They drew a picture of something they liked to do and signed their name on it. The journal books were then sent to the high school students.

For the first exchange the high school students wrote mini-autobiographies as a way of introducing themselves. The students first composed the biographies using pen and composition paper in the classroom and then typed them onto the computer in the computer lab, so that the students could insert appropriate clip art and pictures from the Internet. The high school students also self-selected a book to share with each of their buddies. They first read the book and did a critique. Then they practiced reading it silently and checked for unknown words or ideas. Next they read it aloud to a peer who listened and advised them of any trouble spots. Finally, the high school students got into small groups or pairings and recorded themselves reading the text, complete with an introduction and bells indicating when the kindergartner buddy should tum the pages.

The cross-age dialogue journals were exchanged back and forth four times during the study. Each exchange brought a new text for the kindergartner to listen and respond to and new ideas for the high school students to employ when selecting the next text for their buddies and in writing back to them. The overall theme of friendship was kept throughout the duration of the project. The high school students acted as cross-age literacy tutors as they became the resident “literacy experts” in the project.

The researcher decided to pair one high school buddy per two kindergarten students so that there was one tape and book set per two students. This proved to be much more efficient for the kindergarten teacher as she could pair two students to listen to the story and tape simultaneously.

The kindergarten teacher chose to read each student’s cross-age dialogue journal aloud to the whole class. This introductory activity motivated the kindergarteners to listen to the tape and follow the story. Throughout the week the kindergarten students listened to their story on the tape set. After they finished, the story was discussed with the teacher (one to one), and then they wrote on the response sheet in the journal. The students dictated to the kindergarten teacher what they wanted to say about the story. They illustrated the story on their own.

In addition to the exchanges of tapes and written responses, the paired students had a face-to-face meeting after the fourth exchange of materials.


Throughout the exchange process the kindergarten students became more independent in their responses, using their kindergarten writing skills (letters and sounds) to respond. The high school students advanced in their critiques of the books, their reading skills, and their writing skills as they responded to their buddies. Both groups had an authentic audience to respond to; both groups felt the power of having an audience.

The results indicated that the high school students as a collective group had difficulties with oral reading and wanted real, authentic reasons to read and write. They felt they had not been offered many authentic experiences to explore literacy thus far throughout their high school experience. As a group they expressed dissatisfaction with traditional worksheet and textbook-type activities.

In introducing the program to the high school students, the teacher/researcher felt apprehensive about the responses that many of these tough or “problem” students might have when told that they would be working with kindergarten students. Yet, these students were excited about the project and approached it with a decidedly positive attitude. This positive attitude prevailed throughout the duration of the project. This was evidenced by their willingness to participate, responses and reflections in their daily journals, and thoughtful writings that they made to their actual buddies.

In becoming the “literacy experts” in this crossage exchange, the high school students learned about children’s literature from both an adult and a child’s perspective. They made decisions about theme and editorial content when selecting the texts for their buddies. They took a look at themselves from an observer’s point of view as they wrote their mini-biographies. They practiced letter writing and etiquette skills as they sent two sets of holiday cards to their buddies. They worked in pairs or small groups as they discussed their potential text selections for their buddies and as they practice read. They further developed their sense of voice as they read to their buddies and practiced reading to each other. Pronunciation, enunciation, and diction were all improved, as was an overall view of themselves as readers and learners. This last item, dealing with their attitudes, was evidenced in their post-observation reflections, which they completed the day following the visit to the elementary school.

In each instance a bond was formed between the buddies. This bond, based on shared literacy experiences, was a result of the cross-age pairings. This project had a positive effect on how the students viewed themselves as individuals and the way in which they presented themselves to others. This was demonstrated in the crossage dialogue journals as the high school students corresponded with their kindergarten journal buddies.

Through the process of keeping dialogue journals, both groups of students, particularly the high school students, experienced many of the benefits of cross-age tutoring:

  • Fostering relationships and enhancing enjoyment of working with others;
  • Developing a sense of community;
  • Blending intrinsic and extrinsic motivation;
  • Increasing self-esteem, self-respect, and self-confidence;
  • Gaining significantly in reading skills (vocabulary, fluency, oral reading);
  • Improving attitudes about engaging in reading and writing activities;
  • Improving study skills (such as attending to important information and organizing materials);
  • Reducing absenteeism arid disciplinary referrals;
  • Learning the value of independence and cooperation.

The experience of keeping the cross-age dialogue journals benefited both groups. Both sets of students increased their motivation to read and write as a result of having an authentic audience. The journals showed that the students took their writing seriously and developed a sense of personal relationships within their writings. The dialogue journals allowed for many different roles to be played throughout the experience. These roles are common in tutoring pairings, especially those of cross-age tutoring. Some of the most common roles were audience, observer, volunteer, role model, and leader.

The high school students discovered that having an authentic audience (their kindergarten buddies) gave new and real motivation for them to read effectively and with purpose. This was demonstrated in numerous ways. Their daily in-school journals recorded that they felt positive pressure to record their story reading with perfection where they normally wouldn’t have. They found themselves being more and more careful in their recordings and making sure that as the “literacy experts” for their kindergarten buddies they carefully pronounced the words and read the story with meaning. They had to visualize and put themselves in the place of their younger buddy and rate their performance. In their journals they noted the difficulties they experienced in vocabulary, diction, voice, and confidence; these were once the students who were very self-conscious oftheir oral reading abilities, especially in front of peers.

The high school students also learned the importance of selecting appropriate literature for their audience. As the high school students researched, selected, and rehearsed their readings, they found that they needed to practice reading the text aloud. The awareness of voice, diction, pronunciation, articulation, intonation, and flow were central to a successful recording of each book. The students read silently, practiced reading to a partner, and then recorded in their journal key elements to remember when recording their next book.

The motivation for kindergarten students to listen to the taped stories and respond in journals increased with each exchange. The kindergarten students were excited to hear stories made just for them. To hear their buddy say the personalized ”hello” on tape made the exchange an exciting and authentic experience. The kindergarten students were highly motivated to listen to their stories and respond in their journals.

The kindergarten students initially dictated their responses, but became more involved in the writing process as the project progressed. This became evident when many students wanted to write independently using sounds and symbols they knew, rather than dictating to their teacher what they wanted to write.

As the cross-age pairs received letters and personal information about their buddies, they became more connected with each other. For example, a kindergarten student demonstrated this connection when she drew a picture for the “special” day when the two groups were meeting each other for the first time. The kindergarten teacher noted that in the picture was the prediction of what her buddy looked like, book in hand, with speech bubbles saying “hi,” and the word “book” on the book. The picture demonstrated the kindergarten student’s independence in writing and the positive impact of the paired teen buddy experience.

The most rewarding outcome of this project occurred during the actual face-to-face meeting of the two groups of students, which happened after the fourth exchange. The kindergarten students were hosts to their high school buddies, presented their buddies with a laminated picture of themselves, and autographed it for them to keep.


In conclusion, this research demonstrated the benefit of cross-age tutoring in demonstrating positive literacy outcomes. Both groups of students strengthened their literacy skills and motivation to read; both groups experienced learning about a group of students different from themselves. Furthermore, the high school students had the opportunity to view themselves in a role quite different than they normally do (expert versus remedial). The experiences prompted the students to see themselves as literate learners. In sum. cross-age dialogue journal buddies are highly recommended to improve the literacy skills of both high school students and of kindergarten students.


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