Bridging the Gap: 3 Virtual Ways to Help Students in Grades 5-12

Growing up, I was that kid who LOVED the summer read-a-thon my school hosted. I remember constantly going to the library and reading anywhere and everywhere. I probably should have also done some math work (I teach reading for a reason), but back in the day this was how students continued to improve their skills.

25 years later the world is a different place. Kids spend the summer playing video games, texting with their friends and getting involved in activities. Life is no where as simple as it used to be.

The expectations today are higher. The pressure to get good grades to get into good schools is real. The anxiety that kids have is real. During the school year, there just isn’t enough time.

Which is why summer is a great opportunity for students to practice and improve their skills. Over the years I have helped teens complete summer reading assignments, go through the writing process with a research paper, and complete college essays. I’ve also worked with students who need additional skills support by reading, discussing and analyzing novels and responding to writing prompts in preparation of the next school year.

The past year has been challenging for so many students and families. We can’t get time back, but we can take advantage of the summer months to fill in any gaps in reading and writing.

Below are three virtual options Little Reading Coach is offering to help students in grades 5-12 for summer 2021.

​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
*Distance/home-based learning support
(managing & organizing tasks, help with completing assignments)

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Tutor notes emailed within 24 hours

Enroll in Virtual Tutoring

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp Course

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

Use code SUMMER2021 to save $50

Are you concerned about learning loss?
Does your child need time to brush up on reading and writing skills?
Want to make sure your child is prepared for high school?

Developed by a certified English teacher and Reading Specialist, this 6-week virtual self-paced course covers all major reading and writing skills taught in middle school English Language Arts.

Grammar
* Parts of speech
* Sentence structure

Writing
*Paragraph Writing
*Essay Writing
*Persuasive Writing
*Research Paper
*Personal Narrative

Nonfiction
*Main Ideas and Details
*Author’s Purpose
*Cause and Effect
*Retelling and Summarizing
*Note-Taking Skills
*Lego Nonfiction Activity

Literature
*Reading Comprehension Strategies
*Plot
*Sequence of Events
*Point of View
*Figurative Language
*Symbolism
*Theme
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Lessons include:
– PowerPoint presentations
-Teacher created guided notes
-Quizzes
-Online games/activities
-Practice activities (with answer keys)
– Essay writing
-Teacher led read aloud of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

When you purchase this class, you get….
*Access to the LRC Academy VIP Facebook group to get advice, literacy tips and more!
*Teacher feedback on writing assignments. Students will participate in a variety of writing activities that can be emailed to the teacher for feedback
*Printable notes and presentations that can be utilized for future English classes
*Skill based lessons to help your student become confident in his/her reading and writing abilities

Enroll in Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

*Free* Weekly Read-Aloud

For students who love reading and may need some additional support, the weekly read aloud includes a teacher analysis and notes of the text covering:

 Reading comprehension
 Characterization
 Making inferences/drawing conclusions
Quote analysis
Theme 

5th & 6th graders will read The City of Ember
7th & 8th graders will read The Giver


Each week a new video recording will be released from 7/5-8/9. Students will have access to their text until 9/1.

Enroll in *Free* Weekly Read-Aloud 

Taking advantage of this summer to help students gain confidence in their reading and writing skills will provide a great transition into the ’21-’22 school year.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Teaching the Classics in Middle And High School

Even though kids consider classics to be “old”, they have stood the test of time because of their outstanding quality.

The characters, settings and conflicts of these pieces are relatable even hundreds of years after they were published. As teachers, it’s up to us to show students that these texts are truly gems.

In order for students to really appreciate these works of art, they need to comprehend the plot and make connections to the themes and characters. Below are some suggestions for teaching classic pieces of literature to middle and high school students.

Choosing the right text

For many teachers, our curricula dictate which texts we teach. While we may not have much wiggle room when it comes to choosing what woks we use, we do have control over the right type we use based on our student population.

Use the original work. During my time in public schools, I always used the original version of the text. To differentiate, I provided reading comprehension questions to my students and spent time reviewing major characters, plot events, symbols and themes. I also provided students with graphic organizers for writing assignments and to record their notes.

The version I used with my students.

Use alternative resources. Companies are constantly creating new materials to support teachers and students. Personally, I have my own preferences of the alternative texts I’ve used, especially with my struggling readers.

  • Great Illustrated Classics. This is by far my FAVORITE resource to use when working with my population of readers. I remember going to a bookstore out in Pennsylvania with my grandparents growing up and seeing the huge display of these books in the front of the store. It allowed me to read Oliver Twist as a fourth grader because the works are geared towards younger readers. The vocabulary and sentence structure are more simple, and some small details are changed, but the characters and plot events are the same. I will admit, that there were words I didn’t know in the book, but I was able to independently read and understand the books.
  • Textbooks. Years ago, when I did sixth grade curriculum writing, I was super excited to read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I was a little surprised to find that the textbook we were using did not include the novel, but rather it had a play version. I did supplement parts of the plot by reading aloud the novel, but my students really enjoyed the play and were able to practice recognizing and interpreting the various literary devices.
  • No Fear Shakespeare by SparkNotes. Unfortunately, I just missed these amazing helpers as a high school student. Many students are so put off by Shakespeare because they get confused with the Old English language. No Fear Shakespeare takes the stress out of figuring out this older wording, allowing kids to comprehend the plays, with minimum effort. Through sparknotes.com, teachers and students can access side-by-side Old and Modern English versions of Shakespeare’s works. FULL TEXT versions :)!
SparkNotes’ No Fear Shakespeare- The Prologue from Romeo and Juliet

Supplemental Aids

Educator’s know that all students learn differently, which is why it’s so important to present information to classes in a variety of ways. Providing different activities to keep students engaged is essential in the classroom.

Unit Plans/Reading Guides. There are TONS of pre-made activities floating around online. A simple Google search will provide you with thousands of results, some free and some you can purchase. Teachers Pay Teachers is a phenomenal resource that always pops up on my Google searches.

I just finished reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with my students, and I used the vocabulary, reading questions and activities from this awesome free reading guide. I LOVE the police report activity for chapter four and made sure to use it with my class. I also paired it with a sample police report and did a mini lesson on formal writing.

Audiobooks. It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of using audiobooks with my students. There’s something magical about listening to someone read a story. YouTube is full of free versions, and I also use Audible if I can’t find exactly what I want on YouTube. For virtual teaching, I prefer to use YouTube so I can post/share the link with my class in case they’re absent or want to go back and re-read. I used this version for Jekyll and Hyde (I did speed up the reading a smidge, which made a big difference).

Film Versions. Again, I LOVE using films and TV shows with my students. Being able to see the story in a visual way helps many with reading comprehension. A popular teacher favorite moving pairing is using The Lion King when teaching Hamlet. As with any form of media, always make sure to check the rating and content before showing a film version. I was all excited to use a Jekyll and Hyde movie on YouTube, until I saw in the comment section that some kind person mentioned an inappropriate scene. Needless to say, I went with a cartoon version instead for my students.

Activities for Teaching the Classics

Every classroom looks different and every teacher is different. What works for one teacher will not work for another, so the ideas listed below are just that, suggestions on how to read classics in the classroom.

  1. Act out scenes (readers theater). I have personally seen this in action with Shakespeare and it’s engaging for students. While kids can read aloud from their seats, there is nothing wrong with taking it up a notch. Include props, have students create a mini set, take a trip to the auditorium and read on the big stage.
  2. Have kids teach the class. Who says the teacher always needs to be at the front of the class? Allow students to get hands-on and create a lesson. Whether kids work individually or in groups, assign them a concept and give them freedom to teach it. I would suggest giving them some creative freedom with this choice and a rubric, so they know what the expectations are.
  3. Virtual field trips. Since field trips may not always be realistic, having a few virtual options is always a great choice. These can be done in-class or for homework and can provide students with some new information about topics relating to the classic text.

Importance of Theme

As with any text, teachers know to focus on plot, characters, conflict, figurative language, quote analysis, etc. We know these works are classics for a reason, and our goal is to show students how magnificent “old” books can be.

Universal themes are truly fantastic, as they can be found in any text, so incorporating these themes into class discussions, writing prompts and homework help students of all ages realize that even though the story is not modern, it deals with similar themes as books today.

Love, good vs. evil, jealousy, friendship, family, etc. can all be seen in classic literature.

For instance, one of my favorite themes of all time is good vs. evil. This can be seen in The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde quite clearly AND it is also seen in the Harry Potter series (especially book seven). Giving students copies of quotes from both works and asking them to write a comparison paragraph explaining how the theme is used and its meaning is a great activity to help students make connections with a classic text.

Classic pieces of literature are timeless for a reason. With modern technology, creative thinking, and the right resources, students of all ages and skill levels can read and enjoy these works of art.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

My Name is Layla Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As I mentioned in my last post, “10 Reading Comprehension Tips“, middle and high school students are living in a text heavy world. They need to have strong reading skills to navigate reading textbooks, emails, writing lab reports, etc. But, what happens when a student is a struggling reader?

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, is a realistic depiction of a dyslexic middle school student.

Layla, or ‘munk to her mom and older brother, is an eighth grade student who struggles with reading and writing assignments. Her best friend Liza and her neighbor Sammy, help Layla through the ups and downs of middle school life.

Layla

Like all middle school students, Layla wants to fit in. She worries about what she wears on the first day of school, what the popular girl thinks, and she worries that her teachers think she lacks intelligence. She envies Sammy, whose family sits down for dinner together every night, since Layla’s mom is a nurse who works the night shift and her dad has been out of the picture for 12 years.

On top of all this, she has a secret that she doesn’t share with anyone. It takes her a long time to read. “The words hop around like any good bunny should, refusing to stay still so I can get a grip on what they mean.” (15). The pressure to read quickly in class and get through homework each night is a lot for this thirteen-year-old, and she is used to low grades. For writing assignments, she struggles to get ideas from her head, through her fingertips on a keyboard and in an email to her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Through her frustrations, she has learned how to cope by watching movie versions of books to assist her in getting through assignments.

As a middle school English teacher, I can honestly say that the depiction of Layla is incredibly accurate. She avoids reading aloud in class or participating so she doesn’t bring attention to herself. She will submit gibberish writing out of pure frustration and she relies on her best friend to help her navigate projects. Layla’s emotions of anger, confusion, fear, and self-doubt resonate with readers on multiple levels as the school year progresses.

Plot

I really enjoyed the multiple layers happening in this book. The main conflict is Layla’s reading difference, but there is also a fair share of minor conflicts as well. As with any teenager, there are internal conflicts about her mom working and her dad not being present (until later in the book), problems with friends that involve trust, and the innocent buds of a potential first romantic relationship with a boy. Teenagers take everything to heart and can be very sensitive to change, as readers see when Nick suffers an injury in basketball. This book touches on all of the important themes in a young adult’s life: family, friends, relationships, and self-image.

Theme of Family

Today, families come in all shapes, sizes and forms and I really like that Marder Gentin chose to focus on a non-traditional family structure. Readers see Layla’s mom work overnight shifts, catching some sleep during the day to just repeat the routine again. She takes on extra shifts whenever she can in order to provide for her children, yet she will show up to basketball games and the first day of school when her children need her support. While Layla and her brother do have freedom after school, neither one of them takes advantage of this and continue to do homework, go to basketball practice and socialize with friends without getting into trouble. This maturity and self-reliance teach readers that being independent is important in life.

While no family is perfect, readers can empathize with Layla’s desire to have more family around for holidays, like Sammy’s. Or to have a mom that is very actively involved in her school life, like Liza’s mom. However, through her interactions with her friends, readers are reminded that each family has their own problems even if the outside world does not see them. For many teens, this nugget of wisdom is important because they don’t realize others may feel the same way they do.

Theme of Friendship

Friends are without a doubt the most important aspect of a teenager’s life, according to them. Establishing and maintaining true friendships takes time and effort on all parts, along with honesty. Typically, in YA books I find that there is often a backstabbing or betrayal between friends that causes a conflict. That doesn’t happen in My Name is Layla. In fact, Liza is an incredibly kind young lady (I hope my daughter has a Liza for a best friend in middle school). Liza knows that Layla struggles, but instead of ignoring this, Liza offers assistance to her friend wherever and however she can. From reminding her what class they have, or being partners for an in-class assignment, Liza takes Layla under her wing and supports her friend. There is never any negative comment made and Layla always feels comfortable.

Sammy. Ah, if there was ever a character I wanted to hug for being a good kid, it’s Sammy. His obvious crush on Layla isn’t the normal teenage kind. He truly likes Layla for who she is and wants to help her in his own way. I LOVE that he has the courage to ask Layla on a date to the basketball game and doesn’t leave her side when Nick gets injured. He mentions the Learning Center at school in the hopes of giving Lyla support in English. Through it all, Sammy is right there to help his neighbor (and girlfriend!).

Learning Differences and Dyslexia

Every single child learns differently. Some students show their struggles more than others, which is why there are always those that manage to “get by” in elementary school and part of middle school, but at some point someone notices.

Mr. McCarthy was Layla’s someone. He saw past her coping mechanisms and reached out to his school’s administration and helped create a plan for Layla (after a MAJOR plot twist that I refuse to mention). There were clues along the way that McCarthy was onto Layla, but she continued to plug along just “getting by”.

As I said before, teenagers worry about what others think of them. They never want to be “different”, especially at this stage. Layla is no exception to this because she cringes at the thought of going to see Mrs. Hirsch in the Learning Center.

What I LOVE about this book is the realistic way Marder Gentin has captured a teenager’s feelings when dealing with a learning difference. Readers experience the incredible emotions and thoughts that students cope with on a daily basis. As adults, we are reminded that these feelings need to be addressed when offering help to students. Anxiety and fear are incredibly consuming at this age, yet we need to provide the proper support.

Teachers like Mr. McCarthy and Mrs. Hirsch literally change lives.

Free Curriculum Guide

As always, my teacher heart gets insanely excited when there are resources to extend themes and learning in books. I will admit, I’m very picky with curriculum guides for my middle school learners, but this one is absolutely perfect! Not only is it aligned to the Common Core, it hits on all major teaching points for middle school English. There are plenty of discussion questions that can be used in small groups or whole class, it includes a few different activities for students (even some writing ones), a character chart with adjectives and practice with textual evidence and making inferences and drawing conclusions! AND, it’s also *FREE* on the author’s website! Pure perfection!

Never have I read a young adult book that hits on so many real-life issues for teens with so much accuracy. I highly recommend this book for parents and students in middle and high school, especially those with learning differences. Students will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

To purchase this book head over to Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Love in YA Books Distance Learning Activities for Grades 6-12

YA books are known for having incredible characters who experience intense love. Whether that is friendship love, family love or romantic love, young adult texts show readers the power that love has in our lives.

Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to love, and as a secondary teacher I still love celebrating holidays with my students. However, it can be hard to find activities that don’t involve writing love notes or the usual reading and answering comprehension questions. So, I decided to use popular YA novels to help me discuss the theme of love in a distance learning bundle.

Love in YA Books PowerPoint Presentation– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This PowerPoint presentation, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, dives into the specific types of love (family, friends and romantic) in these texts. YA literature and the different types of love are defined. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments.

Love in YA Books Guided Note Sheet- Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This guided note sheet is based on the Love in YA Books PowerPoint presentation, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist. ,This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments.

Love in YA Books Quote Analysis Activity– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This quote analysis activity, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, includes quotes from popular YA titles (The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, and City of Glass). Part one requires students to label each quote with the type of love being expressed and part two has students write a quote analysis paragraph. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments. An answer key is included.

Love in YA Books Write Your Own YA Love Short Story– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This short story activity, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, requires students to write their own short story including one type of love. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments. A rubric is included.

Love in YA Books Bundle includes the following activities:

*Love in YA PowerPoint Presentation

*Love in YA Guided Note Sheet

*Love in YA Books Quote Analysis Activity

*Love in YA Books Write Your Own Love Short Story

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Distance Learning Test Taking Strategies Bundle

Tests are a part of life for many of us. Even once we leave high school, colleges and universities use these types of assessments. Adult tests like GREs, Praxis series, CPA exam, etc. are the norm for those pursuing a career in specific fields.

Learning test taking strategies can help students in navigating any test he or she will take in life. Even as an adult, I still use the same approaches I used back in middle and high school to help me answer questions. The more that students incorporate these strategies into their academic lives, the easier tests will be.

Last week, I spent class time working with students in grades 8-12 learning and practicing some of the most popular strategies that students have used in my classrooms over the years. I created a Distance Learning Test Taking Strategies Bundle for my TpT store to help teachers and parents prepare students for these types of assessments. It includes a 14 slide PowerPoint presentation, guided note sheet that aligns with the presentation, and a five question quick assessment. This can be easily adaptable for online lessons, homework, flipped classroom assignments, etc.

For more information on the bundle click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Writing Personal Narratives in Grades 4-12

Typically, students engage in essay writing. Teachers are encouraged to have students practice the traditional five paragraph structure, create a strong thesis statement, include textual evidence and incorporate different writing techniques.

We get so caught up in test prep that we forget writing should also be an opportunity for student to reflect on their own lives. Personal narratives provide students with a chance to participate in creative writing, while still practicing appropriate writing mechanics.

Recently, I spent a week with high school special education students writing personal narratives. I created a bunch of materials to help my students grasp the concept, generate topics to write about and create an outline for their final piece.

I broke up the activities over a four day period.:

*Day 1– reviewed the Personal Narrative PowerPoint and had students complete the Brainstorming Sheet

*Day 2– I started by showing students the Personal Narrative Example (written by yours truly). I then checked in with students and based on their completion of the Brainstorming Sheet, I had students fill out the Personal Narrative Outline Sheet

*Day 3 and 4– Students wrote their personal narratives based on pre-writing activities and the example

I learned A LOT about these students through these activities. Some found the writing to be therapeutic, while others had fun with it and wrote about happy memories. They were actively engaged in the activities and all produced personal narratives utilizing the appropriate elements.

To check out the Personal Narrative Writing Bundle I used, click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Distance Learning Winter Writing Activities for Grades 6-12

As students enter middle and high school years, they sometimes forget that writing can be fun because they are constantly writing formal essays, research papers and responses. Creative writing can still happen in an English classroom while students practice using literary skills.

There are new products in my store that encourage creative writing while focusing on characterization, plot elements and point of view.

Winter Writing Characterization Activity– Students will create a character sketch of a snow person in three steps (brainstorming, writing and creating a visual) focusing on direct and indirect characterization. The product includes definitions to make this an independent writing assignment for students to complete on their own. There is a graphic organizer included for brainstorming. This is a great hybrid, remote or in-person activity for students to practice writing skills in a fun way for all students in grades 6-12.

Winter Writing Plot Activity– Students will create a short story about the ultimate snow day in three steps (brainstorming, writing a short story and creating a visual) based on the elements of plot. The product includes definitions to make this an independent writing assignment for students to complete on their own. There is a graphic organizer included for brainstorming. This is a great hybrid, remote or in-person activity for students to practice writing skills in a fun way for all students in grades 6-12.

Winter Writing Point of View Activity- Students will write about a snowstorm from two different points of view in two easy steps (brainstorming and writing) based on point of view. The product includes definitions to make this an independent writing assignment for students to complete on their own. There is a graphic organizer included for brainstorming. This is a great hybrid, remote or in-person activity for students to practice writing skills in a fun way for all students in grades 6-12.

Winter Writing Activities Bundle– This bundle includes three winter writing activities focusing on characterization, plot and point of view. Each activity includes definitions and graphic organizers for brainstorming, making them independent writing activities for students to complete on their own. This is a great hybrid, remote or in-person activity for students to practice writing skills in a fun way for all students in grades 6-12.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

A Christmas Carol Distance Learning Activities

December is always an exciting month with so much holiday fun taking place. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of those classic pieces of holiday literature that is a great piece to use during this time with students in grades 6-12.

Many students often read the play version of this text, and take field trips to see a live performance. There are also countless movie versions available as well.

I have always been a believer in using film versions to support student’s learning and reading comprehension. I created five easy-to-use activities that can be paired with text and film versions of A Christmas Carol for those teaching remotely, hybrid or in person.

A Christmas Carol Scrooge Character Chart– Students can record how Scrooge changes as a character throughout the course of the text or film using this chart. It includes definitions of indirect and direct characterization and requires students to cite evidence and provide an analysis. This product can be used for any version of the text or film adaptations.

A Christmas Carol Character Chart– This character chart lists the main characters and requires students to record descriptions and provide evidence from the text or film. Characters included are: Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, Ghost of Christmas Future, Fred, Fezziwig, Belle and Mrs. Cratchit. This product can be used for any version of the text or film adaptations.

A Christmas Carol Lyrics Analysis Activity-Using lyrics from The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, students will highlight the text for examples of indirect, direct and background information on Scrooge. Based on the highlights, students will write three short responses that require textual evidence and explanations.

A Christmas Carol Compare & Contrast Text to Film Activity– Students fill out a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting a text to film version of A Christmas Carol. Based on the graphic organizer, students will respond to two short responses that include textual evidence and specific examples. This product can be used with any text and film version of the work.

A Christmas Carol Theme Extended Response– Students will write four paragraphs focusing on a theme seen in both a film and text version of A Christmas Carol. This product also includes a rubric.

A Christmas Carol Activity Bundle– This bundle includes the following activities:

*Scrooge Character Chart Activity

*A Christmas Character Chart Activity

*Lyrics Analysis Activity

*Compare & Contrast Text to Film Activity

*Theme Extended Response (with rubric)

**Bonus item** a fill-in plot diagram with definitions

This is the perfect product to help supplement learning while students read or view film versions of this classic holiday story. 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

5 Ways to Support Special Education Students One-on-One in Virtual Secondary English Classes

A few months ago, I did a post about Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom, but what can teacher’s do who work one-on-one with students?

While being a virtual English teacher and tutor, I also I currently work with special education students in an out of district placement school as a Reading Specialist. All of my students are reading below grade level and have very specific accommodations. I mainly pull students out (virtually) weekly for 45 minutes of one-on-one instruction.

My role is to support my students in their English courses, and sometimes in other content classes where reading comprehension assistance is required. For those of you looking for ideas and resources in the virtual classroom, below are some suggestions that I have used with my students.

  1. Ebooks. I absolutely LOVE sharing my screen in Zoom with students, and using ebooks has been the easiest way for me to do this. I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription that has come in quite handy, and I also spend my own money purchasing books I know I will use with multiple students. Currently, I’m reading The Witches and Fantastic Mr. Fox with two high school students. By sharing my screen, students can follow along while we read and they can use the pictures to help with reading comprehension (which is why I chose these texts). These books don’t come across as babyish for my teenaged students, and have pictures and manageable vocabulary so they don’t feel like they’re struggling.
  2. Videos. I have always been a believer about using videos and movies in the classroom, and the same carries into my virtual one. Sometimes it’s not realistic to show a whole movie, so I like to keep a stash of short film versions on hand. One of my junior’s needs lots of support with reading comprehension and vocabulary, so Shakespeare’s Macbeth is definitely not an easy text for her. Sparknotes is amazing to begin with for my kids, but they now have video summaries of the text! The almost ten minute video touches on theme, plot and characterization in a visual way that is perfect for classified students.
  3. Verbal answers. Have you ever watched kids try to type? It’s actually quite painful sometimes because kids take foreverrrr to type a sentence, let alone a paragraph. I try to eliminate as much frustration as I can for my kiddos, so I do a lot of verbal responses to assess reading comprehension skills. I also use this method for working on quizzes and tests, and I will email the teacher what score the student earned. Teachers normally give me the assessment so they know the questions asked.
  4. Pictures. Vocabulary always seems to be an area that my students struggle with, especially when dealing with high school level texts. While reading Beowulf with a junior, she was struggling with comprehension because she didn’t know what armor was. While we read a modified version of this challenging story, I stop every so often and show her pictures of important objects in the story (sword, bow and arrow). We work a lot on visualizing to help with her weak reading comprehension, so this strategy really works well for her.
  5. Making connections. Personally, I find that encouraging my special education kids makes a HUGE difference in not only their reading comprehension, but also their higher order thinking skills they use for theme. I try to do a lot of text to self and text- to text (media) connections because those are ones kids are most familiar with. I find this works as a great pre-reading and during reading strategy.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

How to Provide Quality Feedback on Virtual Assignments

I’m an English teacher. I grade A LOT of student writing. When I was in brick and mortar classrooms, writing assignments, process pieces and projects had rubrics with lots of comments written in cursive (it was much faster than writing in print). Unfortunately, I can’t necessarily do this quickly in the virtual classroom.

As teachers, time is precious, and grading is one aspect of our lives that takes the most time.

Today, I want to share how I provide quality feedback to my online Edmentum students in grades 6-12 .

  1. Start with a quick message. Being virtual, it’s imperative that we do our best to create relationships with students. This can even be done while grading. When a student submits an assignment to me, I always start with a quick message. For a discussion response, I say, “Thank you for your response. Please check your email for the rubric.” For activities (projects/essays/presentations), I say, “Thank you for submitting this assignment to me.” I like to set a nice tone before I dive into their performance on the task .
  2. Tell them the score. For all graded activities, I include a short line about the points they earned out of the possible points. For discussions, I say, “You have earned a ____ out of 12, which is a _____%.” For unit activities, I say for each task,” Score: __ out of 4″. This is really what students want to know and it provides for a smooth transition into the next few steps.
  3. Provide a scored rubric. To me, this has been a game changer for my students. For discussion responses, I highlight the rubric based on the response, and save it as a PDF. I email the discussion rubrics and feedback to my kids because there’s no way to attach it to the discussion in the module. For activities, in the feedback text box I copy and paste the score a student earned on the rubric and place it right under where I say the score. Doing this helps my kiddos understand why they earned the score they got and it also backs up the next step.
  4. Write a specific Oreo statement. This is by far the most effective way I have learned to provide my students with feedback. I like to think of an Oreo when writing to my kids- compliment, suggestions, end on a positive note. I start by always find something to praise the student for (word choice, answering all parts of the prompt, liking their idea, they made a good point, etc.). Then I dive into my specific reasons why they lost points and how they can improve. Just by adding these few sentences has saved me time with back and forth messages/calls/emails with students and parents, and has increased the amount re-submissions I receive. Finally, I end by saying nice, good, great or fabulous job based on the score the student earned. By doing the Oreo, I’m praising my student, providing constructive feedback and ending with a smile.

How to word constructive criticism

It’s all about the wording.

I have a tendency to repeat myself when I grade, which also helps make the process go faster. I focus on three categories (which happen to be the ones on the discussion rubric) answering all parts of the prompt, providing textual evidence/examples and explanations, and spelling and grammar.

If a student gives me a sentence or two and only focuses on the first part of a prompt with some spelling and grammar mistakes, this is what I normally write:

In the future, make sure you answer all parts of the prompt, elaborate on your ideas with specific examples and explanations and proofread your work for spelling and grammatical errors.

Then, I get down to the nitty gritty in the next few sentences.

For instance, you did not discuss what qualities the character has that you would like to have as well. Also, what did this character do in the book that showed she was brave? How does she support her friends?

I really try to be as specific with my questions to my students as possible, because I know this is how they will go back and revise their work. By asking questions, I’m giving students guidance in the direction I want them to tweak their work while also getting them to think about adding specific details to their writing.

Providing quality feedback does take time, but getting into a routine and having some solid wording, can make a big difference.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.