Parent Teacher Conference: How to Have an Effective Conversation about Reading

Back to school season is definitely in full swing. Kids have made the transition, back to school night can be checked off the to do list, and teachers are diving into the curriculum.

I always felt the first unit was an introduction unit. Teachers, students and parents are all figuring out how to communicate and work together. There may be an email sent or a phone call made, but other than back to school night, the most important dialogue happens during the parent teacher conference.

During this ten minute conversation there is a whole lot to discuss in a small amount of time, so it’s important to know how to get the most out of it.

  1. Be familiar with what goes on in the classroom. As a teacher, I would often waste precious minutes discussing housekeeping things with parents. Such as how to log into Google classroom, how to navigate the online textbooks, etc. Many teachers send out emails or post to their teacher websites, so consistently checking these means of communication not only keeps you up to date, but saves time when you sit down face-to-face with the teacher.
  2. Be open and honest with the teacher. Is there a family history of dyslexia? Does your child refuse to read at home? Is there a homework battle every night? These can all be signs of reading struggles that can help the teacher figure out the best course of action. Sometimes that means having a conversation with a student, making special accommodations during class, or reaching out to administration for guidance. Teachers want to help your child. We don’t expect each family to be picture perfect with daily read alouds on the couch, so don’t worry about being judged. The goal is help your child become a stronger reader.
  3. Ask questions. What does a D reading level mean? Is there a major concern with his or her writing? What is a strength my child has in reading? What can I do with my child at home? It’s okay to ask the teacher to explain things he or she says during your conference. There are times when a teacher will throw a bunch of numbers and abbreviations at you and it can be confusing and overwhelming. Ask what abbreviations means. Ask what the numbers, graphs and charts mean.
  4. Look at the data. Teachers are working in a digital age where the majority of their reports are online. Some may show you information from their computer screen, or simply summarize it. If this doesn’t help you wrap your head around the data, ask for paper copies. Ask for copies of writing assignments if the teacher is concerned with your child’s spelling. Ask for a copy of a reading assessment the teacher did if your child struggles with comprehension. You most likely will not get them that moment, but they can be sent home with your child. By being able to see what the teacher is talking about will often times help you as parent realize what to focus on at home.
  5. Make a plan. During the conversation there may be some tasks the teacher needs to do, and there may be some you need to do. Together, make a plan of action. Here is an example of a plan for a student that refuses to read at home. The teacher has a private conversation with your child and it comes up that your child doesn’t know what kind of books to read. The teacher may ask questions to find out what books would be best for your reader. The teacher emails you with a summary of the discussion and book suggestions. You, the parent, take the list to the local library or Amazon, and get one or two for your child to try. After a few days of reading, you email the teacher to let he or she know if the books are a good match. If they are, great, if not then the teacher can make more suggestions.

Depending on how much was discussed in the conference, you may have thoughts swirling around in your head for a few days. Give yourself time to process what the teacher told you. Feel free to research some things and talk to other parents. Hiring a private tutor may be a great way to support your child outside of the classroom. If you have a busy after school schedule, a virtual tutor may be your best option. Click here for more information.

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao 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.

So a fun fact about me: I have the world’s biggest sweet tooth. If you have ever seen how much sugar I put in coffee/tea you’d think I was a five year old. Which is why I couldn’t say no to reading a book all about chocolate.

Miss Tree Tales #2 Incredible Cacao, by Deepa Remesh, is a great short novel for young scientists about discovering where chocolate comes from.

What first caught my reader eye with this text was the pleasant blend of fantasy, science, time travel and farming. It reminded me a little bit of  The Magic School Bus, but instead of a class taking a field trip the book revolves around a sister (Mia) and brother (Nik).

Personally, I am not a big nature girl. I don’t find pleasure in gardening or learning about seeds. However, our main characters were not only knowledgable, they were enthusiastic about learning! Mia and Nik soaked in every bit of science thrown at them while showing young readers it can be enjoyable to plant a garden with one’s family. Having grown up in the 90s where I was always outside, I really liked that the author includes this to show readers that not everything takes place on a screen. Mia and Nik really enforce the magic of being outside in nature and the science that is all around.

I do like the use of made up nature gadgets the characters used on their mission to learn about cacao, and I thought the use of traveling to Costa Rica in 1998 and Switzerland in 2005 were both effective settings. Both show how cacao is processed to become chocolate, but I really liked Costa Rica. Readers learn  A LOT about the environment cacao is grown in. I love that the helpers in this part included a close knit family, who really embraced our characters. Although, I wish Mia and Nik had said goodbye to the family before moving on to the next part of their journey.

In Switzerland, the siblings took a tour of a factory. Readers can really see the difference in the process and it brings up some great discussion points about technology. A small, but important piece was when Nik fell into the chocolate because he did not read the sign. The adults reinforced the importance of safety and cleanliness, which I thought translated seamlessly to readers.

My teacher brain was going a little crazy while reading this. I think this book would be a fantastic cross curricular activity for grades 3-5. Social studies could focus on map skills and cultures, science can elaborate on fermentation and the growing process with seeds, math can explore percentages and measurements, language arts on reading and comprehending the story and vocabulary.

To purchase the book click here.

For more information about the series click here

Twisted Games: Pameroy Mystery Series Book 5 Review

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I tend to have a love/hate relationship with social media. Currently, I’m all about the love! Through Facebook, I was able to connect with an amazing author, Brenda Felber, and she is going to do an author visit with my virtual students tomorrow using Zoom!

In preparation for our author visit, I read one of the books in the Pameroy Mystery series. I chose to read the fifth book, Twisted Games, because there was just something about the description that said “read me”.

In the book, Lillia and her Grandaunt Nora take a trip to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, and get involved in a 100 year old cold case. Along the way our main character makes new friends (real and imagined).

One of my favorite aspects about the book, and the series, is that it is unlike anything else that I have read. I’ve always been a reader, and I can usually make text to text connections, but for the life of me I can’t think of any other series or novel that is similar to this one. Felber combines mystery, fantasy, and history all into one text that engages all different types of readers. The dialogue between the characters is realistic and captures kid language perfectly. I also LOVE how each book takes place in a different state. I can’t wait to read the Jersey one :).

I was also a huge fan of the way the mystery unfolded. Usually I do a pretty good job at predicting what is going to happen. I tend to sense when a twist is coming. However, the writing of Twisted Games made it so my mind wasn’t focusing on just the mystery. This welcome distraction actually allowed me to go on the adventure with Lillia. The shifting back and forth from Lillia’s imaginings to the mystery held my engagement and prevented me from jumping ahead in the mystery, which was a first for me as a reader.

This is a fabulous book for readers in grades 4-6. I’m so excited for my author visit with Brenda Felber!

For more information about this fabulous author check out her website: https://brendafelber.com/

 

 

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.