Beginning of the School Year
In this section:
- First reading session checklist
- Reading session reminders
- Breaking the ice with your reading partner
- Getting to know your school and your student’s teacher
- Working in a supervised, non-quiet space
- Delays in getting started
At KOREH L.A., the beginning of the school year is a very exciting time! In the weeks following the start of school, volunteers begin to receive their student matches, meet their reading partners for the first time, and begin the meaningful work of sharing the gifts of literacy and love of reading with the children of Los Angeles. Schools welcome back veteran volunteers and new faces in their ranks as well! Read on to learn how to prepare properly for your first reading session, break the ice with your reading partner, build a relationship with your school and your student’s teacher, and start the school year on a strong note.
First Reading Session Checklist
- After receiving your school assignment and student match, contact your school ahead of your first reading session for specific instructions about what to do upon arrival (e.g. leave a message for the coordinator).
- Bring your KOREH L.A. tote bag along with:
- KOREH L.A. name tag
- Forms that the school has requested (such as the signed LAUSD Volunteer Application and TB clearance form; for a full list of LAUSD requirements, go to the KOREH L.A. Volunteer Handbook)
- Your student match information, including the name of your student, teacher, room number, and special instructions
- A special book or two that you have chosen to read on the first day (check out the Back to School Book List for some ideas!)
- Stickers (optional)
- Go to the main office. Find the volunteer sign in binder, sign in, turn in any forms that the school has requested, and obtain a copy of your school’s calendar from the school office to be informed of any assemblies, field trips, etc. that may interfere with your reading sessions. Ask the staff to direct you to the student’s classroom.
- Meet the teacher and student and proceed to the designated workspace.
- At the end of your session, proceed to the office to sign out. You must sign in and out of the office every time you volunteer.
- Please contact KOREH L.A. to let us know that you started and how your first session went. If you have a concern with your match day, time, or student, please let us know.
Reading Session Reminders
- Have fun! Your role as a KOREH L.A. Reading Partner is to foster a love of reading for your students.
- Celebrate your students’ backgrounds. Use your volunteer experience as an opportunity to learn about your students’ cultures. English is not the first language for many of our students. In order to foster their cultural and family identities, it is important that we encourage them to continue speaking their first languages in addition to gaining English literacy skills.
- Focus on the positive. To help ensure that your reading sessions are a safe place for your students, always acknowledge their strengths and improvements. This will help your students gain confidence.
- Reach out for help, if needed. Please reach out to your Volunteer School Leader (if available at your school) or KOREH L.A. to ask for any resources or recommendations you may need. You can always request a reading session observation so we can check-in and see how you and your student are doing, too.
- Remember that your Volunteer Handbook is a great resource. While we’re always available to help, the Volunteer Handbook has great information on volunteer FAQs, and policies and procedures for KOREH L.A. and LAUSD.
Breaking the Ice with your Reading Partner
Volunteers often ask, “What are some good ideas for how to kick off the year reading with my student?” Here are some ideas for breaking the ice:
- Set the tone. Explain to your student who you are and why you will be working with them for the year. It’s not a punishment! They get to have a reading partner! Tell the student this is a chance to have fun. Make sure to keep it casual and let them know this is not about a grade. Let the student know they are special and you are only there for them.
- Get to know your student. The first session is mainly about bonding and establishing a rapport. Fill out the “Student Interest Inventory” or another worksheet. Learn about your student’s family. Ask your student what they like to do and their favorite subject in school. Write out what they say, and make a book!
- Be personal. Share something about yourself first. Show pictures of your family. Explain volunteering. Have them guess your age, talk about books you like to read, etc. Ask your student, “What do you want to know about me?”
- Have them draw first. Kids can be shy and drawing can be a great way to help get them to start talking. Or encourage them to read by offering a drawing session at the end of the reading session.
- Read a special book that you brought. If you have time and your student seems comfortable, it’s a good idea to read a book during the first session so you can find out your student’s reading level. Check out a book from your local library or bring a book from home.
- Play a game related to what you read. Try hangman or a bingo game based off words in the book or make up a Mad Libs game (you can Google “Mad Libs” for examples). Go to Lakeshore Learning or Staples for various games, workbooks, and other learning supplies. If you have an iPad, you can download learning games such as Endless Alphabet or Sentence Creator.
- Bring music into the mix. Sing songs!
- Give the student a choice of what you do first this time — and in future sessions.
- Don’t forget to have a great time!
Ask a volunteer: What are some of the best ways you have found to get to know your student?
- Ask about their weekend activities.
- Get to know their interests and pick books based on those interests.
- Use the “Student Interest Inventory” provided by KOREH L.A.
- Let your student pick their books! Use these books to spark discussion.
- Let your student ask you questions.
- Show them pictures of your pets, family, etc.
- Make a book that is all about you and read it with your student!
- October 2014 – What’s in Your Bag?: Tips and Tricks for a Successful Reading Session
- August 2013 – KOREH L.A. Goes Back to School
- January 2013 – Ask A Volunteer: New Volunteer Nerves
- September 2011 – Back-to-School and Ready to Volunteer!
Getting to Know Your School and Your Student’s Teacher
KOREH L.A. volunteers do their best work when they are able to receive feedback from the teacher – it is something we hear every year, and it makes sense. However, teachers may not have any time during the day to set aside to discuss your student’s progress with you. For this reason, it’s important to establish a strong relationship with your student’s teacher and the school staff. Here are some tips for connecting with your student’s teacher and the school staff at the start of the year:
- Take the initiative. Give your contact information to the teacher. Ask for their email. Remind the teacher who you are, what you do, and the day and time of your scheduled visits. Check with the teacher about assemblies, field trips, etc. that may interfere with reading sessions.
- Introduce yourself to the front office staff. Bring flowers!
- Find out the best way to contact your teacher by asking the school coordinator. Call the school and leave a message for the teacher with your contact information. Write a note with your contact information and put it in the teacher’s box. Find the teacher at recess or lunch to talk to them.
- Set up an appointment with the teacher to discuss your student’s progress. Even if you are only able to check-in once per semester, it is still better than nothing – whatever the teacher can do.
- Fill out the Student Assessment form, which is a way for you to reach your teacher for feedback and a tool for you to mark your student’s progress throughout the year.
- Get to know the school librarian. They are a great resource!
- Remember to be flexible! Please note that schools are very busy, and most likely they will not have the capacity to contact you ahead of time if your student is absent for the day. If your student is absent for the day, ask the school if there is another student you can read with for the day. If this happens frequently, contact the school to set up a new student match.
Ask a volunteer: What are some successful strategies you have used in the past to connect to your student’s teacher or other school staff members?
- If your reading session is scheduled close to a break or lunch, stick around to talk to the teacher. Introduce yourself, explain why you’re there, and ask if they have anything specific that they would like you to work on. Make sure to ask for their e-mail!
- If you are unable to talk to the teacher in person, leave a note in their mailbox in the main office! Leave your contact information, any notes you may have, and ask for their contact information and if you can meet with them for a few minutes.
- May 2013 – Ask a Volunteer: Connecting with Schools
Working in a Supervised, Non-quiet Space
Part of our agreement with the school district, as stipulated in the LAUSD Code of Conduct, is that volunteers are never alone with a student and are supervised by a district employee. At some schools, this does not present any difficulties and volunteers may not even be aware of this. At others, schools request that volunteers read with their students in a non-quiet space, such as the back of a classroom, in order for them to be supervised.
It is extremely important that volunteers adhere to the LAUSD Code of Conduct and the requests of their school. These guidelines are in place for the safety of both the students and the volunteers. A principal once told us, “You know, I trust your volunteers. I know them. But we never know who could be walking through the school and what they will interpret.” Be cognizant of the fact that not everyone at the school knows you and knows your intentions.
If you find it difficult to work in a non-quiet environment, try checking on other options for reading spaces with the school. The library, faculty room, hallway, playground, outside benches, or front office are all spaces that volunteers have used to read. Make sure wherever you are, it is supervised. Every school is different, and the ultimate authority on appropriate reading spaces is the principal.
If the school requests that you work in a non-quiet environment, try looking at it from this perspective: students deal with life’s distractions all the time at school and at home, from their fellow classmates to technology. Noise may be more distracting to you than to them! With that in mind, below are a few recommendations on how to best work in a non-quiet environment:
- If you are working in a classroom, request to work in a corner with your own table.
- Place your student with their back to the class or away from the noise or distraction.
- Keep sessions interesting enough that the student would prefer to pay attention to you. Take multiple breaks and switch activities often. Don’t feel pressured to finish a book; you can always come back to it later. Read, play a game, have a conversation.
- Try different styles of reading to keep your student focused, such as echo reading – you read a sentence or paragraph and the student repeats the sentence or paragraph exactly as you said it. To switch things up, read through the sentence once as it is written, then read it again and add a silly word (e.g. “The girl went to school” and then “The girl went to pizza”).
- Use incentives to keep the student engaged, such as stickers.
Looking for more ideas to keep your student engaged? Go to Keeping Students Motivated.
Ask a volunteer: What are some strategies you've used to make best of a non-quiet reading session space?
- Create your own space by turning your back to the class or using tri-fold cardboard dividers (most teachers have these).
- Read outside.
- Change activities frequently.
Delays in Getting Started
Most KOREH L.A. volunteers are able to start volunteering by mid-October, but some volunteers must wait longer than that. KOREH L.A. volunteers are eager to get back to the classroom as soon as they know that schools are back in session, but sometimes, volunteers may need to wait until at least a month after school has started or longer. There are two main reasons for this delay:
- KOREH L.A. must confirm our partnership with the school at the beginning of each year. Sometimes, there are new principals at a school or other changes, which can delay our partnership renewal.
- The schools have asked us to wait. It can take several weeks to get settled into the school year and schools must identify students who are in need of a reading partner. There’s also a lot of reshuffling of students at the beginning of the year.
It’s in the best interests of the school and our volunteers that we allow this waiting period. Thank you for your patience! Questions? Please contact us!
- Baseline Student Assessment Form
- Mid-Year Student Assessment Form
- End-of-Year Student Assessment Form
- LAUSD Code of Conduct
- Who Do I Ask? KOREH L.A. FAQ’s
- KOREH L.A. Volunteer Handbook