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The Role of the Volunteer Tutor

By: America Reads at Bank Street College of Education
Tutors can play very important roles in the lives of the children they work with. Learn about these roles and the types of tutoring programs that are available to provide young readers with one-on-one support.

As a volunteer literacy tutor, you can provide invaluable support and enrichment to students who are learning to read and write by:

  • offering individual or small group attention
  • engaging children in enjoyable experiences with literature — writing, reading and listening
  • helping children feel successful by giving positive feedback and support
  • helping with homework in ways that extend children's understanding and interest
  • modeling through your own actions that reading and writing are pleasurable and valuable activities
  • extending or supporting the literacy learning that happens within the classroom.

Tutoring programs vary widely from setting to setting. You might work in a school during the school day, tutoring an individual child, or helping out in the class with a small group. Other programs take place before or after school offering homework help and skills instruction or enrichment. They may be located in a variety of community agencies, including places of worship and hospitals.

Some programs offer special training or use particular kinds of instructional methods and materials. Other programs welcome volunteers' own initiative. In some situations you will need to bring your own reading and writing materials and create your own lesson plans, with little training or guidance; in others, you will be given assigned books or homework and specific structures to follow. Even within one school setting, there may be a variety of approaches and expectations for volunteers, depending on the individual teachers and ages of children.

Being flexible in how you approach your role as a volunteer tutor may be the key to a smooth working relationship. It will also help if you try to find out as much as you can before you get there. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Where and when does the program take place: during or after school? In the library or other location?
  • Have they had other volunteers before? If so, can you talk with any of them?
  • Will you be working with a small group, or with a single child? How often? For how long?
  • What is the age of the child(ren) you will work with? What kinds of reading materials are appropriate?
  • Is there someone to supervise you or to whom you report? Who will answer any questions you may have about the child or help you with scheduling or any other problems at the site?
  • What are the expectations of your work?

You may know some of the answers to these questions. Others may not be clear until you get started. But thinking through these issues ahead of time should help you prepare for your first day.

Updated and adapted from: Volunteer Tutor's Role. America Reads at Bank Street College of Education. Available at http://bankstreet.edu/literacy-guide/volunteer-tutors-role/

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