Using School-based Volunteers in RTI
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Successful RTI implementation integrates all school personnel and community stakeholders in the process to increase impact and align goals and priorities. School-based volunteers play essential roles in assisting in the implementation of RTI interventions, increasing communication with parents and providing supplemental professional development in coordination with classroom educators.
Learn how school-based volunteers are making a difference in RTI implementation and how you can increase the impact your volunteers are making in your school or district. Join Jason Waite from City Year and Audrey Suker from Minnesota Reading Corps during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about how they use school-based volunteers in their work and how volunteers can be valuable assets to RTI implementation.
Each intervention is associated with the following targeted skills:
- Phoneme Blending- Builds the skill of blending individual phonemes (smallest individual units of sound of spoken language) in to words.
- Phoneme Segmenting- Builds the skill of breaking words into their individual phonemes.
- Letter Sound Correspondence- Builds the skill of associating the correct sounds with letters.
- Blending Words- Builds the skill of blending individual sounds into words.
- Newscaster- Builds skills in reading with expression through extensive modeling and practice.
- Duet Reading- Builds fluency skills with modeling and practice.
- Repeated Reading with Comprehension Strategy- Builds skills in reading fluently (rate+accuracy+expression) while reading for comprehension.
- Pencil Tap- Builds skills in reading accurately instead of carelessly.
- Stop/Go-Builds skills in reading fluency
- Great Leaps- A reading program designed to increase fluency in phonemic awareness, letter recognition and phonics, high frequency words, and connected text.
The checklists, Accuracy of Implementation Rating Scales, are completed by internal or master coaches who are trained to conduct observations of members as the members administer and score the assessments. Coaches complete a minimum of one checklist for each of the assessments conducted by members at least three times during the program year.
We rely on internal coaches (that we've trained at each site) to be the communication link between the AmeriCorps members and individual teachers.
In schools where there is a high concentration of need, well trained and supported volunteers can provide necessary human capital to address challenges and work toward shared partnership goals. We have seen that some students whose performance would indicate that they require Tier 2 services may just need additional time with a trained practitioner who can help them stay focused until they work through some learning gaps.
Engaging volunteers in the RTI process can also ensure there is a connection between the schools instructional program and tutoring services.
How do you gain and maintain consensus around which tiers volunteers can most effectively serve?
Though our members should build strong relationships, teachers can always access the team's leader, or Program Manager, for any challenges they may encounter. These Program Managers also conduct periodic check-ins to ensure continued alignment.
To the second question, it is important to work with district leaders, school leaders, and teachers to clarify appropriate roles for volunteers. Variations in role definition may exist based on state, district or school definitions regarding their RTI approach.
On year-end surveys 88% of the members strongly agreed that the training resulted in them feeling confident in their abilities.
We work with district and school leadership to make sure that we are compliant with FERPA. As part of our AmeriCorps member (volunteer) contract, we also have language regarding the appropriate use and handling of any student-level data or information. This language is covered explicitly with corps members when completing the contract to ensure clarity. Once formal confidentiality elements have been addressed, we also have guidance for our members that they must be very cautious with any related documentation and should not discuss students by name, for example.
Our partners, by and large, understand that we are committed to using information only for instructional purposes. In addition, our partnership agreements at the district and school levels have provisions for student data sharing for summative purposes.
If the concern is specifically about the implementation of interventions, it is important to be clear that volunteers are part of your strategy from the outset. Early information on volunteer roles and training and support are essential to build parent understanding.
It can also be tough in the early stages to help school partners understand the role that our teams of full-time members can play as part of their broader RtI approach. Many of our schools have experienced more sporadic volunteerism and in some cases those volunteers have not been as attuned to the school's instructional and student support goals. We hope that City Year and AmeriCorps programs like those represented by Audrey can demonstrate the ability for national service programs to help drive key educational outcomes with school and other community partners.
- Seeing children making academic progress and enjoying working with children in general.
- The experience made them feel accomplished and was a confidence booster.
- The experience provided experience in teaching and/or working in schools.
- The opportunity to have a positive impact in their community.
Because the members monitor progress of each child on a weekly basis they experience the satisfactin of seeing the child's progress which is highly rewarding for them and for the teachers.
You can also find ways to include volunteers in the planning and implementation of broader appreciation and recognition programming, which helps blend Tier 1 supports and Tier 2 interventions. For example, in addition to providing attendance coaching for students who are chronically absent, our members may also recognize a class with perfect attendance for a specified month or provide treats for the first 100 students to show up at school on a surprise day.
Volunteers also appreciate validation by school partners. Even with explicit roles and guidance, it can often be tough for volunteers to feel fully part of the school community and a few words of encouragement or a hosted breakfast by the professional faculty and staff of a school can go a long way to recognize that all the adults in the building are working toward shared goals.
What kind of qualifications would you use for screening volunteers?
- Literacy Standards: Participants learn objective criteria so there is consistent knowledge and understanding of what children must learn to achieve reading proficiency.
- Introduction to Literacy: Participants learn importance of literacy and the skills children need to learn in order to read.
- Assessment: Participants learn how to administer fall, winter and spring assessments with students to pinpoint literacy gaps.
- Interventions: Participants learn how to implement research-based interventions with students. There are 11 interventions that are based on the “big 5” components of literacy as defined by the National Reading Panel and recommendations of the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences and other current literacy research.
- Progress Monitoring: Participants learn how to administer regular progress monitoring assessments that provide necessary data to teachers and inform instructional decisions for children.
Other topics include child confidentiality, motivating students, and family engagement. In addition, members serving in preschool classrooms receive an additional 17.5 hours of early literacy training (SEEDS of Emergent Literacy) to learn effective literacy instruction methods that can be used during core instruction time. In an effort to build sustainability, Reading Corps provides a five-day Train the Trainer session to allow one staff person from each prekindergarten program to become a licensed SEEDS Trainer. The SEEDS Trainer is then able to provide training to the Reading Corps members AND staff each year at their site.
Beyond the work described above the State of Washington has a statewide reading corps that gives preference to RTI schools – they rely on the schools to provide the RTI trainig to the AmeriCorps members. The University of Texas-Austin also has an AmeriCorps program called ACES and they are in the process of replicating our model.
More specifically, we work with district-level administrators to identify any relevant professional development opportunities that would be appropriate for our members to attend and come to a mutual agreement through our formal agreement. At the school level, our partnership agreement includes a school liaison who helps coordinate resources. In order to stay closely aligned with the school's instructional and student support approach, this person is essential in helping us identify relevant learning opportunties, including everything from the school's disciplinary code and norms to time with in-house content specialists.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Mr. Jason Waite and Ms. Audrey Suker, for their time today.
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- City Year
- Minnesota Reading Corps
- Serve Minnesota
- "The Good Life: Minnesota's Guide for Active Adults" – Minnesota Star Tribune article on seniors signing up to help struggling students in reading and math.
- Diplomas Now – City Year's collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and Communities in Schools
- Building a Grad Nation – a report that helps frame how different organizations can support students by tackling the high schools and feeders with the highest prevalence of students off-track.
- ABCs for Drop-Out Rate Reform – As part of "Reading, Writing and Reform," Byron Pitts reports on Chicago's Talent Development Charter High School, a former so-called "drop-out factory" taking a new approach to an old problem.
- Minnesota Reading Corps Evaluation
- Minnesota Reading Corps Final Evaluation