Books for Parents About Reading

One of my favorite parts about my job is being able to have conversations with parents. The majority of the time parents ask me what they can do at home to help their child become a stronger reader and writer. Over the last few years I’ve come across some great texts to help parents.

  1. Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I shared this book  quite a while ago after I discovered it from the Read Aloud Revival Podcast (click here to read the review). The organization of this book makes it a great guide for families. It is broken into sections based on ages, so it can be used as a great reference tool for specific stages. The text is extremely user friendly, with clear and concise writing that parents can easily understand. The examples included give readers a solid idea for how to be hands-on at home with reading support.
  2. The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. Ahhh, Sarah Mackenzie. The Sarah Mackenzie from The Read Aloud Revival podcast and blog. This book shows families how to create and sustain a love of reading at home. While Mackenzie does homeschool her children, the plethora of information she shares can also be utilized by families with children in traditional school environments. My favorite part is that she includes book lists for specific age groups. These book recommendations focus on quality- great morals, messages, and strong characters- that really allow families to engage in authentic conversations. She also walks parents through ways to get in read aloud time, including the use of audiobooks and picnics.
  3. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gordon. If you’ve been following my blog, you know my strong passion for reading aloud to kids of all ages (yes, even middle and high school students). Over the summer I shared this book with you (click here to see the review) because it blows me away.  What stands out most to me in this book is the research included about the power of reading aloud. For those parents who are curious about the science of reading, this is a great text to dive into.

These three books cover different aspects about reading at home with children of all ages. Before purchasing one, figure out what you’re looking for in a book. Do you want to know how to create a reading routine at home? Then you may want to look at Sarah Mackenzie’s book. Regardless of which one (or more!) you choose to read, I promise you will walk away with more confidence about helping your reader at home.

My Favorite Literacy Blogs

I love how social media has allowed me to connect with some amazing individuals over the years, and it has also introduced me to incredible members of the literacy world. I look to these fabulous ladies for inspiration and motivation on all things literacy :).

  1. Read Aloud Revival. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m OBSESSED with Sarah Mackenzie (see Reading Aloud Resources for Parents post). She is a homeschooling mom who has such an incredible passion for reading with her six kids. Her blog is geared towards families who read at home with their children. One of my favorite things that Mackenzie does is create book lists. Not only does this make life easier for busy families, it provides guidance in creating a culture of reading at home. Mackenzie also has an ah-mazing podcast.
  2. The Literacy Nest.  The last year and half I’ve been immersing myself in dyslexia and Orton-Gillingham. Through this journey I came across Emily Gibbons from The Literacy Nest, who is my guru in the dyslexia world. Her blog includes fabulous tips, strategies, and ideas to help dyslexic students. I love that the information can be used by teachers AND parents. She even has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where you can purchase resources to use with students (click here for the store). I’ve also had the privilege to learn from Emily through Tutor Success Academy and she is just awesome!
  3. Katie McKnight Literacy. I found Dr. Katie McKnight my first year teaching and have been following her ever since. She focuses on secondary (grades 6-12) reading and writing skills for the 21st century. What makes her stand out to me is her constant support for teachers and parents. She has published books, won multiple awards, and has presented all over the US. She even provides professional development online, in webinars, or in person.

 

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values Book Review

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

I took a survey for a fellow woman entrepreneur about how I choose which books to read/purchase. Some of the options included: cover art, cute characters, genres, etc., but none focused on quality content. When I choose books to read with Molly, I like to focus on ones that have good morals and values because there are so many life lessons Molly needs exposure to.

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values, by Christopher Gordon, is a picture book that reinforces good values and sparks conversation.

In simply flipping through the book, readers get a sense of the organization. It is broken up into three different components, each focusing on a different value (obedience, responsibility, kindness). There is a quick story about the value then a page of questions for young readers to answer. How do readers learn about the value? Timothy transforms into the Warrior of Good Values and jumps in to save the day!

I liked that each value is given it’s own short story. It’s not overwhelming and the message is quite clear. The three stories are all totally different with their settings and conflict.

My personal favorite is the story of obedience. In my opinion, this is a value we don’t really talk about much on a daily basis. The setting is at a school after winter break, and a blue monster convinces Timothy’s friend, Emily, to skip school. Timothy explains to readers that Emily promised her parents she would go right to school and right home. I think this simplifies the value of obedience and makes it easier for young readers to grasp. I really liked the concept of skipping school because it’s not over used, but it’s also a lesson I could see kids applying to their real lives. I should also admit I never skipped school or even a class growing up.

I was also a fan of a super hero being used in the story. Young readers, especially boys I’ve noticed, gravitate towards superheroes, so utilizing one in the story hooks and speaks to readers. It has a little bit of a Superman feel to it, but in a more realistic way.

Each story ends with a page of questions. There are lines included so kids can either write directly in the book or copies can be made. Kids can answer the questions on their own for reading comprehension questions, or parents/teachers can use the questions to springboard discussions.

I could see this working in an elementary classroom for character education. The teacher reads the story and uses the questions to spark whole class discussions. The book also includes coloring and drawing pages, which can easily be used in the classroom.

For more information about the author click here

To purchase the book from Amazon click here

 

A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Is Fun for Everyone Book Review

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

I absolutely love the relationships I’ve been able to establish with so many great authors over the last few years through this blog and social media. I also get super excited when authors reach out to me about a new project they want me to share, which is what brings me here today. In May, I did a book review for Spring Song (check out the post here), and was touched when Anetta emailed me two weeks ago about a new book.

A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Fun for Everyone, by Anetta Kotowicz, is a whimsical book about a circus experience that promotes anti-bullying.

As with Spring Song, there is a music component with this text. I think that this little extra helps readers to visualize what it is like going to a circus. The use of onomatopoeias in the text make it super fun to read aloud, especially if little ones repeat the sounds.

I really enjoyed the illustrations of this text. As a parent, I haven’t taken Molly to a circus yet, and I felt that this book does a great job depicting the whimsical and fun aspect of the experience. The bright colors, including all the different elements (food, animals, etc). provides readers with a realistic visit. I believe that books can take readers on new adventures, especially if readers don’t have the ability to physically go on these. This book definitely fulfills the adventure of going to the circus for the first time.

What I found a little unexpected was the shift the plot took when the clowns came out. Up until this point, I thought the book was quite enjoyable as we “watched” a circus performance. However, when one of the clowns did not feel comfortable to go through the ring of fire, the other clowns poked and bullied instead of supported their friend. Ellie, our main character, takes a very brave stand and speaks up for the scared clown in front of the entire circus.

In all honesty, I had to read this scene twice to make sure I understood what I was reading because as a reader I wasn’t prepared for this. I thought Ellie’s courage was admirable and sent a very powerful message to readers about bullying. Instead of being a bystander, Ellie intervenes and the crowd supports her decision. Typically, we think of clowns at a circus as silly characters who all follow the group. The fact that we see a clown, cry out of real fear, goes against the grain of what we typically think, which I personally happen to love. This scene teaches readers that there are times where we can be bullied by our friends, that it takes courage to stand up for what is right, and respect is important in all aspects of life.

And as always, the teacher in me gets excited when authors include activities at the end of the book. This book encourages students to draw or make signs about helping those who are hurt. Kids can then share their signs on Instagram @ArtsKindred with the hashtags #ArtsKindred #ADayInTheLifeOfAKid.

I recommend this book for ages P-2, and I think it would be a great text to springboard a discussion about bullying in early elementary.

To purchase the book, click here.

 

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

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

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

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

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

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

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

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

I was beyond frustrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information click here.

The Enchanted Hour Book Review

I have always believed in the power of read alouds at home and in the classroom, even if students can read on their own. I have butted heads with administrators because they felt my 10 minutes of reading at the beginning of each class was “a waste of learning time”.

Now, I can finally say, there’s a whole book about why it’s not :).

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon is an incredible text about the power of reading aloud.

What I liked most about this book was the mix of researched information and first hand experiences. I feel like nowadays society demands to see numbers and statistics with every piece of evidence, so when it comes to crafting a text like this one every i must dotted and every t crossed. Boy, does the author do just that. She explains research, studies and interviews with a friendly tone that doesn’t make the reader feel as though he or she is reading a college textbook.

One of the biggest pieces of research that stuck out at me was the MRI study done when children are read to. The study’s results support the idea that reading picture books aloud allows a child’s brain to interact with the text on multiple levels. Personally, I see this first hand when I read with Molly. I’ll read the text and she’ll point at the pictures and draw her own conclusions based on what she sees.

As a parent, I really liked reading about the author’s personal experiences reading with her family. I always think it’s interesting to see what books are loved and read over and over again (Treasure Island is one of the family’s faves). Cox Gurdon also throws in a little parent reflection about her daughter’s experience with Johnny Tremain. If she could go back, she would read the text aloud to her child because the text may have been a little too complex for her at the time. I LOVE that not only does the author acknowledge things could have been done a different way, but also realizes why the text may not have been a good fit for her daughter.

As parents, we all want our children to be super stars, but it’s important to realize when something, such as reading, is just a little too challenging. The author does not get defensive, but rather wishes she could go back and give her child the little extra support she needed. As the author explains, reading aloud is not cheating. It’s just simply a way to get children to appreciate good literature because they aren’t so worried about reading the words.

The teacher in me agrees with every single aspect of this book. I teach secondary reading (6-12) and I truly believe in reading aloud to kids even at this level. As I mention in previous blog posts (click here) I do this in brick and mortar and the virtual environment. Why? Because reading aloud turns kids into readers. As this text explains beautifully, it helps with vocabulary skills at all ages, helps transport children all over this world (and out) during all periods of history, and allows children to appreciate and engage with a text.

My read alouds are without a doubt my favorite part of my teaching day. As the author points out, the reader and listeners bond and have a shared experience during that time. I engage in such in depth conversations with my students during read alouds that I often find myself feeling warm and fuzzy when the time is over. Students have also expressed similar feelings during our read aloud time, and we have such a stronger bond and connection.

The biggest take away from this book is that we need to read to kids. Yes, they can play on an Ipad to learn letter sounds, but nothing can replace someone reading to a child.

And of course the fabulous Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival had Meghan Cox Gurdaon on her podcast in June to discuss the book. It’s honestly one of the best podcast episodes from RAR. Feel free to listen to it here.

I strongly recommend this text for parents, teachers and school administrators.

 

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.