Incorporating Virtual Read Alouds for Grades K-12: Tips and Tricks from a Virtual Educator

Read alouds are a time when students of all ages can get immersed in different worlds, make new friends, and go on amazing adventures. As teachers, we constantly read aloud in our brick and mortar classrooms, and this can still be a possibility in virtual classrooms.

I’m a strong believer in the power of read alouds for students in grades P-12. About two years ago I shared how I conducted read alouds in the virtual world via Zoom (click here). Since then I have experimented with a few different ways of incorporating read alouds for one-on-one and classes with students in grades K-12. I share my screen via Zoom and use e-books with students, or I read aloud from a paper based novel depending on the lesson.

Read Alouds for Grades K-5

When: I dedicated my morning meeting time to a read a book of the day. Typically this time is about 15 minutes, which is just enough time to read and touch on some reading comprehension questions. However, this can also be done as a mini-lesson. Read alouds can also take place during snack time and while transitioning subjects in the virtual world.

What: For early elementary read alouds, or beginner readers, I get picture books from Kindle Unlimited since I have a subscription, but some other options include Vooks and Epic!. Since I’m also a book reviewer, I love to use books I’ve reviewed with my students as well (check out one of my favorite authors below). This activity can also be done with nonfiction texts if you’re looking to include more in the curriculum.

What is the title of the book? Rescue. What is the picture? Three dogs. What do you think this story will be about? Dogs helping people.

How: I structure my read aloud with pre-reading, during reading and after reading sections. These can be super quick, or extended a few minutes depending on the text. Pre-reading– We always start by discussing the cover a book. Where is the author’s name? What is the title of the story? What is the picture? What do we think this book will be about based on the picture? I pose these types of questions and have students verbally respond, since typing would take them too long. During reading– Every few pages I stop and ask questions about the character, plot, text to self connections, setting, etc. Some are purely comprehension based and others are geared more towards making inferences. Who is the main character? What is the problem? My questions can usually be answered by using the pictures and the text, so all of my readers are able to participate, regardless of their reading ability.

What is Phoebe’s problem? She can’t find her favorite tennis ball. How does she feel about this? She’s surprised.

After reading– Similar to pre and during reading, I pose questions to my students about theme, rating the book, explaining their thoughts on the book, etc. Students can verbally answer this or use a white board/piece of paper to rate the book. If you’re looking for a more extended after reading activity, have students draw a picture and write a sentence or two related to the book. For instance, if the book is about pets, have students draw a picture of their pet (or their dream pet) and write a sentence with the pet’s name.

Read Alouds Grades for Grades 6-12

When: I would include a read aloud during language arts time, or at the start of a language arts class. If I’m reading aloud at the beginning of every class period, I dedicate 10 minutes for me reading and 5 minutes for students to respond to the reading. If I’m doing a live lesson for my virtual students, my read alouds last between 45 minutes to an hour about once a week.

What: For daily read alouds, I prefer to use a novel with students. Over the years I’ve used the following texts: City of Ember, The Face on the Milk Carton series, Among the Hidden, Divergent (censoring certain parts), The Hunger Games, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

How: My focus is to have students enjoy the story, so I do pre and after reading activities. My pre-reading consists of either me giving a recap from the previous days’ reading or having a student do it, and a brief “heads up” about the day’s chapter(s). I will also tell students what the after reading question is before I start reading to give them ideas to focus on during the read aloud. After reading activities can look a little different depending on how long my lesson is. One option is to have students respond to the reading question. This question can be answered in Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google form, etc. In the past, I’ve used Padlet and I usually use one or two student examples or have a student pick their favorite response, one they disagree with, etc. to review the question. For an extended read aloud (45 minute to 1 hour) check out how I utilize chat to generate discussions here .

New Tricks

Since March, I’ve tweaked some of my instructional practices to provide additional support for reading comprehension.

*Discussions include more quote analysis to help with making inferences, drawing conclusions and other higher order thinking skills. Students are also encouraged to use to keep an eye/ear out for quotes that catch their attention.

*Audiobooks have been life savers. As an online teacher I teach English and English-based electives for grades 6-12, which includes A LOT of novels. I can’t read them all to my students, so by providing audio versions (thank you YouTube) my students can get the support they need. Also, during small groups or one-on-one sessions, I will use an audio version depending on the text. No one can read Harry Potter more perfectly than Jim Dale.

*Incorporating more connections for my students has also helped their reading comprehensions. For instance, in Divergent when Tris starts wearing eye liner and black clothing, I share a text to media connection I have with the movie Mulan. Both scenes show the girls stuck between two different identities of themselves and both help students understand the theme of identity.

To check out Rescue click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom

As a virtual English teacher, I’ve worked with classified students in grades 6-12. Parents and brick and mortar teachers are often amazed that special education students choose to do virtual learning (before the pandemic).

Yes, there are special education students who attend online programs. Yes, they can be successful.

This week I co-hosted a professional development presentation for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy (EOA) on Implementing Special Education Accommodations in a Virtual World. I was able to show other virtual teachers samples of assignments I used with my classified students and how I evaluated them.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences and examples in the hopes of helping teachers outside of EOA. These ideas can be used in brick and mortar classrooms, blending learning and distance learning environments.

Preparing to Make Accommodations

  1. Be familiar with a student’s IEP. When I worked in a brick and mortar school, I would sometimes have 20 students with IEPs. It can be A LOT to remember the specific details for every student, so I would often take quick notes about the classification(s) and accommodations. The same concept applies to the virtual learning environment.
  2. Use your knowledge of the student. In the virtual world, this can be done in a number of ways. Call/text/Zoom/email with the student and get to know who the student really is. What’s their favorite sport? What hobbies do they like? Also, feel free to talk to the parents, school, Child Study Team and special education teachers about the student. The more knowledge you have about each student the more you can make appropriate accommodations.
  3. Be flexible with grading assignments. This is a biggie. Many teachers use specific rubrics to grade assignments, but when making accommodations these rubrics may not be relevant. In these cases, it’s important that we think outside the box and use our content knowledge to assess if the student fulfilled expectations. We may need to create another rubric specifically for that child, or only include certain parts of the original rubric, it really comes down to the teacher to decide. Regardless of what a teacher chooses to do, always make sure to include specific feedback.
  4. Be aware of reading levels. To be super honest, this is a really big component of online learning. Students are required to do A LOT of reading (assignments, comments, lectures, directions, etc.). If a student has a reading level of third grade and is taking a sixth grade English course, he or she is going to be reading texts at the sixth grade level. This can be quite a challenge for many students who aren’t at that reading level yet. Since students are required to read in all courses, even a math teacher should be aware of a student’s reading level.

Accommodations in the Virtual Classroom

  1. Offer extended time. This is a very simple and effective way to help classified students, especially in the virtual world. It’s also helpful to check-in with the student and remind him or her with how much extra time they have left. For instance, if there is an assignment due on Wednesday, maybe consider having it due for classified students on Friday. On Thursday check-in with students and give them suggestions online learning graphicabout what they need to finish for the assignment to be submitted on Friday.
  2. Reduce assignment length. Personally, I use this accommodation quite a bit with my special education students. If the original assignment for students is to write an essay, I may have them write a paragraph instead.
  3. Support public speaking. A curriculum typically has a speaking/presentation component that can be fulfilled in the virtual classroom. There are a few different ways students can present a speech: 1. video chat with the teacher one-on-one, 2. participate in a phone call with the teacher (if a student gets anxious about looking at an audience), 3. record a selfie video of the student reading the speech and then send it to the teacher or post it on Youtube and share the link. It’s also important to remember that students don’t have to memorize their speech. I usually tell my students to practice reading aloud their information a few times before presenting.
  4. Providing alternate texts. As I mentioned before, reading level plays a huge role in virtual learning. If a student can only read at a 5th grade level, but they are taking 8th grade English, this could be a challenge for him or her. Teachers can provide an alternate text that still focuses on the theme/topic of the original text, but is better aligned with the student’s reading level. For instance,  my 7th grade English students are expected to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, to focus on how history (The Inquisition) impacts literature. This original text is too complex for my classified students, so I have them read chapter one of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry because it is connected to the Holocaust. I keep the same historical focus as I would with the original text, but now students have access to a text that they can handle.
  5. Provide novel support. Students will read a few novels a year in their English/ELARead Aloud courses. Getting students to just read the book can sometimes be a challenge, let alone having them complete activities and assignments based on the reading. Teachers can supply students with an audio version, guided notes, reading comprehension questions, and chapter summaries. However, another spectacular option that I have done is to provide students with a read aloud (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom) where I would read a few chapters aloud and then discuss plot, characterization, theme and quote analysis. I would record these sessions in Zoom and keep track of the links on a document that I could send to any student who needed access to the text. Students can watch, rewind and fast forward the video as many times as they want.
  6. Include outlines and graphic organizers. Just as in brick and mortar classrooms, outlines and graphic organizers are fabulous resources to give to students. If students need to compare/contrast, provide a Venn Diagram in an editable document for students to use. For writing a lab report, give students an outline to complete before writing the report.
  7. Help guide research. Utilizing textual evidence and research take place across all content areas. It can be overwhelming for classified students to look at a Google search bar and start the research process, let alone tackle a database. Two of my favorite options for research are to give students a list of key words to use in their search, and provide a list of links for students to use to complete assignments.
  8. Provide structure with note-taking. Learning in the virtual environment requires students to be more independent with their learning, and oftentimes students will need to take notes on the content in their courses. This can be challenging because students may not know what to record or how to record the information. Some options for students are to include guided notes, fill in the blank PowerPoint slides, and give note-taking templates (Cornell Notes, etc.).

As with all accommodations, different options work for different students. At the end of the day, it is up to the teacher to decide how to best support students.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

5 Effective Tips to Help Kids Read More

“How can I get my child to read more?”

This is probably the number question a parent asks me, if their child is seven or eleven.

There is plenty of research to support the positive effects of reading, so it’s no wonder that parents are concerned about their child’s reading time. With video games and other screen activities captivating readers of all ages, getting kids to read more has become increasingly harder.

Every reader is different. What works for one child may not work for his or her sibling. Some kids just need to find that one book that makes them fall in love with reading (see my post  7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers) But, I have found that the best way to get a kid reading is to find the perfect texts. Why? If a reader can find texts that they find interesting and engaging, he or she is more likely to want to read more texts. Below are some of my personal approaches to matching texts to readers.

  1. There are different ways to read. In my personal experience as an English teacher and Reading Specialist, this seems to be the trick that gets my students reading more. It is still reading if a student listens to an audiobook or a read aloud. Apps, like Audible, are amazing because they allow readers to listen anywhere at any time on their mobile devices. I would suggest having a reader listen to a book they’ve already read before so they can get used to listening to a text if they are new to audiobooks. Some students also prefer to read along with an audiobook so that can always be added to the mix. Read alouds can be done by anyone in the family at any time. While driving on vacation, after dinner around the kitchen table, or ten minutes before bed every night, whatever works best for the reader and the family.
  2. Movie/video game books. I see this more with kiddos in grades 4-6 who are in between the easy chapter books and middle school books. A few years ago, Minecraft books were super popular among this age group. Video game and movie companies often times put out a line of guide/companion books, spin off stories and more to get the attention of young readers. Some popular ones right now are Lego, Fortnite, and Animal Crossing.
  3. Find out what’s popular. Sometimes kids like to be surprised with a recommendation. Knowing what other kids are reading can be very powerful, so spend some time doing a little bit of research. The majority of this research can be done online with Facebook groups, Google lists, blogs, etc. However, if you’re like me and LOVE going to the library, check in with the children’s librarian. I’m blessed to say that my children’s librarian is an incredible woman who has been my go-to since I was in college. These book lovers have immense knowledge about genres, authors and specific titles for literally every type of reader.
  4. Ask them! One of my favorite things to do with kids is to talk about books. When that dialogue is opened about books, themes, topics, etc., it’s amazing what kids will say. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and having an honest and open conversation with your reader about reading. Don’t be afraid to ask your child why they don’t like to read, or what they need to read more. Keep those conversations about books going because it will encourage kids to read more. During these chats, ask your child what he or she wants to read. It’s super important to note that reader choice is HUGE in helping kids develop reading habits. Give your child options during these talks and ultimately let them choose.
  5. Set an example. I grew up with my mom reading magazines. Literally she always had one ready to go (and a massive stack next to her bed). Kids mimic their parents constantly, so if you want your child to read more set an example. Instead of scrolling on your phone at night while sitting in the living room, pick up a book or an e-reader. If you want your kids to talk to you about books, start the conversations. It’s okay to  say, “I read this article about….”. It may not happen overnight, but you will see kids mirroring these reading behaviors.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

DyslexiaLand Book Review

A few months ago I saw a book on Facebook that I knew I had to read. I bought it and added it to the TBR pile, where it sat for a few months. I wanted to make sure I dedicated a solid chunk of time to reading it since it’s not the usual YA novel that tends to call my name.

DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia, by Cheri Rae, is a must have book for parents and educators about the realities of dyslexia.

First and foremost, this guide is written by a mom with a dyslexic son AND a dyslexia advocate. I love this on so many levels. Rae gives us the mom-to-mom heart to heart in a way that is supportive and engaging. There is no pity party, but rather advice to provide families with comfort and guidance.

The guide does not read like a textbook, and the organization and structure are insanely user-friendly. I love how I can easily flip to exactly what I’m looking for and not feel overwhelmed with text on a page. One of my favorite aspects is the acronyms list of educational terminology. Even as a seasoned English teacher and Reading Specialist, this is an extremely handy list that I have book marked for future IEP meetings.

I was definitely interacting with this text while I was reading. I have underlines, hearts, stars and exclamation points all over the place. Rae totally hit a HUGE nail on the head when she discussed that teachers do not have the proper training or professional development for supporting students with dyslexia. As I’ve mentioned in We Need to Talk…About Dyslexia, I was one of those teachers who lacked training. My knowledge of dyslexia and appropriate teaching strategies were pretty much non-existent until I started my Orton-Gillingham journey. In the public and charter schools I’ve worked in over the years,  I have never had any training for dyslexia, which supports the point Rae brings up.

I have also been in about 25 IEP meetings since August, and have seen the term “specific learning disability” and ideas like reading comprehension and fluency associated with it. Yet, the “d” word has never been uttered in any of these meetings. I’ve been very intrigued with IEPs recently (probably from being part of so many), and I find it fascinating that I have not seen dyslexia ever mentioned in one. So needless to say, I was all over the section on IEPs. For the first time ever I completely understood what was being discussed about these legal documents. Rae’s explanations are crystal clear and makes IEPs less confusing (which is not an easy feat).

Middle school is my jam. Always has been and always will be. However, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced is the belief that learning to read only happens in elementary school. This is not the case for all students. Rae makes it a point to discuss dyslexia from elementary school through high school (woot woot!). The transition to-do lists are super awesome and spot on.

I also appreciated how Rae discussed that Orton-Gillingham tutoring can be done online. As a virtual teacher and tutor, it’s often difficult for people to wrap their heads around online education, let alone embrace it. As research has proven, OG is a successful approach when working with dyslexia. Whether the instruction is given in a school environment, at a center, or one-on-one with a tutor in person or online, the goal is to help students with reading.

Overall, I am absolutely over the moon about this guide. I believe it should be in the hands of every educator. Yes, every math, science, consumer arts, woodworking teacher, etc. should read this book. Literacy and reading impacts all areas of life. It provides parents with a sense of direction in tackling DyslexiaLand. It equips parents for the meetings, discussions, and realities of navigating the educational system.

To purchase this amazing guide click here.

Dyslexia Awareness Video

It’s hard to believe that October is almost over. It’s been absolutely incredible to see teachers, parents and special education advocates bring awareness to dyslexia this month with social media posts, promotions on Orton-Gillingham courses and products, and sharing articles and resources.

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Christopher Gordon, author of Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values, and EvenTech Corp, to create a Dyslexia Awareness video. It was super exciting to be part of this project with amazing people.

 

This video is also perfect to use for an anti-bullying lesson or activity. It can be used in character education lessons for students in grades K-6.

 

3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

The alarm goes off at 5. You shower, get ready, pack lunches, make breakfast, wake the kids up, drive to sit in the drop off line, drive to work and start a jam packed day at the office. After work you run to pick up the kids, fly to football practice then dance class, rush home to throw dinner together, go back out and pick up the kids, come back home, eat dinner, get the kids in bed, try and catch up on social media and go to sleep.

Then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

It’s amazing how much parents are trying to cram into a 24 hour period. So how can parents help their kids with reading in the midst of every day chaos?

  1. Squeeze in reading time. This may sound overwhelming. How can you possibly squeeze 20 minutes of reading in before bed every night? Easy, you don’t have to. Reading can happen anywhere at anytime. While driving to violin lessons, have an audiobook playing in the car. Keep a book in the car and have your child read it. Same thing goes while your making dinner. There are always reading moments, it’s just making sure you’re prepared for them. Keep books around the house so they are within reach.
  2. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the classroom. Technology is amazing these days. Every teacher I know has a website that is jam packed with information. They include assignments, reminders, homework, etc. Dedicate 5 minutes a day (probably around 3-4 pm) to check your child’s English class website. See what the homework is, check out when the next quiz is. Have conversations with your child about specifics from class. For instance, if they have a vocabulary quiz, have them go over the words and definitions with you while you drive, making dinner, etc.  (are you seeing a pattern here?).
  3. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. A lot of my middle school parents would sign up for parent-teacher conferences within minutes to ensure they got a slot. During our discussions, they would mention how they didn’t want to bother me with questions if it wasn’t parent-teacher conference time. Never, ever hesitate to reach out to a teacher with a question. Your goal as a parent is to ensure your child gets an education. If you don’t understand an essay rubric, or why your child scored low on a reading comprehension quiz, reach out to the teacher. The more you understand the more you will be able to help your child.

These three quick and easy ideas do require a little bit of prep work, but they all can be done on a smart phone and on the go.

Top 3 Resources for Dyslexia

The internet is an amazing place. We can instantly find information with just a few taps on a keyboard. However, with this simplicity comes an overwhelming amount of information, which can be hard to sift through. The majority of my pins are from these three websites.

Below are some of my personal favorite resources for dyslexia. I often use Pinterest to save specific topics I want to use in the future.

  1. Understood.org. Holy moly! This website is ah-mazing!! They are all about providing resources and information to families of students with learning and attention issues. Parents can chat with experts on specific topics (make sure you RSVP), join discussions, use personalized tools, and check out a tonnnn of resources. One of my favorite current resource is “8 Reasons Kids Might Read Slowly”.
  2. LearningAlly.org. I recently discovered this website after a parent mentioned it during a tutoring session. Learning Ally provides audio books for students with dyslexia and learning disabilities (for a fee). One of my favorite aspects of this site is the app that they have to make life easier for readers. Students can simply pop on headphones and enjoy a book without struggling to decode.
  3. The Literacy Nest. I shared my love for The Literacy Nest Blog last week (check it out here). For parents that homeschool, teachers, and tutors, this website provides incredible resources. There is a ton of information on dyslexia, tips for parents, spelling, etc. There is information on Orton-Gillingham (OG) and on the multi-sensory approach to reading. Emily Gibbons (the creator of The Literacy Nest) also has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where educators and parents can purchase worksheets and activities to help students. There is also a newsletter that viewers can subscribe to in order to stay up to date.

Each site offers unique information/resources for families and educators about working with dyslexic students.

Books for Parents About Reading

One of my favorite parts about my job is being able to have conversations with parents. The majority of the time parents ask me what they can do at home to help their child become a stronger reader and writer. Over the last few years I’ve come across some great texts to help parents.

  1. Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I shared this book  quite a while ago after I discovered it from the Read Aloud Revival Podcast (click here to read the review). The organization of this book makes it a great guide for families. It is broken into sections based on ages, so it can be used as a great reference tool for specific stages. The text is extremely user friendly, with clear and concise writing that parents can easily understand. The examples included give readers a solid idea for how to be hands-on at home with reading support.
  2. The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. Ahhh, Sarah Mackenzie. The Sarah Mackenzie from The Read Aloud Revival podcast and blog. This book shows families how to create and sustain a love of reading at home. While Mackenzie does homeschool her children, the plethora of information she shares can also be utilized by families with children in traditional school environments. My favorite part is that she includes book lists for specific age groups. These book recommendations focus on quality- great morals, messages, and strong characters- that really allow families to engage in authentic conversations. She also walks parents through ways to get in read aloud time, including the use of audiobooks and picnics.
  3. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gordon. If you’ve been following my blog, you know my strong passion for reading aloud to kids of all ages (yes, even middle and high school students). Over the summer I shared this book with you (click here to see the review) because it blows me away.  What stands out most to me in this book is the research included about the power of reading aloud. For those parents who are curious about the science of reading, this is a great text to dive into.

These three books cover different aspects about reading at home with children of all ages. Before purchasing one, figure out what you’re looking for in a book. Do you want to know how to create a reading routine at home? Then you may want to look at Sarah Mackenzie’s book. Regardless of which one (or more!) you choose to read, I promise you will walk away with more confidence about helping your reader at home.

Avoiding the Summer Slide

“What can we do over the summer?”

As a teacher, this is one of the biggest questions parents ask at the end of the year. Many times parents inquire about additional worksheets or websites to help their child get ahead for the following school year. However, what parents don’t realize is that unless children are actively engaged in some sort of educational activities they can regress in their academic careers. This is known as the summer slide.

There are lots of different ways to avoid the summer slide without making it seem like summer school. Today I’m going to give song ideas for parents that can be done at home to help kids stay up-to-date.

Outdoor Ideas

Summer is the time for kids to be outside, so take advantage of the outdoors.

  1. Sidewalk chalk. There are endless possibilities for how to use sidewalk chalk. Kids Sidewalk Chalkcan write their names in funky ways (squiggles, block letters, backwards, etc). Children can also draw pictures of what they see in nature and label them.
  2. Write outside. Some kids love to write stories or poetry, so encourage them to sit outside while they write. If they see a butterfly, have them write a story about the life of the butterfly and allow them to draw a picture. Allow them to use their imagination and have fun, since the writing is not graded they have total freedom about the style and content of the writing.
  3. Reading place challenge. Challenge your little reader to read in as many different Readingplaces as possible. They can read in a tree, on a beach towel in the back yard, on a slide, etc. Feel free to take pictures and share them with friends and family to make it exciting. If you have a reluctant or struggling reader, you may want to challenge them to 10 different places and then they can buy a new book.
  4. Go to parks. State parks often have historical information throughout the park which are full of interesting facts. Not only will kids get some exercising walking through a park, but they will also learn along the way.

Travel Ideas

Many families use summer time to travel, which often means hours of sitting in a car or plane.

  1. Play games. For younger children, games are perfect for practicing reading skills. The license plate game and the alphabet game are two great ones to help little ones with their letter and reading skills.
  2. Sing songs. Rhyming helps little ones with language development and reading skills, so feel free to use the time in a car singing songs. Depending on the ages I would suggest nursery rhymes or other children’s songs.
  3. Books on tape/audio books. These are fantastic for road trips. You can get them at Audiobookyour local library or download them from audible. If you have an beginner reader, I would suggest getting a hardcopy of the story for them to follow along with. You want to choose a book with some pictures to help with comprehension.
  4. Independent reading. Make a trip to your local library and let your child stock up on books they want to read.

Additional Practice

Some families opt to use the summer to help their child catch up if they struggled during the school year.

  1. Hire a tutor. There are many different options for tutoring, so you may want to consider all of the choices before deciding on which is the best for your family.
    1. You can hire a teacher from the school your child attends. The pros of this choice are that previous and/or future teachers can communicate with the tutor about expectations and student weaknesses. A con is often times private tutors are more expensive.
    2. Online tutoring is another option and there are always new websites. The pro to this is the convenience. You don’t have to worry about driving somewhere or having a tutor come to the house since the tutoring is aTutoringll virtual. A con is depending on the service you may not be able to talk directly to the tutor, but rather go through another person for progress reports.
    3. A third option is a tutoring center. Centers like Huntington and Kumon havetheir own curriculums they follow , and private centers often allow the tutor to determine what a child needs. A pro is that centers can give families assessments to track progress and communication is easy. A con is the expense depending on the program a child is enrolled in.
  2. Workbooks/online practice. I am personally not a fan of workbooks, but for many families this option is great because the work is done independently by the child. All the parent has to do is tell the child what pages to complete and check the work with the answer key in the back of the book. Online practice is even easier because the website will grade work and reveal the score. Barnes & Nobles is a great place to get workbooks because they have a huge variety. Ask your child’s teacher if there are any websites they suggest or that the school has access to.
  3. Summer school. Some schools do offer programs during the summer to help students. Sometimes it is only open to students who are struggling, so check with your school to see what the criteria is.

Summer Assignments

Many schools require summer work, mostly middle and high school students. To avoid the stress of summer assignments, sit down with your child and discuss all of the work their school requires. This will help determine the workload, what materials need to be purchased, and if a tutor is needed. Once all of the assignments have been reviewed, create a homework calendar with your child. This is a great tool to not only break up the assignment into manageable chunks, but it also helps with time management skills. This works really well for student athletes because they can schedule their homework in around practice, camp, and training.

If your child has summer reading assignments, there are a few different approaches in tackling the work.

Option 1: Just read the book first. Many kids like this option because they don’t have to worry about taking notes or answering questions, they can just enjoy the book. This strategy also allows kids to practice their reading skills without relying on a set of questions to guide them. After they read it, have them re-read the book to answer any questions or complete summer assignments.

Option 2: Read and work at the same time. Kids are used to this approach in school so they know what works best for them. Some stop reading when they find an answer to a question, and some answer questions after every chapter.

Regardless of which option they use, make sure your child re-reads the book right before school starts. Some teachers give an assessment or use the summer reading for a project. Your child will be better prepared if they know the material.

Helping Middle School Readers

When we think about helping kids with reading we automatically picture a young child in elementary school. However, there are many students in middle school who also struggle with reading for one reason or another. This age group is tricky to find resources for because they’re in between the learning how to read stage and practicing for the SATs and ACTs.

I’ve taught middle school language arts for six years and have seen students enter my 6th grade classroom at a third grade reading level and be expected to perform at or above grade level.  Sadly, this is the reality for so many teachers, students, and parents. Every year on back to school night I give the same speech and I always have parents emailing me that I was right by the end of the year. Below is my yearly speech:

Middle school is one of the hardest parts of growing up. There are a lot of social situations that arise that often impact academics. Your child will not always get an A. Your child will make a mistake. It is okay. These middle school years are a time of change; physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Their brains are literally developing right now, and girls do mature faster than boys. Your child may not “get it” this year, and that’s okay. Each child develops at their own pace and for some it doesn’t click until further down the road. As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is to be supportive. They will cry. They will be stressed. You will get into homework fights. They will yell at you because they don’t know how to handle what is going on. Just remember that it will pass.

Over the years I’ve talked to countless parents about how to help them improve their child’s reading, some even burst into tears during our conversations. Middle school is extremely challenging for parents and students, but there is help available. Today’s post is about how to help middle school readers and is for parents.

1. Know your child’s reading. Every year, without fail, I have at least one student who struggles with reading right off the bat. When I meet with the parents they act surprised because they say that in elementary school the child’s reading wasn’t an issue. Some parents at this point say that I’m too hard, that the school expects too much, or that their child is just being lazy. I spend so much time trying to get parents to recognize the struggle that we waste valuable time that could have been spent creating and enacting a reading plan.

My suggestion for parents is to keep an open mind. It’s okay if your child is not at the reading level they are expected to be at because many times they just aren’t ready. It is not a reflection on you as a parent in any way, some kids just need more time and more practice. Be open to suggestions from the school, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. I have found that typically boys struggle the most with higher order reading skills, like making inferences. I always tell parents it’s because their brain just isn’t there yet, but it will be. Many times I see the “click” moment in girls over the summer of going into seventh grade, and the boys are the summer going into eighth grade.

2. The role of reading. Once students hit middle school many parents feel that their child doesn’t have to read as much anymore, when in fact they need to be reading more. In elementary school, kids learn to read and in middle school it shifts to kids reading to learn. Most of the information they get is by reading a textbook, an article, etc., so they in fact need to practice reading more because it’s the main source of their learning.

If a child is struggling with reading a textbook provide them with nonfiction reading practice at home. This can include online articles and magazine subscriptions. Below are some great resources.

*For students who love sports, but aren’t ready to tackle Sports Illustrated or  adult Sports Illustrated Kidsarticles, SI (Sports Illustrated) Kids is perfect. This website (click here) has online articles about all different sports written at a lower reading level. The structure of the articles mirror those of adult articles so students are still learning how to navigate nonfiction text structures. The website is user-friendly and ideal for young readers.

*If your child loves animals then they should check out Kids National Geographic (click here). This website is super kid friendly and includes information on all different types of animals. It also has games for kids to play, which is always a plus.

Time for Kids*A great website for news is Time for Kids (click here). This resource is meant for students in grades K-6, so it is not for all middle school students. It is also available in print version if your child prefers to read the old fashioned way.

If a student struggles with reading novels, have some easier books at home for them to read. Ask the teacher for some suggestions or do a quick Google search. A go to list for me is from Goodreads (click here).

3. Read aloud. I know it sounds ridiculous because by middle school students can read independently. However, reading aloud is still super important at this stage of reading development. When kids hear a story they don’t have to worry about decoding unknown words or trying to figure out definitions, they can simply focus on comprehension. This allows them to create pictures, or a movie, in their head. Visualization is key to reading comprehension at this stage. Audiobooks are also phenomenal for helping kids visualize, and they’re perfect for when parents are too busy to read aloud.

Some options for incorporating read alouds include:

*Read together before bedtime. This can be a family activity or one-on-one. You want to make it a routine in order for it to be effective, however, it’s okay to miss a night here and there.

*Listen to audiobooks. Kids are so busy going to different after school activities, so it Audiobookmakes physically reading aloud a little challenging (especially in front of their friends). You can get books on CD at the library and listen to them as a family in the car or download audio books from iTunes and play them in the car or kids can listen to them on their iPod or phone. If you don’t want to spend money on audiobooks, do a Youtube search for the specific book you want. I have used Youtube read alouds for books like A Wrinkle in Time and kids have loved being able to listen independently.

4. Accept the twaddle. Every parent wants their child to read the classics, but in reality many children don’t want to read these. If your child doesn’t like to read and they bring home Diary of a Wimpy Kid, accept it. Many times kids gravitate towards the twaddle (easy, nonsense books) because they don’t have the self confidence to read the harder texts. Normally I allow young middle school (6th grade ish) students to read these books the first few months of school, then I challenge them with more complex texts. This way they are reading and building their confidence, without feeling too frustrated or overwhelmed.

5. Easy approaches to fiction. Students who are struggling readers need a little more guidance when they read fiction, especially class novels. Each teacher has their own approach and expectations and it varies with each text. As a parent, here are some easy ways you can help your child with a school fiction book.

*Read it with them. I have had parents who read class novels when the class does and that is totally okay. You can read the book with your child at home, or read it on your own and then discuss it with your child, whatever is most comfortable for you.

*Use the audio version. Many struggling readers prefer the audio version because they can just focus on the comprehension component. Have your child listen to the audio either before or after independently reading to help them fill in gaps. If the teacher allows it, encourage your child to listen to the audiobook during reading time in class.

*Talk about the book. Reading is a social activity because many times readers want to share their thoughts and opinions about what they read. Start off by asking reading comprehension questions (click here for some ideas) and then have your child describe specific characters and events to you. This dialogue helps students think about what they read on a different level then just plot. I usually suggest to parents that a child should choose one quote per chapter that speaks to them (it was descriptive, it was confusing, or just really good). Have them share this quote with you and talk about it. This type of activity helps with making inferences, a skill many middle schoolers struggle with.

*Sparknotes. I am one of those teachers that actually tells students about Sparknotes Sparknotesbecause when used appropriately they really are a great resource. After your child has read a chapter, have them look for a summary of that chapter online on Sparknotes. If the book is not there, Google chapter summaries for the specific book. Chapter summaries highlight important concepts from the chapter that a struggling reader may miss. They are often short and concise so the reader does not have to worry about vocabulary and long descriptions. I also suggest that students read chapter summaries before they take a quiz or a test just to make sure they comprehend the text.

6. Easy approaches to nonfiction. Many children struggle with the structure and language of nonfiction because it is so different than fiction. The good news is that students read more nonfiction in school because it is used in every class. Below are some easy at home ways to help your child navigate these challenging texts:

*Define the vocabulary. Some teachers require students to record the definition of vocabulary words in a text. In textbooks these words are often bolded and highlighted and the definition can be found in the glossary. As your child is reading make sure they are at least defining the word so they can understand the content. Typically textbook vocabulary words are crucial to understanding the overall picture of the reading.

*Summarize the reading. Depending on the length and teacher requirements, it is good to stop periodically and summarize the reading. Some students work best if they write a sentence summary for every heading, while others like to verbally summarize a section. Find out what works best for your child and go with that. I would make sure they are stopping frequently and especially during a long or information heavy section.

*Work while reading. Many times teachers give a chapter guide that needs to be completed with a reading. Instead of reading the whole chapter then filling out the guide, do the work while reading. This requires your child to slow down and process the information in more than one way.

*Record questions. If your child has questions about the content of the reading have them write it down to ask the teacher. Even if there is a quiz on the information, by having a specific question ready a teacher is more likely to answer it before doing anything with the content.

Middle school are challenging years to begin with, even more so for struggling readers. Always remember to ask for help, especially from the teacher. If you have any specific questions you would like to ask me, feel free to email me at littlereadingcoach@gmail.com.