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.

Share a Little Kindness Book Review

As a mom, I love that picture books have the power to teach young readers life lessons. With so much negativity, it’s important to remind our children that the actions and words used truly impact others.

Share a Little Kindness, written and illustrated by Colleen Brunetti, is an inspiring picture book that teaches readers the importance of different types of kindness.

I’ve been fortunate to have read and reviewed Brunetti’s first two books: Aidan the Wonder Kid and And Pip Too.

As a reader, I felt as though the narrator was speaking directly to me with the use of the word  ‘Love”. The narrator feels like a guide and mentor for young readers, explaining how to approach challenging situations and how to properly react. It made me feel calm and relaxed as it reminded me to listen more, spend time in nature, and use my imagination. In truth, I can’t remember a time when a text made me feel inspired and empowered, yet calm and reflective.

The layout of the text was just right, with the text on one side and the pictures on the other. The simplicity of the text with a smooth rhyme scheme makes it an easy read aloud for even the youngest of readers to enjoy. I like that Brunetti didn’t use sophisticated vocabulary, but chose to keep the word choice simple to match the feel of the flow. I really liked how the pictures focused on different animals to support the text instead of humans acting out the messages. It added to the calming feel and made the text even more memorable.

I really enjoyed that each page focused on a different aspect of kindness. Usually when kids think of ‘kindness’ they picture sharing and being nice to one another. This book dives deeper into what kindness is and looks like. And I may be a little bias, but I got excited to see the power of reading and imagination mentioned, featuring a creative picture. I also appreciated that Brunetti brought in experiencing nature by listening to the waves or playing outside. This reminder to take a break from technology is important for young readers and for parents (myself included).

However, a page that stuck out to me was, “Be strong and brave and speak your truth. Because you are in charge of you.” As a teacher, I have seen many students follow the crowd because they want others to like or accept them. This page speaks volumes to those students, reminding them to speak up and their voice matters.

I would recommend this book for readers 0-8. I think it would also be a great text for character education lessons about kindness, as well as a classroom and home library.

To purchase this book click here.

Rescue Book Review

One of my favorite things about being a book blogger is being able to introduce children and families to quality texts from authors. I’m fortunate to have connected with indie authors who are extremely passionate about their books and take pride in what they create.

I’ve been working with kindergarten students over the last few weeks for summer school, and during our morning meeting we read a different picture book. I read them PB & J (see my review here), and the other day they requested another book by the same author.

Rescue, by Christine Reynebeau, and illustrated by Jessica Kopecky, is a fabulous picture book about the importance of teamwork and friendship.

Readers are introduced to three dogs (Finley, Walter and Phoebe) who are friends. Phoebe is playing with balls outside when her favorite ball makes its way into Lulu’s yard. Lulu is not the friendliest dog and Phoebe knows she will need some help from her friends, Finley and Walter, to get her ball back. Together, the three friends create and execute a successful plan to help Phoebe.

Personally, I really liked that this story featured dogs as the main characters. While I feel the story would have been just as engaging with humans, there’s something  special about using animals in picture books. My kindergarteners would also agree that they loved having dogs as the characters, and they really loved the name Walter.

As a teacher and parent, I loved the simplicity of the writing style. When reading to my six year old students, I didn’t have to stop and clarify any words or explain situations. My readers were able to comprehend on their own, with the use of the pictures.

Since I had been working with my students on using pictures to help them understand a story, they were able to practice this strategy on their own with this book. I LOVE that the pictures supported and elaborated on the text. For instance, the picture of Lulu clearly lets readers know that she is not the friendliest dog in the neighborhood.

As always, I’m a huge fan of the themes used in books by Reynebeau. Readers are able to pick up on the themes of friendship and teamwork quite easily while reading this text.

I recommend this book for readers 0-7.

To purchase this book click here.

Summer Family Bookish Guide Review

Summer reading is a pretty popular term. Schools encourage young child to participate in reading contests, high school students usually have to read a book and complete an activity. However, many families are unsure how to structure summer reading at home because there are so many different options.

But, what if I told you there is an all inclusive guide available for families to use right away?

One of my amazing book friends, and my Usborne Books & More consultant, Lis Moriarty has created an absolutely incredible Summer Family Bookish Guide.

This guide can be followed exactly like it’s outlined, or parents can pick and choose which parts to use. The guide includes a table of contents to help direct users and is super user friendly.

One of my favorite pages is the Daily Summer Themes. This is a fabulous option for those who have kids home all summer long and want to provide some structure. Each day has a theme, such as Make it Monday, and includes a handful of ideas that can be done with the whole family. Some of the ideas includes: virtual field trips, trying a new recipe, and go on a scavenger hunt.

If you’re a planner, this guide has printable templates that can be filled out in as much detail as you like. You can literally plan your entire day and week in a manner of minutes. Post your schedules on the fridge so kids can see what’s coming up.

As a Reading Specialist, I get excited when I come across materials I can share with families that encourage kids to talk about what they’re reading. This fantastic guide includes so many conversation starters for parents to have with kids of all ages. Also, for those who love to read aloud, there are ideas for how to keep kids engaged during this precious reading time.

This guide puts a TON of emphasis on making reading fun! Summer Book Bingo provides some great opportunities to read different texts in some different ways and places. I really like the square to read with a flashlight.

Finally, this guide provides printouts to record books to read and books read. Book tracking forms helps provide kids with a visual to see how much they have really read over the summer months. It also includes so great book suggestion lists that literally has something for every kid.

For more information about this incredible summer guide click here.

Nikeriff 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.

With Molly in preschool, I’ve really been trying to boost her home library with alphabet books. She can sing the alphabet, but we’re still working on letter recognition. So when I came across a Facebook post from a mom who wrote an alphabet book I had to reach out.

Nikeriff, by Natasha Barber and illustrated by Rayah James, is a heartwarming and lovable alphabet picture  book that takes readers on an adventure.

First, I have to address the name Nikeriff. Barber starts off the story with a note to readers explaining that her autistic son came up with the name. Right away I thought this was a fabulous personal touch and made me feel connected to the author as a mom.

Readers are introduced to the little monster, Nikeriff, who is having a difficult time remembering the letters in the alphabet. He asks his mom and dad for help and they give him the supplies he needs for a scavenger hunt. Nikeriff spends the rest of the story with his trusty teddy bear going through the woods and collecting different elements from nature (animals, insects, plants) and practicing the letters of the alphabet.

What grabbed my attention right away was the more complex sentence structure. Usually when I read alphabet books the sentences are simple and short, with the letter bolded and enlarged, usually in a brighter color font. This picture book includes more complex sentences, which makes the story feel less babyish. The letters are bolded and enlarged, but don’t really distract the reader from the rest of the text or pictures. Personally, I LOVED this writing style because it means the book can be used with older kids who may need support with alphabet work. Since I work with lots of special education students, this is super exciting for me because finding texts like this is quite challenging.

Similar to the sentence structure, I also found the animals and insects added to the sac to be super creative. I love that it included critters such as the “Underwing moth” and “Queen Butterfly”. While there were some traditional ones included, like ants, this hint of creativity not only helped the flow of the story, but it was incredibly engaging.

I was also a huge fan of the idea of a scavenger hunt, especially that it took place in the woods. Many kids are fascinated by animals, bugs and the outdoors, so the setting of this story can really engage readers who gravitate towards those topics. This also allows the book to be utilized in schools as a cross curricular text for science, specifically in preschool and kindergarten.

Finally, the illustrations were absolutely spot on! I truly enjoyed looking at each picture and felt that they matched the feel of the text. I love that they look like they were drawn with crayon, especially after the author’s note in the beginning. It just made me feel like i was reading a book imagined by a child, which leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

I highly recommend this book for kids ages 0-8, but it can be used with older students working on basic reading skills.

To purchase the book click here 

To follow Nikeriff on Facebook click here

Cutie Sue Fights the Germs Book Review

For the last month life has definitely not been the same. As a parent, it’s been difficult to get my three year old to understand why she can’t go to school or the mall (she’s a shoppper). She knows that there are germs and people are getting sick, but it’s still quite a bit for her to comprehend. So, as always, I turn to books to help me explain the situation.

Cutie Sue Fights the Germs, by Kate Melton, is a fantastic picture book for teaching children about germs and how to prevent the spread of them.

I was first introduced to Cutie Sue when I reviewed Cutie Sue Wins the RaceIn Cutie Sue Fights the Germs, Sue unfortunately comes down with a bug and isn’t feeling well. Her mom takes this opportunity to educate Sue and her brother about germs. Mom mentions that germs are super tiny and can’t be seen, and they can be in food or passed on by other people. Mom also takes the kids to the doctor, who takes very good care of them. He also gives the family a leaflet with important information.

I love the clear explanations and simple words used in this text. Trying to explain anything to a toddler is not easy, so being able to use a book like this to help get important information across at a digestible level for a three year old is amazing. The rhyme scheme also provides that extra boost of fun and entertainment so it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a textbook.

The illustrations are also superb and coordinate very well with the written text. When Mom is explaining what germs are there is a great illustration on the page to show readers what the words mean. As a Reading Specialist, I love little clues like this in picture books because it aids in reading comprehension.

However, one of my favorite parts of the book is when the family shows readers how to prevent the spread of germs. The text and pictures show Sue and her brother opening windows, wiping down toys, sneezing into tissues, rinsing off fruits and veggies, etc. Not only are these great tips, but it helps kids realize how they can help make a difference, especially in today’s climate. Kids see so many adults on TV and at home trying to stop the spread of germs, and this book shows young readers how they can contribute.

Even though Cutie Sue is sick, she maintains a positive attitude and is full of hope. She helps to disinfect her toys and washes her hands with warm soapy water. I love how she continues to smile, which sends such a positive message to readers. It’s very easy for kids (and adults) to feel overwhelmed right now, but Sue is a much needed ray of sunshine and shows us the power of positivity.

“We will win the fight! Our germs will not spread if we do things right!”

I recommend this book for toddlers – third graders.

To purchase this book click here.

Free At Home Activities for Ages 2-11 (General and Special Education)

Last week was by far the craziest week.

As parents and children adjusted to the new “normal”, I’ve seen many parents looking for activities to do at home with their children.

As a Reading Specialist, I wanted to help create educational activities for all types of learners so students could continue to practice their skills while at home. A few months ago, I collaborated with Eventech Corp and children’s book author, Christopher Gordon, for dyslexia awareness by creating a video (click here to see it). We enjoyed working together so much that we decided to put our thinking caps on again to help parents.

Together, we have created FREE fun and educational activities for general and special education children ages 2-11.

Once an individual signs up, he or she will receive a daily email for 14 days with the following:

*daily themed reading passage

*toddler/preschooler activity (alphabet, numbers, shapes)

*list of stay at home activities for toddlers/preschoolers

*educational activities for lower elementary (K-2)

*educational activities for upper elementary (3-6)

*fun activities for all ages

*accommodations sheet for the educational activities

Don’t wait! Sign up here to start getting these FREE emails .

 

Guts Book Review

It’s absolutely incredible how quickly time flies. Almost a year ago I was contacted by an indie author who wanted to do a virtual author visit with my students. Christine Reynebeau truly inspired me to follow my own dream, which at the time was starting my online tutoring business, and has continued to be extremely supportive of all my progress. In the past I have reviewed her picture books Celebrate and PB&J, and today I’m excited to share another one of her works.

Guts, by Christine Reynebeau, is the perfect picture book for teaching children the importance of trusting your gut.

I love that the writing style is so clear and simple so that children of all ages can comprehend what is happening. The use of dialogue in this one really allows readers to grasp the concept of “following your gut” without it being confusing. Reynebeau even has the little boy ask his mom for clarification, which allows for a smooth transition into the definition. It feels like a natural scenario between a mother and her child.

There are little bits of humor in the story as well. The little boy touches his gut to see if it will talk a few times to test out his mom’s theory. I could see a classroom of students finding this part funny and laughing during reading time.

The writing flows perfectly into a great, realistic example for young readers. While the little boy is playing outside with his classmates, they want to go explore and area they aren’t allowed in. By following his gut, the little boy tells his friends he doesn’t think it’s a good idea and goes off to play something else. This pays off immediately when he sees how upset the teacher is and the punishment that comes shortly after for those involved. Readers are able to draw conclusions on their own through the clear writing and pictures of the importance of following your gut.

I would recommend this book for preschool through first grade. I also think it would make a great addition to anti-bullying and character education lessons.

To purchase the book click here.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale Book Review

There are officially 4 days til Christmas. It’s the last Saturday shopping day. In the midst of all the chaos of the next few days, spend some time reading books from The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.  Some of my favorites include: Arial the Secret Santa, A Christmas Cookie ExchangeThe Elf Who Couldn’t Read and The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale, by Bethany Brevard, is an adorable Christmas book about the little acts of kindness.

I was requested to make a list of Christmas books for ELL students to read, so I did a little Google search, clicked on the top Christmas books for kids on Amazon, and found a lovely variety. While looking at this list, I noticed a book that was on The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas post I did a few weeks ago. Not gonna lie, I got super excited for this author because that is definitely an accomplishment. I mean the book is on an Amazon list with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express.

Ever since I became a parent, I realize exactly how much is involved in Christmas. I mean, the list is pretty much never ending. I have had moments where I wish I had a little helper, just like in this story.

Our main character is a mouse, who makes his appearance once a year during the holiday season. His job is to help his human family with Christmas. This means sewing the hole in a stocking, hanging the mistletoe, and tasting the cookies. All of these little tasks are very important in making sure the family is prepared for Santa’s visit. There are so many tasks for our character, so he spends all day sleeping in his hammock in the Christmas tree.

However, the best day for our little helper is Christmas Eve. He is extremely thoughtful as he readies the living room for Santa’s big visit. The Mouse notices a hot coal in the fireplace and puts it out and he even blows on the hot chocolate so Santa doesn’t burn his mouth. These may seem like such little tasks, but they are definitely acts of kindness that don’t go unnoticed by Santa.

The overall theme of this adorable text is kindness, and the importance of doing little acts to help others. My favorite act the mouse does is to blow on the hot chocolate for Santa. It’s so simple yet one that I wouldn’t think to do.

As always, I LOVE books that offer readers more. This book has a few extra special components to it. The first is a fabulous little poem titled “The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Eve Tale”, that’s written to the rhyme of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. It is such a creative way to tie in a little bit of traditional Christmas to the story. I could see it being a great read aloud activity for young readers as they take turns reading every other stanza.

But wait, there’s more! Readers can purchase a mouse sleeping in a hammock ornament! The author even writes a blurb about adding the Mouse to the reader’s Christmas traditions. You can order the ornament right from Amazon!

AND THERE’S MORE! By buying the book, readers are helping the women in the Fair-Trade factory in Nepal who make the ornaments. In exchange for fair wages, healthcare and education for the women and their children, the women create the adorable mouse and hammock ornaments.

I would recommend this book for preschool and early elementary children.

To purchase the book click here.

To purchase the ornanment click here.

A Christmas Cookie Exchange Book Review

One of my favorite parts about Christmas are the seasonal foods and Starbucks lattes. I have a pretty insane sweet tooth, so I take advantage of the cookies this time of year. As I mentioned last week, I’m diving into my list of 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.  I truly can’t think of a time when I’ve read a holiday book about cookies, which is what caught my attention with today’s book.

A Christmas Cookie Exchange, by Sheri Wall, is a delicious Christmas picture book that teaches readers not to compare themselves to others.

Right away I was drawn to the writing style of this text. There is end rhyme on each page that helps the flow of the story and makes it super fun to read aloud. The sophisticated language paired with classy pictures, makes readers feel like they are attending a fancy holiday party.

However, my absolute favorite part is the characterization of the different cookies. Our main cookie, Phil, is just a basic cookie and he compares himself to the flashy holiday cookies. Each cookie has a unique personality that relates to their flavor. I really enjoyed “the Man” (a gingerbread man) personality the most and actually laughed out loud while I read his pages. I was also very entertained when Phil imagined himself as each cookie. The illustrations truly capture the essence of the text.

As a teacher, there were two elements I really liked about this text. Through the use of repetition, readers are able to piece the different themes together. But, just in case some readers struggle to do this, the author was kind enough to list the different themes at the end of the book s lessons Phil learned. I also LOVED how Wall included a glossary at the end of the book for readers. Her writing is so rich, but it may be a little advanced for some of the younger readers.

I can see this book being used in an preschool through second grade classroom during the month of December. It’s a truly great text to discuss characterization and vocabulary.

To purchase this book click here.

For more information about the author and to purchase other books click here.