Writing Workshop: The Highlight of My Month

When I was working full time for Edmentum, I was required to complete VTO hours. Immediately I thought about reaching out to my local library to see what I could do with teens. I was immediately offered an opportunity to run a new teen writing group.

What started out as volunteer time for my company, turned into my favorite night of the month. We have been running the workshop for a year now and it’s been amazing to see these writers grow!

Each meeting starts with the writers sharing their “homework” from last month (a response to a writing prompt). We all provide feedback and ask questions for each writer. Then I introduce the new writing prompts of the week, and after some chatting, we have some writing time. At the end of each meeting I have the writers share either a sentence or summarize what they got accomplished during the writing time. Sometimes the writers don’t have much because they were too busy chatting, or the creative juices weren’t flowing, and that’s totally okay.

As a teacher, I love being able to connect with kids on a personal level outside the classroom. We have created a safe place for middle/high school students to be themselves and share their writing. During our last meeting, I told the writers I was going to do a blog post on writing workshop, and they were gracious enough to provide me with their thoughts. (I typed their responses as they wrote them. Please keep in mind these are all middle school student responses).

“I love writing club because it’s a place where I feel welcome and unjudged. I love getting tips from other writers and making new friends that have similar interests. The prompts help me with my creativity and help me improve. I look forward to it every month!”

“Writing workshop is a great place to connect, write, and socialize.”

“It’s inspiring. Get to be helped out with your writing. Everyone’s nice.”

“Writing club is a great way to meet other kids with your interests.”

“How it gives teen writer the chance to share their work.”

“Writing work shop- I like that they let you speak your mined and that we can be creative and I have fun being around people. Every this is very organized. ”

I love that I get to spend time in my community by helping young writers. It’s the highlight of my month :).

The Bones of Who We Are 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 you know, my weakness in my book life is YA. A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on Swimming Sideways, and I loved it so much that I DM’d the amazing author and totally bonded. So when C.L. Walters reached out to me to be part of the The Bones of Who We Are I literally jumped at the opportunity.

The Bones of Who We Are, by C.L. Walters, dives into the realities of friendship, family, and personal growth.

The amazing characters pick up right where they left off, but this time we get Gabe’s story. The amount of build up to this will have you skimming pages to get to the good stuff, although the entire novel is quite fabulous. My goal is to not give anything away because I don’t want to ruin that reader moment for anyone.

Walters has a way of creating the most genuine characters I have ever come across. In The Bones of Who We Are, two characters really packed an incredible punch that have such positive impacts on Gabe’s life.

Martha, Gabe’s adoptive mother, has been depicted as the quintessential housewife. The woman makes fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies every day with an apron. But, we discover that Martha is an incredibly strong woman. We get a glimpse into her past during a heartfelt conversation with Gabe. Underneath the perfect mom, is a ferocious mama bear who has the biggest heart I have ever seen in literature. The love that she has for Gabe and the need to protect him reminds me of Lily Potter. Martha will stop at nothing to get her son what he needs to learn in a healthy environment. As a teacher and parent, I hear this story so many times from mom’s of classified students who have to fight for their children. Martha symbolizes the strength it takes to raise a child who is different in a world that is not understanding.

Dr. Miller, Gabe’s psychologist, is a true team player. We go back in time to the first session, and it’s clear that Doc Miller has way with children. I love how he is able to guide Gabe through the healing process with such kindness and heart. He is the glue in Gabe’s life. Dr. Miller’s insight is powerful and leaves readers to ponder their own lives. He is a pillar of strength in Gabe’s support system.

Along with incredible characters, Walters really dives into the themes of family and friendship. Families today look very different than families from fifty years ago. Families deal with addiction, separation, divorce, and abuse in a very judgmental society. Through Gabe’s story, Walters shows readers that a family does not have to be made up of biological parents and children. Family can be defined by those who love, fight, and protect one another. This is a very powerful message for readers today. It let’s them know it is okay not to have the perfect nuclear family. In fact, there is no such thing as a perfect family.

Friendship is a re-occurring theme in Walters’ novels, and she continues to dig deeper into this concept with each novel. In The Bones of Who We Are, forgiveness is seen between all of the characters. They learn that regardless of what was done in the past, it is possible to move forward with relationships. True friendships have a solid foundation that can withstand anything, as we see with Seth, Abby and Gabe. The quality of friends is more important than the quantity.

Personally, I think that every reader can relate to Gabe. Throughout the novel, he is battling some serious internal conflicts that have plagued him for years. It is as though Seth’s accident and life/death situation has forced Gabe to battle through demons of his past. We see him contemplating suicide while extremely intoxicated in order to deal with Seth’s condition. Gabe’s personal growth is really explained in the second part of the book. We see his physical change in actions (sitting in the cafeteria again) but we also see some symbolism with his wardrobe. He exchanges his black hoody based attire for lighter colored clothing. It’s as though Abby has literally brightened his world. I love that he takes Dr. Miller’s advice of working through situations because it allows Gabe to morph into a stronger individual.

The Bones of Who We Are is an incredible book that I would recommend for readers 15 and up. There is some mature language and content included in this text. I truly can’t say enough about these amazing novels.

 

 

Virtual Tutoring Services

Little Reading Coach was created to offer students and families individualized virtual tutoring. In case you missed the full explanation of my why, check out the post here. I’ve had a bunch of people ask me what virtual tutoring sessions include, so I figured I would take a few minutes to show you all that Little Reading Coach has to offer.

 

Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12
Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Recording of session and tutor notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Access to weekly read aloud (live or recorded)

Virtual Reading and Writing Homeschooling for Grades 6-12 
Daily course includes:
*Novel based individualized curriculum created by a Reading Specialist
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual course time
*Recording of session and teacher notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Homework assigned daily
*Parent teacher conference once a month

 

Virtual Reading Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Assessments used:
CTOPP 2 for phonological aweareness
Qualitative Reading Inventory-6 for reading level and comprehension

Reading assessment/evaluation Includes:
*Conduct reading assessment(s) [2] I Hour Sessions
*Virtual Parent Meeting [1] 1/2 Hour Discussion Session
*Provide list of reading strategies and accommodations based on assessment data
*Suggest books based on assessment data
*Written report with findings from data collected

Virtual Writing Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Each evaluation includes a write up that can be shared with schools and teachers

Quick Write
*on demand writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure

The Basics
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

The Works
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*Basic grammar diagnostic (knowledge of parts of speech, sentence structure)
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

Little Reading Coach can conduct reading and assessments, but can not officially diagnose any reading/writing disabilities.

For more information click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming Sideways Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information check out the author’s website here

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

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

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

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

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

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

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

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

I was beyond frustrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information click here.

The Fever King Book Review

I really feel like my TBR pile has exploded in the last few weeks. I feel truly touched that authors and agents have reached out to me for book reviews, so be prepared for a lot of great new texts appearing on this little blog in the near future.

In the past I have reviewed books I’ve won from Goodreads giveaways (see Dating a Quarterback Secret #3). Today I’m sharing another one of my wins!

Fever King, by Victoria Lee, is a YA political novel about trust, love, and change.

The setting is futuristic in America that is no longer the country we all know. We follow Noam, a teenage boy, as he navigates the world among refugees, a virus, and a very tense political climate. Early on, Noam is infected with the virus and turns into a witching (a survivor of the virus with magical powers). His magic is so special, he is to be trained with the most elite witchings and has private tutoring sessions with Lehrer. Lehrer is the most powerful witching, who survived the catastrophe that transformed America over a hundred years ago.

In all honesty, it took me a while to wrap my head around the history of story. While texts like The Hunger Games are super straightforward about the history, Fever King was not as upfront. There are bread crumbs here and there to provide the reader with more background (letters, videos, etc), but it was hard for me to keep all of the information straight. I’m also not very big into politics to begin with, so my brain isn’t used to reading about political issues in a text. In my opinion, this text is a HUGE social commentary, and the timing of it is perfect with our current society.

I realized while reading this text, that most popular YA novels have a female main character, so it was quite a treat to have a male one. Noam is an incredibly intelligent, mature and responsible individual. It is also revealed that he is bi-sexual, which I loved. Since it is a YA book, there is a hint of romance, but it is not the center of the plot. Noam is a character that does wrong things for the right reason. He has difficulties trusting others and takes this very seriously. He is an extremely loyal individual, until he has a reason not to be.

I can honestly say I haven’t read any other books that are similar to Fever King. Between the heavy politics, bi-sexual romance, and complicated relationships, this book keeps readers on their toes. While reading the last few chapters, I found myself skipping lines to find out what happens next.

One aspect that caught my eye right away was style of writing. Usually YA books are written on a less complex writing level, making it user friendly for readers in middle school. Fever King‘s sophisticated writing is definitely geared towards an older audience, I would suggest sophomores and up. I can’t wait for the next book!!