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.

Bound in Silver Book Review

I’m currently on a YA kick and I’m enjoying every second of it. I keep finding myself taking screenshots of books that I see on Instagram, which is how I found out about this lovely text.

Bound in Silver, by Marie Grace, is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel.

We follow Arabella Grace as she navigates the typical teenage issues (school, boys, the death of her grandparents) but her world gets turned upside down when she discovers she is a Clock Keeper. As readers, we experience her training, changes in her relationships with those around her, and the strides Arabella makes with her personal growth.

As a die hard YA fangirl myself, I LOVED all of the amazing references to Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, City of Glass, etc. I truly felt that the character of Arabella embodies girls like me (minus the super hero thing), which made me want to be her best friend. The first person narration made so many text to text connections (there were one or two I actually did not know) which made me appreciate the plot more because I was able to understand the significance of the events.

And just like all fabulous YA novels, there was a love story in the mix of fighting, Shadows, swords, and nightmares. However, unlike Twilight, this text downplays the love to explain more of the plot to set up future books. There is no mushy gushy nonsense happening. Each Clock Keeper has an Anam Cara, a true soulmate. As a romantic, I fell in love with this concept. It did remind me of parabatai from City of Bones, but on a much more intimate scale. The vow that is spoken to connect Anam Caras together is beyond beautiful and it should totally be part of future wedding vows for book lovers.

As a teacher, I really appreciated how the author was able to capture teenage thoughts without including curse words and nudity. It’s a little more conservative than Divergent and City of Bones, but the feelings and emotions are still powerful between the characters.

One of the overall themes of the novel is good vs. evil, and we see that with the constant mention of light and dark imagery. The Shadows, white ink tattoos, black ink tattoos, all express the importance of good vs. evil in the plot. Personally, I enjoyed how obvious the symbolism was because it allowed me as a reader to enjoy the story more. For struggling readers, especially high school students, this is a great way for them to make inferences and draw conclusions without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will say the plot kept me engaged, and it really ramped up the last two chapters. All of a sudden the book was over and I was left wanting more. The end doesn’t stop abruptly, but it definitely makes you want to start the second book right away (which I am trying very to wait patiently for).

Overall, I would recommend this book for any YA fantasy fans in grades 6-12.

Blood Book Review

My favorite genre is 10000% YA. I’m fortunate where I get to share my love of these amazing texts with my students. During our class discussions we often compare works to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. I’m always on a quest for the next series to completely suck me into a different world, and I just found one!

Blood by Kirsten Krueger, is a fantasy young adult novel about people with special powers (Affinities). Readers follow a group of new students who are learning about their unique abilities and how it impacts the world around them.

I had the privilege of meeting this author at my writing workshop meeting a few weeks ago. We attended the same high school and grew up in the same town (such a small world). In speaking with her, we learned that her writing is based on Harry Potter fan fiction. After reading this novel, I can totally see it!!

My number one favorite aspect about this piece are the characters. Hands down they are the most entertaining and engaging characters I have come across since City of Bones. The dialogue is filled with sarcasm, sass, and brutal honesty that captures the true attitude of a high school student. I actually caught myself loling for a solid 30 seconds during the scene with the students in the van when Adara freaks out over Kiki and Seth’s mushy gushiness.

Adara is an incredibly hard young lady (although she’d probably yell at me for calling her a lady) that many students can relate to. She has a very heavy guard up, which makes sense based on her history, and her mouth is razor sharp. While the point of view is third person, it doesn’t always stay on the main character, which I liked. The shifts in POV don’t distract the reader from the action, but rather is used to explore more personal feelings and experiences of other characters at just the right points in the plot.

As in Divergent,  Blood also alludes to some political commentary. The Affinities pose a threat to the US government and the presidential candidates are in favor of imprisoning these individuals. Usually writers focus on corrupt governments in YA novels like this, but Blood didn’t go in that direction. Instead, it looks like it will be a key piece of the plot in book #2 like a domino effect.

Personally, the plot felt a little drawn out to me during my reading. However, as the story went on, I realized it was so detailed to provide readers with a clear image of the dynamics between the characters and background information for the next book. The last two chapters did make everything come together, but also left me with some questions.

I would recommend this book for high school readers because of content and language used. Just as a heads up, it has 502 pages. It reminds me of a grown up version of Harry Potter, mixed with a little bit of City of Bones and Divergent.

For more information on the author click here.

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.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.