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. 

Multi-sensory Writing: It Makes a Difference

Students today write a lot more than we realize.  They constantly compose emails, text messages, captions for social media, and more. We live in a time where written expression is used constantly, and to thrive in today’s society, students are expected to participate.

Little Reading Coach believes in using a variety of methods for teaching writing. However, before students can write paragraphs and essays, they must first be able to understand the parts of speech that make up a sentence, which is why LRC starts at the beginning and gradually works students up to writing extended pieces.

Framing Your Thoughts (Sentence Structure) is a multi-sensory program by Project Read that LRC utilizes to help students master the art of writing. Using symbols, visuals, and hands-on interaction, this program provides writers with a different approach to learning how to structure effective sentences.

This type of program is ideal for students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, ESL/ELL, etc.,  as well as those who don’t seem to grasp learning to write in the traditional way. It breaks down sentence writing into parts of speech, and encourages students to diagram sentences using the specific symbols in the program. This deconstruction allows writers to “see” what makes a complete sentence and how to use the various parts of speech correctly and effectively.

Personally, I have used this program when I taught literacy support for 6th and 7th grade, and saw a tremendous difference in my students’ writing. The symbols and visuals allowed them to see why a sentence was a fragment and how to fix their mistakes. I have also used this program when tutoring middle and high school students who were reading on grade level, but needed some additional writing support. LRC offers multi-sensory writing for grades 3-12.

For more information about Little Reading Coach click here.

The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

Writing Assessments Offered by Little Reading Coach

As a teacher and tutor over the last ten years, I’ve guided students with learning how to write an effective paragraph to crafting their college essay. Strong writing skills are imperative in today’s society. Earlier this week I posted reading assessments Little Reading Coach offers (click here), and today I’m sharing writing assessments.

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

All writing evaluations are created by a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12).
​Little Reading Coach can conduct reading and writing assessments, but can not officially diagnose any reading/writing disabilities.

For more information click here.

DyslexiaLand Book Review

A few months ago I saw a book on Facebook that I knew I had to read. I bought it and added it to the TBR pile, where it sat for a few months. I wanted to make sure I dedicated a solid chunk of time to reading it since it’s not the usual YA novel that tends to call my name.

DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia, by Cheri Rae, is a must have book for parents and educators about the realities of dyslexia.

First and foremost, this guide is written by a mom with a dyslexic son AND a dyslexia advocate. I love this on so many levels. Rae gives us the mom-to-mom heart to heart in a way that is supportive and engaging. There is no pity party, but rather advice to provide families with comfort and guidance.

The guide does not read like a textbook, and the organization and structure are insanely user-friendly. I love how I can easily flip to exactly what I’m looking for and not feel overwhelmed with text on a page. One of my favorite aspects is the acronyms list of educational terminology. Even as a seasoned English teacher and Reading Specialist, this is an extremely handy list that I have book marked for future IEP meetings.

I was definitely interacting with this text while I was reading. I have underlines, hearts, stars and exclamation points all over the place. Rae totally hit a HUGE nail on the head when she discussed that teachers do not have the proper training or professional development for supporting students with dyslexia. As I’ve mentioned in We Need to Talk…About Dyslexia, I was one of those teachers who lacked training. My knowledge of dyslexia and appropriate teaching strategies were pretty much non-existent until I started my Orton-Gillingham journey. In the public and charter schools I’ve worked in over the years,  I have never had any training for dyslexia, which supports the point Rae brings up.

I have also been in about 25 IEP meetings since August, and have seen the term “specific learning disability” and ideas like reading comprehension and fluency associated with it. Yet, the “d” word has never been uttered in any of these meetings. I’ve been very intrigued with IEPs recently (probably from being part of so many), and I find it fascinating that I have not seen dyslexia ever mentioned in one. So needless to say, I was all over the section on IEPs. For the first time ever I completely understood what was being discussed about these legal documents. Rae’s explanations are crystal clear and makes IEPs less confusing (which is not an easy feat).

Middle school is my jam. Always has been and always will be. However, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced is the belief that learning to read only happens in elementary school. This is not the case for all students. Rae makes it a point to discuss dyslexia from elementary school through high school (woot woot!). The transition to-do lists are super awesome and spot on.

I also appreciated how Rae discussed that Orton-Gillingham tutoring can be done online. As a virtual teacher and tutor, it’s often difficult for people to wrap their heads around online education, let alone embrace it. As research has proven, OG is a successful approach when working with dyslexia. Whether the instruction is given in a school environment, at a center, or one-on-one with a tutor in person or online, the goal is to help students with reading.

Overall, I am absolutely over the moon about this guide. I believe it should be in the hands of every educator. Yes, every math, science, consumer arts, woodworking teacher, etc. should read this book. Literacy and reading impacts all areas of life. It provides parents with a sense of direction in tackling DyslexiaLand. It equips parents for the meetings, discussions, and realities of navigating the educational system.

To purchase this amazing guide click here.

Student Testimonial: What One Student Says About Little Reading Coach

I loved working with kids in the classroom, but tutoring one-on-one allowed me to really bond with kids. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with a student since his freshman year of high school, especially while he’s taking midterms during his first year of grad school.

When I first met Austin, he didn’t know what a verb was. He is without a doubt my biggest success story, and I am beyond proud of him. This is what he has to say about Little Reading Coach:

“I can honestly say that without Christine’s help I would not have fared nearly as well as I did in high school, in college, nor would I realistically have had a chance of going to grad school. There is a clear and obvious jump in my writing level from before and after sessions with her. And, it is not an overstatement to say that her influence, and tutelage on my personal essays when applying for college, played a large role in my admission.  As well as raising the quality of the product, the method in which she works with her students also is unmatched compared to any other tutoring service that I’ve encountered. And anyone who does decide to use her is going to be better off for it.” Austin G.

For more information about Little Reading Coach’s services, check out this blog post.

To enroll in virtual tutoring sessions, click here

Writing Workshop: The Highlight of My Month

When I was working full time for Edmentum, I was required to complete VTO hours. Immediately I thought about reaching out to my local library to see what I could do with teens. I was immediately offered an opportunity to run a new teen writing group.

What started out as volunteer time for my company, turned into my favorite night of the month. We have been running the workshop for a year now and it’s been amazing to see these writers grow!

Each meeting starts with the writers sharing their “homework” from last month (a response to a writing prompt). We all provide feedback and ask questions for each writer. Then I introduce the new writing prompts of the week, and after some chatting, we have some writing time. At the end of each meeting I have the writers share either a sentence or summarize what they got accomplished during the writing time. Sometimes the writers don’t have much because they were too busy chatting, or the creative juices weren’t flowing, and that’s totally okay.

As a teacher, I love being able to connect with kids on a personal level outside the classroom. We have created a safe place for middle/high school students to be themselves and share their writing. During our last meeting, I told the writers I was going to do a blog post on writing workshop, and they were gracious enough to provide me with their thoughts. (I typed their responses as they wrote them. Please keep in mind these are all middle school student responses).

“I love writing club because it’s a place where I feel welcome and unjudged. I love getting tips from other writers and making new friends that have similar interests. The prompts help me with my creativity and help me improve. I look forward to it every month!”

“Writing workshop is a great place to connect, write, and socialize.”

“It’s inspiring. Get to be helped out with your writing. Everyone’s nice.”

“Writing club is a great way to meet other kids with your interests.”

“How it gives teen writer the chance to share their work.”

“Writing work shop- I like that they let you speak your mined and that we can be creative and I have fun being around people. Every this is very organized. ”

I love that I get to spend time in my community by helping young writers. It’s the highlight of my month :).