Article #9
Help--Now That I Have It, What Do I Do With It?
Cheryl M. Sigmon

This weekend at the grocery store there was a young, brave mother with three stepping-stone children in tow--what appeared to be a two year old in the seat of the buggy licking a lollipop, a four year old riding in the bottom of the buggy dragging his fingers along the store floor, and a baby in a backpack, wide-eyed and giggling with every step the mother took. "You've really got some helpers with you today!" I said trying to be humorous. She tried to manage a smile--weary though it was--and mumbled something (maybe it's best I didn't hear it!). I hurried along remembering the days I had such "help" with my little ones in the grocery store. Help can certainly be a blessing or it can be a hindrance!

In education, we are often faced with various forms of "help," again, sometimes a blessing and sometimes not. Many people on the mailring have asked for ideas on how volunteers and assistants can be used constructively in the 4-Blocks classroom. There definitely are ways that additional hands (and hearts!) can work in concert with the classroom teacher to strengthen the model and the literacy experiences for all children. Let's talk about some suggestions for putting available folks to work in 4-Blocks, whether they are parent or community volunteers, floating certified teachers, or full- or part-time instructional assistants/aides.

First, a teacher must consider many factors in determining where assistance can best be utilized. Whether the helper is in the classroom on a regular, flexible, or unpredictable schedule is a major determinant. We welcome those volunteers who appear on our doorsteps eager to work but will certainly delegate different tasks to those versus the regular assigned assistants. Also, the teacher cannot ask volunteers to assume duties that certified, trained personnel should execute.

These are some of the ways that volunteers can be used effectively:

  1. During Guided Reading, some students may occasionally enjoy reading to or with a visitor. We all have students who need some individual encouragement, some one-on-one time with an adult. These may be students of any achievement level. After the pre-reading lesson when students are reading with partners, flexible groups with the teacher, and/or play school groups, one child can read for the 15-20 minute segment with the volunteer. Together they can read for the same purpose set by the teacher for all students.
  2. If a teacher is using book innovations to supplement the supply of appropriate easier day reading, the volunteer might help to copy the innovations made by the teacher and the class and make them into booklets to be distributed for paired reading.
  3. During Self-Selected Reading Block, a volunteer might occasionally provide the opening read-aloud. Remember that this serves as an invitation for kids to read. The volunteer may need assistance in choosing an appropriate book for this and will certainly need to practice the text before reading to the children. The read-aloud must be motivational for children.
  4. During Writing Block, volunteers may circulate among the students offering encouragement that the teacher may not be free to do since the teacher is likely working on final revising/editing with students who are ready to publish. The volunteer should just ask individual students what they're writing, offer positive comments, and may ask if some students will read their compositions to them. Encouraging students is an important job!
  5. During Words Block, a volunteer might be asked to sit with a struggling student who needs some help keeping up with the fast-paced activities, such as Making Words. The volunteer should be instructed to help the child hear the sound of the words he is attempting to build and to help nudge the child in the right direction in removing and adding letters.
  6. In preparation of Words Block, a volunteer might be used to sort and distribute the letters for Making Words.
  7. During a Making Words activity, volunteers might be willing to tap the shoulders of the kids who have correctly spelled the words who, once tapped, can come up to the pocket chart to build the word. That frees the teacher to keep the activity fast-paced, to help the kids who come to the pocket chart to make the word for the class, and to place the word card in the pocket chart for the sorting to follow.
  8. Other non-interactive help that can be offered includes:
    • having the volunteer make words for the Word Wall (at the direction of the teacher);
    • having them construct packets of Making Words lessons (perhaps letting them follow the patterns in Pat's and Dottie's books on Making Words, Making More Words, Making Big Words, and Making More Big Words);
    • having them put together pre-made books into which the children will copy their final drafts for publication;
    • having them display children's work in the hall or in the classroom.
If a non-certified instructional assistant is available daily, there are certainly functions, in additional to the ones listed above, that they could perform to help with a smooth transition from block to block throughout the day. Those functions might include:

With Word Block:

  • Getting the new Word Wall words constructed and set out on Monday for their introduction to the class.
  • Setting out the baskets of half sheets of paper and red pencils for the Word Wall activity.
  • Preparing the Making Words lesson packet for the week at the direction of the teacher, making the words and letters on index cards, and having them ready and available for the teacher.
  • Copying Wordo sheets for use on days when that activity is appropriate.
  • Sorting and distributing the letters for Making Words to all of the children.
  • Setting up the pocket chart for the activity.
  • Making sure that words are written correctly in the Portable Word Wall folder that some teachers utilize. (You don't want kids practicing words spelled incorrectly.)

For Writing Block:

  • Setting up the overhead projector with transparencies for the model writing at the introduction of the Writing Block.
  • Getting kids signed up for their conference with the teacher for every 3-5 good pieces of writing.

For Guided Reading Block:

  • For teachers who are using the Book Club format during Guided Reading, setting out the novel sets in the four reading areas, setting out the KWL chart (if that is being used to help the kids focus), and putting paper clips on all the book pages where the teacher has determined students will stop reading that day.
  • Monitoring the paired reading groups to keep them focused.

For Self-Selected Reading:

  • Keeping the book crates rotating week-by-week among the tables during Self-Selected Reading.
  • Stocking the book crates with appropriate books that vary in genre, readability, and interest/topic.
  • Helping to keep the teacher-student conferences flowing by notifying each child when its time to go to the teacher.
If assistance is provided on a regular, predictable schedule by certified personnel, these are ways this talent can be utilized:

During Guided Reading, trained personnel can conduct a small group lesson much like the teacher conducts or can work with individual children as needed. The small groups, as always, need to be flexible (not always grouping by achievement levels) and no round-robin reading should be allowed.

Guided Reading Block is the best time for Reading Recovery pullouts to occur if they must occur during the blocks time. This one-on-one time with a skilled teacher is hard to beat for effectiveness.

Writing Block is another time that skilled personnel can play a critical role in working directly with students. They can work with individual children during the middle segment of time, going beyond just encouraging them to write. They can help children sound out words to put on paper, help them with some much needed revisions and can even assist in some of the final revision/editing conferences at the direction of the teacher. The teacher must set the rules for this assistance. Since we don't spell for kids in the first draft stage, the assistant shouldn't provide that "service" either. Instruct them to help kids sound out the letters and put what they hear on paper. Let them know that it's okay to accept a misspelling on first draft papers. Let them know, too, that Word Wall words should be used as constant resources and should always be spelled correctly. If the assistant is being used to conduct final editing conferences, the teacher should again set those ground rules: 3-5 pieces of good writing must be completed before one is selected for publication; guide the students through their corrections rather than taking away the paper and marking it; etc.

For the writing block, the teacher may want the assistant to see every child once a week to keep them focused and to offer assistance; whereas, the teacher will be seeing only the kids who are ready to publish one piece of writing after they have written 3-5 good pieces. The "kid of the day" organization would be good for that type of quick conference.

Would I use the assistant to conduct the conferences during Self-Selected Reading? No! I believe the teacher should continue to conference with all of the kids of the day. The teacher needs that regular touch-point with the students each week and should be the one to make weekly assessments about the growth of students. The teacher is the only one who can make that judgment with the knowledge she has about the holistic progress of that child day-by-day and week-by-week. If, however, some additional conferencing would help particular students (often it's students on both ends of the continuum) who need more attention than others, then the trained assist could help to listen to that student read and could continue with the literary chat.

We all agree that we can use all the help we can get, but we want to make good use of the time and energy of those who generously sacrifice for our children and us. There are many ways to utilize these talents. It will take forethought and planning to use the talents wisely.

If you have additional ways that you can share in which you have used volunteers and assistants, please let us hear from you on the mailring.

4 Blocks Goodies