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.

 

Multi-sensory Writing: It Makes a Difference

Students today write a lot more than we realize.  They constantly compose emails, text messages, captions for social media, and more. We live in a time where written expression is used constantly, and to thrive in today’s society, students are expected to participate.

Little Reading Coach believes in using a variety of methods for teaching writing. However, before students can write paragraphs and essays, they must first be able to understand the parts of speech that make up a sentence, which is why LRC starts at the beginning and gradually works students up to writing extended pieces.

Framing Your Thoughts (Sentence Structure) is a multi-sensory program by Project Read that LRC utilizes to help students master the art of writing. Using symbols, visuals, and hands-on interaction, this program provides writers with a different approach to learning how to structure effective sentences.

This type of program is ideal for students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, ESL/ELL, etc.,  as well as those who don’t seem to grasp learning to write in the traditional way. It breaks down sentence writing into parts of speech, and encourages students to diagram sentences using the specific symbols in the program. This deconstruction allows writers to “see” what makes a complete sentence and how to use the various parts of speech correctly and effectively.

Personally, I have used this program when I taught literacy support for 6th and 7th grade, and saw a tremendous difference in my students’ writing. The symbols and visuals allowed them to see why a sentence was a fragment and how to fix their mistakes. I have also used this program when tutoring middle and high school students who were reading on grade level, but needed some additional writing support. LRC offers multi-sensory writing for grades 3-12.

For more information about Little Reading Coach click here.

Songs & Books for Tweens/Teens About Moving

Moving has got to be one of the most stressful life situations. While it can be very difficult for adults to handle all of these changes at once, it is even more challenging for tweens and teens.

Many of us read or  listen to music to relate to circumstances that are happening in our lives. Below is a list of resources for middle and high school students to help with the transition of moving.

Songs

“Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch. This one definitely takes me back to high school and break ups, but in looking at the lyrics it’s truly a great song to address saying goodbye to someone who has made an impact.

“The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert. During my first year teaching, one of my students told me about this song when we read House on Mango Street. It’s a great reflection song for tweens/teens to remember the different memories of their childhood in the house they grew up in.

“Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot. Sometimes tweens/teens need a little pick me up and motivation to make it through big life changes. This song encourages listeners to keep it going.

“Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. This classic, fun song is great for packing and lightening the mood.

“Where Are You Going?” by Dave Matthews. Ever get in a mood where you just want a slower song? Dave Matthews has got tweens/teens in that mood covered with this song.

Books

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. For readers who love Frindle, this book is perfect to help with the transition of moving. Sixth grade twins are about to start a new school and things don’t go as planned. I would recommend this book for fifth and sixth grade readers.

Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry. If your kids love Number the Stars and The Giver, this is a perfect book to help cope with the struggles of moving. The twelve year old main character moves from an apartment to the suburbs. I would recommend this this book for grades 5-7.

The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park. For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this humorous middle school text is perfect. Howard believes that his parents have ruined his life by moving across the country. This story is all about making friends. I recommend it for readers in grades 5-7.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Behind all of the vampireness of this text, a component of the plot in the beginning is Bella moving from Florida to Washington. Not only does she deal with moving to a new state, she is also adjusting to living with a father she has only visited in the past. I recommend this book for readers in grades 6-12.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. This is the perfect YA novel for high school students who move. It tells the story of Abby adjusting to life after a move from Hawaii as she maneuvers friendships and relationships, while learning that the past does not always stay in the past. This book has been featured on My 10 Favorite YA Novels, 6 Favorite Indie YA Novels, and reviewed here.

 

 

 

My 10 Favorite YA Novels

The other day I shared a post about what makes YA so special (click here to read it), and it made me start thinking about all of the YA books that I love. So, I decided to share my personal list of favorite YA novels, in no particular order.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I literally can’t even type that title without smiling. I have loved this novel since it first came out, and have used it as a read aloud with my students every year. It’s honestly a book that has turned many of my non-readers into readers. I love it because the plot is fast paced with lots of twists, the characters are incredibly relatable, and there is just a hint of mystery that keeps readers on their toes. It’s not the typical mushy gushy teen love story, but shows the importance of teamwork in a relationship.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These books just make my heart so happy. I have read this series more times than I can count, and I am now addicted to the audio books. This to me will always be a staple in YA literature culture because it sparked a movement in our society that showed the power of a book. I love it because it’s beyond imaginative and creative in terms of plot, the characterization is incredible as we see them grow up, and the timeless theme of good vs. evil is captivating.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. When I was in middle school I saw the TV movie of this novel and instantly fell in love with the story. For the next 15 years ish I read the series and followed Janie’s story. When the final story was released a few years ago, I knew I wanted to somehow introduce my students to this incredible mystery. I dedicated an entire school year read aloud to my honors sixth grade students every day for 10 minutes. We literally cried on the last day we finished the series because we were all so emotionally invested in the characters. I absolutely LOVE how intricate and complex the plot is, especially as readers discover more about certain characters. This is a fabulous option for students who love realistic mysteries.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I feel like I’m home whenever I re-read this series. The characters are some of my best friends, especially because they can always make me laugh with their wit and sarcasm. As a reader, I love that I can be a total English nerd and analyze this text for religious symbolism and a whole slew of inferences. This is definitely a series I would read with a pen and highlighter in hand. I tried to watch Shadowhunters when it was a TV series, and I couldn’t make it through the first episode because I didn’t want to destroy my personal version in my head. The use of fantasy in this series sucks readers into a world they will never want to leave. I’m also a fan of the maturity of this series, which gives it a really great YA feel.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I truly don’t have enough words to describe my love for this novel. I remember reading it in 6th grade, and I still have my original copy. While the plot and characters are fabulous, I LOVE the underlying messages in this text. The battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, government control, and so, so much more. I love the feeling of empowerment this book gives readers to fight for what’s right. The symbolism is so decadent and rich, which makes it an amazing novel to use with middle school readers. Truthfully, I get excited whenever I do my Wrinkle unit.

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn. I remember seeing this book at my local library as a teen and devouring it. Teens are always fascinated about being a celebrity and living that kind of lifestyle. Since I grew up in the 2000s, hello bubble gum pop era, this book got my attention. I love how the plot took readers on a realistic journey as Wonder went from working at Dairy Queen to being a pop sensation. It felt very 2000s, and was a fun, quick read.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I mentioned this text in my previous post, What’s So Special About YA?, so it obviously had to make my list. One of my favorite aspects about YA novels is there really are no boundaries when it comes to plot. This one touches on a very sensitive subject of abuse, but I think that’s why I like it so much. While it doesn’t sugar coat anything, the writing isn’t too in your face and instead shows readers Caitlin’s experience. I love the use of POV in this one, because we gain an insight into what victims of abuse go through.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. Full disclosure, I’m addicted to reality TV, specifically the Real Housewives franchise. When I first started reading this series I could taste the reality TV feel right away. It’s very Bachelor in a sense. However, the reality feel doesn’t stay for very long before it morphs into a love story with some major problems. I loved the fun tone of this series and of course the idea of a prince and princess. I honestly made my classes have a reading day the day the final book came out just so I could read it (which they totally didn’t mind).

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I know, I know. Similar to Harry Potter, Twilight sparked something in our society which turned it into an incredible phenomenon. Werewolves, vampires and a love story don’t sound that exciting until you read the series. During the peak of its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for readers to pick a team, which readers still take extremely seriously. I will forever be Team Jacob, and I apologize if I offend anyone. (Never go back to a man that left you). It’s an incredibly easy read that speaks to the heart of teenage girls because they all want that deep love.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is probably the most underrated YA book I’ve ever come across. For the life of me I don’t understand how it was never more popular. This was my very first unit plan during my practicum experience and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the realness of this novel. Steven’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer. We follow Steven as he deals with an incredibly challenging home life and dealing with middle school all at the same time. The dialogue and characterization are spot on for an 8th grade boy, which makes the story that much better.

 

What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth 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’ve been teaching for ten years, and during that time I have seen/heard about quite a bit of tween/teen girl drama and bullying. Cellphones and social media have completely changed the world for bullies since victims can never escape it like they used to back in the day. When we read about incidents in the news we never get the whole story, until we are introduced into that world by a book.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth, by Samantha Benjamin, is a young adult novel that takes readers on a journey filled with bullying, self discovery, and teenage love.

We follow Tammy, a teenage girl, as she moves from London to Morpington, a small town where everyone is related and knows each other. She instantly struggles with leaving her two best friends, Kristie and Sonia, and tries to fit in at her new school. The girls aren’t very welcoming, and Tammy finds her head in a toilet on her very first day. She also endures physical altercations with girls while trying to navigate her new social environment.

If that isn’t stressful enough, Tammy is also expected to spend time with her dad who clearly is not father of the year. He pushes his daughter to date a boy she is not a fan of, and does not support her emotionally or financially. Readers will like him less and less the more they learn about him.

As we dive deeper into her story, we learn that Tammy was bullied in her old school by a girl named Lorraine. Readers can understand why this character has trust issues and has difficulties making friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book based in the U.K., and I realized I don’t think I’ve read any YA book quite like this one.

The story is told in third person omniscient, and the scene changes happen very quickly, which took me a little getting used to because there are no space breaks between switches. My reading was definitely a little choppy in the beginning because of this, since I was trying really hard to figure out what was going on. However, once I got the hang of it my reader brain was able to follow the story line seamlessly. In fact, I don’t think certain pieces of the story would have been as effective without the quick switches.

The characterization of Tammy is raw. Plain, simple, and true. We experience all sides of her, not just the good ones, and she is not meant to come across as cute. It reminded me a little bit of Veronica Roth’s Divergent character Tris, except that while Tris had an inaccurate portrayal of herself, Tammy knows she has issues and expresses them very clearly.

Tammy will admit to readers when she is making a poor decision, but will continue to do so anyway. Why? Because she’s a teenager and that’s what they do. Her realness is incredible. Because of a domino effect, Tammy smokes cigarettes and weed, and even dapples with drinking. She tells readers she needs cigarettes to take the edge off, not because it’s cool. Adults tend to think teens partake in these activities because of peer pressure or whatnot, but Tammy shows readers that sometimes teens do the same things as adults for the same reason, to escape.

She is also going through the process of self discovery with her sexuality. Benjamin leaves little hints here and there, but it’s not until Tammy’s neighbor Alexis discusses the topic with her that Tammy realizes that she is bisexual. Personally, I loved this component of the plot. Being a teenager is challenging enough, as Tammy shows readers, but it’s even more complicated when you have to hide part of yourself.

As adults, we often look down on teenage love as not real. Teenagers are hormonal, emotional and have a flair for the dramatics. However, teenage love is also extremely complex and complicated, as we see with Tammy. When she starts seeing a girl named Lucy we are introduced to the legit crazy world that some teenagers experience. Feelings of guilt, desperation, and obligation are all very much real, and adults sometimes don’t realize their significance.

This novel was truly eye opening about what happens in the life of a teenage girl. Not going to lie, I was petrified a few times while reading it, especially thinking about what the world will be like when my three year old daughter is older. However, if you work with teenagers or you have a daughter, this is a must read.

I would also highly recommend that every teenage girl read this at one point to realize that they are not alone with how they feel or what they experience. The intricacies of friendships, family issues, and surviving high school are extremely complex and delicate. This book holds nothing back and literally touches on every topic imaginable for a teenager.

To purchase the book click here.

Student Testimonial: What One Student Says About Little Reading Coach

I loved working with kids in the classroom, but tutoring one-on-one allowed me to really bond with kids. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with a student since his freshman year of high school, especially while he’s taking midterms during his first year of grad school.

When I first met Austin, he didn’t know what a verb was. He is without a doubt my biggest success story, and I am beyond proud of him. This is what he has to say about Little Reading Coach:

“I can honestly say that without Christine’s help I would not have fared nearly as well as I did in high school, in college, nor would I realistically have had a chance of going to grad school. There is a clear and obvious jump in my writing level from before and after sessions with her. And, it is not an overstatement to say that her influence, and tutelage on my personal essays when applying for college, played a large role in my admission.  As well as raising the quality of the product, the method in which she works with her students also is unmatched compared to any other tutoring service that I’ve encountered. And anyone who does decide to use her is going to be better off for it.” Austin G.

For more information about Little Reading Coach’s services, check out this blog post.

To enroll in virtual tutoring sessions, click here