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!

 

More Math Resources for Remote and Home Learning!

If I were in charge of education right now, I’d tell all parents and teachers who are struggling to teach their kids at home, that it’s okay if they don’t get a perfect learning experience each and every day. Their happiness and mental health is far more important right now…just do what you can! – Jan Anttila (me!)

This is the fourth post in a series of blogs to help both teachers and parents with resources for remote/digital/home learning. One blog wasn’t enough to contain all the math resources for both remote and homeschool learning…so here is Part 2! Oh, and check out my previous posts with resources for remote and homeschool learning!
Reading Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning
Project-Based Learning for Homeschools and Remote Learning
Math Resources for Learning and Homeschools

More Apps and Websites!

Operation Math has been so popular with my students; they get to be a “James Bond” type of secret agent and solve computation problems to find the code that unlocks doors, defuses bombs, and defeats Dr. Odd.

Some apps for multiplication…Times Tables Kids 12×12 (photo on left) proved to be so engaging for one of my more challenging students that he told me he actually looked forward to coming to tutoring! He worked week after week on each table, unlocking more numbers and earning stars, which I translated to Class Dojo points. This app is FREE! For the same student, when we worked on homework, I had him use the Times Tables Interactive app (photo on the right) when working on word problems. My goal was to get him to learn all of his times tables, but in the meantime, this app was a huge help.

Keep the Change is a wonderful app for helping kids learn money math skills. It has several engaging activities at various levels. One of my tutoring students loved this so much that we started each session and kept track of her score for a five minute period, and she would earn Class Dojo badges for improvement.

Touch Math is a program that helps young kids and struggling math learners with computation by adding in “touchpoints” to each number; the number of touchpoints correlates with each number, i.e., the number 7 will have 7 touchpoints. This is an entire math program that schools and teachers can purchase, but I’ve managed to find free samples online, and they have several apps that are now free in order to help parents and teachers with remote and home learning.

Whiteboard app: My students love working their math problems on the free Whiteboard app, much more than on paper. I love it too! I’ve also used this app for vocabulary Pictionary and for practicing spelling and phonics.

Jeopardy Labs is a wonderful website with all kinds of math games for learning and reviewing math skills! You can make your own or just use one of the hundreds created by teachers…just browse for the math concept your child is working on!

I still didn’t share all of my math resources…but I want to get this published before another week of remote and home learning! Coming soon…my next post with the last of my favorite math resources!

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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!

Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 3: Classroom Libraries

I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron on Edutopia

Growing up, my favorite place in the world was a library, and it still is! As an adult, I have continued to frequent public libraries, first with my daughters while they were growing up and now on my own.  I love that the majority of tutoring I do takes place in public libraries! I remember clearly being in the library of Hartman Elementary School in Omaha Nebraska, around 1968 and discovering Little House on the Prairie, the book that for me, changed my life.  I had been a voracious reader before that, but this was a book I connected to in a powerful way.

Teachers need to ensure that our students have opportunities to connect with books, right in their classrooms. Classroom libraries are one of the most important elements of a Literacy-Rich Environment.  In my previous post on this topic, I provided an overview of all the important literacy elements for a classroom. Now it’s time to delve more into how to make your classroom library the best it can be!

All students must be able to access, use, and evaluate information in order to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. – NCTE Statement, May 2017

Note the use of the words “all students”. Classroom libraries are most often associated with primary classrooms, but they need to be in intermediate, middle and high school classrooms. One of my former school colleagues, who now teaches middle school writing, sent me photos of her classroom library in response to a request for photos. She said that her students always ask why she has a classroom library if she teaches writing! I applaud her for having the library, pictured below, because as Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Middle School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Writing Classroom Library

But classroom libraries are not just for reading and writing teachers in middle and high school! Content area teachers should not only have books on and about their content in their classrooms but all kinds of reading material…fiction, informational books, resource, magazines, etc. There will always be those early finishers…of assignments or tests. Why not have reading material handy? Perhaps one of those students in your math class might come across one of your favorite books and ask to borrow it? Every teacher can make a difference in the reading life of a student! Check out the classroom libraries in these classrooms: (l–r, top to bottom – science, art, art again and music). By the way, I put out several requests to teachers for photos of classroom libraries in math, science, social studies, industrial arts, etc. and received NO response.  Do you know of any teachers who have one? Let me know!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of putting together a classroom library. In a presentation at CCIRA many years ago, Linda Cornwell, formerly of Scholastic books, stated that students in classrooms with well-designed and well-stocked library collections:

  • exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading
  • read more widely for a variety of purposes
  • demonstrate higher levels of reading achievement

In addition, she suggested the classroom library should:

  • look inviting to all students
  • be organized for easy access and materials
  • include a comfortable area for reading
  • offer an array of materials from many genres

Some things to consider when organizing your library:

    • How will you store your books to make sure they can be easily accessible to students?
      • My personal preference is colorful, plastic tubs, or even just clear ones. But years ago, while in observing in a classroom, I found this unique storage system…one of those rotating racks they have in stores for browsing!
    • Do you have guidelines for the use of the library?
      • I’m sure you don’t want students getting up in the middle of an important lesson to browse for books, so you need to let them know then the library is “open” and when it is “closed”. You could create some signs for your library letting them know when it’s okay to browse. In addition, there need to be guidelines for when students are using the library…here are some ideas:
        • how to respect books
        • how to shelve books back in the correct place
        • the use of quiet voices in the library and the importance of respecting others’ reading time
        • And for even more ideas on guidelines, you can find so many ready-made posters on Teachers Pay Teachers!

  • Have you shown students how to find materials?  Are there signs to help them?
    • Just as modeling when teaching something new to your students, you will need to model and/or explain how to use and check out and return materials from the library. The younger the student, the more modeling is needed. For secondary classrooms, the procedures can be more relaxed, but I’m sure you still don’t want to lose everything in your library! Check out this teacher’s blog post on how she introduces her classroom library to her students!
  • How have you categorized and arranged the materials?  Does the organization promote the reading of different types of materials?

    • I love that Teachers Pay Teachers have sellers who offer book bin labels in all genres! And of course, you can always make your own!
    • I found several blogs and websites for ideas on how to organize your library. This blog discusses organizing the library by genre; Reading Rockets stresses that there is no right or wrong way to organize and they offer several suggestions, including the reminder to LABEL your books so they can find their way home if misplaced. Here’s a blog on Scholastic with more organization ideas.
  • Does your library invite browsing and using? Is there a comfortable area to read?
    • Check out these photos and decide for yourself! (Note that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make it inviting and have comfortable seating…pillows, a rug, a lamp, beach chairs….just simple things will work!
  • Do many of the books have their covers facing out?
    • I had never even thought about having my books facing out (probably because I was an intermediate teacher coming from a high school teaching job) until I read the chapter in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and learned about rain gutters in the classroom…wait, what? Rain gutters? YES! Trelease promoted the practice of hanging rain gutters on your classroom wall in order to house books with their covers facing out. Think about it…when you go to a book store next time, look around to see HOW many books are facing out so buyers will notice them.  So, the same thing in the classroom; books facing out will help the “buyers” in your classroom notice books easier. And while you are teaching a lesson, those students whose minds wander can study all the books and decide which one to check out sooner.
    • After I talked about this idea and showed photos at our district literacy training sessions, we suddenly had a rash of rain gutters popping up in classrooms! Eventually, when new schools were built, shelves specifically for this purpose were added. But even if you don’t have shelving like this, there are other ways to have your books facing out. Check out the photo gallery below.

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Oh, and last but not least…if you are a new teacher who does not have many books for your library, and you can’t necessarily afford a binge at Barnes and Noble…here are a few ideas for finding books:

  • Retiring teachers
  • Garage and estate sales
  • Library used book sales
  • Donors Choose
  • Ask parents for book donations
  • Use book club points
  • Craig’s List and eBay
  • Scholastic warehouse sales
  • Create an Amazon wish list and share with parents
  • Kids Need to Read donation application

A classroom library: If you build it, they will read.

– Jim Bailey, title of his Nerdy Book Club blog post

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