BECOME MORE RESOURCEFUL

Find everything you need to know about volunteering with Dialog to Learn right here!

Getting the basics.

Be the best digital buddy you can be.

Giving the extra mile.

Spread the word and support Dialog to Learn.

FAQ

You have questions. We have answers.

GETTING THE BASICS

Introduction for Volunteers (Powerpoint Video)

Response Time

Respond to student emails within 48 hours of receipt of their emails, during regular business days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays). For example, if a student sends an email at 11:00 on Thursday you must respond by 11:00 on Monday, or 48 hours excluding the weekend. This provides ample time for you to get back to students in your busy schedules but also allows teachers to schedule ahead.

See the cycle through  

It is so important for the program's success and student well being that volunteers participate in the full cycle, 8-10 weeks depending on individual school schedules.

Protocol for absences and early exit
We never want students to feel abandoned by their digital buddy. But we also understand that life happens and sometimes we just can’t be there.

Let us and your digital buddy know if you will be unavailable for a short period of time (a day or two). Make sure your digital buddy knows that you are out of town, in an important meeting, etc. but still thinking of them. You could also write an email ahead of time to your digital buddy and set it up to send as an auto-reply.

If you cannot complete the program for any reason, please let us know as soon as possible. We can work together to find another volunteer to take your place. In this event, we ask that you write an email to your digital buddy explaining that you can no longer participate, enjoyed getting to know them, and introduce the student to your friend, their new digital buddy.  

Model correct grammar and language usage

You can guide students toward better language usage through modeling. For example, if a student writes, “My family goed on vacations this summer.” A volunteer could respond with, “I went on vacation this summer too. My vacation was really fun. I went to Disney World for vacation.” By using correcting we are able to teach the specific rule of language that the student is missing. This is an effective method for teaching language and does not discourage students from writing.

Best Practices/Tips for great responses

  • Write about the same amount as students - if they write 8 sentences, you should also write 8-10 short sentences.
  • Stick to the topics students introduce - if they bring up soccer, talk about sports
  • Use full language in your response. Although it might be common to use shorthand in your internal emails, please write out words and use correct grammar. Downloading a grammar check app, such as Grammarly and White Smoke, can be helpful.
  • Respond on time and be interested! Most importantly, have fun!

List of topics to introduce

Generally speaking, we encourage students to lead the conversation with topics that are meaningful to them. However, sometimes students may forget to include questions for you or have a difficult time generating conversation. We have constructed a list of topics to discuss. You can find the list here.

Opportunities for feedback

We are always working to improve our program for our volunteers, teachers, and students! Help us by giving feedback! We will send you a short survey via email at the beginning and end of each cycle. If you have something to tell us, you don't have to wait for the survey, send us an email at any time to team@dialogtolearn.org Let us know what you like, what needs improvement, and everything in between! 

Confidentiality and appropriate topics

We are committed to providing volunteers and students with a fun and safe experience. Because we are working with kids, it is important that we do not disclose certain identifying information and do not discuss topics that anyone, such as teachers, schools, or parents could find inappropriate. To protect students and volunteers, it is prohibited to share the following information; failure to comply could result in volunteer or student's removal from the program.

Do not share Identifying information, including:

  • Last names - we ask that students and volunteers only exchange first names or nicknames
  • Addresses 
  • Phone numbers
  • Information that would allow the other person to easily identify you outside of Dialog to Learn's safe environment.
    • Example:
    • I live in a house near a park  Perfect! We want you to share personal things with your digital buddy and get to know them
    • I live in Mountain View across from Rengstorff Park on Rengstorff Avenue in a pink house with blue shutters ✘ This could allow a student or someone they know to easily identify you and where you live. 
  • Do not in any way indicate your location at any time.  
  • Do not share photos of yourself, your home or your place of business.   
  • Inappropriate topics, including topics that could be viewed as influencing students opinions
    • Sexual topics or language
    • Explicit language
    • Political or religious opinions
    • If you are unsure whether a topic or word could be considered risque, it is probably best to refrain from discussing it!
    • This does not mean we don’t want you to share things about yourself.
      • Example: Student asks if you go to church. Your response: No, I do not attend church. No, I do not believe in God. Religion is stupid. ✘
  • Do not arrange to meet a student in person for any reason.

Keeping children safe is our highest priority.  Report to Dialog to Learn Immediately:

  • If you feel the child is in danger for any reason
  • Signs of something inappropriate going on at home or school
    • If you think a student has written something that could be a red flag, contact Dialog to Learn immediately. Even if it is 'just a hunch' or a feeling of intuition, we can alert the teacher and get the student help if needed.
  • Inappropriate language

All emails between students and volunteers are monitored by the classroom teacher and Dialog to Learn.

GIVING THE EXTRA MILE

We are grateful for everything our volunteers do for us! Help us continue improving the lives of low-income elementary school students in your community by spreading the word! Share your Dialog to Learn experience with your friends, colleagues, and family.  

Want to get involved in a different way?

Dialog to Learn is currently looking for several volunteers to get involved in a different way.

 - Right now, we are looking for a tech savvy volunteer to help us improve our app to better connect students and professionals. 

 - We are also looking for new volunteers to help us create a fundraising committee so we can keep working hard toward our mission. 

Interested? Know someone who might be? Let us know at team@dialogtolearn.org

FAQ

You have questions. We have answers.

If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at team@dialogtolearn.org!

How long is the commitment?

Program cycles are 8-10 weeks long. We do our best to work with the specific scheduling needs of each school. We encourage volunteers to sign up for a cycle each semester!

What are the ages of the students participating?

Currently, Dialog to Learn is working with 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students approximately age 8-11.

What if I miss an email?

We understand that despite our best efforts, sometimes things still come up and we miss important emails. If you miss a deadline, please email your digital buddy as soon as possible. In your email explain and apologize for the late response. Volunteers who miss more than one or two emails in a cycle will be asked to leave the program until they are able to commit more time to it. We serve a vulnerable population and never want our students to feel abandoned, which could be the case if their digital buddy isn’t responding on time while their classmates are getting emails.

What if I leave my job?

If you switch jobs or take some time off you can still volunteer with Dialog to Learn!

Why do I have to answer in 48 hours?

We ask volunteers to respond to students within 48 hours of receipt of their emails, during regular business days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays). For example, if a student sends an email at 11:00 on Thursday the volunteer will respond by 11:00 on Monday, or 48 hours excluding the weekend. This provides ample time for the volunteers to get back to students in their busy schedules but also allows teachers to schedule ahead.

I have not received any emails from my digital buddy, now what?

If you have not received any emails from your digital buddy in over a week, please contact us at team@dialogtolearn.org. We will help to get things back on track!

What if I am going to be away from my email for a day or two?

We never want students to feel abandoned by their digital buddy. But we also understand that life happens and sometimes we just can’t be there. Let us and your digital buddy know if you will be unavailable for a short period of time (a day or two). Make sure your digital buddy knows that you are out of town, in an important meeting, etc. but still thinking of them. You could also write an email ahead of time to your digital buddy and set it up to send as an auto-reply.

What if I can’t participate any more?

Sometimes things come up that prevent us from fulfilling a commitment. If you cannot complete the program for any reason, please let us know as soon as possible. We can work together to find another volunteer to dialogue with your digital buddy. In this event, we ask that you write an email to your digital buddy explaining that you can no longer participate, enjoyed getting to know them, and introduce the student to your friend, their new digital buddy.

How do I sign up to volunteer again?

Loved volunteering with Dialog to Learn? Awesome! At the end of each cycle, we will email you a feedback survey. Just mark that you would like to volunteer in the next cycle and you are already signed up! If you volunteered before, took a break, and want to come back - that’s great! Just send us an email at team@dialogtolearn.org and we will reactive your account!

What if I want to do more for my digital buddy or their class?

It is wonderful that you want to do more for your digital buddy. If you want to do more for your digital buddy or their class write us an email at team@dialogtolearn.org and we will contact the teacher on your behalf. With the school's consent, we will put you in touch with your digital buddy’s teacher. Never attempt to contact or meet up with your digital buddy directly. You can learn more about supporting Dialog to Learn and getting this program to more students above in the ‘Giving the Extra Mile’ section.

How can I sign up a coworker or friend?

Anyone can sign up on our website through the volunteer sign-up form. If you are interested in establishing a partnership with your company or team and Dialog to Learn, please contact Keshia van Gent at k.vangent@dialogtolearn.org

How can I get my company involved?

Anyone can sign up on our website through the volunteer sign-up form. If you are interested in establishing a partnership with your company or team and Dialog to Learn, please contact Keshia van Gent at k.vangent@dialogtolearn.org

What are students and volunteers talking about?

We provide students with a structured handout to help write their first email. For subsequent weeks, we provide students and volunteers with a list of possible topics to write about each week. However, these are optional. Conversations should be natural and student led. Example topics include:

Sports

What are your favorite sports? (Don’t forget to tell them what your favorite sport is and why)Do you play any sports? (You could tell your buddy how you learned to play a particular sport) Which teams do you support? Have you ever played or watched ________?

Games

What are your favorite PC/PS/XBOX/Mobile games? (Let your buddy know which games you play) Do you like board games? (tell your buddy your or your family’s favorite) Have you ever played _______? (follow with a description of the game)

School

What was your favorite subject in school? Tell your buddy about something you are learning in your class this week or a project you are working on. Do you like it? Why?

 

How does Dialog to Learn protect students and volunteers?

We host a platform that acts as a controlled environment for digital buddies interactions, using individual emails. Students and professionals send emails from their personal accounts on any platform, such as Gmail or Outlook, to a user specified address on our app. The app scrubs personal information from the emails and blocks inappropriate language, such as profanity before forwarding it to their ‘digibuddy’. This allows the emails to look and feel natural and direct while protecting our students and volunteers.

We conduct random content reviews on all classes and provide teachers access to all correspondence, to further ensure the safety of the students and volunteers. In addition, teachers receive emails notifying them of any “red flags” detected by the app. We search all volunteers’ names in the National Sex Offender Registry and require full background checks for anyone present on school campuses.

What is dialogue journaling?

Dialogue journaling is a regular (e.g. daily, weekly) ongoing written conversation between two people to exchange ideas and experiences. It is commonly used in education to promote second language learning and general learning in all subject areas.

Peyton, J.K. (2000)."Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing to Develop Language and Literacy". Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 13 January 2016.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft. "Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing To Develop Language and Literacy. ERIC Digest." (1993).

 

Does it cost money for schools?

Dialog to Learn offers its program and services free to low-income schools.

Where do I go with problems?

We are always here to support teachers, schools, students, and volunteers with any questions or challenges they have. You can contact us anytime by emailing us at team@dialogtolearn.org.

How does dialogue journaling benefit English Language Learners?

Dialogue journaling, the basis of DIalog to Learn’s program, is particularly useful for English language learners (ELL).  This back-and-forth provides students the opportunity to engage in English writing in a non-threatening way. Research shows dialogue journaling increases ELLs writing skills, benefits overall language acquisition, extends language learning beyond the classroom, and helps ease students’ transition to life in the US.

Important! ELLs need teacher support. Encourage ELLs to continue writing even when they do not know a specific word. They can try to describe it using words they know or use a word from their native language (as long as it isn’t too often).

Additional resources:

Kim, D. (2011). “A young English learner’s L2 literacy practice through dialogue journals.” Journal of Reading Education, 36(3), 27–34.

Schwartzer, D. (2004). “Student and teacher strategies for communicating through dialogue journals in Hebrew: A teacher resource project.” Foreign Language Annals, 37, 77–84.

Darhower, M. (2004). Dialogue journals as mediators of L2 learning: A sociocultural account. Hispania: A Journal Devoted to the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese, 87, 324-335.

Denne-Bolton, S. (2013). "The dialogue journal: A tool for building better writers"(PDF). English Teaching Forum, 2: 2–11.

Lyon, C. (2013). "That wasn’t homework, was it? Using email journaling to extend ESL students’ learning beyond the four walls of the classroom" (PDF). WAESOL World Quarterly: 5–9.

Talburt, S. (1995). Dialogue journals in adult ESL: Exploring and creating possibilities. College ESL, 5(2), 67-82.

 

Why use email?

Using email as a medium for dialogue journaling:

- Allows students to engage with email as a platform for communication - a necessary professional skill in most jobs today.

- Allows more volunteers the opportunity to participate. Getting to schools during the work day, or even writing and sending a letter, can be difficult next to a demanding job. Using email allows volunteers to help students improve their literacy skills from anywhere they have access to email. Important meetings and out-of-town business trips don’t get in the way!

- Benefits the structure of students’ writing. Research comparing dialog journaling using notebooks to those using email found that students who used email are more likely to “(1) use formula functions like opening and closing greetings (none of the students in the paper group used any); (2) use more requesting functions (asking questions) than those in the paper group; and (3) produce more language functions per writing session. In addition, e-mail communication was more spontaneous than paper dialogue.(Wang 1996)”

Additional Resources:

Wang, Yu-mei. "E-Mail Dialogue Journaling in an ESL Reading and Writing Classroom." (1996).