Admissions Book Review

Like many, I was very intrigued by the college scandal a few years ago. From an educator’s perspective, I was curious how they were able to get away with all that they did. Of course, I was not surprised that lots of money was involved, but I was shocked that celebrities, including Lori Loughlin, were guilty. So when I saw there was a fictional book about the scandal, I knew I had to read it.

Admission, by Julie Buxbaum, is a dramatic and eye-opening story about privilege and social issues in America.

Summary

Chloe’s mom is a famous TV star and her dad is in finance. She’s living a very glamorous life in LA, attending an elite private school, preparing to go to prom with her crush and getting excited to attend her dream college. That is, until the FBI shows up at her house and arrests her mom in the college admission bribery scandal.

Analysis

The structure of the story alternates between past tense and present day, which took me a little while to get used to (I prefer the sequence of events to go in chronological order). Readers are literally thrown right into the story, creating an immediate sense of engagement.

The setting is modern day Los Angeles. I am a fan of the Housewives franchise and other reality shows, so I really enjoyed the descriptions of Chloe’s luxurious life.

I like how well-developed the characters were, and how authentic they all seemed. They each served a very specific purpose and helped move the plot along.

Chloe

I have to admit that as a reader I was going into this story with some bias based on my background knowledge of the scandal. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I sympathized with Chloe in the beginning of the text. She comes across as very innocent about the scandal events, and readers instantly believe and support her. However, throughout the story, she gets these little flashback memories relating to the scandal, and like any other teenager, she dismisses these thoughts.

One of my favorite aspects of Chloe is that the reader is reflecting and accepting right along with her. When I first meet Chloe, I felt for her. I wanted to give her a hug when her best friend stopped talking to her and her life spiraled out of control. However, as the truth slowly unravels, and Chloe accepts responsibility for her actions, I didn’t feel as bad for her. I was proud of her for how she handled her situation in the end (I can’t give too much away, but I personally feel made the right decisions). I gained a lot of respect for her as a character.

Chloe is defintely a relatable character. She sees herself as a plain girl, “nothing special”, that doesn’t really know what she wants to do in her next chapter. Chloe loves spending time with Cesar, a little boy, reading Harry Potter after school. She states multiple times that she is “not smart enough” to get into ivy league colleges and universities, and she has a hard time with the SATs. She doesn’t even know what to include in her college essay because nothing has ever really happened to her. Buxbaum truly captures the essence of a teenage girl with Chloe, the insecurities, avoiding grown up responsibilities and the inner dialogue of a girl with a crush.

Themes

This novel highlights a few specific themes that all relate around current social issues: privilege, family and expectations

Growing up, I would hear the word privilege and just knew it meant someone had money. In recent years, this term has evolved to mean so much more than that and this book tackles the concept in a way that speaks to young adults.

Shola, Chloe’s best friend, is Nigerian American and attends the elite private school on a scholarship. She works her butt off for her grades and hopes to go to a top college on a scholarship. Throughout the text, we see Shola ground Chloe and give her “reality checks” in a way that is respectful but eye-opening. She tries to help Chloe see outside her “bubble”.

While the book doesn’t use “privilege” a lot, it’s very easy to see the hints left by Buxbaum to alert readers. I feel this was tastefully done and encourages readers to reflect on what they see in their own lives.

Family is also another concept that is explored in this work. However, I believe that this theme can be broken up into two different thoughts: doing what’s best and supporting one another.

In truth, I can’t think of another book that includes one theme used in two different ways.

Chloe’s parents defend their actions by saying they “did what they thought was best”. They wanted to help their child. In typical situations, we would applaud parents for this belief, however, bribery and fraud are not to be commended. But, it does bring up the idea that parents usually want to do anything and everything to help their children.

As readers, we know that Hollywood is all smoke and mirrors, so when Chloe’s family came together during the scandal, it showed us that at the core of a family there is love. Regardless of how much someone can mess up, family is there to still love and support that individual. This is such an important message for teenagers to remember, because notoriously the teen years are a time when many mistakes are made.

Finally, as a teacher who has worked in affluent districts, there is absolutely an expectation put on students today. Every single grade matters because a student has to get into the best schools. This is clearly displayed in Admissions because it directly impacts a family’s social standing. This is not only seen in California, but across the country. There is real pressure put on students, as we see with the characters in the book, but there is also a pressure on parents. College has become a status symbol for many, and these expectations can be extremely heavy burdens on all involved.

I would recommend this book to parents of high school students and young adult readers.

To purchase this book 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 head to my website.

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.

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.

10 Reading Comprehension Tips

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.

Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.

There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.

So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?

Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.

Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.

When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.

Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?

The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.

Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.

This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.

Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).

Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary

So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.

Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.

Tip #4- Provide a summary

SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.

As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.

It’s okay to give students a summary of the text before or after they read.

Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.

Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.

Tip #5- Listen to the audio version

I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).

Currently enjoying book 5 of Harry Potter…again :).

So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.

While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.

Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.

Tip #6- Read the eBook version

Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.

Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.

Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.

Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.

Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.

Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.

Tip #7- Covering the basics

This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.

In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:

Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet

Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.

Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.

For more note-taking suggestions, check out my post: 6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips.

Tip #8- Always share thoughts

Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.

Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?

When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.

Tip #9- Encourage connections

The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.

So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?

This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.

Tip #10- Keep communication open

It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.

As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.

When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.

In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.

Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.

Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.

Head over to my TpT store to snag this FREE resource

In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.

For more specific tips and tricks for parents, check out my post on Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do.

Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.

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.

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.

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.

Lizzie Loftus and the Messy Mums Book Review : A Science Method Mystery

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.

A few months ago I connected with a new children’s book author, Dr. Ruth Propper, through Facebook and I shared a review for her first book, Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies. Just as I was hoping, the second book is finally available!

Lizzie Loftus and the Messy Mums: A Science Method Mystery, written by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Vacelija, is a great easy to read science chapter book that enforces the importance of experiments to young scientists.

Our fantastic trio is back (Lizzie, Joule and Robert) and they have another mystery that needs to be solved. Robert’s mom accuses him of playing basketball in the front yard and ruining the mums that were just planted. Unless Robert can come up with an alternate hypothesis before dinner he will be unable to go to the big basketball game.

Joule guides Lizzie and Robert through the scientific method to create Robert’s alternate hypothesis. She really makes it a point to follow the process in order and readers see first hand why Joule is right. The situation gets even more complicated when Daniel, the 7th grade neighbor, stops by and gives his own thoughts, which Joule believes instantly.

One new aspect of the this story that really stuck out to me was the underlying theme of seeing is believing. The theme first emerges during a conversation between Joule and her mom. Joule is trying to convince her mom that wind, moles, and sticks had a hand in the messy mums, but her mom points out many holes in the story.

“Just because someone older, or more mature, or even someone you respect, tells you something, it doesn’t make it true. When in doubt, believe what you see, not what someone says. You have to think critically, kids. That means trying to figure out why something might not be true” (46).

Mom’s words can be applied to so many situations involving peer pressure, science experiments, etc. I LOVE this quote and the point that mom is trying to make to the three scientists.

As with the first book, the characterization in this story is spot on. The attitude that Joule has is just enough sass to make readers roll their eyes, but not dislike her. Robert is truly an eight year old boy in how he acts and speaks. Propper really captures the essence of little boys with Robert in the very beginning of the story. Lizzie is still a sweetheart that truly wants to help her friends.

As a reader, I am always looking for clues and moments of foreshadowing. There was a smidge of foreshadowing in the book, but the plot events did surprise me, which I enjoyed. The creativity of what really happened is realistic and will make readers smile.

And in true Lizzie Loftus books fashion, there are bonus sections! The author includes a glossary of terms with reading comprehension questions to help readers explore the scientific concepts in more detail using the text. There is also a hands-on activity that includes a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. The teachermom gets excited that readers can go beyond the text in fun and educational ways.

I recommend this book for readers/scientists ages 5-12 for a home or classroom library. It is also a great text for a science teacher or homeschool parent to use when teaching the scientific method or looking for STEM activities.

To purchase the book click here.

 

 

 

 

What Parents Should Know About Virtual Learning

Over the last month I have seen countless parents express their concerns for the 2020-2021 school year. Should students go back to school? Should students stay home? Should parents start to homeschool? For those parents trying to figure it out, I wanted to give you my honest thoughts as a virtual teacher and tutor in the hopes that I can shed some light on virtual learning.

  1. Virtual learning can be effective for special education students. In my opinion, this has been a hot topic over the last few months. I have worked incredibly close with schools, students and families with students with IEPs to ensure that all accommodations are met and supports provided (where I can). Just because a student is classified does not mean that he or she will not thrive in an online learning environment. With the proper guidance from teachers, case managers, tutors and parents, students can still fulfill all requirements needed to pass a course. It may take a little bit of time to figure out what works best, but virtual learning can be effective.
  2. Virtual learning requires organization. When students are in a brick and mortar school, they have a teacher in front of the class outlining the plan. With virtual learning, the information is all there too, but students may need to look at a handful of Google classrooms or web pages to find it. Some students prefer to keep an electronic planner (Google calendar, phone calendar) to record when assignments are due, while others may still prefer a paper planner. To make virtual learning effective, students need to be on top of their assignments, live lessons, teacher meetings, read alouds, etc., so keeping a calendar and being organized is imperative.
  3. Virtual learning requires discipline. Depending on the virtual program a student is enrolled in, he or she may heave to be online from 7-3 every day, or they may need to log 6 hours a day, etc. That’s a lot of time spent working on assignments, watching videos, participating in live lessons and more. It can get frustrating and overwhelming, but the work still needs to get done. Teachers are amazing at breaking down assignments for kids into manageable chunks, but kids still need to have the discipline to sit at home and get it done. This can be challenging for students of all ages. Just because the work is done online doesn’t mean it’s not time consuming.
  4. Virtual learning requires communication. This is the biggest component to virtual learning. In the classroom, I could always look at my students and know who may need a little help or clarification by the looks on their faces or interactions. This doesn’t happen in the virtual world. Even with live lessons, it may not always be easy for a teacher to see that a child needs help, which is why kids  and parents need to communicate with teachers. Depending on the school/program, kids can message their teacher in their course, send a quick text, shoot an email, meet virtually, or even call their teacher. Normally I have kids email or text me with questions because that’s what they feel most comfortable doing. Without this communication virtual learning can be difficult.
  5. Virtual learning requires screen time. In an online learning environment, kids will have everything delivered electronically. The books they read may be in PDF form or lessons may be delivered through online modules. In some cases parents can print out materials, but sometimes that’s not an option or it would be an insane amount of paper and ink. I have had parents purchase paper copies of novels, but it’s important to realize that there will be A LOT of screen time and reading on a device.
  6. Virtual learning requires a lot of reading. Most of the time, students are responsible for reading posts, lessons, directions, comments, etc. from teachers and classmates. Depending on the program or teacher, there may be audio support, but there is still quite a bit of reading that students are required to do in order to complete assignments.
  7. Virtual learning can give students more choices. This is one of my favorite aspects of virtual learning. Kids love having a say in their education, especially when it comes to the classes they take. Virtual learning allows kids to explore new classes, languages, hobbies, and topics that they may not have been able to pursue in a brick and mortar school. For instance, as a virtual teacher I have taught an elective course on Social Media, which was not offered in many high schools.
  8. Virtual learning classes are taught by passionate teachers. I have taught in public, charter, and private schools, and just like in a brick and mortar, virtual teachers have such passion for their work.  Teachers will go out of their way to create incredible supplemental activities, projects and assignments for their students at all grade levels. They are constantly communicating with parents about student progress, providing intervention services, and participating in professional development opportunities.

For more information also check out E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.