For years, I organized and ran a volunteer reading program in my school that was ever-so-popular with teachers, students and volunteers! This started out as a community support program from a local service group. They provided some funding for our initial set-up, including the purchase of books for the program. It was basically for those students who did not require extra help with their reading but simply needed extra practice to develop greater fluency and improved comprehension.
Follow these steps and have a successful volunteer reading program operating in your school next year.
- Present the idea to your staff and administration at a staff meeting. It is imperative that your administrator and teachers see the value in such a program. Ensure that there will be places where the readers can work quietly. We used the back of the classroom, the hallway, staff room, rooms used part time by support personnel, and any other empty spaces where you could put a small desk and a couple of chairs.
- Put out a request for volunteers. I placed a notice in our monthly school newsletter and also placed a notice on the bulletin board at a nearby seniors residential complex. I had a few parents, several grandparents and lots of neighbourhood seniors.
- Invite all volunteers in for a training session at a time that works well for everyone (see link below for a sample welcome letter). Outline the goals of the program, how the program will work and model (with a student) the method you want the volunteers to use when working one-on-one with students. We used a modeled reading technique where the volunteers were trained to read a short passage to the student and then have the student re-read the passage, following with their finger (see link below for an overview of this technique). Emphasize the importance of commitment and of making this a positive experience for the students. Hand out the required form for the volunteers to have a security check completed before they start working with children. Ask volunteers their preferred day and time to come in on a weekly basis (I had them come for either a morning or an afternoon period). Optional – I asked my volunteers if they would be willing to have their name put on our spare list. Except for last minute cancellations, I was often able to call and get someone to fill in for absent volunteers. This maintains the continuity for the students, but it does add to the workload for the program coordinator.
- Ask teachers for a list of students they would like to have participate in the program, along with their reading level. Ask that they not include children with behaviour problems – volunteers should never be expected to deal with misbehaving students. Have teachers discuss this with their students and notify parents of their child’s participation in the program. Provide teachers with a schedule of available times to select from.
- Create a schedule for each location and give to the teachers and volunteers (keep a master copy for yourself). Notify everyone of the start date, term finish date and any holidays or special school events that may involve reading days. (see link below for sample schedule) I revised the schedule each term to give other teachers and/or students the opportunity to read.
- Set up each reading area with a schedule, a bin of leveled books to read (some teachers may prefer to send along a book the student is reading in class), some pens, pencils, stickers, etc and a small container for the record-keeping books and name tags. I provided a half-notebook for each student for record keeping.
- Be available for the first couple of weeks to make introductions, coordinate student pick-up and answer any questions. Provide a name tag for each volunteer to wear when in the school.
- Show your volunteers how much they are appreciated. I always had students make cards for the readers for special occasions and had each child who read sign the card for their reader. If classes were making a special occasion craft, we had them make a few extra to present to our readers. We invited them to special presentations at the school and always held a ‘Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon‘ at the end of the year (this included all school volunteers, not just the ones in this program). It was a highly anticipated and well attended event. We had student art work decorating the activity room, an intermediate class worked to make a special craft for each volunteer and we usually had a class or two sing some songs.
In my next post, I will describe how to include Accuracy and Automaticity Drills in your Volunteer Reading Program.
Have fun reading!
Click here to see a sample letter to volunteers, the reading technique overview and a sample schedule: