Pandemic Academic Regression: What is it and how do we combat it?

When schools shut down in March no one knew how long it would be before students could go back to their classrooms. Teachers, in many cases, were given merely hours to prepare as many online activities and lessons as they could, not knowing how many were needed.

Each district and each school had their own expectations with e-learning. Some had a rigorous schedule that mirrors the typical school day, complete with daily live lessons. Others posted assignments on Monday and had them due on Friday. And, in some cases, teachers were still driving to school to make copies of assignments to send home packets to students.

The world of education was turned upside down literally overnight. Parents scrambled to keep their kids learning from home with distractions, technology issues, and living through a pandemic.

Now that the school year is over, or almost over, it’s time to take an honest look at where our students are academically.

Pandemic Regression is when students have not progressed positively with their academics due to the disruption of pre-pandemic instruction.

Many schools went to pass/fail for fourth marking period grades, did away with finals and other end of the year assessments. This is without a doubt what is best for students, however, it leaves families and educators not knowing where students are in their learning. This, coupled with pandemic regression, really leaves us in uncharted territory.

So, what can parents do to combat pandemic regression?

  1. Get as much information from teachers as possible. As previously stated, teachers don’t have final assessments to determine if a student has mastered skills over the last few months, so parents should reach out to individual teachers to get some feedback. It’s also important to note that you should request feedback from September to now so you have a better idea how the pandemic has impacted your student’s learning.
  2. Spend time working on material at home. Put time aside each day to focus on skills from this past school year. There are TONS of resources out there for parents right now from workbooks to online programs that can be used at home to help support learning. My personal favorite at home resources are Usborne Books & More. These books and activities are superior in quality and are super engaging for kids of all ages. (Click here to check them out)
  3. Read. Reading is always a fantastic and easy option for helping students grow academically. Don’t be afraid to have kids use reading apps and online programs, such as ABC Mouse and Reading Eggs. (Click here to read my review of ABC Mouse). Reading aloud to kids of all ages is another great summer activity (take the reading outside, to the beach, etc.).
  4. Work with a tutor. If you feel your child needs more support geared towards specific skills, hire a qualified tutor to come up with a plan of action. Tutors can provide incredible insight and customize instruction so that your student gets exactly what he or she needs. Many tutors offer online sessions, but as time goes on, some are starting to offer in-person sessions as well.

By using the summer months to catch up, kids can start the next school year feeling confident in their skills and ready to learn.

If you’re looking for a qualified virtual reading and writing tutor, Little Reading Coach can help your student catch up on skills. As a Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) with over ten years of experience, LRC provides the following services:

*assessments to determine reading level, comprehension and writing skills

*distance learning support (homework help, organization, etc.)

*essay writing

*reading comprehension

*additional reading and writing activities

*multi-sensory writing for grammar and sentence structure

Click here to learn more about LRC.

ABC Mouse Review: Early Literacy Skills for Preschool

Lockdown has completely changed our lives the last few months and will forever leave its mark on the education world. Like so many other parents, I have had to adjust to working with a child at home 24/7. In the beginning, I was all about creating a routine for her that mimicked her school schedule, but in reality this was impossible for me with work. I realized I needed to find a way to provide my three year old with a quality education at home without much prep work on my end.

For years I had seen the commercials for ABC Mouse and read testimonials on the company’s website. In full disclosure, I was skeptical. It’s very easy for a company to make a product look good and hire actors to portray parents and educators. However, I needed a program that Molly could work on while I worked with students and ABC Mouse seemed like the best option, so I purchased a subscription. I have no affiliation with ABC Mouse, and the following are all of my personal and professional opinions as a teachermom.

As a Reading Specialist, I’m very picky with what I look for in a literacy curriculum. I believe in phonics, multi-sensory learning, and reading quality texts. As a parent, I know my child’s strengths and weaknesses and worry about her early literacy skills.

Being a virtual teacher and tutor has made me quite tech savvy in navigating online programs. I can say that ABC Mouse is one of the most user-friendly apps I have used. It has a great balance of games, puzzles, art and music and academics. The concept of the classroom is fantastic for familiarizing little ones with a classroom environment.

Since Molly is a technically a preschooler, that is the level I have her profile set as. When I want her to work on different skills I have her continue her progress through the white board. One activity could involve counting, and the next could focus on practicing colors. The constant change in topics keeps her engaged, and the clear directions allow her to figure out the activities on her own, which is super important as a working mom.

When I want Molly to really focus on specific skills, I have her access the different options at the top of the classroom (reading, math, world around us, art, songs, library, puzzles, and games). I will admit, I do have her spend lots of time in reading and the library.

In the reading section, kids have a few different options for practicing their reading skills. Since Molly is at the preschool level, the activities revolve around the alphabet, letters and sounds. Molly can choose to listen to a library of books about letters, short stories, nursery rhymes and more. They program reads everything to her in a loud, clear voice and really emphasizes individual sounds when necessary. This is a fantastic option for learning phonics. Molly can also play games with letters and the alphabet. They even focus on ideas like capital letters. I LOVE that they have a tracing game for Molly to physically practice writing her letters, making this a great multi-sensory option. The puzzles section allows Molly to click and drag pieces with letters and pictures. The arts and music category offers “painting” activities with letters and songs about each letter to reinforce phonics skills. Everything in the app is very visual, with pictures used to support whatever the letter is, which also supports multi-sensory learning. Molly ABC Mouse

And my absolute favorite feature is the library. This digital library is jam packed with some great characters that kids will recognize. There are tons of options including Curious George, Disney princesses, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic and more. There is a good balance between fiction and nonfiction texts that are engaging for young readers. Molly is a huge fan of the princesses, so she usually chooses one of those titles. Parents and kids can search using the categories button to filter all of the different choices. Since Molly can’t read on her own yet, I usually have her pick a text from the ‘Read to Me’ category. When she clicks on one of these, the text will read the story to her automatically, just like I would during a read aloud. But wait, it gets better! While the story is being read to Molly, it highlights the word as the voice reads it!! This is by far my most favorite feature in the entire app because it helps her practicing “reading”.

While I was very hesitant at first about using an app to continue Molly’s education during this time, I am truly so glad I took the chance. She has become more independent with learning and wants to do ABC Mouse. She usually works in the app for an hour a day and I have seen a growth in her skills since she started. The app is a good supplement for supporting early literacy skills at home and I would highly recommend it for all learners.

For more information about ABC Mouse click here.

For more information about Little Reading Coach’s online tutoring services click here. 

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery Book Review

Literacy in the content areas is a topic I’ve been interested in since college when I had to take a class on it (with one of my favorite professors). I love coming across books that will spark the interest of a reader who has a love of science, math or history.

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery, by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Varcelija, is a delightful story about using the scientific method to solve a real life mystery.

Lizzie’s mom just baked a batch of delicious peanut butter cookies, but unfortunately a bunch have gone missing. Lizzie asked to have a cookie, but she listened to her mom and did not take one. She went outside to play with her neighbors, Robert and Joule. Lizzie’s mom thinks Lizzie ate the cookies, and has given her daughter an hour to explain what happened to them. Robert, Joule and Lizzie use the scientific method to create a hypothesis and design an experiment to show Mrs. Loftus what really happened to the cookies.

The format of this book is fabulous! Each chapter is a few pages long, which are filled with dialogue allowing the story to flow really well for young readers. The conversations are extremely realistic and allow readers to truly get to know the characters. The illustrations are adorable and can be used to help aid readers with comprehending the text.

Two of my favorite components of this story are the characters and the explanation of the scientific methods.

The three main characters are Lizzie, Robert and Joule. Robert and Lizzie are in second grade, and Robert’s older sister Joule is in fifth grade. Even though the story is about Lizzie’s situation, Joule’s character definitely steals the show! Joule is a know-it-all, with a big personality. She likes to remind Lizzie and Robert that she learned all about science and experiments “last year in fourth grade”. She is the driving force behind Lizzie finding out the truth about the missing peanut butter cookies, and truly moves the plot along.

For the record, science was in no way one of my best subjects growing up. I remember learning about the scientific method and having to use it in class, all while thanking my lab partner for getting me through.

This book not only does a marvelous job explaining and defining the different parts of an experiment (hypothesis, designing an experiment) it also provides clear examples in a real life situation. Joule spends lots of time teaching Robert and Lizzie about science in this short text, but her explanations are kid-friendly while using the proper scientific terminology, which I loved. There is no watering down of ideas and concepts, but rather a dialogue between characters that helps readers comprehend the ideas. For instance, Joule spends lots of time discussing hypothesis with the two other kids. She corrects them and explains why their ideas are incorrect, and provides guidance to the right way of thinking.

There were also some nice little surprises at the end of the story. The teacher in me always gets excited when an author includes extra educational activities that correlate with the story, and this author definitely got me excited!

Not only did she include a glossary of the scientific terms mentioned in the story, she included comprehension questions based on each term and the story! Truthfully, I have never seen it done this way, and I think it’s great! It adds an extra layer of skill building in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming for young readers.

And in true saving the best for last fashion, there is a recipe for peanut butter cookies! The illustrations of the ingredients make the recipe very kid-friendly, and the references to the story in the directions just add that little bit of extra.

I recommend this book for ages 5-12. It would work really well as a cross curricular activity with science and reading for students in grades 2-5. It is a must have for any kid who likes science or mysteries.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do

Whenever I chat with parents, they always express concern with their child’s reading comprehension. They worry that their child struggles with reading because they don’t understand what they are reading. While every child learns differently, there are some general tips and tricks that parents can do to help their learners at home. Below are some of my favorite, easy to incorporate ideas that I share with my families:

  1. Background information. This is HUGE! The more background students have about a topic or idea before reading about it, the more their brain is prepared to learn new information. Take a look at the passage or book your learner is reading and provide them with some information about the topic. For instance, if your student is going to read Anne Frank, find a Youtube video about WWII. Videos and movies are a great resource for background information, especially since kids will be reading in the near future.
  2. Predictions. This strategy works really well with elementary students, who seem to really enjoy it. Stop periodically and ask your learner what they think will happen next, where will the character go, will the problem get worse? Always try to keep the questions opened-ended so kids can explain their answers fully using examples from the text. Feel free to ask follow up questions, such as why or how to get your student to expand on their prediction.
  3. Stop and check. Kids need to learn to check in with themselves while they’re reading. No one wants to sit and waste 20 minutes reading a short story to realize none of it makes sense. Help your child figure out when is an appropriate time for them to stop in their reading and do a quick reading comprehension self check. Maybe have younger students stop after every paragraph or page and see if they can summarize what they just read to you. For older students, maybe have them stop and give a summary or main idea every 10 pages or chapter. If your child got all the big ideas then keep reading. If he or she missed some big concepts go back and re-read.
  4. Re-read. This is by far the best reading comprehension strategy for kids to use, in my opinion. Once a student realizes they are lost or confused, re-reading can usually help them get back on track. We all zone out sometimes when we read, or get mixed up at a particular part, so re-reading is a great, quick way to clarify any confusion and continue reading. Sometimes just re-reading a sentence or two does the trick, but if a student needs to re-read a few paragraphs or a page let them.
  5. Visualizing. I knew I was a strong reader as a kid when I could read a novel with no pictures and have a movie playing in my head. Elementary students rely on pictures in books to help them visualize when they are learning to read, but as kids get older and the texts become more complex, usually there aren’t any pictures to help students. That is where visualizing comes in. Usually a novel will provide readers with a great description of a setting or character. Stop and have kids draw what the description is using colors. For those that don’t like to draw (like myself) show kids some pictures. For instance, in Divergent readers are introduced to the city of Chicago, so show students pictures of the city to help them visualize.

 

Does your learner in grades 3-12 need additional support with reading comprehension? Check out https://www.littlereadingcoachllc.com/ for details about online reading and writing tutoring.

Ultimate List of Books with Movies for Grades 4-8

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to incorporate videos to help students with reading skills. The visual component gives readers support with reading comprehension, analyzing theme and characterization, comparing/contrasting, and more.

Reading and watching film versions of books is not just a classroom activity. It can be done as a family activity at home as well. Parents and children can take turns reading a story aloud every day, every night, during snack time, etc. Once the book is finished make it a family movie night with some popcorn to enjoy viewing the story.

Below is the ultimate list of books with films for grades 4-6 that I have used with my students over the last 10 years.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a great text for grades 4-6 and is a classic piece of children’s literature. The film version (Mr. Toad) was created by Disney in 1949 and is in a set with The Adventures of Ichabod.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Personally, I LOVE this series. It’s great for grades 4-8 (and beyond) and the movies really bring to light the message of the story.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. This text is typically used in 6th grade during mythology units, but it’s a great fantasy series for students in grades 4-8.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I really love using this text in 6th grade to help teach students about figurative language. This quick story is jam packed with rich language, and centers around important themes. I would suggest this book for grades 4-6. The film version, I will admit, is not my favorite. It’s way more of a love story than the text shows, and it’s a little much. However, I love showing students the pond scene because it highlights the main ideas and quotes that are important in the book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle. I fell in love with this book in sixth grade and still use my personal copy from middle school when I read this with my students. Due to the complex vocabulary, I would suggest reading this book with students in grades 6-8. Disney actually created two movie versions of this text, a made for TV movie and the latest with a star studded cast. I have only used the TV movie with students.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. There are a few different versions of this text. The one I linked is one of my favorites because of the illustrations. This is also another classic piece of children’s literature and many textbooks have included the short story version in their books. I recommend this one for grades 4-6. The film is a 20 minute version from Disney feature Mickey Mouse (click here for the Youtube link).

Mulan. This text also comes in a variety of forms. It can be found as a ballad (as seen in the link) and there is a short story version that I can’t seem to find online. The film version is by Disney, so there is some fun and humor added. This is a great piece to use with students in grades 4-7, especially since it’s a cross curricular piece with social studies.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. To me, this will always be the original YA dystopian text. This work is best for grades 6-8 (there are mentions of some mature thoughts known as “stirrings”). I found the film version to be very engaging, and while it is a little different than the text, it’s been modernized to attract present day students.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Similar to The Giver, this YA dystopian book made a statement when it came out. In my opinion, it sparked the YA dystopian movement over the last 10 years. This trilogy is best for grades 6-8. The movies are pretty true to the text and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has turned struggling and non-readers into readers without fail over the last 10 years. It’s the perfect middle school (grades 6-8) novel. It’s action packed, a little violent, honest, and creative. I will admit that I have never seen the film versions because I don’t want to ruin the movie I’ve created in my head with this amazing text.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’ve spent most of my teaching career with 6th grade students who are starting middle school for the first time. This is such a perfect book for students in grades 4-6. It’s realistic, charming and heart warming. The movie does a great job making the story come to life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If you’re looking for a novel to suck in middle school boys, this one is perfect. I recommend it for grades 7-8 because it is a little violent. The movie also has a great cast.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this book personally for some reason, students love it. This book for grades 4-6 and it’s filled with humor that will make your kids chuckle. The Disney movie, that’s not an animated film, does a great job capturing the story.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Another classic children’s story that is one of my personal faves. This fantasy story is packed with imagination and rich symbolism. It’s great for students in grades 4-6. There are a few film versions for this piece. My personal favorite is the cartoon version from 1979 (click here for the Youtube link) and Disney did create a non-animated version.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I have always been a Roald Dahl fan and this is one of my favorites because I always wanted to be like Matilda (I know, I’m a nerd). This novel is great for grades 4-6. The movie is also spectacular and is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the character development, which makes the text humorous and enjoyable. It’s ideal for grades 4-6. The film version with Johnny Depp is a little dark, so I prefer to use the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In all honesty, I love the clay animation look of this film version to help distinguish the different phases of the plot. It’s super fun and engaging for young readers in grades 4-6.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. This is my personal fave Roald Dahl novel. My first grade teacher read it aloud and I’ve re-read it countless times since then. The film version is equally as captivating as the text and is great fore grades 4-6.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This American classic  is a very popular in 8th grade English. The text complexity, language and themes are more mature, so I recommend this for 8th grade and up. The film version is also a classic and is shot without color.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For fans of vampires and romance this series is perfect. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that even adults still enjoy. I recommend this for grades 6-8. The film versions closely mirror the books.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I was first introduced to the movie version of this text when we visited my aunt down the shore growing up. It wasn’t until I saw the book sitting in a classroom that I realized the movie was based on a book. This is a mysterious and action filled story for grades 4-6.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book is perfect for kids who love dogs! It’s all about the bond between a boy and his dog and is ideal for grades 4-6. The movie version is equally adorable and can be shared with the whole family.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashares. This book is perfect for teen girls, so I recommend it for students in 8th grade and above. It dives into the lives of four friends and the personal experiences they have while wearing a par of thrift store jeans. The film also has a star-studded cast and is highly enjoyable for teens.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. An absolute classic piece of children’s literature and cinema. The story and the film are great for all members of the family, especially those who love music and theater.

**Many of these books can be shared with younger readers as well as the age groups listed. If you’re worried about content, feel free to check out Common Sense Media .

For more information about online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12 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.

Harry Potter Virtual Read Aloud

Read alouds have been a staple in my classrooms for years, brick and mortar and virtual (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom). I love being able to transport students to different worlds and time periods while reinforce reading skills and strategies.

With schools and libraries being closed, it’s important that we not only keep students Harry Potter Read Aloudlearning, but also provide them ways to escape reality for a little bit. As a certified Reading Specialist, I want to be able to provide this for students during these difficult times.

Read alouds are extremely beneficial for all students, especially those with an IEP.

*Read alouds allow students to enjoy a story without worrying about decoding (reading) words. This is super important for struggling readers who can get frustrated while reading.

*Read aloulds allow students to listen to a teacher model fluency and pronunciation. 

 

Starting Wednesday, April 1st, I will be posting a FREE recording of read aloud sessions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with teacher notes in Google classroom. Students will have access to the classroom until June 30, 2020. I will go in depth with information about plot, characterization, making inferences, reading comprehension, theme, etc. A document of teacher notes will also be available for students to review after each read aloud. Students are more than welcome to follow along in their own copies of the text, or close their eyes and enjoy the story.

Click here to sign up