My first 5 years of teaching was in 7th grade, and parents did not volunteer to help in the classroom. It wasn't until I taught fifth grade, that I started getting parent requests to help in the classroom. At first I was overwhelmed with the idea of having another adult in the classroom- I was used to being alone in my "Queendom" with my students and I wondered if they would critique my teaching? What would they think of my classroom management? Those feelings quickly passed, and I became comfortable with them helping in the classroom. For the next 5 years, I had parents filing my papers, stapling packets, and correcting tests. It wasn't until I moved down to third grade and the district decided to do away with class-size reduction almost 6 years ago, (I went from 20 to 32 students!) that I came to the conclusion I could not effectively teach the way I was used to without a lot of help from the parents. I was really concerned about those students who would fall through the cracks because I wouldn't be able to give them as much one on one attention with over 50% more students added to my class!
I started off by eliciting parent help. I recruited them at back to school night with a sign up sheet. Parents worked or had little ones at home? No problem! I asked them to invite a grandparent or even a neighbor to help. I gave each volunteer a day and time, and I planned my teaching and groups around the times they would be there. I had multiple parents in my classroom, sometimes two at a time!
Here are some ideas that you might find helpful for using and managing volunteers that have worked wonders in my classroom:
1. Basic Facts Practice: After assessing students' basic facts knowledge, I create a list of students who need extra practice. I have my parent volunteers quiz my students on their basic facts and keep a check off list of those who need continued practice. The volunteer makes flash cards on a ring for the students and that becomes their personal set to study.
3. Comprehension Practice: My lower level students get called back one at a time for more intensive reading practice. I train the parent volunteer to help the students with their reading and comprehension skills.
4. High Frequency Words: Every year, I have a few students who need help with this. I have my volunteers call them back and help them practice their sight words. New sight words are highlighted with a different color and dated, so I can check their progress.
5. Spelling and Vocabulary Practice: If I have students who did not pass their weekly tests, they get called back to review the words they missed the previous week, and practice the current week's words as well.
6. Test Review: Students who did not pass their weekly tests get called back to review incorrect answers. The students use a Test Repair Sheet and correct each mistake on their test. The parent volunteer is there to help guide them if necessary. The half sheet is stapled to the front of their test.
On Wednesdays, I have two volunteers. One works with third grade students who need extra practice with grammar, spelling, and vocabulary, the other works with second grade students on the same concepts, and I work on close reading skills with a small group. The other students are working independently on Daily 5-type activities. Then we each rotate groups two more times. This is my favorite hour of the week! All students are being supported with the extra help they need.
To me, the key to using volunteers effectively is to be very organized. One year I had a dad who worked odd hours, and he would pop in at random times. While this was a bit annoying and disruptive, I didn't want to discourage him from coming, because I really needed his help that year. To make it work, I started to have basic facts practice sheets prepped in a basket and fluency practices on a clipboard ready for him to grab and start calling students back. Instructions, materials, and supplies are always set out in the volunteer's usual spot so they can come in and get started without interrupting my teaching.
I like to make sure I have other things for my volunteers to do during those times that I need the whole class's attention. I always have assignments that need to be corrected, laminating that needs to be cut out, packets to be stapled, or papers that need to be filed.As you can see, volunteers have greatly benefited my students (and me)! The extra help they are getting and one on one time make a huge difference in their learning, especially for those who really struggle. The volunteer documentation I keep is also helpful when I have serious concerns about a student and have to refer them to an SST. Everyone present at the meeting can see the extra assistance the student is getting, and the ball often moves faster to get that child assessed if needed.
I know having volunteers in the classroom isn't for everyone. It took me years to get really comfortable with it and put a system in place that works for me. When you walk into my classroom, it's not uncommon to see a volunteer at the back table working with a student on comprehension practice, and another at the side table working with a small group on grammar, while I am teaching the rest of the class up front on the carpet. Sometimes it gets a little noisy, but we get used to it. If you haven't enlisted the help of volunteers, give it a try and watch how much your struggling students grow from all the extra support!
I have included a volunteer pack to get you started, if you like! This pack includes a volunteer questionnaire, a volunteer schedule, a volunteer lesson plan sheet, and a few other printables, including a cover and sections so you can make your own volunteer binder. I am making it free for a limited time and you can find it by clicking on the pictures below. I plan to add to this and would love to know if there are other forms or sections you are in need of. Below is a preview of the file, and you can click on the pictures to download it.