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The Holyoke Tutor/Mentor program connects volunteers to adult education classes in Holyoke.

Incorporating Volunteers

Incorporating Volunteers

Our teachers are busy.

Really busy. There's a lot to do and never enough time and they're running in 17 directions doing it all anyways.

And, here's the honest truth.... free volunteers aren't entirely free: the cost is the time and mental energy to figure out how to use them.

It's worth it, though, because volunteers can also help with big sticky issues on a teacher's plate, and help students learn (which is the biggest, stickiest issue on the plate) ( I'm not only the coordinator, I'm a client. My HiSET math classes are less stressful for me and more effective for my students with volunteers there)

Here's why it's worth it, and how it works.

Differentiation, done

How: Divide a class by student needs or levels, give them a task, put a volunteer with the group that needs it, let them all work at their own pace.Or, the teacher takes those students that really need their attention, the volunteer attends to the rest of the class.

Make the most of always-too-limited class time.

How:Two people with knowledge – a teacher and a volunteer -- circulating among a confused class learning something new, can answer more questions faster than even the most efficient teacher alone, so students spend less time waiting for attention/to ask a question/to check an answer/to get help, and more time working and learning.(Tips for volunteers to be effective floating)

The communicative approach, with a real-live native English speaker

How: While an ESOL class is working on some independent/written work, one or two students at a time go off with the tutor for conversation practice in a quiet corner somewhere. Repeat until time is up/every student has had a conversation.

Attend to the student having a crisis, or the one who's missed the last class (or two or ten), or the colleague with the urgent question, or the photocopier that jammed on todays' materials …

How: Teacher sets up an activity. Says "Dear students, please do/write/solve/create/readX. {volunteer name} is here and she/he/they would like to help. Ask him/her/them your questions, I'll be right here doing Y important thing."

Group participation, doubled.

How: Those discussion questions or that reading that would normally be a whole class activity? Do the same thing, in two groups. A volunteer can lead one if a teacher tells them what to do.

Two groups = two students reading at a time, two students talking at a time, instead of one. And, much less room to hide in back hoping you don't get called on.

Miss! I wasn't here yesterday.

How: Teacher says: "Welcome back absent student. It's nice to see you. Here are the materials from yesterday, here is a volunteer, there is a quiet corner …"


​How: Students with dysgraphia might dictate an essay to a volunteer scribe, those with reading difficulties might listen to a text read out loud before analyzing it. Students with a variety of learning disabilities might benefit from working with a volunteer one on one or in a small group.

Instant guest speaker. (I might have walked past an astronomer-volunteer explaining the solar system today)

How: Teacher strikes up a conversation with a volunteer – discovers that their career, travels, hobbies suit class or program goals and they'd like to talk about it sometime. (I interview the volunteers, they're an interesting bunch, and I'm periodically envious at the emails I get about someone being out because they're traveling to some fascinating place.)Please ask in an open, non-pressure-y way and give them time to prepare – many would love to speak, but some might not.

Back up -- to take on all that rich, interesting participatory/hands on/open-ended/multi-step pedagogy that you see in conferences  or professional development workshops (and think, 'yeah, but how?')

How: Teacher gives volunteer a copy of the directions or a verbal run down. They can guide one group while the teacher works with another, or circulate, on the look-out for imminent chaos or confusion.

Tips for teachers: Getting started with a volunteer.

Intro this new person to your class/students. Explain their role. Encourage students to ask questions (I like to encourage them to ask questions, check answers and/or show off good work) Have the volunteer say a few words (Hi, I'm ____, by day I do ___, but I'm volunteering because ___)

It takes a few tries for everyone to get over their shyness. Students and tutors alike. Repeat your encouragement for a few weeks.

Give the volunteer direction, especially at first. Should they circulate among the class? Work with a specific group? Do you want them to participate in group discussions?

AND Ask if there's anything they're particularly excited, interested or concerned about. They might have ideas or skills that enrich the class.

Exchange contact information. How should they contact you if they get a flat tire or the flu? How will you contact them if class is cancelled?

Thoughtful v. 10: Ability

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Monday, 27 March 2023

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