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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Using volunteers in the classroom

September 9, 2008

Sometimes parent volunteers require a lot of extra work for a teacher. Other times, parents work as a second set of hands but don't really work one-on-one with kids. Somewhere in the middle is a setting in which the time flies by with both the volunteer and the students benefitting from spending time together.

Here's the system I used for volunteers when I taught second grade. I put a desk and two chairs (one big, one small) outside my classroom door. I put a cardboard cubby box on the desk that contained (1) a file with my class list, (2) a file for each student that contained a book on their instructional level and a work chart, (3) pencils, erasers, and a stopwatch, (4) a choice sheet, and (5) stationery.

The choice sheet described 4 things the students and volunteer could do together. Each time, the volunteer and child would read over the choices, pick one, mark it on their work chart, and get to work. Volunteers typically worked for 10-15 minutes with each child. My kids needed to do each thing one time before they could do something a second time. The choices changed during the year, but not too much. My goal was to keep the activities purposeful and meaningful while also not requiring tons of prep work on my part.

Work Choices:
(1) Read to me! My parent volunteers all knew to come armed with a book they'd like to share with a child. This was often their own child's favorite book, and my kids loved finding out what book a parent brought. When they were done reading, the student would write 2-3 sentences about the book.

(2) I'll read to you! Parent volunteers would listen to the student read the book from their file. The volunteer would make any necessary comments about the reading on the work chart.

(3) Lightning fast! A beginning of the year volunteer training showed the parents how to conduct a timed repeated reading. After a 5-minute reading warm-up, this work choice asked the student read to same passage 3 times, always for one minute. Together they counted words correct per minute and noted the numbers on the work chart.

(4) Let's write a letter! The cubby always held stationery and envelopes. Together the volunteer and student would write a letter to someone special. I'd stamp it and send it home for an address and to be mailed.

It worked for me….what has worked for you?

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"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln