3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

The alarm goes off at 5. You shower, get ready, pack lunches, make breakfast, wake the kids up, drive to sit in the drop off line, drive to work and start a jam packed day at the office. After work you run to pick up the kids, fly to football practice then dance class, rush home to throw dinner together, go back out and pick up the kids, come back home, eat dinner, get the kids in bed, try and catch up on social media and go to sleep.

Then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

It’s amazing how much parents are trying to cram into a 24 hour period. So how can parents help their kids with reading in the midst of every day chaos?

  1. Squeeze in reading time. This may sound overwhelming. How can you possibly squeeze 20 minutes of reading in before bed every night? Easy, you don’t have to. Reading can happen anywhere at anytime. While driving to violin lessons, have an audiobook playing in the car. Keep a book in the car and have your child read it. Same thing goes while your making dinner. There are always reading moments, it’s just making sure you’re prepared for them. Keep books around the house so they are within reach.
  2. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the classroom. Technology is amazing these days. Every teacher I know has a website that is jam packed with information. They include assignments, reminders, homework, etc. Dedicate 5 minutes a day (probably around 3-4 pm) to check your child’s English class website. See what the homework is, check out when the next quiz is. Have conversations with your child about specifics from class. For instance, if they have a vocabulary quiz, have them go over the words and definitions with you while you drive, making dinner, etc.  (are you seeing a pattern here?).
  3. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. A lot of my middle school parents would sign up for parent-teacher conferences within minutes to ensure they got a slot. During our discussions, they would mention how they didn’t want to bother me with questions if it wasn’t parent-teacher conference time. Never, ever hesitate to reach out to a teacher with a question. Your goal as a parent is to ensure your child gets an education. If you don’t understand an essay rubric, or why your child scored low on a reading comprehension quiz, reach out to the teacher. The more you understand the more you will be able to help your child.

These three quick and easy ideas do require a little bit of prep work, but they all can be done on a smart phone and on the go.

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 :).

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.

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.

Project Dandelion Book Review

My reader heart has been so happy the last few weeks with reading new YA books. Even better are YA dystopian novels.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson, is a YA dystopian novel about the potential end of life in the US.

Katrina wakes up in a fall out shelter after multiple nuclear explosions have occurred. Like the other teenagers in the shelter, she has the Dandelion Gene, making her super adaptable. Like all heroines in YA dystopian novels, there is something different about Katrina. She tries not to get attached to the others (like her father told her), she uses her knowledge of survival skills to devise a plan for when the doors open, and she always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

The plot reminded me of Maze Runner, but a much more straight forward and quick read. I kept waiting for a plot twist with Nanny dropping a bombshell on the group, but the 14 days spent in the shelter moved along quickly. It didn’t feel as drawn out as The Hunger Games, which makes this a great read for students who struggle with reading stamina and comprehension.

While reading, I did have a few reader questions that weren’t answered. Why a dandelion? How does the government know the teens have this gene? Is there something more than these kids just being able to adapt well? None of these were answered in Book 1, so I’m curious if Carson will address some more of the back story in the next book.

As primarily a middle school teacher, I really appreciate YA texts that are appropriate for grades 6-12. The only little comment that raised a teeny tiny red flag was when Lark told James he just wanted to get laid. Personally, I think this will go over most middle schoolers heads, so I would still recommend it to readers in grades 6-12. There is a little bit of a flirting between Katrina and James, but it is purely innocent.

For more information visit the author’s website here.

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.

Bound in Silver Book Review

I’m currently on a YA kick and I’m enjoying every second of it. I keep finding myself taking screenshots of books that I see on Instagram, which is how I found out about this lovely text.

Bound in Silver, by Marie Grace, is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel.

We follow Arabella Grace as she navigates the typical teenage issues (school, boys, the death of her grandparents) but her world gets turned upside down when she discovers she is a Clock Keeper. As readers, we experience her training, changes in her relationships with those around her, and the strides Arabella makes with her personal growth.

As a die hard YA fangirl myself, I LOVED all of the amazing references to Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, City of Glass, etc. I truly felt that the character of Arabella embodies girls like me (minus the super hero thing), which made me want to be her best friend. The first person narration made so many text to text connections (there were one or two I actually did not know) which made me appreciate the plot more because I was able to understand the significance of the events.

And just like all fabulous YA novels, there was a love story in the mix of fighting, Shadows, swords, and nightmares. However, unlike Twilight, this text downplays the love to explain more of the plot to set up future books. There is no mushy gushy nonsense happening. Each Clock Keeper has an Anam Cara, a true soulmate. As a romantic, I fell in love with this concept. It did remind me of parabatai from City of Bones, but on a much more intimate scale. The vow that is spoken to connect Anam Caras together is beyond beautiful and it should totally be part of future wedding vows for book lovers.

As a teacher, I really appreciated how the author was able to capture teenage thoughts without including curse words and nudity. It’s a little more conservative than Divergent and City of Bones, but the feelings and emotions are still powerful between the characters.

One of the overall themes of the novel is good vs. evil, and we see that with the constant mention of light and dark imagery. The Shadows, white ink tattoos, black ink tattoos, all express the importance of good vs. evil in the plot. Personally, I enjoyed how obvious the symbolism was because it allowed me as a reader to enjoy the story more. For struggling readers, especially high school students, this is a great way for them to make inferences and draw conclusions without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will say the plot kept me engaged, and it really ramped up the last two chapters. All of a sudden the book was over and I was left wanting more. The end doesn’t stop abruptly, but it definitely makes you want to start the second book right away (which I am trying very to wait patiently for).

Overall, I would recommend this book for any YA fantasy fans in grades 6-12.