3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

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

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

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

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

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

We Need to Talk…About Dyslexia

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month.

When I first started teaching, I’m not even sure I knew what dyslexia was. I took all the required college courses to teach secondary English, I did all of my practicum and student teaching, but dyslexia was never discussed.

I heard of Orton-Gillingham during my second or third year of teaching because one of the teachers in my building used it with her resource students. She knew I was going for my Reading Specialist certification and mentioned that I should take her place when she retires. At the time, I figured I’d be totally prepared to teach those kids because I would be a specialist.

Well, I was definitely wrong.

I live in NJ and have taught in public and charter schools in the state. We have amazing schools.

I have never had professional development through a school that included dyslexia.

I have never worked with a special education teacher to address dyslexic students in my gen. ed classroom.

I have a masters degree in Curriculum/Reading and a NJ and MI Reading Specialist certification, but I was never taught how to help students with dyslexia.

This is a problem.

For the last year and a half I have dived into the world of dyslexia. I started my Orton-Gillingham training online through Orton Gillingham Online Academy, which has been amazing. I can work at my own pace, ask questions in the Facebook group, and have access to incredible materials.

Over the summer I attended webinars through Learning Ally that focused on supporting dyslexic students in the classroom.

As an educator, I’m being open minded. I’m realizing that even at the middle school level we need to be addressing dyslexia in our schools. We need to realize that phonics and learning to read don’t stop in elementary school. We need to stop being afraid to say ‘dyslexia’. We need to train our teachers on what dyslexia looks like and how to help our dyslexic students.

But how do we do that?

By bringing awareness. Dyslexia is not just letters getting jumbled up when a person is reading. It is so, so much more. We need to talk about it. We need educate our teachers about it. We need to stop being afraid of it.

 

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.

Virtual Tutoring Services

Little Reading Coach was created to offer students and families individualized virtual tutoring. In case you missed the full explanation of my why, check out the post here. I’ve had a bunch of people ask me what virtual tutoring sessions include, so I figured I would take a few minutes to show you all that Little Reading Coach has to offer.

 

Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12
Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Recording of session and tutor notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Access to weekly read aloud (live or recorded)

Virtual Reading and Writing Homeschooling for Grades 6-12 
Daily course includes:
*Novel based individualized curriculum created by a Reading Specialist
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual course time
*Recording of session and teacher notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Homework assigned daily
*Parent teacher conference once a month

 

Virtual Reading Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Assessments used:
CTOPP 2 for phonological aweareness
Qualitative Reading Inventory-6 for reading level and comprehension

Reading assessment/evaluation Includes:
*Conduct reading assessment(s) [2] I Hour Sessions
*Virtual Parent Meeting [1] 1/2 Hour Discussion Session
*Provide list of reading strategies and accommodations based on assessment data
*Suggest books based on assessment data
*Written report with findings from data collected

Virtual Writing Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Each evaluation includes a write up that can be shared with schools and teachers

Quick Write
*on demand writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure

The Basics
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

The Works
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*Basic grammar diagnostic (knowledge of parts of speech, sentence structure)
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

Little Reading Coach can conduct reading and assessments, but can not officially diagnose any reading/writing disabilities.

For more information click here.

3 Benefits of Virtual Reading Tutoring

This year marks my 10 year anniversary of tutoring students! I have pretty much tutored in all different types of environments: in a tutoring center, at the library, at a student’s home, in a classroom, and virtually. While there are benefits to in person tutoring, there are also some fantastic positives for virtual tutoring.

  1. Convenient. Each family is incredibly busy. Football practice, swim lessons, boy scouts, etc., fill weekly schedules. One of the great aspects of virtual tutoring is that it can take place anywhere at any time. I use Zoom for my sessions, which can be accessed on any device (computer, tablet, or phone). There is no driving to a center, or rushing home to meet the tutor. Sessions can take place wherever the student is. In the car on the way to a soccer tournament, during study hall every Wednesday, or at home. I like to think of it as having a tutor in your pocket.
  2. Customize. Each child needs individualized instruction to improve their skills. As with teaching in the classroom, sessions can go in a completely different direction. Being virtual, the tutor has access to literally anything on the internet. Need a quick grammar worksheet to practice subject very agreement? The tutor can find one online, share their screen, and work on it with the student. Need to revise an essay? Both parties can look at the screen and discuss what corrections need to be done. Teachers are also known for having their own materials. Instead of trying to print out a copy, a virtual tutor can share their screen with the student instantly, which saves time and aggravation.
  3. Comfort. Having worked with students in grades 6-12 for years, I’ve learned that the most effective tutoring takes place when a student is comfortable. Some don’t like going to a center because they don’t want to see other students, have anxiety, etc. Virtual tutoring allows students to work wherever they feel comfortable. It can be at their desk in their room, outside by the pool, or in the car. Students like privacy, especially when they are working on skills they are not super strong in.

If you’re interested in learning more about virtual reading tutoring and to see what services are offered, click here.

Agent 603 Book Review

Like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. This past week has been all love though because I was invited to join a new Facebook group that connects children’s book authors with bloggers. I have about 5 new books on my To Read list so I can write some exciting reviews, which makes my reading heart quite happy.

I’ve spent the last eight years working with middle school students, so I have a soft spot for any texts for this age group. Agent 603 by Tabitha Bell is an ADORABLE story about a teddy bear who is really a secret agent. Based on the writing style, some advanced vocabulary and humor, I would recommend this book for students in grades 4-6.

Our main character is Agent 603, later named Mr. Snuggles, who is a teddy bear fresh out of secret agent training. As readers, we dive into the details of his first mission. The point of view is mostly in first person, and we get to know our cuddly character very well. He is dramatic, clumsy and a foodie, making him relatable to readers. He tends to always have food on his mind, which adds to the humor of the book.

One of my absolute favorite aspects about this novel is the humor. The story is structured like a secret agent case file, but every so often an amendment for the record interjects some realities about the situation. These amendments had me lol’ing for real, which doesn’t happen to me as a reader. I started reading the novel on my phone while I was getting my hair done (love the Kindle app) and I had to use my close reading strategies and highlight some of my favorite parts.

Agent 603 Excerpt

The plot is very imaginative and reflects how children think. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as creative as this one in terms of characterization and plot, which made the novel super engaging to me. There were a few points that I got confused with the plot because of the immense attention to detail, but it wasn’t enough to distract me from reading. This happened once or twice when Mr. Snuggles ventured into the closet and experienced new surroundings every time.

A theme that really struck me while reading this novel was imagination. Without giving anything away, the falling action allowed readers to see what can happen if we aren’t afraid to be creative and use our imaginations. Personally, I think this is a fantastic theme in a book for this age group. Students at this point are in the weird transition period of puberty, and teachers often see this in the behaviors of students. We can tell when some students haven’t hit that stage yet because they tend to have over active imaginations and immaturity. This book highlighted that having an over active imagination is a positive aspect and to embrace it. Having worked with sixth grade students for years, I was very drawn to this because kids often hide their true thoughts to fit in with others.

This is definitely one book that should be in a classroom library. I think it would attract those readers who enjoy adventure and humor types of books. I can’t wait to see the next mission that Mr. Snuggles goes on.

Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do- Book Review

A few weeks ago I posted about reading resources for parents and mentioned Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I purchased the e-book version because I was too excited to wait for Amazon to deliver a paper copy, which was a blessing because I read it on my phone and Kindle over the last few weeks. It took me much longer to read than I anticipated because I couldn’t stop highlighting and writing notes.

Since I started teaching I’ve been on a quest to find a book to help parents (and teachers) address reading concerns and I believe I have finally found it! This book is truly one of a kind. Willingham’s writing voice is superb. He speaks to the reader as a fellow parent/educator with a calm demeanor. He never makes the reader feel incompetent nor does he command or belittle the reader.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is to start now. The introduction states this and it is repeated many times throughout the text. I love that Willingham doesn’t make parents or teachers feel that it’s too late. Many feel that by the time a child is in middle school it’s too late to improve reading skills and motivation, but Willingham constantly denies this with realistic, supportive ideas for adults.

The book starts off with a great explanation of general reading information including: the role of sound, the role of knowledge in comprehension, and motivation. As an educator, I loved his clear explanations of phonics and the role of sounds in reading. I was one of the those children who struggled with phonics, which resulted in my reading struggles and repeating kindergarten. I think if my parents had read the excerpt below during my struggle period it would have helped them understand.

“If reading is a code between written symbols and speech sounds, it’s going to be hard to learn the code if you can’t hear those sounds. Lots of research indicates that this reasonable supposition is right. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds. At the other end of the spectrum, children who more or less teach themselves to read turn out to hear them easily. This relationship between the ability to hear speech sounds and reading is not unique to learning to read English— you see it across languages. So we have our first clue about how we can help kids become good readers: help them with this auditory challenge.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (pp. 12-13). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part one of the text examines reading in birth-preschool age children. My interests the last few months have been on this age group because of my daughter and the two classes I’m teaching, Mommy & Me Literacy and Children & Literacy. The author’s main points in this section are to create a love of reading and to prepare children for decoding. He gives great ideas/suggestions for parents, educators, and child care providers. One of my favorites he mentioned was using word games to help students with speech sounds.

“Here are some examples of word games that help children to hear individual speech sounds: Some children’s songs and rhymes center on word play, for example, The Name Game (“ Dan, Dan, bo-Ban, banana-fana fo-Fan, fee fi-mo-Man. Dan!”) and Apples and Bananas (“ I like to eat, eat, eat, eeples and baneenees”). Classic nursery rhymes use much of this sort of word play. So do Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and other children’s authors. Sing songs they know, replacing the initial letter of each word with the letter of your choice, for example, “Mary had a little lamb” becomes “Bary bad a bittle bamb.” Find excuses for alliteration: “Great golly! Gobs of grapes!” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 33). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Before a child can read, he or she must be able to recognize letters, which Willingham discusses. One of the easiest ways parents can help children with letter recognition is what Willingham calls “letters in the wild”. Caregivers should interact with children daily with letters they see on billboards, logos, etc. “If you prompt interest in letters in these daily interactions, it’s that much more likely your child will show interest in letters during read-alouds.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 36). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part two of the book addresses kindergarten-second grade. I really liked how Willingham starts off this section by discussing the different reading programs used in schools, phonics vs. whole-word, and balanced literacy. Each school district uses a different approach, so it’s important for parents to be aware of the program their school uses. It’s also important to keep in mind that each student learns differently. “Programs vary, and kids’ experiences within a program vary.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 83). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The author also addresses the hot topic of technology: “With all the power we attribute to technology, that seems like a pretty wimpy effect. But the modest impact is actually typical for educational technology interventions, no matter what the subject: math, science, or history. More disturbing is a point made by researcher John Hattie: when you try anything new in the classroom, you see, on average, this sort of modest boost to student learning. Why? It’s not clear. (My guess is that the excitement of trying something new makes teachers enthusiastic, and that excitement rubs off on students.) The conclusion I’m emphasizing is that educational technology interventions in general (and those targeting reading in particular) have been less successful than we would have expected.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 85). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Willingham does go on to mention that technology apps and videos vary in quality and how they are embedded. On the flip side, he also does a great job of mentioning how technology can provide individual feedback and other positive ideas (I really appreciate how he can be so calm when discussing hot topic things).

I love that he follows up the discussion of technology with techniques and ideas parents can use at home with their kids. He includes ideas such as: reading with your child, choosing the right book, providing feedback and dealing with reading frustration. Reading is a challenging skill that takes lots of time to develop, so it’s only natural for children to get frustrated with reading while being at home with a parent. The author includes some great ideas for parents on dealing with this frustration.

“I can offer four suggestions if you find yourself frustrated. First, the habit of not talking much is not only good for your child (so she hears mostly her own voice, reading) but also good for maintaining your composure when you’re frustrated. Second, when you do speak, you can usually find an intonation other than frustration that carries your message in a positive way. When my youngest would look to me for help on the same word three times in sixty seconds, my inclination was to shout, “You KNOW this one.” I trained myself to say, “You know this one,” with the intonation of, “You sly dog.” I probably should have said nothing, but at least I used a positive tone. Third, remind yourself that the whole session is only five or ten minutes. Fourth, if you find that you just can’t keep it together, quit. Ask your child to read with you later. Grinding through the process gives a little practice in decoding, but it carries too high a cost in motivation.”(Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The final part is third grade and beyond. Since I’ve taught middle school language arts for five years, I was really curious about his thoughts on motivating struggling readers at this stage. Fluency is discussed in great detail in this part of the book, and it’s fascinating how Willingham connects fluency to spelling.  “It would be nice to get kids to fluency faster, especially given that national tests indicate only about half of kids have reached desired levels of fluency by fourth grade. Is there a way to hurry the process along? Three techniques can help. First, explicit spelling instruction seems to improve fluency. Although the spelling knowledge you use to read is not identical to the knowledge you use when you’re thinking about how to spell a word, there is some overlap. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 137). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). I have worked in environments where administration feels that students don’t need to spend time on spelling after a certain grade, but it is evident that spelling does translate to an increase in fluency.

The next big concept Willingham tackles is reading comprehension. This is the number one struggle I see with struggling readers in middle and high school. The author addressing the importance to reading comprehension strategies which include ideas like activating prior knowledge, listening actively, summarizing, visualizing, etc.

However, it is important to note, as the author does, that texts become increasingly more challenging the older a child gets. By third grade students are starting to read more nonfiction texts (articles, textbooks) and they are expected to understand the material and then interact with it in some aspect. In addition to that, some schools have made the transition to digital literacy. Instead of simply stating a positive or negative stance, the author breaks down and examines the different components which include general tech savviness and the ability to evaluate information. He then follows up his thoughts with information about the digital revolution.

“One change wrought by the digital revolution is that kids are actually reading much more than they used to, even though reading is commonly thought to be in decline.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). If you think about what students today are doing, this makes total sense. Kids are constantly reading tweets, captions on Instagram, blogs posts, etc. They may not be reading novels, but they are constantly reading.

Overall, I am in love with this book. The ideas and suggestions are explained in a clear, concise manner that is extremely user friendly for those not familiar with the education or reading world. It is the perfect book for any parent because it addresses all stages of reading. It is the perfect book for an educator to use to provide parents with guidance.