Summer Virtual Tutoring Begins June 1st!

It’s summer and social distancing isn’t going to stop my summer tutoring! I have all kinds of ideas and resources ready for students of all ages to help them be ready for the new school year!

After I retired from public education three years ago, I started my own educational consulting and tutoring business. I’ve been tutoring many students in grades 1-10, in person once or twice a week. But the “in person” part needs to change, at least for now. Once the quarantine started, I became a caregiver for my elderly father, who had suffered a knee injury several months ago. He was not able to have surgery due to COVID-19 as he was in a high risk category due to his age. He was with us for two months and recently returned home in the mountains, about 90 miles from away. However, he may still need surgery, and I am not comfortable doing face to face tutoring because of this. In addition, my husband is in several high risk categories. So, this summer…it’s ONLY virtual tutoring for me.

Fortunately, I have been virtually tutoring a few of my students since March, and it’s worked really well! One of my students even said he enjoys tutoring more when done virtually. I have been using Google Hangouts, which I had used quite a bit while working in schools. Here’s some of the activities my students and I have worked on:

I have found it very helpful to create an agenda in Google Docs with all the links to the activities we will be working on. This way we have a game plan for our hour together, and all the links are in once place.

Newsela has been great to use in virtual tutoring! I assign the article ahead of time, then during the session the student and I both have it open and we do “popcorn reading” of the article, stopping to work on comprehension and vocabulary skills. I then have him take the quiz.

For students who struggle in reading, I never expect them to read an entire article silently on their own. I want to hear what they struggle with…and by adding my voice into the read aloud, I serve as a model for fluent oral reading.

After the quiz, I had my student respond to a prompt. This particular student still needs guidance, so I created a plan for him and we worked on each aspect together, the topic sentence, the evidence and the conclusion.

Students who struggle in reading and writing often need a “recipe” to help them craft their response. I can’t cook without a recipe, and many students do not magically know how to write a reading response without guidance, or a “recipe” either. This method worked so well with this particular student!


A parent requested that I help her son with a research project during our virtual tutoring. After leading him through some brainstorming, he decided he wanted to research chemical reactions. He loves science and was interested in the topic after his science teacher did the “Elephant Toothpaste” experiment in class.  As we started to research together I found that just like many students I have worked with, he had never been taught (or had forgotten) how to paraphrase information found on websites. Most kids just want to copy and paste. We talked a lot about how that’s NOT okay.

I modeled for him on how to take notes from information on a website. I stressed that he should NOT write complete sentences in his notes…just word and phrases to help him understand the information. He did use some quotes straight from some websites, but I had him put quotation marks around the text and we talked about making sure to cite where his information came from. We are done researching now and now he’s ready to work on his presentation!


Another parent did not want scheduled weekly sessions during the school closure; instead she wanted some optional activities that her daughter could do when she had completed all her work for school. I created the document above for her…and yes, she did several of these!


We can’t forget math facts! I found a wonderful website called 99Math where students can play live games to practice math facts. I chose which operation we would do, then setup the timing and the rounds. I just had to send him the live website and a game code, and he and I would compete with each other on how many and how fast we could do! So fun!


I am excited to be starting virtual tutoring with a student who just finished kindergarten. During a recent social Zoom with teaching colleagues, I was introduced to this wonderful website from Really Great Reading where students can build words with letter tiles! I can’t wait to use this with my kindie student!

Do you have a child or student who needs virtual tutoring this summer? The beauty of virtual tutoring is that I can tutor anyone around the world! Use the form below to contact me, or email me at jkanttila119@gmail.com

A Tribute to the Amazing Teachers During COVID-19! (Part 1)

If there’s a takeaway everyone else is learning about teachers right now, it’s this: there’s a reason they have a college degree. There’s a reason they strike when they are underpaid or mistreated. There’s a reason there is often a shortage of them. There’s a reason our kids miss them. – Trevor Muir on Twitter

Teacher Appreciation Week is over, but for me, teacher appreciation never ends. Yes, I am also a teacher…a retired public school and university teacher and a current teacher of tutoring students.  But it really does takes another teacher to truly appreciate everything that teachers do.

Since Spring Break, I have been even more in awe of our public school teachers. Within a week, school districts had to totally overhaul their education system to remote and distance learning. Teachers had to quickly learn new methods and resources in order to provide instruction. In spite of their own personal concerns, issues, and fears, they had to make sure their students were not just given the curriculum, but also their teacher’s love and support. This is one of the few times I regretted being retired; I would have enjoyed the challenge and have had the opportunity to use the many new resources and platforms I’ve learned about in the past three years since retiring. In addition, I want to feel that solidarity with the other teachers…that “We’re all in this together” feeling!

So the best I can do is showcase some of the amazing things my former colleagues and other teachers have been doing for the last several weeks. I bow down to them…they are working SO hard and making sure they connect with students in every way they can! Below are several examples of remote teaching and student connection at its finest!

Virtual Pre-School

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 11.37.16 AMRemote learning and teaching in PRE-SCHOOL??!! Yup…my former school district (Douglas County School District in Colorado) is requiring all pre-school teachers to do two live sessions a week with their students. My friend and former colleague, Leslie Schlag, sent me a video of her session; I watched Leslie cheerfully greet all of her students, lead them in the “A” and “B” songs, then do weather, calendar, and nursery rhymes…just like she would have in the classroom.  She is required to turn in a weekly plan with the state standards attached for the activities she will be using for literacy, speech, math, as well as social/emotional, fine and gross motor skills. She also virtually attends IEP meetings for some students and has started 1:1 sessions with her students as they were so excited to share all they were doing at home and that was hard with the full group online! Check out a snippet from her video below; I just love the joy she radiates to her students!

Virtual Elementary Intervention

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 6.23.15 PM (1)Another friend/former colleague, Kristin Gregory, works as an Intervention teacher in Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. Since this is one of the education jobs I once held at a few different elementary schools, I was curious as to how this could be done remotely. Here’s her description of her requirements:

  • Each interventionist was paired with a grade level, we were required to meet with that team every time they met, help them plan their lessons based on state standards, and provide differentiation. We were also there to step in if someone on the team got sick.

  • Recorded weekly lessons for small groups ( 3 different grade levels literacy and math) and those lessons were sent to students via the platform each grade level choose, could have been Google classroom, Google slides, email, or Seesaw. We were not allowed to do live lessons due to equity, students had to be able to access the lessons whenever they were able

  • One-on-one conferences with students to help with classroom work, provide accommodations, and continue to work on intervention skills.

  • Collaborated with teachers to provide modifications for specific students, providing alternative instruction at their level and modifying classroom slides to meet their needs.

  • Facilitated closing out Colorado READ Act plans for the end of the year.

  • Virtually attended weekly staff meetings, professional book club meetings, and principals accountability committee.

Check out Kristin’s virtual weekly lessons here…and below is her wonderful video read-aloud of I am Yoga!

Virtual Read Alouds

Abby Anttila, a 2nd-grade teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska,  sent me this lovely photo of her reading aloud to her kids on the first day of remote teaching! Abby also invites students to have lunch with her to keep in touch with her students in a more personal way. Abby’s experience with virtual teaching was different from other districts that had teachers come up with how and what to do with virtual teaching. Here’s how she describes her experience: “Our district does everything for us (lessons, worksheets, etc.). They have teachers record a minute-long intro video for each lesson… reading is Monday/Wednesday and math is Tuesday/Thursday, not on Fridays. So on Mondays, I get myself ready and record all videos for the following week. Then I have to post my video, the district video, and materials to Google Classroom for each lesson.” Abby says her district places an emphasis on equity and wants all kids to receive the same instruction.

Renee Hartwig-Ott, a first-grade teacher at Stony Creek Elementary in Littleton, Colorado, dressed up for virtual read-aloud of Junie B. Jones: Dumb Bunny…and made herself flat to introduce her “Flat Mrs. Ott” project, encouraging kids to take her flat self along with them around the house and outdoors and send photos back! Here’s a link with info if you’d like to try the “Flat Teacher” project!

And let’s not forget math…check out Ashley Hagarty’s photo of her demonstrating a math concept! Ashley Hagerty

Virtual First Grade

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Just as with pre-school, I can’t imagine virtually teaching first graders! But the first-grade team at Edmunds Elementary in Des Moines seems to have it all together…check out the Padlet they put together below! I love that there’s a section for each teacher, plus one with resources for keeping kids active and moving! Shelby Oelmann, a member of the team, shared her welcome video with me.

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Part 2 of AMAZING REMOTE TEACHING coming soon! Highlights include:

  • Teacher Social Distancing Porch Visits
  • Virtual Classroom Decor at Home
  • Virtual Science (including a virtual lesson from a teacher’s backyard with caterpillar to butterfly transformation!)
  • Virtual Social Studies
  • Virtual 6th-grade Continuation

Teachers! Share your photos and examples of the amazing remote teaching you’re doing down in the comments! I’d love to feature you!

Amazing Remote Teaching!

 

Distance and Home Learning: Writing Ideas and Resources

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So what’s a retired teacher to do when she is quarantined, can’t see her students in person, and only do a bit of virtual tutoring? She organizes her thousands of teaching, presenting, and tutoring photos in order to make it easier to share in these blogs and social media. In the process, she finds photos of the amazing writing activities her students have done over the years!

Right now, I am both grateful and NOT grateful to be retired from teaching. I wish I were out there with all of you figuring out how to do distance/remote teaching (and I’m gathering photos and info on all the amazing remote teaching from my teacher friends to share in an upcoming blog!). But, since I am temporarily a full-time caregiver for my Dad, who is 88, dealing with a painful knee injury AND at high risk for COVID-19, I am grateful to be available for him.

So here’s another blog with some writing resources that teachers can use for distance learning and parents can use for homeschooling!

Storyjumper

Story Jumper

I discovered Storyjumper while tutoring a few years ago. The student I worked with needed help with writing, both expository and narrative. We did plenty of essays using prompts given by her writing teacher, but to give her a break from essays, I had her use this wonderful website to create her own picture book. It was around Thanksgiving, so she created a book about a turkey invited to dinner with a farmer, who was a supplier of turkeys to grocery stores. The turkey was understandably nervous, but when she arrived, the farmer had a surprise, but welcome announcement…he would no longer be killing any turkeys! 🙂 Before I had her use this website, I created my own picture book so I would be able to guide her through hers. My book stars one of my cats, Princess Leia, and you can check it out HERE!

Rory’s Story Cubes

Love, love this app; I’ve been using it for years and it’s such a great way to launch a writing piece for kids! I first discovered it while working as a literacy specialist at Mammoth Heights Elementary in Parker, Colorado. Since I did not have a class of my own students, only pulling groups of kids literacy support, I was the go-to person to cover classes when a sub didn’t show up. THIS was my emergency tool. I would bring the app, put it under the document camera, and have a student come up to “shake” the cubes. Once they landed and were organized, we discussed what the image on each cube might mean; however, I stressed to the students that they did not have to use the consensus of the majority of the class, they could choose to interpret the cubes in any way they chose. Next, I had them create a writing piece (fiction or non-fiction) around the cubes. I eventually created a planning sheet for the students to plan out their pieces.

I have used this many times during tutoring. Sometimes it’s a quick begin or end of session challenge; we “shake” the cubes and they have to quickly come up with a paragraph using all the cube image ideas (see photo above on the left). Other times it’s a mini-project we work on; roll the cubes, have the student decide on the meaning, and then plan out a narrative story, fill out character profiles and find photos on the internet of what their characters might look like (see photo above on the right).  Here’s something I haven’t tried yet, but I want to: use the cubes with your students or own kids to develop oral storytelling skills. Shake the cubes, and create an oral story to tell!

You can buy the actual cubes from the link above, or on Amazon, or download the app on either Google Play or iTunes. If you’d like the Story Cube planning documents, comment below with your email address!

 Biblionasium

Book reviews

During this quarantine,  I know that many teachers and parents are having their students read, read, read…and that’s wonderful!  Once they finish a book, have them practice their expository writing skills by writing a book review on Biblionasium, a wonderful website where kids can write and read book reviews. The review can be a great tool for having them practice editing and revising skills when done!

KidPub

Kid PubHaving your students or your own kids write stories or poems? Or do they do this on their own…perhaps they are budding novelists or poets? Set up a free account on KidPub and have them share their writing with others and READ what other kids have written. There are categories for all types of genres, including fan fiction, and all submissions are vetted to make sure they are appropriate. I’ve had students find other kids’ stories to read, then review it tell me how they would revise it….a great critical thinking activity!

I will stop there for now…but if YOU have some great resources that work well for distance and home school learning, let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to check out my other blogs on resources for remote/distance/home learning:
Reading Resources
Project-Based Learning. Resources
Math Resources, Part 1
Math Resources Part 2

Remote Writing Resources

Reading Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan.

Right now, many parents are having to become their child’s teacher and it’s so important that teachers and parents support each other during the coronavirus and school closures! I’ve seen that all the teacher-bloggers are writing about how parents can support their child’s learning at home, and how teachers can set up remote learning opportunities for their child. I thought I would weigh in on some of my favorite resources for teaching reading that can easily be used at home.

Newsela: Grades 3-12:  I have used this website full or informational articles for years, even though in the last year they made much of the content only accessible via a paid subscription. But upon visiting their website today, I saw this amazing announcement!

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The articles are either taken from newspapers around the world and adapted for various reading levels, or are written specifically for students. In addition to news articles, they have biographies, primary sources, famous speeches, and pro/con pieces. Each article comes with a writing prompt and a quiz. The quizzes can be very challenging, and I spend time teaching my students how to use close reading for the questions and strategies for choosing the correct answer.  I have used this Newsela reading log for my students to keep track of their articles and scores. I have also used a Google spreadsheet with bar graphs for a more visual representation of the students’ progress; feel free to copy the sample and use it for your child or students! FYI…parents can sign up for a parent account!


Readworks (1st – 12th): Both parents and teachers can sign up for free accounts on this outstanding website for reading passages. You can find fiction stories, narrative poems, biographies, and informational articles on anything. Each passage comes with a question set, vocabulary activities and a writing prompt that always requires the student to provide text evidence in their response. I used these free resources from Jennifer Findley’s website to help students with finding evidence.  Readworks is also offering tips on remote learning, as well as a webinar on “Effective Remote Learning”; click HERE for more information.


Learning A-Z/Reading A-Z (K-8): Learning A-Z is offering FREE digital resources to teachers for the rest of the school year…learn more HERE! I love this website so much that when I started my tutoring business, I bought a yearly subscription for $109.95 – one of the best buys ever! This website has leveled books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as phonics, sight word, and reading comprehension passages and activities.  I could not begin to dream of teaching reading without this website! Important tip: In order to save paper and printing costs, I download the books or passages on my Macbook, put them in my iCloud folder and then open up the folder on my iPad for students to read. They can also highlight the text on the iPad!

And….if this website wasn’t already incredible, they recently added graphic books! This has been a HUGE hit with my tutoring students!


Common Lit (Grade 3-12) is yet another excellent website for students to practice reading skills and strategies, and both teachers and parents can sign up for accounts. You can students into your roster, then assign reading passages (they have both fiction and informational text, as well as excerpts from novels) that come with an assessment and writing and discussion prompts. My favorite feature is being able to turn on the “guided reading mode” which allows the student to read part of the article, then answer a comprehension question before more text appears. This helps the student to read for meaning and think about the text while reading. For my tutoring students who are struggling readers, this is a huge help! Here’s their information on how they can help teachers with remote learning. (Note: While they have some passages for younger students, it’s mostly geared for grades 5 and up.)

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Just a few more online reading resources…

Tween Tribune from the Smithsonian – reading passages for K-12
Colorado Kids and the Mini Page
Kids’ Magazines (see photos below)

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Tell me in the comments about other reading resources for learning at home and watch for more posts soon on resources for teaching writing and math virtually or at home! Remember, we’re all in this together!

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CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!  I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and The Prince by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?  Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from Thor and count how many times violent acts appear in the video. King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.  She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.  This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that’s not really me…that’s what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I’m supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later…”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost…my ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my “school family” when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!