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

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! ūüôā 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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Genre Study: Comic Books & Graphic Novels

The motivational quality of comic books constitutes an enticing appeal to reluctant readers that may serve to hook them on reading. If we can get students to read and enjoy reading, strategy instruction will become both meaningful and effective.

Melissa Barbee, ILA Literacy Daily

In my last post, I discussed how I used to teach literacy to my 5th and 6th graders through genre study… the best thing I ever did in teaching literacy! I also introduced my new Teachers Pay Teachers product, a complete genre study unit for both elementary and secondary teachers!

TpT Genre Study Unit Cover

One of my genre categories in the product is graphic novels and comic books. I was a HUGE fan of comics back in the 60s and 70s…my two favorites were the Archie comics and DC Illustrated Classics (two VERY different comic book genres!). I was already a passionate reader of regular books, so unlike other children, comics weren’t instrumental in me learning to read, but just another genre I loved!

However, for many of today’s children, who grow up surrounded by a plethora of visual media, comics can provide the perfect gateway into reading, as can graphic novels. While teaching my genre units back in the 90s, I did not even remotely think about using comics as a genre (I wish I could go back and yell at myself!), and graphic novels were not common yet. Today’s teachers have a wealth of resources in both of these areas to share with their students!

Back in May of this year, I attended the Denver Pop Culture Con, which is presented by Pop Culture Classroom, whose mission it is to “inspire a love of learning,¬†increase literacy,¬†celebrate diversity¬†and¬†build community¬†through the tools of popular culture and the power of self-expression” (taken from the home page of their website). This organization provides a wealth of resources for teachers who want to introduce the genres of comic books and graphic novels into their classroom, as well as resources on how students can create their own comics!

I attended several sessions led by authors and artists of comics and graphic novels who shared some of the latest and greatest graphic novels out there; so many of them turn events and people in history into a comics format; others include more diversity in their characters.¬† I took plenty of photos of the books they were discussing…check them out below in the slideshow with my descriptions/thoughts!

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Back in my literacy coaching/training days (2006=2009), I learned about Comic Life and loved all the ways the teachers in my district were using these! I’m sure Comic Life is bigger and better now, so students can do so much more with this app! Take a peek at the slideshow:

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Of course, being a tech geek, I had to try it out as well, so I made a comic about my cat! But see how much fun your students could have both writing and reading through a comics medium?

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I plan to have several of my tutoring students explore this genre in the near future, and will share what they read and create. See below for all kinds of resources for you…and thanks for reading my blog!

Pop Culture Classroom:
Graphic Novels Teaching Guides
Educational Comix Series
Curricula Units
Lending Library (currently only for schools in the Denver Metro Area)
More Comics Resources

Other Resources:
Comic Life in Education
Copetoons: Comic resources for kids and educators from Mike Cope
Abdo Digital Bookshelf (Comic books that can be checked out digitally!)
My Google Drive Folder
Hoopla: Check out digital comic books with a library card
Comics Plus app: Another site where you can check out digital comics with a library card
My Pinterest board for elementary comic books and graphic novels, and my secondary board for the same genre

If you have or are currently using comic books and graphic novels in your classroom, please add your thoughts and ideas down in the comments!

Pinterest Poster: Comics & Graphic Novels
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

A New Year…and New Literacy Resources!

New literacy resources for teachers…apps, websites, assessment tools, reading comprehension tools, and penguin belly sliding??!!!

Whew! Another holiday season is done! Were they as crazy for you as for me? As I look back on my teaching days while raising kids, I don’t know how I survived the holidays.¬† Even though I am retired with my own business, I still found myself going crazy, probably because I’m older… In my first blog of 2019, I am excited to share some new literacy resources with you!

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Draft of the math one-pager my student was working on.

The One-Pager

Have you done these with your students? I had seen a few on Instagram but didn’t realize it was a popular (required?) activity in the AVID program. The other week my student, who is in the 7th-grade AVID program at her school, brought this assignment to me for help.¬† She had a page of requirements for what needed to be included and how to design. I was immediately intrigued and wish I had known about this while working with my GT students a few years ago. I love the creativity and thinking that goes into this! Here is the definition of this activity from the AVID website: “A One-Pager is a creative response to your learning experience. It allows you to respond imaginatively while being brief and concise in making connections between words and images. We think about what we see and read differently when we are asked to do something with what we have seen or read. We learn best when we create our own ideas. Your personal thinking about what you have experienced should be understood by the audience that views the One-Pager.”¬†The link also has the requirements for the activity to hand out to students. Do you use these in your classroom? I would love to see any photos of one-pagers that your students have done!

Go Formative

Wow – just discovered this…again, because my tutoring student needed help on her assignment on Go Formative.¬† Once logged in to the website, she had to read a story (“Harrison Bergeron”) that was in her assignments, then answer questions about the story. The questions were right next to the story so she could answer them as she read. She was even able to draw some of her answers, which for this particular student, is sometimes easier than writing. Of course, I had to get my own account, and I’ve added some activities that others have made, but I am anxious to upload and create my own activities for tutoring students! Stay tuned!

Reading Comprehension App by Peekaboo Studios LLC

I have plenty of phonics and fluency apps on my iPad, but it seems as if reading comprehension ones are not as plentiful unless you want to pay a lot of money!¬† I found one, called simply Reading Comprehension,¬† that can initially be used for free, and then if you want, you can purchase more passages/tests; there are reading passages for grades 1-5, and if you work with struggling readers, you can use the most appropriate grade level for the students. I immediately realized the potential for using this app for comprehension progress monitoring (I have also had trouble finding short passages that could give a quick update on comprehension!) I tried the app with my 3rd-grade tutoring student who has struggled with both comprehension and fluency, and she LOVED it! She read a story about Bats and then took the assessment; receiving a perfect score (I helped her a bit…). I plan to use this with other students to monitor their comprehension.


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Reading a-z Comprehension Passages

I have used this incredible, wonderful, fantastic, fabulous website for years with both my RtI students in schools and my tutoring students. But in the last few months, I discovered that they have reading passages specifically for all of the reading comprehension strategies!  The passages come with lesson plans, a model passage, and practice passage. In addition, there are ways to extend the lesson.

For those teachers new to teaching reading, this is a fail-safe way to ensure that all of the reading strategies are being taught and covered. With my tutoring students, I extend the strategies taught with these comprehension passages when we are reading other articles/passages. At left is a photo of a Main Idea passage used with my 3rd-grade student. She was so into this topic of Penguins, that she had to draw pictures (great way to check comprehension, by the way!) and even did a demonstration of the belly sliding on her tiled floor!

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So that’s it for the first blog of the year! Please comment on if you already use or plan to use these resources! For more teaching resources, be sure to check out my TpT store, as well as my Instagram!¬†

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