Parent Teacher Conference: How to Have an Effective Conversation about Reading

Back to school season is definitely in full swing. Kids have made the transition, back to school night can be checked off the to do list, and teachers are diving into the curriculum.

I always felt the first unit was an introduction unit. Teachers, students and parents are all figuring out how to communicate and work together. There may be an email sent or a phone call made, but other than back to school night, the most important dialogue happens during the parent teacher conference.

During this ten minute conversation there is a whole lot to discuss in a small amount of time, so it’s important to know how to get the most out of it.

  1. Be familiar with what goes on in the classroom. As a teacher, I would often waste precious minutes discussing housekeeping things with parents. Such as how to log into Google classroom, how to navigate the online textbooks, etc. Many teachers send out emails or post to their teacher websites, so consistently checking these means of communication not only keeps you up to date, but saves time when you sit down face-to-face with the teacher.
  2. Be open and honest with the teacher. Is there a family history of dyslexia? Does your child refuse to read at home? Is there a homework battle every night? These can all be signs of reading struggles that can help the teacher figure out the best course of action. Sometimes that means having a conversation with a student, making special accommodations during class, or reaching out to administration for guidance. Teachers want to help your child. We don’t expect each family to be picture perfect with daily read alouds on the couch, so don’t worry about being judged. The goal is help your child become a stronger reader.
  3. Ask questions. What does a D reading level mean? Is there a major concern with his or her writing? What is a strength my child has in reading? What can I do with my child at home? It’s okay to ask the teacher to explain things he or she says during your conference. There are times when a teacher will throw a bunch of numbers and abbreviations at you and it can be confusing and overwhelming. Ask what abbreviations means. Ask what the numbers, graphs and charts mean.
  4. Look at the data. Teachers are working in a digital age where the majority of their reports are online. Some may show you information from their computer screen, or simply summarize it. If this doesn’t help you wrap your head around the data, ask for paper copies. Ask for copies of writing assignments if the teacher is concerned with your child’s spelling. Ask for a copy of a reading assessment the teacher did if your child struggles with comprehension. You most likely will not get them that moment, but they can be sent home with your child. By being able to see what the teacher is talking about will often times help you as parent realize what to focus on at home.
  5. Make a plan. During the conversation there may be some tasks the teacher needs to do, and there may be some you need to do. Together, make a plan of action. Here is an example of a plan for a student that refuses to read at home. The teacher has a private conversation with your child and it comes up that your child doesn’t know what kind of books to read. The teacher may ask questions to find out what books would be best for your reader. The teacher emails you with a summary of the discussion and book suggestions. You, the parent, take the list to the local library or Amazon, and get one or two for your child to try. After a few days of reading, you email the teacher to let he or she know if the books are a good match. If they are, great, if not then the teacher can make more suggestions.

Depending on how much was discussed in the conference, you may have thoughts swirling around in your head for a few days. Give yourself time to process what the teacher told you. Feel free to research some things and talk to other parents. Hiring a private tutor may be a great way to support your child outside of the classroom. If you have a busy after school schedule, a virtual tutor may be your best option. Click here for more information.

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I took a survey for a fellow woman entrepreneur about how I choose which books to read/purchase. Some of the options included: cover art, cute characters, genres, etc., but none focused on quality content. When I choose books to read with Molly, I like to focus on ones that have good morals and values because there are so many life lessons Molly needs exposure to.

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values, by Christopher Gordon, is a picture book that reinforces good values and sparks conversation.

In simply flipping through the book, readers get a sense of the organization. It is broken up into three different components, each focusing on a different value (obedience, responsibility, kindness). There is a quick story about the value then a page of questions for young readers to answer. How do readers learn about the value? Timothy transforms into the Warrior of Good Values and jumps in to save the day!

I liked that each value is given it’s own short story. It’s not overwhelming and the message is quite clear. The three stories are all totally different with their settings and conflict.

My personal favorite is the story of obedience. In my opinion, this is a value we don’t really talk about much on a daily basis. The setting is at a school after winter break, and a blue monster convinces Timothy’s friend, Emily, to skip school. Timothy explains to readers that Emily promised her parents she would go right to school and right home. I think this simplifies the value of obedience and makes it easier for young readers to grasp. I really liked the concept of skipping school because it’s not over used, but it’s also a lesson I could see kids applying to their real lives. I should also admit I never skipped school or even a class growing up.

I was also a fan of a super hero being used in the story. Young readers, especially boys I’ve noticed, gravitate towards superheroes, so utilizing one in the story hooks and speaks to readers. It has a little bit of a Superman feel to it, but in a more realistic way.

Each story ends with a page of questions. There are lines included so kids can either write directly in the book or copies can be made. Kids can answer the questions on their own for reading comprehension questions, or parents/teachers can use the questions to springboard discussions.

I could see this working in an elementary classroom for character education. The teacher reads the story and uses the questions to spark whole class discussions. The book also includes coloring and drawing pages, which can easily be used in the classroom.

For more information about the author click here

To purchase the book from Amazon click here

 

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

So a fun fact about me: I have the world’s biggest sweet tooth. If you have ever seen how much sugar I put in coffee/tea you’d think I was a five year old. Which is why I couldn’t say no to reading a book all about chocolate.

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao, by Deepa Remesh, is a great short novel for young scientists about discovering where chocolate comes from.

What first caught my reader eye with this text was the pleasant blend of fantasy, science, time travel and farming. It reminded me a little bit of  The Magic School Bus, but instead of a class taking a field trip the book revolves around a sister (Mia) and brother (Nik).

Personally, I am not a big nature girl. I don’t find pleasure in gardening or learning about seeds. However, our main characters were not only knowledgable, they were enthusiastic about learning! Mia and Nik soaked in every bit of science thrown at them while showing young readers it can be enjoyable to plant a garden with one’s family. Having grown up in the 90s where I was always outside, I really liked that the author includes this to show readers that not everything takes place on a screen. Mia and Nik really enforce the magic of being outside in nature and the science that is all around.

I do like the use of made up nature gadgets the characters used on their mission to learn about cacao, and I thought the use of traveling to Costa Rica in 1998 and Switzerland in 2005 were both effective settings. Both show how cacao is processed to become chocolate, but I really liked Costa Rica. Readers learn  A LOT about the environment cacao is grown in. I love that the helpers in this part included a close knit family, who really embraced our characters. Although, I wish Mia and Nik had said goodbye to the family before moving on to the next part of their journey.

In Switzerland, the siblings took a tour of a factory. Readers can really see the difference in the process and it brings up some great discussion points about technology. A small, but important piece was when Nik fell into the chocolate because he did not read the sign. The adults reinforced the importance of safety and cleanliness, which I thought translated seamlessly to readers.

My teacher brain was going a little crazy while reading this. I think this book would be a fantastic cross curricular activity for grades 3-5. Social studies could focus on map skills and cultures, science can elaborate on fermentation and the growing process with seeds, math can explore percentages and measurements, language arts on reading and comprehending the story and vocabulary.

To purchase the book click here.

For more information about the series click here

A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Is Fun for Everyone Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I absolutely love the relationships I’ve been able to establish with so many great authors over the last few years through this blog and social media. I also get super excited when authors reach out to me about a new project they want me to share, which is what brings me here today. In May, I did a book review for Spring Song (check out the post here), and was touched when Anetta emailed me two weeks ago about a new book.

A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Fun for Everyone, by Anetta Kotowicz, is a whimsical book about a circus experience that promotes anti-bullying.

As with Spring Song, there is a music component with this text. I think that this little extra helps readers to visualize what it is like going to a circus. The use of onomatopoeias in the text make it super fun to read aloud, especially if little ones repeat the sounds.

I really enjoyed the illustrations of this text. As a parent, I haven’t taken Molly to a circus yet, and I felt that this book does a great job depicting the whimsical and fun aspect of the experience. The bright colors, including all the different elements (food, animals, etc). provides readers with a realistic visit. I believe that books can take readers on new adventures, especially if readers don’t have the ability to physically go on these. This book definitely fulfills the adventure of going to the circus for the first time.

What I found a little unexpected was the shift the plot took when the clowns came out. Up until this point, I thought the book was quite enjoyable as we “watched” a circus performance. However, when one of the clowns did not feel comfortable to go through the ring of fire, the other clowns poked and bullied instead of supported their friend. Ellie, our main character, takes a very brave stand and speaks up for the scared clown in front of the entire circus.

In all honesty, I had to read this scene twice to make sure I understood what I was reading because as a reader I wasn’t prepared for this. I thought Ellie’s courage was admirable and sent a very powerful message to readers about bullying. Instead of being a bystander, Ellie intervenes and the crowd supports her decision. Typically, we think of clowns at a circus as silly characters who all follow the group. The fact that we see a clown, cry out of real fear, goes against the grain of what we typically think, which I personally happen to love. This scene teaches readers that there are times where we can be bullied by our friends, that it takes courage to stand up for what is right, and respect is important in all aspects of life.

And as always, the teacher in me gets excited when authors include activities at the end of the book. This book encourages students to draw or make signs about helping those who are hurt. Kids can then share their signs on Instagram @ArtsKindred with the hashtags #ArtsKindred #ADayInTheLifeOfAKid.

I recommend this book for ages P-2, and I think it would be a great text to springboard a discussion about bullying in early elementary.

To purchase the book, click here.

 

Swimming Sideways Book Review

It’s no secret that I LOVE a good YA novel. I’ve realized that I tend to gravitate towards dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi work, so it was nice escaping into a a realistic fiction piece.

Swimming Sideways, by C.L. Walters, is a relatable YA novel that focuses on the importance of family, love and friendship.

Our main character, Abby, has just moved from Hawaii to Oregon with her family (parents and twin brothers). Her parents are hoping for a fresh start so they can work on their marriage. Abby is hoping for a fresh start because of events that were out of her control in her old school (that involved social media).

As an older sibling myself, I love how protective Abby is when it comes to her family. Even though she is hurting from her own social media situation, she hides it from all the members of her family so they don’t have to worry, suffer, etc. She carries her secret alone and deals with the emotional side effects. Her pain is felt in the first few pages and readers question why there’s a Good Abby and a Bad Abby.

Abby’s home life is also not as clean as one would hope. It’s clear that her parents are having marital problems and the family is struggling emotionally. Usually, the YA books I read only focus on the love part of being a teenager, but Swimming Sideways also tackles the reality of problems at home. The realness that Walters created with this conflict not only puts readers in Abby’s shoes, but also shows adults how children are affected by words and actions. The use of Abby’s point of view really does shed light on how a teenager interprets experiences.

As with any great piece of literature, there’s a little bit of a love triangle. Abby spent time in Oregon growing up with her grandma, who happened to be neighbors with Seth. The two of them pick their friendship right up and start to date. Meanwhile, Abby is fascinated by the school “freak” Gabe, and makes friends with him. And just to thicken the plot, Gabe and Seth used to be best friends. If I say anymore I will give away some of the plot, but Walters does a beautiful job of showing readers that friendship is the foundation of a good dating relationship.

One of my favorite characters was Abby’s new best friend Hannah. Hannah approaches Abby in the cafeteria on her first day of school and goes out of her way to make Abby feel welcome. Through all that happens over the course of the novel, Hannah never leaves Abby’s side, providing a safety blanket that teenage girls need, especially in social situations. This reminds readers that it isn’t the quantity of friends, but the quality that is most important. There were a few times I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Hannah for being a true friend.

As a teacher, I know some of the situations my students have dealt with in their personal lives. What really drew me into this story was how so many real life situations are woven into this text. Dealing with relationships, family problems, abuse, social media, and the social pressure of being a teenager all come together in such a realistic way. The ending does leave readers on an intense cliff hanger, so be prepared.

This was one of those books that I stayed up all night reading. I messaged C.L. Walters on Instagram the next day because I had to tell her how sucked in I was (and that I was grateful the second book was already out).

I would recommend this book for students in grades 9-12, parents of teenagers, and teachers working with high school students.

For more information check out the author’s website here

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the last ten years, by parents, administrators, college professors, etc. In the early days I would dive into a heartfelt story about playing school with my dolls growing up,  saying that I was meant to be a teacher. When I was working in public school I would express my desire to make a difference in the lives of my students.

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

In college, I was fortunate to be in a program that valued creativity and ambition. We were taught to create unit plans that sparked student engagement, incorporated real world skills, and fulfilled all of the state requirements. I felt incredibly confident in my ability to teach and truly impact my students in a positive way. I was ready to experiment with new ideas and collaborate with other teachers to give my students a memorable experience.

Since day one my goal has always been putting my students first. I promised myself I would always fight for my kids, to do whatever I could to provide them with the best education that I could give them. If that meant working on weekends, doing additional research, enrolling in courses, I would do it.

What they don’t tell you in college is that not all districts, supervisors or principals will have the same mindset. What they don’t tell you is how political a school building can be. What they don’t tell you is that sometimes the student will not come first.

My first year I taught eighth grade English. My course was focused on literature (woot woot!) and I worked in an affluent district with involved parents. They expected their children to go to college. Over the course of the year it became clear that my students wanted help with reading comprehension. They literally asked for help with it. The curriculum said I had to do a literature circle (students could choose 1 of 4 books to read), one of those being To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew the high school would have high expectations for my students, so I wanted to do To Kill a Mockingbird as a whole class novel to help prepare my students and work on reading comprehension.

I collaborated with my amazing in class support teacher, who agreed with me that this was the best decision for our students. I reached out to my supervisor, in his first year on the job, and waited for a response. He took days to get back to me. It was Friday afternoon, we started the unit on Monday. At 1 pm he responded that no I couldn’t focus on reading comprehension with TKAM. We had to leave the curriculum as is.

I was beyond frustrated.

That summer I was moved to sixth grade reading (yay!), and was writing curriculum with our new Pearson textbook. The Common Core had just come out and we had to revamp everything. I was so excited, until I was told we needed to use the textbook for EVERYTHING that wasn’t using one of our novels. The reason? New teachers need to follow a textbook.

The following year, I was moved to teach literacy support for sixth and seventh grade. I was working towards my reading specialist certification, so this was perfect for me. I had done a lot of research on read alouds and started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of my class to reading Divergent. I wanted a book that would hook my struggling readers and get them excited to read. These students were not scoring proficient on the state standardized test, so they needed all the additional support I could provide. Divergent was a title in the seventh grade curriculum as a literature circle choice. However, being that it was a popular book, many students had been reading it on their own. I included the text in my lesson plans for my supervisor to see when he checked it. He never said anything.

When he came to observe me first marking period he was not a fan of my read aloud. It took up 10 minutes of precious instruction time. The book was in the seventh grade curriculum, so I was told to stop reading the trilogy, even though Insurgent (the second book) was not in the curriculum.

At the end of the year, my tenure year, I was told I wasn’t a good fit and would not be returning.

I was hired to work in a charter school for the following September teaching sixth grade. I had an incredibly supportive administration team who wanted me to experiment. What I wasn’t prepared for was having students on a third grade reading level, with a severe lack of resources. I created a classroom library and a community of readers, but I couldn’t provide the individual time with students that they needed.

I resigned from my position to be with Molly. However, I needed to work because I’m just that type of person. I was an experienced teacher with a reading specialist endorsement, and I couldn’t get a job. I applied to hundreds of positions, virtual and brick and mortar. I didn’t even get an interview.

Finally, I was hired by EdOptions Academy, a branch of Edmentum, an edtech company. Making the leap from brick and mortar to virtual has changed my life. I’ve worked with hundreds of students from different backgrounds and life situations. I had the flexibility to collaborate with other teachers and provide my students with the support they needed. However, working full time was taking a toll on me. I struggled with balancing my work-home life, even working from home. I decided to go back to being part time.

Why?

Because I have a vision. I believe that literacy affects all areas of a person’s life. I believe those skills are critical for a person to be successful. I believe struggling readers need customized support.

From my own personal experiences, I can see how struggling readers fall through the cracks. There isn’t enough time, money, resources, etc. in many of our schools. There are teachers who are frustrated and burned out. The amount of red tape is negatively impacting our readers.

That is why I started Little Reading Coach. I’m getting rid of the red tape and set curriculums. I’m giving each student the individual focus they deserve.

Students have a million activities going on. I want to provide convenience by conducting all sessions virtually through Zoom. Tutoring can take place in the backseat of a car, at home or during study hall. There are no limits as long as we have wifi.

My why is to help struggling readers gain the skills they need to be successful. Whether that is to go to college, become a mechanic, or train to be a chef.

I struggled for years trying to understand why I wasn’t a “good fit” when I realized they weren’t the good fit. They lost the individual attention I believe every student deserves. They lost a teacher who made personal connections with families, who cried with moms during parent teacher conferences. A teacher who believes that it only takes one book to make a student a reader.

For more information click here.

Merry Fairy Birthday Book Review

September is always a big month in my world, with the start of a new school year and Molly’s birthday. I’m still kind of shocked that I’m going to have a three year old (eek), but not gonna lie I do like sharing all of my favorite things with her at this age. She has recently gotten into Disney princesses and has been requesting to be read to more often. Today’s book is the perfect combination of all things Molly.

Merry Fairy Birthday, by Melissa Spencer, is a delightful story about a birthday girl receiving colorful fairy presents.

First, I really love how girly this book is. The little girl in the story gets dressed up in a sparkly party gown and is surrounded by fairies. The illustrations are a combination of realistic pictures and hand drawn images, with fabulous colors that make the text engaging. I really wanted to run my fingers over the sequins on the party dress.

The teachermom in me got very excited with the writing style. It is fun and creative with a little bit of rhyming thrown in. I really liked the use of ‘hue’, which is a word not often seen in picture books. I think the vocabulary is a little challenging for a beginner reader to read on their own, but it’s a great read aloud book.

Now to my favorite part…the fairy gifts! It may be my Disney brain or the fact that Molly watched Sleeping Beauty for the first time two weeks ago, but I had an immediate text to media connection. The fairies present the birthday girl with gifts based on colors of the rainbow. Similar to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the gifts are qualities for a little girl to use her whole life. I LOVED that the gifts were not material objects, like a tea set or a baby doll, but were things like success and happiness. It leaves readers with a beautiful message and instills self-confidence in young readers. Especially when the birthday girl was given green, which is the gift of curiosity and ambition. It’s very girl power without the punch.

Personally, I think this would make an adorable birthday gift for a little girl. This book will definitely have a home on Molly’s bookshelf (see what else is on her shelf here). I plan on reading Merry Fairy Birthday with Miss Molly this month as we get ready to celebrate her special day.

To purchase the book click here