E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

I spent five years in middle school classrooms and one year as a literacy coach before making the transition to being a virtual teacher. I’m currently in my third year as an online English teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum, and also an online tutor with Little Reading Coach.

Making the transition from a brick and mortar classroom to a virtual one can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once a student gets the hang of things life gets much easier.

Below are ways for helping kids of all ages make the transition to e-learning environments.

Know what platforms are being used. Kids use multiple learning sites, platforms and textbooks every day in a brick and mortar school, and the same applies to the online environment. For each class, make a list of all websites, textbooks, etc. with log in information (usually a username and password). This will automatically turn into a handy cheat sheet so you can avoid the stress of looking for important information (like trying to remember 600 different passwords). Feel free to use my version here.

Make a schedule. Learning at home means a very different routine for some kids, which in itself can be stressful. If your school doesn’t have a specific schedule for your child to follow, create your own. Here are some suggestions I have given my virtual families over the last few years:

Focus on one subject a day. This works well for kids who feel very overwhelmed or struggle to work well independently without a teacher standing in front of them.

Spend 1 hour on each subject. This schedule works for kids who just need a routine in place. It helps to keep the schedule the same every day. Have it written down on a white board or piece of paper so it’s within sight while a student is working. I also suggest having the student set an alarm on their phone or computer to let them know when 1 hour is up. (I say 1 hour because it will take kids longer to do work at home depending on the subject).

Have an alternating schedule. I like this one best for elementary and early middle school kids. Mondays and Wednesdays could be Language Arts and Social Studies, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be Math and Science and Friday’s could be specials/electives.

Have a learning area. Designate a place where a student will be doing their work. This could be at a kitchen table, desk, etc. Make sure all materials are in this area (chargers, paper, pencils, books, etc.).

Make a to do list. This is by far my favorite piece of advice. Before your student starts working every day, have him or her make a to do list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Make it as specific as you can and encourage your learner to check things off as they go. For instance, if your student needs to watch 2 videos, answer questions and write a response, write the title of each video on the to do list. This breaks down the tasks for kids and even though it may seem like a lot, encourage them to take their time.

Communicate with teachers. Star this. Write it on the schedule you create. This is by far the the number 1 best way to be successful with online learning. If your learner has a question, email the teacher. If your student is confused about instructions, email the teacher. If your learner is falling behind on the work, email the teacher. Communication is the ultimate tool to help kids. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent/guardian because once your student gets into the groove they will feel more confident and capable of learning from home and the emails will lessen.

Take breaks. If you’re creating your own schedule factor in break times. Staring at a screen is physically and mentally draining. Make sure your learner is walking away from the screen frequently. Take a bathroom, drink or snack break. 

Be an actively engaged in your learner’s education. As a parent/guardian, you may need to be a more involved in the day to day assignments, depending on the age of the learner. Be in the know about what is going on with expectations from the school. I strongly suggest joining local Facebook groups, or creating a group text with other class moms to help one another stay up to date.

Breathe. The first few days are always the hardest. As an online educator, I promise things do get easier. Just remember you can always reach out to the teacher or school for any help.

 

Little Reading Coach offers online reading and writing tutoring for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

The Elf Who Couldn’t Read Book Review

Two weeks ago I shared a post about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas and I wanted to share some of my personal faves from the list. I’ve already shared Arial the Secret Santa and A Christmas Cookie Exchange , and today I’m sharing my current favorite.

The Elf Who Couldn’t Read, by Sonica Ellis, takes a look at the realities of reading struggles in a fun, festive way that encourages readers to not give up.

I’ve been teaching reading for ten years. I have seen kids struggle to read aloud in front of their peers and how difficult it can be. We know these situations exist, but we often don’t see it in movies or books.

This story starts with Santa needing some help reading his list, after all the man is pretty old. Jingles, the elf, is asked by Santa to read the list to the other elves, and Jingles has a very difficult time reading the words. I LOVE how Ellis makes it a point for Santa to express that Jingles knows all his letters and sounds, but he needs time to practice and to take his time when reading.

Santa encourages and supports Jingles in his practice by working with him. With Santa’s assistance, Jingles gains confidence in his reading to feel comfortable reading in front of the other elves. When he gets stuck, he has no problem taking his time to sound out each word.

The story concludes with Jingles accompanying Santa on his Christmas Eve ride. Jingles is responsible for telling Santa where to go by reading the names on the list. Readers can see how Jingles sounds out the various names, and that even though he has gotten better, he is still working on improving his reading skills.

There are so many things I love about this book. I love the positive approach the author took about the challenges struggling readers face. I love how Santa is so supportive. We typically think of Santa as generous, but this shows a whole new side of Santa that really embodies the Christmas spirit. I love that the story teaches kids to not give up when a task is hard. I love that readers come away knowing that reading can be fun.

I was a struggling reader when I was in kindergarten, which is why I repeated. I think a book like this would have truly spoken to me as a kid because I could relate to Jingles. This book would be ideal for a class read aloud in for preschool through second grade.

To purchase the book click here.

I Like Me and I Love Me 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.

As a middle school language arts teacher, I would use picture books here and there in my lessons to teach reading skills. However, it wasn’t until I started reading books to Molly that I developed a whole new appreciation for picture books. It’s incredible what pictures and simple sentences can convey to young readers.

I Like Me and I Love Me, by Abby Zaitley, is a charming picture book that teaches children the importance of self love.

I was instantly drawn to the simplicity of this text. Each page consists of a simple sentence with easy vocabulary for kids. The end rhyme allows the sentences to flow nicely and avoid choppiness, especially when reading it aloud. The pictures also add a lovely touch, especially the water color feel. They provide a very calm feeling that aligns really well with the text.

While I was reading this book, I have to say that I felt very zen, as though I was taking a yoga class. The affirmations are supportive and reassure young readers that not only is it acceptable to love yourself for who you are, but to embrace the quirks. The story in fact opens with the lines, “I like me when I feel perky. I love me when I’m quirky.” We live in a very judgmental world sometimes, so being able to tell young children that it’s okay to be different is a very powerful message.

My favorite pair of pages is when the main character is at school. “I like when I trust in me. I love me when we are we.” The picture shows the little girl holding hands in a circle with friends and it just evoked such a safe feeling. When kids are around their friends they should be able to be themselves and enjoy their friendships. The wording reminded me a little bit of Winnie the Pooh, which also adds to the warm and fuzzy zen feeling of the story.

This is a great book to use with young readers at home or in school settings. I could see it being used by a guidance counselor to do some self-esteem/confidence building skills when working with preschool, kindergarten and elementary aged students.

For more information about this book check out the author’s blog here.

To purchase the book click here. 

The Happiest Birthday Ever Book Review

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that kids always surprise me. I’ve seen students share their lunch with a friend who dropped theirs in a puddle on a field trip. These little acts of kindness warm my heart.

The Happiest Birthday Ever, by Stephanie Berger, is a fantastic story about children participating in random acts of kindness which who shows young readers that it’s all about the little things in life.

Ben is turning seven. He tells his mom what he wants for his birthday (candy, a treasure hunt), but most of all he wants to make people happy. Ben invites his closest friends to his party with a very unique invitation that has RAOK written on them, and the children are asked to bring a stuffed animal. When they arrive at Ben’s house on the day of the party, Ben reveals that they will be doing seven random acts of kindness to celebrate Ben’s birthday.

The acts of kindness are truly thoughtful and realistic. The children bring the stuffed animals to a police station for officers to give to little kids who are upset and scared. Ben and his friends create a treasure hunt for kids at the park. My personal favorite was when the children made cards to send to soldiers.

There are so many things I like about this book that I don’t even know where to start. The writing style of this book is perfect for doing a class read aloud. When I first saw RAOK in the pictures I actually thought this would be the perfect time to stop and ask readers to make a some guess about what RAOK stands for. I like the consistency with the pictures on the left and the text on the right. The sentence structure allows the story to flow naturally without choppiness (perfect for reading aloud). I love that the pictures really do explain what the text is saying on each page, especially for those students who need that visual to help with comprehension.

I am also a HUGE fan of the acts of kindness mentioned in the book. They are ones that kids of all ages can do, they don’t require much money, and they don’t take too much time. With every act of kindness, Ben and his friends placed cards with the act to explain their purpose. The author was generous enough to provide copies of those cards in the back of the book for children to use.

It’s clear that the overall theme of this picture book is happiness. Not only do Ben and his friends make strangers happy with their acts, but they each feel happy knowing they did something kind. This just gives me the warm and fuzzies.

I think this book can be used with students in grades K-3. I would highly recommend making it a read aloud activity for character education or to help celebrate Veteran’s Day. Burger provides readers with a link about more information for sending thank you cards to active military members, and a percentage of sales will be donated to Make A Wish Foundation to help children smile.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Fiona: Forever? Book Review

Once in a while a book comes into my life that will forever stay with me. Whether it’s a character, a gripping plot, some works just tend to stay with you as a reader.

Fiona: Forever?, by Erinn Uher, is a remarkable story about a little girl in foster care who is looking for her forever home.

One of my favorite things about working with self published authors is the freedom they have to create a book that includes everything they want. The structure of this book is a fiction with some nonfiction elements thrown in. There are bolded words throughout the text (vocabulary words) that students can look up in the glossary at the back of the book. The vocabulary words were related to foster care (such as case worker, bonding) to help teach readers important aspects about new information. Personally, I really liked this because I even learned a few new words.

And, as always, I love when a book can be more than a book. This text includes Think About It questions after each chapter to help the reader think, reflect, and interact with the text. These are not just reading comprehension question, but are higher order thinking based. There are also some areas for readers to draw characters, or other aspects of the story, which is also fabulous.

Fiona, our main character, is  an adorable little girl with red curly hair and glasses. She has been to eight foster homes, but dreams of her forever family. Her mole pet, Melvin, is her best friend and the only constant in her life. As with any child in the system, she has issues letting people in and trusting them. She is very independent.

The Oliver’s are a caring and loving family. Lorraine, Pete and their teenage son Clyde, welcome Fiona into their home with open arms. Pete helps Fiona with her homework, and he shows a tremendous amount of patience, Lorraine takes Fiona shopping and respects Fiona’s decisions, and Clyde interacts with Fiona like a big brother by teaching her to play basketball.

We see Fiona blossom into a happy little girl because of the Oliver family. They make her feel special on her birthday, are by her side when she breaks her wrist, and provide her with a strong support system.

However, my absolute favorite character is Miss Alice. Fiona stayed with Miss Alice temporarily. This older woman is truly amazing. When Fiona was with her, Miss Alice had had 48 foster children. Talk about a woman with a huge heart. One night, Miss Alice was telling Fiona about the first little boy she fostered, and how much of a challenge he was.

“He was just so used to bein’ hurt and neglected by the grown-ups in his life. He needed to learn to trust all over again. Needed to know for sure I was gonna be here for him no matter what, even on the most ugly days.”

Personally, I think this is the most powerful quote in the entire text. It sums up beautifully the struggles children in foster care face, and why it is so hard for them to trust others. It also shows us how important foster parents truly are in the lives of children. There are many, many emotions that are involved, and it takes special individuals to help children work through these emotions.

Without giving away the ending, I will tell you that I did cry when reading this book. I actually Facebook messaged the author as soon as I finished. I had a hard time typing because of the tears in my eyes. For those of us with children or who work with children, this book will grab your heart.

While I was reading, I kept visualizing a third or fourth grade class reading this as a class novel, and using the activities inside like a reader’s notebook. It can also be used at home and in a homeschool environment.

To purchase this book click here: https://www.amazon.com/Fiona-Forever-Erinn-Uher-ebook/dp/B07XHN4K8M

Arial the Chef 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 love food. I’m a fan of going out to dinner, experimenting with different recipes and watching Hell’s Kitchen. Molly is also a fan of these food things, especially watching Hell’s Kitchen while cooking in her play kitchen.

Arial is definitely becoming one of my favorite characters in a picture book series. I’ve previously reviewed Arial the Youtuber (an Amazon best seller) and I’m so excited to share another Arial story today that involves food!

Arial the Chef, by Mary Nhin, is a fabulous story about the importance of working hard and helping others.

I really like how Arial’s Youtube videos continues into this book. We pick up with her recording a new video for making sushi at home (she makes it look so easy!). Arial wants to purchase a sushi robot to help her cut rolls, but she doesn’t have $400.

The family makes and delivers dinner to their neighbor, who is sick. Britany, the daughter, reveals that her dad may lose his job because he needs a surgery to get better, but the family can’t afford it. This bit of information may seem random and out of place, but it’s an important component to the overall plot and message.

To make money, Arial opens a sushi bar. Her grand opening is busy, but soon she realizes the struggles of starting a new business. Even though she feels defeated, Arial looks to her parents for advice, and they give her some great ideas. I love how Arial’s family works as a team to support one another. Her parents’ ideas allow Arial to gain some momentum with her sushi bar, and at the end of the month she is able to walk away with a profit.

But, wait, there’s more! With her $400 profits, Arial doesn’t buy the sushi robot, but instead goes to Britany’s and gives her the money! This act of kindness makes my heart so full and speaks volumes to young readers. The overall theme of the text can be summed up by this quote from the book. “She proved to herself she could do hard things and help others.” I am absolutely head over heels for this quote and want to put it in my office. I love, love, love the lessons of grit and kindness that this book offers. I feel like I fall more in love with Arial with each story she’s in.

And, just like Arial the Youtuber, Nhin provides some great extras at the end of the book. First, there is a step-by-step guide for making sushi at home and how to open a sushi bar. Super cool fun fact, the author has experience with opening a sushi restaurant! There is also a vocabulary activity, discussion topics, a writing exercise and drawing space for readers to interact with the story.

I think this book would be fabulous when discussing theme, characterization, or character education in a classroom or homeschool environment for students in grades 1-3.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Cutie Sue Wins the Race 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 do have moments when I compare my childhood in the 90s to Molly’s today. While I did watch TV, I was also riding my bike, going on play dates, and playing sports. I was quite an active kid. I feel that kids these days are more inclined to stay inside and socialize on social media, play video games, or watch TV.

Cutie Sue Wins the Race, by Kate Melton, is a realistic story about a little girl who is motivated and supported to change her lifestyle and win a race.

When we first meet Cutie Sue, she is a couch potato. She is inspired to get in shape when she decides she wants to win first place in a race at school. Her dad takes her for a run and Cutie Sue realizes that she is going to need to work hard to get in shape.

Personally, I love Cutie Sue’s dad. He helps his daughter practice, but also teaches her lifestyle changes (drinking water, eating right, having fun) that truly help her prepare for the race. Dad is supportive in his guidance. He doesn’t sugar coat the situation by saying how amazing Cutie Sue is, instead, he is out there with his daughter keeping track of her times.

I was also a huge fan of how Melton teaches readers that exercise and eating healthy can change your life in a positive way. Not only does Cutie Sue get faster at running, her body felt stronger, her energy was higher and she had more confidence. In one of the pictures, it shows Cutie Sue turning down candy as she’s eating veggies. I liked this visual reenforcement because typically kids will pick sweets over healthy foods.

I could see this picture book working really well with kids in preschool through 2nd grade. I also think it could work very well in an early elementary health curriculum about exercising and eating right.

To purchase the book click here