E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

I spent five years in middle school classrooms and one year as a literacy coach before making the transition to being a virtual teacher. I’m currently in my third year as an online English teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum, and also an online tutor with Little Reading Coach.

Making the transition from a brick and mortar classroom to a virtual one can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once a student gets the hang of things life gets much easier.

Below are ways for helping kids of all ages make the transition to e-learning environments.

Know what platforms are being used. Kids use multiple learning sites, platforms and textbooks every day in a brick and mortar school, and the same applies to the online environment. For each class, make a list of all websites, textbooks, etc. with log in information (usually a username and password). This will automatically turn into a handy cheat sheet so you can avoid the stress of looking for important information (like trying to remember 600 different passwords). Feel free to use my version here.

Make a schedule. Learning at home means a very different routine for some kids, which in itself can be stressful. If your school doesn’t have a specific schedule for your child to follow, create your own. Here are some suggestions I have given my virtual families over the last few years:

Focus on one subject a day. This works well for kids who feel very overwhelmed or struggle to work well independently without a teacher standing in front of them.

Spend 1 hour on each subject. This schedule works for kids who just need a routine in place. It helps to keep the schedule the same every day. Have it written down on a white board or piece of paper so it’s within sight while a student is working. I also suggest having the student set an alarm on their phone or computer to let them know when 1 hour is up. (I say 1 hour because it will take kids longer to do work at home depending on the subject).

Have an alternating schedule. I like this one best for elementary and early middle school kids. Mondays and Wednesdays could be Language Arts and Social Studies, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be Math and Science and Friday’s could be specials/electives.

Have a learning area. Designate a place where a student will be doing their work. This could be at a kitchen table, desk, etc. Make sure all materials are in this area (chargers, paper, pencils, books, etc.).

Make a to do list. This is by far my favorite piece of advice. Before your student starts working every day, have him or her make a to do list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Make it as specific as you can and encourage your learner to check things off as they go. For instance, if your student needs to watch 2 videos, answer questions and write a response, write the title of each video on the to do list. This breaks down the tasks for kids and even though it may seem like a lot, encourage them to take their time.

Communicate with teachers. Star this. Write it on the schedule you create. This is by far the the number 1 best way to be successful with online learning. If your learner has a question, email the teacher. If your student is confused about instructions, email the teacher. If your learner is falling behind on the work, email the teacher. Communication is the ultimate tool to help kids. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent/guardian because once your student gets into the groove they will feel more confident and capable of learning from home and the emails will lessen.

Take breaks. If you’re creating your own schedule factor in break times. Staring at a screen is physically and mentally draining. Make sure your learner is walking away from the screen frequently. Take a bathroom, drink or snack break. 

Be an actively engaged in your learner’s education. As a parent/guardian, you may need to be a more involved in the day to day assignments, depending on the age of the learner. Be in the know about what is going on with expectations from the school. I strongly suggest joining local Facebook groups, or creating a group text with other class moms to help one another stay up to date.

Breathe. The first few days are always the hardest. As an online educator, I promise things do get easier. Just remember you can always reach out to the teacher or school for any help.

 

Little Reading Coach offers online reading and writing tutoring for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia Book Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Over the weekend I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I came across a very interesting post in a dysgraphia parent group about a teenager who wrote a children’s book about dysgraphia. I immediately took a screenshot to remind myself about the book and I am beyond glad that I did so.

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia, by Cassandra Baker, is a phenomenal children’s book about the realities of a little boy with dysgraphia.

Before I launch into why I love this book so much, I have to share a little bit of background. Cassie wrote this book to earn her Gold Award with girl scouts because she grew up with family members who were affected by dysgraphia. Having been a girl scout a long time ago, I completely respect and admire this young lady’s passion and desire to share information with families.

As soon as readers open the book we are greeted by our main character, Noah, who has dysgraphia. He tells readers that he has great ideas, but his handwriting is messy and he has trouble getting his thoughts on paper. He does not write as quickly as his classmates and he wishes he had a writing robot.

Even though Noah has great ideas, when he works on a project it doesn’t come out like it looks in his head and he gets very frustrated. He even yells at his mom and rips his poster in half. His mom clearly sees his struggles and reaches out to the teacher, and together they come up with a great plan. Noah can use his mom’s computer to help with homework and he also goes to an occupational therapist.

With lots of practice, patience, and hard work, Noah improves his ability to express himself in writing. So much so that he even writes his own story!

There are so, so many aspects of this book that I love. The first is that it’s written from Noah’s point of view. The simplicity of his explanations and his honesty are absolutely spot on and relatable to children. The struggles that he faces are truly ones that children also experience, adding to that realistic factor.

As a parent and a teacher, I also love how Noah’s mom reached out to his teacher and came up with a plan. By working as a team, they were able to find out what would not only help Noah in the short term, but what would help in the future as well. This is the ideal type of teamwork parents and teachers hope to experience when working together to help a child in need.

I was also a HUGE fan of the in-depth look at OT from a child’s perspective. I have seen some OT’s come up with super creative and fun activities for students at all age levels, and it’s clear that Natalie, the OT in the story, is one of those amazing individuals who really “get” kids. She has Noah practice cutting, using different writing utensils and more in order to help him.

However, I think that my absolute favorite aspect was the end of the story. Not only do we see progress for Noah, but Cassie also includes super important information about dysgraphia. While the picture book is meant for children, these notes are clearly meant for adults, making this a true family text.

As a Reading Specialist, I am always looking for works to recommend to families and this one will definitely be added to my list. If you’re an educator, a parent or a child affected by dysgraphia in some way, this book is a must read.

To purchase the book click here. 

15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas

One of my favorite things about connecting with members of the literacy world is being able to share great books. Today I’m super excited to share a blog post written by Jennie Lyon about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.

Christmas Hot Chocolate

Do you remember what Christmas was like when you were a child?

Sure, as an adult, the winter holidays can be filled with all kinds of stress. You have to worry about family, hosting a big dinner, making sure that all of the presents are under the tree… It’s crazy!

But if you’re a child, it can be pure magic. Santa Claus and snow and reindeer and stockings! They get to be around all of their favorite people for days and be showered with nothing but love and attention. It’s little wonder why kids love Christmas.

And if you really want to build up the Christmas spirit in them, you can work in some fantastic children’s books about Christmas into the evening bedtime story rotation! Here are some of my favorites that I highly recommend you share with them:

Polar Express

The Polar Express: 30th Anniversary Edition by Chris Van Allsburg

Before it was a Tom Hanks movie, The Polar Express was one of the most beloved Christmas books ever written. If you’ve only seen the film, then you should definitely check out the original it’s based on.

On Christmas Eve, a little boy boards a mysterious train bound for the North Pole. Once there, he meets Santa himself, who gives him any gift he desires. His choice isn’t what you might expect and leads to a magical tale filled with beautiful images.

Arial Christmas

Arial the Secret Santa by Mary Nhin

I love Christmas. It’s a time of peace and kindness. And kindness and compassion are the traits I most want to instill in our kids.

In Arial the Secret Santa, children will follow Arial the unicorn through school, in her community and in nature as she models how easy it can be to share kindness. From giving a compliment to smiling at someone who’s having a bad day, Arial shows children that, no matter how small, words and act of kindness MATTER, especially at Christmas! Included in the book is the Kindness Tree Activity to help encourage your child to give praise and spread positivity into the world.

If you’re looking for a book this Christmas to help teach your kids about the power of kindness, then this is the book to have under the tree. I highly recommend this book!

Festive Flamingo

Festive Flamingo by Shaula Maitland

If you would like a moment of calm this Christmas (and a brilliant night’s sleep, shh…) then Festive Flamingo is the book for you!
Flamingo shares a festive selection of breathing exercises and relaxing
visualizations. She joins you for twelve magical meditations, where you explore
positive themes such as perseverance, curiosity and self-belief. Build a magical
camel out of snow, learn to ice-skate with the woodland animals and create an
exciting game for the elves.

Enjoy the benefits of meditation, alongside adventure and festive fun!

Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

I mean, do you really need a summary of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s one of the most celebrated children’s books of all-time, let alone one of the all-time great Christmas books! It’s also a brilliant cartoon, two big-budget movies, and the basis of countless toys. And you know what? It deserves every single bit of praise it gets.

The Grinch that Stole Christmas perfectly communicates the meaning of Christmas and is filled with stunning art, hilarious rhymes, and some truly funny jokes. It’s a true classic that should be on every child’s bookshelf. If you’ve never encountered it before, you owe it to yourself to give it a read (even if you’re an adult)!

Little Squirrel

Little Squirrel Squish Gets His Christmas Wish by Ross Hammond

Do you remember the story of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer? Everyone told him that he couldn’t be a member of Santa’s reindeer team. Well, here is a children’s book that reflects that story, putting a whole new spin on the idea of following your dreams!

Little Squirrel Squish is a tiny squirrel who wants to be part of Santa’s flying crew. But because he’s so small (and because he’s not a reindeer), everyone keeps telling him to forget about his dreams. But one Christmas, he decides to go for it, changing everything! This book will teach your children that their every dream, no matter how seemingly out of reach, is worth exploring!

Santa's Reindeer

Santa’s Reindeer by Brooke Stevens

Getting back to Santa’s reindeer, let’s talk about Santa’s Reindeer, the book! Discovering that everyone is different is one of the most important lessons a child can be taught. In this adorable Christmas book, all of the various personalities of Santa’s reindeer are explored. It’s a perfect read for small children, full of cute illustrations and a lovely Christmas message!

The Mouse

The Mouse in the Hammock, a Christmas Tale by Bethany Brevard

If you think it’s only Santa who does good deeds on Christmas Eve, you need to meet a very special mouse!

Spinning off from the “Not a creature was stirring…” line from Twas the Night Before Christmas, this wonderful book features a mouse who is busy all Christmas night doing small acts of kindness, such a cooling the cocoa for Santa, hanging up the mistletoe, and taste testing the cookies! It’s a fabulous lesson for kids who are looking to drive the meaning of Christmas home: that you’re never too little to make a big difference!

The Elf Who Couldn't Read

The Elf Who Couldn’t Read by Sonica Ellis

Do your children know how to read yet?

Countless children learn how to read their first words while sitting on their parents’ laps. And if you want a book that will help them sound out letters while also embracing the Christmas spirit, then this is it!

In it, Jingles the elf doesn’t know how to read yet, but needs to figure out Santa’s Christmas list. With the help of your child, they read the list together and make sure that Christmas is a huge success!

Secret Santas

Secret Santas And The Twelve Days of Christmas Giving by Courtney Petruzzelli

One of the reasons why I love Secret Santas so much is that it makes giving anonymous. You aren’t giving someone something with the expectation of a “thank you” from them. Instead, their enjoyment is its own reward.

In this wonderful Christmas book, your kids will learn about Secret Santas and why it can be such a wonderful Christmas tradition. Beautiful art and a wonderful message make this a Christmas must!

Christmas Cookie Exchange

A Christmas Cookie Exchange by Sheri Wall

Who doesn’t love Christmas cookies? But have you ever noticed that there tends to be one seemingly plain oatmeal cookie left on the plate after all the other cookies are eaten? Well, this is HIS story!

Meet Phil, an insecure fruit-filled oatmeal cookie who longs to be more fancy and famous. With help from his cookie friends, he learns what’s on the inside is more important than fancy sprinkles. Self-love and acceptance are essential qualities for kids to learn, and this rhyming Christmas tale teaches them that character and self-confidence really do matter.

How to Catch an Elf

How To Catch An Elf by Adam Wallace

Have you kids ever wanted to catch an elf? It turns out that it’s trickier than you might think…

In this fun and silly story, a clever elf manages to elude all of the traps that children set for him on Christmas Eve! There are lots of fun rhymes and some inventive illustrations that your kids are sure to love!

Never Let a Unicorn

Never Let A Unicorn Meet A Reindeer! by Diane Alber

If you’re looking for a Christmas story with a twist, this might be the book for you and your kid!

Instead of it being Christmas in the book, it’s about a birthday wish gone wrong. A little girl (who has a unicorn) sends a letter to Santa to ask if she can borrow one of his reindeer during their “off-season.” He sends one with a note saying that the reindeer should never meet any unicorns. It turns out that unicorns and reindeer get highly competitive around each other, so the little girl soon has a mess on her hands! This is a funny and delightful book that can even be read when it isn’t Christmas!

Adventures of Pookie

The Adventures of Pookie: Mission Fat Hearts by Rebecca Yee

If you want your kids to take lessons of kindness and caring into the real world, this book might be the perfect way to do it. It not only tells a Christmas story about three of Santa’s helpers doing missions of good deeds before Christmas but gives your children some missions of their own!

For example, their Christmas mission might be to give an extra hug to someone they love that day. Or to leave a “thank you” note for the mailman. With these Christmas missions, your kids will be brightening up someone else’s Christmas, a wonderful lesson to learn!

God Gave Us Christmas

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

If you worry that presents, tinsel, and trees are distorting the true meaning of Christmas, then this might just be the book for you and your child.

In it, a Mama Bear and her cub explore what Christmas truly means, from what Santa truly represents (the spirit of giving) to the birth of Jesus. It’s filled with beautiful art and a wonderful Christian message.

Construction

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Have you ever read any books from the Construction Site series? If not, this might be the perfect place to introduce you and your children to some fun and entertaining characters!

In this Christmas tale, all of the vehicles of the construction site get together to build a new home for the fire engines and, after they finish that important job, find Christmas surprises of their very own! A lovely message and some adorable art make for a great Christmas book!

What are some of your favorite Christmas children’s books? Please share them in the comments below!

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.

Fiona: Forever? Book Review

Once in a while a book comes into my life that will forever stay with me. Whether it’s a character, a gripping plot, some works just tend to stay with you as a reader.

Fiona: Forever?, by Erinn Uher, is a remarkable story about a little girl in foster care who is looking for her forever home.

One of my favorite things about working with self published authors is the freedom they have to create a book that includes everything they want. The structure of this book is a fiction with some nonfiction elements thrown in. There are bolded words throughout the text (vocabulary words) that students can look up in the glossary at the back of the book. The vocabulary words were related to foster care (such as case worker, bonding) to help teach readers important aspects about new information. Personally, I really liked this because I even learned a few new words.

And, as always, I love when a book can be more than a book. This text includes Think About It questions after each chapter to help the reader think, reflect, and interact with the text. These are not just reading comprehension question, but are higher order thinking based. There are also some areas for readers to draw characters, or other aspects of the story, which is also fabulous.

Fiona, our main character, is  an adorable little girl with red curly hair and glasses. She has been to eight foster homes, but dreams of her forever family. Her mole pet, Melvin, is her best friend and the only constant in her life. As with any child in the system, she has issues letting people in and trusting them. She is very independent.

The Oliver’s are a caring and loving family. Lorraine, Pete and their teenage son Clyde, welcome Fiona into their home with open arms. Pete helps Fiona with her homework, and he shows a tremendous amount of patience, Lorraine takes Fiona shopping and respects Fiona’s decisions, and Clyde interacts with Fiona like a big brother by teaching her to play basketball.

We see Fiona blossom into a happy little girl because of the Oliver family. They make her feel special on her birthday, are by her side when she breaks her wrist, and provide her with a strong support system.

However, my absolute favorite character is Miss Alice. Fiona stayed with Miss Alice temporarily. This older woman is truly amazing. When Fiona was with her, Miss Alice had had 48 foster children. Talk about a woman with a huge heart. One night, Miss Alice was telling Fiona about the first little boy she fostered, and how much of a challenge he was.

“He was just so used to bein’ hurt and neglected by the grown-ups in his life. He needed to learn to trust all over again. Needed to know for sure I was gonna be here for him no matter what, even on the most ugly days.”

Personally, I think this is the most powerful quote in the entire text. It sums up beautifully the struggles children in foster care face, and why it is so hard for them to trust others. It also shows us how important foster parents truly are in the lives of children. There are many, many emotions that are involved, and it takes special individuals to help children work through these emotions.

Without giving away the ending, I will tell you that I did cry when reading this book. I actually Facebook messaged the author as soon as I finished. I had a hard time typing because of the tears in my eyes. For those of us with children or who work with children, this book will grab your heart.

While I was reading, I kept visualizing a third or fourth grade class reading this as a class novel, and using the activities inside like a reader’s notebook. It can also be used at home and in a homeschool environment.

To purchase this book click here: https://www.amazon.com/Fiona-Forever-Erinn-Uher-ebook/dp/B07XHN4K8M

How Becoming a Mommy Made Me a Better Teacher

With Mother’s Day right around the corner and with this week being Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about being a mom and a teacher. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I have loved all of my teaching opportunities over the years. However, I have noticed that since Miss Molly was born I have become a better teacher.

I make the time for my students. The first four years of my teaching career I had about 125 students every year. I was constantly grading, lesson planning, attending meetings, trying to achieve tenure, etc. I was so focused on trying to keep my head above water, that I often did not get the opportunity to get to know my students. I admit it, I was one of those teachers that would feel annoyed when I got a parent email because I didn’t have time for it.

Fast forward to being a teacher mommy- I do my absolute best to put parents and students first. Many of the students I work with have a lot going on. They struggle with depression, anxiety, bullying, etc. I try to be supportive of students in and out of the classroom by asking how things are going or listening to their story. I communicate with parents more and make the time to talk/listen about what is happening at home. It’s amazing what parents will tell you if you just listen. Why do I do this?  I see now how a student’s personal life truly impacts their academics because I see it with my daughter.

I go out of my way for my students. Before I became a mommy, I would go above and beyond  for my students here and there. I would advocate for my students by making referrals and attending meetings, but once it was out of my hands I would stop being involved. As a teacher mommy, now I do more for my students. I have had students call me the night before Easter with questions because that was the only time they had to work as a student athlete. I have texted and graded work for students at 11:30 PM when their class ended at midnight so we could ensure they earned a passing grade. Why do I do this? I would want someone to do this for my child.

I take IEPS more seriously. Before I was a mommy, I would follow IEPs, but when I had no in-class support and I was dealing with students ranging from 2nd-8th grade reading levels, it became a challenge to make sure I was giving my classified students enough support. At this point, a lot of my attention was on my at-risk population because of the school’s goal. I did what I had to do, but I could have done more.

Now, not only do I modify assignments for my students (providing alternative texts, changing expectations, etc.) but I experiment and research. I’m going for my Orton Gillingham certification (one of these days I will finish it) and I’m constantly looking for new ideas to use with my students. This week I attended a webinar from the International Dyslexia Association about using Assistive Technologies (AMAZING!!) to see how I can help my virtual students. I spend more time giving super specific feedback on student work. I even give sentence stems and fill in the blank thesis statements for those who need it. Why do I do this? Every child learns differently. Molly is incredible with her verbal skills, but the girl just didn’t want to walk when she was a year old. She preferred to crawl or walk on her knees to move around. As a parent, I was concerned because I saw other little ones running on the playground at 9 months old. Not only have I learned not to compare children, but it opened my eyes that every single student is different and needs appropriate support.

 

Rice & Rocks Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. Rice & Books by Sandra L. Richards and illustrated by Megan Kayleigh Sullivan is a phenomenal book about culture and tradition.

Giovanni is a little boy who has friends coming over for dinner. His grandmother is making rice and rocks (rice and beans) and he is afraid his friends won’t like the traditional Jamaican dish. He goes on a magical ride with his parrot, Jasper, his Auntie and her dogs, and discovers how the same dish is a tradition in multiple parts of the world. The illustrations are creative with realistic facial expressions. The attention to detail and the colors are breathtaking and help the text come alive. Rice & Rocks

As a reading teacher I have discovered the lack of diverse texts in classrooms. I have worked with students from all different cultures and it’s important to have books that reflect the background of every classroom. Rice & Rocks is a book that should be in elementary classrooms and libraries because it addresses important themes that impact all children.

Friendship

Kids of all ages always worry about what their friends will think about them. Giovanni demonstrates this by worrying if his friends won’t like his grandmother’s Jamaican dish because it is different. Children experience this every day and can connect to Giovanni on multiple levels.

Rice & Rocks last pageFamily Traditions and Culture

Every family has their own way of doing things. Whether it’s a special morning routine or having Sunday dinner to catch up. For many children the only family traditions they know are their own, so it’s important to expose kids to other ways whenever possible. Tradition often includes cultural foods and customs, especially if it is a celebration. Rice & Rocks does a beautiful job of introducing children to Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Japan, and southern American culture and cuisine.

I personally loved how Richards intertwined various traditions in an easy to understand manner that was fun and imaginative. By doing so, children learn about other parts of the world, languages, traditions, and food all in a beautiful picture book. The text is easy for young children to understand (Richards provides great explanations) and the illustrations also provide children with great visuals to help with comprehension. This book could be used for so many different concepts at home and at school.