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.

How Do I Become an Online Teacher?

I’ve been an online English teacher with Edmentum for the last three years. When I first started looking I was home with a new baby, I had just resigned from my classroom teaching job and I wanted a job working from home. I would literally job hunt all day every day, with my resume ready to be submitted to an employer at a moment’s notice.

Over the years I’ve shared my experiences and knowledge with friends and co-workers who are interested in a part-time job for extra spending money, or who are looking to make a change and leave the brick and mortar classroom.

With so many teachers and parents looking for work from home jobs in today’s world, I wanted to share my journey of what I have learned about getting a job as an online teacher.

  1. Job search engines are AMAZING. My job searches always started with a trip to indeed.com. In truth, since I started using indeed about 5 years ago I was hired for three different jobs using this incredible website. Playing around with the key word searches was also really important since I was looking for very specific positions. ‘Remote teaching jobs’ wasn’t as successful for me as ‘online reading teacher’. Jobs are literally updated all day every day, so I would check my recent searches multiple times a day. The second you see a job that you are seriously interested in, APPLY! Have all of your documents ready to go (references, letters of recommendation, certifications, resume, etc.). Some companies will contact you the same day and others may take a day or two, if you hear from them at all. I also suggest keeping a document listing what job you applied for and the company. When you apply to more than two or three it’s very easy to get them mixed up.
  2. Teaching English to children overseas. Once you find some job listings, it’s important to be aware of the different types of online teaching jobs available. One of the most popular part time jobs is working for companies like GOGOKID and VIPKid. These companies will oftentimes give you the lesson plans and materials, but it’s up to the teacher to incorporate props and engage students. Teachers control their calendar and students sign up for sessions where there are openings. Ratings and teacher feedback are very important for these positions. As a secondary teacher, while I did apply to VIPKids, I never went through the entire process because I knew I wouldn’t be a good fit. I am friends with teachers who work for these companies and see how passionate they are about working with their students. Just a little heads up, these jobs typically happen early in the morning (like 5 am ish).
  3. Online school companies. Back in 2014, I worked in a building with a supervisor who also taught part time for K12. When I started my online job hunt I started with K12. I wasn’t qualified for any of their open positions (more on this in a second), so I started looking at other companies. Along with K12, Edmentum and Connections Academy are other popular online schools. As an employee of Edmentum, I can only speak on their requirements and expectations. I was first hired as a contractor (part time and without benefits), then I switched to full time (with benefits) and I currently work as a contractor again (by choice). During my time as an Edmentor, along with teaching, I have co-hosted a PD session on Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom, attended IEP meetings, participated in curriculum committee meetings, collaborated with sales and marketing, and more.
  4. Making sure you’re qualified. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is the importance of multiple state certifications. Why? Every state is different in their teacher requirements. Edmentum works with schools literally all over the world, and have to follow specific guidelines when hiring teachers. For instance, in order to teach students in Indiana you need an Indiana certification. I was hired by Edmentum to teach New Jersey students, which was the only certification I had at the time. My Instructional Leader had me get my Michigan license so I could work full time with a school there. I was also told to get certifications for Indiana and Illinois because that’s what the company needed me to get. Some states will make you get fingerprinted, even though the job is for an online company, and even CPR certification. It’s also up to you to make sure keep your certifications up to date. As a heads up, some companies require that you live in the state you are teaching in, like K12 (which is why I wasn’t qualified from earlier). So before you fill out a job application make sure you read the job requirements.
  5. Creating your own courses. If you’re looking for a more flexible online teaching job, I would suggest taking a look at Outschool. Teachers create all kinds of classes for all ages. I keep seeing ads for princess Sing-a-long tea parties in my Facebook feed for Outschool. Personally, I have never worked for taken a course through this platform, but I see lots of parents talking about it in Facebook groups.

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.

My New Year’s Resolutions as an Online Educator

I’ve been a teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum for three years now, and I can honestly say the last five months have been like nothing I have ever experienced. Truth- I was not the best teacher I could be. Like so many other teachers, I was in survival mode trying to juggle so many new online learners at one time.

As I sit here enjoying my winter break, for the first time I’m able to really reflect on my teaching this year. My ultimate goal is to provide my students and their families with more tools and resources, while also balancing their emotional needs. Below are my personal resolutions for my virtual classroom.

1. Make myself more available for my students. Every week I hold office hours to help students with assignments, but there are times where my students do not take advantage of this extra help. Going forward, I’m going to send out an invite for my students to attend my office hours for a hot chocolate get together just to talk. This will help me build trust with my students and allow me to get to know them on personal level. It will also provide them with a safe space to talk about what they are experiencing, especially since so many of them have been quarantining since August.

2. Provide more resources for my students. When I give my students feedback on their assignments oftentimes I include links to videos to help kids. For instance, if a student struggled with active and passive voice I will send them this video link. Going forward, I want to create a document for my students that includes all of the video links organized by category. I also want to create graphic organizers for some of the writing assignments that students can use to brainstorm their ideas.

3. Create a cheat sheet for parents. Parents receive sooo many emails from online teachers because it’s our main way of communication. It’s very easy to get lost in the sea of emails full of important information, so I created a cheat sheet for parents. The sheet has a place for them to record log in information, teachers, office hours days/times, links for meetings, and also a few important reminders about the courses. Click here to see my cheat sheet. Hopefully, parents will be able to save a few minutes and clicks to access information they use on a daily basis. For more parent information about online learning check out E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success and What Parents Should Know About Virtual Learning.

4. Host a monthly read aloud. Read alouds are without a doubt my favorite part of teaching, especially online. I used to host weekly read alouds with my students, and while my calendar doesn’t leave me time for a weekly one, I would like to host a monthly one. A few months ago, I hosted a read aloud for an hour and read Fantastic Mr. Fox to my kids just for fun. I had quite a few participants and many students thanked me for doing it. Going forward, I need to put the read aloud on my calendar and encourage students to attend. For more information on virtual read alouds, check out Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom and Incorporating Read Alouds for GradesK-12: Tips and Tricks from a Virtual Educator.

My resolutions are realistic for me to tackle as we start to gear up for second semester. While I wasn’t the best teacher first semester, I’m proud of myself for still providing quality feedback to my students and helping them earn credits towards their high school diplomas.

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.

How to Provide Quality Feedback on Virtual Assignments

I’m an English teacher. I grade A LOT of student writing. When I was in brick and mortar classrooms, writing assignments, process pieces and projects had rubrics with lots of comments written in cursive (it was much faster than writing in print). Unfortunately, I can’t necessarily do this quickly in the virtual classroom.

As teachers, time is precious, and grading is one aspect of our lives that takes the most time.

Today, I want to share how I provide quality feedback to my online Edmentum students in grades 6-12 .

  1. Start with a quick message. Being virtual, it’s imperative that we do our best to create relationships with students. This can even be done while grading. When a student submits an assignment to me, I always start with a quick message. For a discussion response, I say, “Thank you for your response. Please check your email for the rubric.” For activities (projects/essays/presentations), I say, “Thank you for submitting this assignment to me.” I like to set a nice tone before I dive into their performance on the task .
  2. Tell them the score. For all graded activities, I include a short line about the points they earned out of the possible points. For discussions, I say, “You have earned a ____ out of 12, which is a _____%.” For unit activities, I say for each task,” Score: __ out of 4″. This is really what students want to know and it provides for a smooth transition into the next few steps.
  3. Provide a scored rubric. To me, this has been a game changer for my students. For discussion responses, I highlight the rubric based on the response, and save it as a PDF. I email the discussion rubrics and feedback to my kids because there’s no way to attach it to the discussion in the module. For activities, in the feedback text box I copy and paste the score a student earned on the rubric and place it right under where I say the score. Doing this helps my kiddos understand why they earned the score they got and it also backs up the next step.
  4. Write a specific Oreo statement. This is by far the most effective way I have learned to provide my students with feedback. I like to think of an Oreo when writing to my kids- compliment, suggestions, end on a positive note. I start by always find something to praise the student for (word choice, answering all parts of the prompt, liking their idea, they made a good point, etc.). Then I dive into my specific reasons why they lost points and how they can improve. Just by adding these few sentences has saved me time with back and forth messages/calls/emails with students and parents, and has increased the amount re-submissions I receive. Finally, I end by saying nice, good, great or fabulous job based on the score the student earned. By doing the Oreo, I’m praising my student, providing constructive feedback and ending with a smile.

How to word constructive criticism

It’s all about the wording.

I have a tendency to repeat myself when I grade, which also helps make the process go faster. I focus on three categories (which happen to be the ones on the discussion rubric) answering all parts of the prompt, providing textual evidence/examples and explanations, and spelling and grammar.

If a student gives me a sentence or two and only focuses on the first part of a prompt with some spelling and grammar mistakes, this is what I normally write:

In the future, make sure you answer all parts of the prompt, elaborate on your ideas with specific examples and explanations and proofread your work for spelling and grammatical errors.

Then, I get down to the nitty gritty in the next few sentences.

For instance, you did not discuss what qualities the character has that you would like to have as well. Also, what did this character do in the book that showed she was brave? How does she support her friends?

I really try to be as specific with my questions to my students as possible, because I know this is how they will go back and revise their work. By asking questions, I’m giving students guidance in the direction I want them to tweak their work while also getting them to think about adding specific details to their writing.

Providing quality feedback does take time, but getting into a routine and having some solid wording, can make a big difference.

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.

Incorporating Virtual Read Alouds for Grades K-12: Tips and Tricks from a Virtual Educator

Read alouds are a time when students of all ages can get immersed in different worlds, make new friends, and go on amazing adventures. As teachers, we constantly read aloud in our brick and mortar classrooms, and this can still be a possibility in virtual classrooms.

I’m a strong believer in the power of read alouds for students in grades P-12. About two years ago I shared how I conducted read alouds in the virtual world via Zoom (click here). Since then I have experimented with a few different ways of incorporating read alouds for one-on-one and classes with students in grades K-12. I share my screen via Zoom and use e-books with students, or I read aloud from a paper based novel depending on the lesson.

Read Alouds for Grades K-5

When: I dedicated my morning meeting time to a read a book of the day. Typically this time is about 15 minutes, which is just enough time to read and touch on some reading comprehension questions. However, this can also be done as a mini-lesson. Read alouds can also take place during snack time and while transitioning subjects in the virtual world.

What: For early elementary read alouds, or beginner readers, I get picture books from Kindle Unlimited since I have a subscription, but some other options include Vooks and Epic!. Since I’m also a book reviewer, I love to use books I’ve reviewed with my students as well (check out one of my favorite authors below). This activity can also be done with nonfiction texts if you’re looking to include more in the curriculum.

What is the title of the book? Rescue. What is the picture? Three dogs. What do you think this story will be about? Dogs helping people.

How: I structure my read aloud with pre-reading, during reading and after reading sections. These can be super quick, or extended a few minutes depending on the text. Pre-reading– We always start by discussing the cover a book. Where is the author’s name? What is the title of the story? What is the picture? What do we think this book will be about based on the picture? I pose these types of questions and have students verbally respond, since typing would take them too long. During reading– Every few pages I stop and ask questions about the character, plot, text to self connections, setting, etc. Some are purely comprehension based and others are geared more towards making inferences. Who is the main character? What is the problem? My questions can usually be answered by using the pictures and the text, so all of my readers are able to participate, regardless of their reading ability.

What is Phoebe’s problem? She can’t find her favorite tennis ball. How does she feel about this? She’s surprised.

After reading– Similar to pre and during reading, I pose questions to my students about theme, rating the book, explaining their thoughts on the book, etc. Students can verbally answer this or use a white board/piece of paper to rate the book. If you’re looking for a more extended after reading activity, have students draw a picture and write a sentence or two related to the book. For instance, if the book is about pets, have students draw a picture of their pet (or their dream pet) and write a sentence with the pet’s name.

Read Alouds Grades for Grades 6-12

When: I would include a read aloud during language arts time, or at the start of a language arts class. If I’m reading aloud at the beginning of every class period, I dedicate 10 minutes for me reading and 5 minutes for students to respond to the reading. If I’m doing a live lesson for my virtual students, my read alouds last between 45 minutes to an hour about once a week.

What: For daily read alouds, I prefer to use a novel with students. Over the years I’ve used the following texts: City of Ember, The Face on the Milk Carton series, Among the Hidden, Divergent (censoring certain parts), The Hunger Games, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

How: My focus is to have students enjoy the story, so I do pre and after reading activities. My pre-reading consists of either me giving a recap from the previous days’ reading or having a student do it, and a brief “heads up” about the day’s chapter(s). I will also tell students what the after reading question is before I start reading to give them ideas to focus on during the read aloud. After reading activities can look a little different depending on how long my lesson is. One option is to have students respond to the reading question. This question can be answered in Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google form, etc. In the past, I’ve used Padlet and I usually use one or two student examples or have a student pick their favorite response, one they disagree with, etc. to review the question. For an extended read aloud (45 minute to 1 hour) check out how I utilize chat to generate discussions here .

New Tricks

Since March, I’ve tweaked some of my instructional practices to provide additional support for reading comprehension.

*Discussions include more quote analysis to help with making inferences, drawing conclusions and other higher order thinking skills. Students are also encouraged to use to keep an eye/ear out for quotes that catch their attention.

*Audiobooks have been life savers. As an online teacher I teach English and English-based electives for grades 6-12, which includes A LOT of novels. I can’t read them all to my students, so by providing audio versions (thank you YouTube) my students can get the support they need. Also, during small groups or one-on-one sessions, I will use an audio version depending on the text. No one can read Harry Potter more perfectly than Jim Dale.

*Incorporating more connections for my students has also helped their reading comprehensions. For instance, in Divergent when Tris starts wearing eye liner and black clothing, I share a text to media connection I have with the movie Mulan. Both scenes show the girls stuck between two different identities of themselves and both help students understand the theme of identity.

To check out Rescue 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 3-12. For more information click here.

My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

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.

 

A Little Spot Learns Online: A Story about Virtual Classroom Expectations Book Review

Right now many parents, students and teachers are making the leap into online learning. While it can be very overwhelming in the beginning, there are tools and resources to help ease this change.

A Little Spot Learns Online: A Story about Virtual Classrooms Expectations by Diana Alber, is a creative picture book that prepares students for online learning.

The illustrations in this book are absolutely fantastic. The use of Spot really draws readers eye to the main character, especially because all other characters are humans. The pictures are also super accurate about the different parts of online learning, adding just the right of humor (the potty page gets me every time).

The writing style is concise and the sentence structure varies, giving the reading a nice flow. Part of me expected this book to rhyme, but I really like that it doesn’t because it matches the focus of the book.

I have spent hours and hours in Zoom meetings with students, and it’s important for learners to be aware of Zoom etiquette, like this picture book includes.

  1. Dress for success. While it is very easy for us to stay in pajamas all day, it’s important that students attend online classes in their regular school clothes. As the book points out, this gets students ready to learn.
  2. Make sure your area is clean. In full honesty, I always use a virtual background when I’m in a Zoom meeting. However, kids and parents should be aware of what other classmates and teachers will see once the camera is on.

The advice given in this picture book is exactly what I would give any families making the transition to online learning for students in grades K-6. This would be a fantastic read aloud activity for teachers to do on the first day of school or at the start of a new semester.

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 and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

eNinja Book Review

One of my favorite aspects about being an English teacher is using books to teach my students life lessons. I believe that picture books can teach kids at all ages how to handle life situations, even high school students. I’ve been teaching virtually with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum for three years, and now more than ever, students need guidance in making the transition to online learning.

eNinja, written by Mary Nhin and illustrated by Jelena Stupar, is a relatable picture book that shows readers how to be successful with online learning.

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE Mary Nhin fan (How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas Book Review, Arial the Youtube Book Review, Arial the Chef Book Review, and Arial the Secret Santa Book Review) and her Ninja series is just as fabulous as her other works.

eNinja follows Ninja on the journey of transitioning to online learning. This can be a very big change for students, and Ninja isn’t so sure about this way of learning. With the help of a friend, Ninja learns the secret to this transition: the 3 P’s (polite, positive and prepared). I LOVE that readers have an easy way to remember how to handle online learning.

Prepared. Being prepared means more than just showing up to class in an online environment. As the text mentions, students should charge their devices, have a quiet spot in the house to work, and all of the necessary supplies within arms reach. Staying organized is really the key. Even as a virtual teacher, I take these steps to make sure I am ready to go for all of classes.

Polite. For me, this one is a biggie. Since I use Zoom constantly for student interaction, it’s important to follow the advice given in this part of the book. Some of the suggestions include: don’t be on another device, have loud background noises, and wait for the teacher to listen to questions or raise my hand. There is a fantastic illustration to show students online etiquette, which I would suggest putting next to a student’s learning area as a reminder.

Positive. Is online learning a big change? Yes. Can be hard and scary? Absolutely. The fact that Ninja expresses these feelings allows readers to connect with the character, because chances are readers feel the same way. I LOVE that Nhin doesn’t just have Ninja talk about his feelings, but also explains ways to help alleviate them. Students should use checklists and schedules to keep them on track. The book literally ends on a positive note :).

But, wait! As always with a Mary Nhin book, she thinks of some extras. At the end of eNinja, readers are given advanced learning tips (which are AMAZING ones to use) a virtual meeting success cheat sheet that includes being prepared, polite and positive.

Even though this is a picture book, I would recommend it for students in grades K-12. It is a quick read that offers solutions to some problems that students can face making the transition to an online classroom.

To purchase the book click here.

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.

Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom

As a virtual English teacher, I’ve worked with classified students in grades 6-12. Parents and brick and mortar teachers are often amazed that special education students choose to do virtual learning (before the pandemic).

Yes, there are special education students who attend online programs. Yes, they can be successful.

This week I co-hosted a professional development presentation for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy (EOA) on Implementing Special Education Accommodations in a Virtual World. I was able to show other virtual teachers samples of assignments I used with my classified students and how I evaluated them.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences and examples in the hopes of helping teachers outside of EOA. These ideas can be used in brick and mortar classrooms, blending learning and distance learning environments.

Preparing to Make Accommodations

  1. Be familiar with a student’s IEP. When I worked in a brick and mortar school, I would sometimes have 20 students with IEPs. It can be A LOT to remember the specific details for every student, so I would often take quick notes about the classification(s) and accommodations. The same concept applies to the virtual learning environment.
  2. Use your knowledge of the student. In the virtual world, this can be done in a number of ways. Call/text/Zoom/email with the student and get to know who the student really is. What’s their favorite sport? What hobbies do they like? Also, feel free to talk to the parents, school, Child Study Team and special education teachers about the student. The more knowledge you have about each student the more you can make appropriate accommodations.
  3. Be flexible with grading assignments. This is a biggie. Many teachers use specific rubrics to grade assignments, but when making accommodations these rubrics may not be relevant. In these cases, it’s important that we think outside the box and use our content knowledge to assess if the student fulfilled expectations. We may need to create another rubric specifically for that child, or only include certain parts of the original rubric, it really comes down to the teacher to decide. Regardless of what a teacher chooses to do, always make sure to include specific feedback.
  4. Be aware of reading levels. To be super honest, this is a really big component of online learning. Students are required to do A LOT of reading (assignments, comments, lectures, directions, etc.). If a student has a reading level of third grade and is taking a sixth grade English course, he or she is going to be reading texts at the sixth grade level. This can be quite a challenge for many students who aren’t at that reading level yet. Since students are required to read in all courses, even a math teacher should be aware of a student’s reading level.

Accommodations in the Virtual Classroom

  1. Offer extended time. This is a very simple and effective way to help classified students, especially in the virtual world. It’s also helpful to check-in with the student and remind him or her with how much extra time they have left. For instance, if there is an assignment due on Wednesday, maybe consider having it due for classified students on Friday. On Thursday check-in with students and give them suggestions online learning graphicabout what they need to finish for the assignment to be submitted on Friday.
  2. Reduce assignment length. Personally, I use this accommodation quite a bit with my special education students. If the original assignment for students is to write an essay, I may have them write a paragraph instead.
  3. Support public speaking. A curriculum typically has a speaking/presentation component that can be fulfilled in the virtual classroom. There are a few different ways students can present a speech: 1. video chat with the teacher one-on-one, 2. participate in a phone call with the teacher (if a student gets anxious about looking at an audience), 3. record a selfie video of the student reading the speech and then send it to the teacher or post it on Youtube and share the link. It’s also important to remember that students don’t have to memorize their speech. I usually tell my students to practice reading aloud their information a few times before presenting.
  4. Providing alternate texts. As I mentioned before, reading level plays a huge role in virtual learning. If a student can only read at a 5th grade level, but they are taking 8th grade English, this could be a challenge for him or her. Teachers can provide an alternate text that still focuses on the theme/topic of the original text, but is better aligned with the student’s reading level. For instance,  my 7th grade English students are expected to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, to focus on how history (The Inquisition) impacts literature. This original text is too complex for my classified students, so I have them read chapter one of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry because it is connected to the Holocaust. I keep the same historical focus as I would with the original text, but now students have access to a text that they can handle.
  5. Provide novel support. Students will read a few novels a year in their English/ELARead Aloud courses. Getting students to just read the book can sometimes be a challenge, let alone having them complete activities and assignments based on the reading. Teachers can supply students with an audio version, guided notes, reading comprehension questions, and chapter summaries. However, another spectacular option that I have done is to provide students with a read aloud (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom) where I would read a few chapters aloud and then discuss plot, characterization, theme and quote analysis. I would record these sessions in Zoom and keep track of the links on a document that I could send to any student who needed access to the text. Students can watch, rewind and fast forward the video as many times as they want.
  6. Include outlines and graphic organizers. Just as in brick and mortar classrooms, outlines and graphic organizers are fabulous resources to give to students. If students need to compare/contrast, provide a Venn Diagram in an editable document for students to use. For writing a lab report, give students an outline to complete before writing the report.
  7. Help guide research. Utilizing textual evidence and research take place across all content areas. It can be overwhelming for classified students to look at a Google search bar and start the research process, let alone tackle a database. Two of my favorite options for research are to give students a list of key words to use in their search, and provide a list of links for students to use to complete assignments.
  8. Provide structure with note-taking. Learning in the virtual environment requires students to be more independent with their learning, and oftentimes students will need to take notes on the content in their courses. This can be challenging because students may not know what to record or how to record the information. Some options for students are to include guided notes, fill in the blank PowerPoint slides, and give note-taking templates (Cornell Notes, etc.).

As with all accommodations, different options work for different students. At the end of the day, it is up to the teacher to decide how to best support students.

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.