As communities in Massachusetts and elsewhere focus on improving third grade reading, the strategy of engaging volunteers to help young readers raises a number of questions. What is the best way to harness the energy of volunteers? Should volunteers work with struggling readers or should they work with other students so teachers can spend extra time with struggling readers? If volunteers work with struggling readers, what kind of training and how much training do they need to have a positive impact on children’s literacy?
A recent study by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland explores some of these questions, Early Ed Watch reports. Researchers looked at Time to Read, a program that assigns businesspeople to work with 8- and 9-year-olds who were struggling with reading. The tutors had two hours of training and received additional materials they could incorporate into their work. They were free to use their own materials. Tutors worked with students for two half-hour sessions a week over the school year. Researchers found that Time to Read students had higher scores in phonics, reading aloud and reading fluency than a control group, according to a study in the June 2012 issue of The Journal of Early Childhood Research. However, they read with no more accuracy than children in the control group and exhibited no more comprehension or enjoyment of reading.
“Volunteers with little to no training are unlikely to help a child improve his or her reading comprehension or reading confidence — skills that may be more effectively taught by professional educators,” Early Ed Watch states. “Understanding the limitations of tutoring can help programs focus on better preparing volunteers.”
The findings complement the conclusions of “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” the report that Strategies for Children commissioned in 2010 from Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“Reaching the tipping point for changing behaviors so as to improve children’s reading outcomes requires a deep, sustained investment of time and effort. Yet the dosage levels, intensity and depth of services, matter—such as how much time is spent in the program, how often it happens, or the frequency of contact with participants.” Lesaux writes. “For many language and reading supports, these increments are too small; consider the weekly tutoring session or the periodic parent education night that never gains enough traction to influence behaviors and, in turn, make a difference to reading outcomes.”