Sorry, I don’t tutor kindergartners – Here’s why

When I used to do test prep tutoring for high school students through some of the big tutoring companies, I pretty much only talked to parents who were looking for that specific product. I’ve been tutoring privately for two and a half years and now that I talk to a wider cross-section of parents, I am surprised by how often parents are looking for tutoring for their kindergartners! Sometimes, they feel their four- and five-year-olds have fallen behind kids their age and want them tutored in basic academic skills like letter names, shapes, and counting. Other times, they want their preschooler to “get ahead” so they can do well in kindergarten.

I’m sympathetic to these requests because I know starting school can be incredibly stressful for parents. I have a four-year-old myself and I find myself wondering all the time if he’ll do well when he starts school or if we have some hard work ahead of us.

As a reading and writing tutor, I don’t take on students that young. Especially working online, I don’t think I can meet the needs of the youngest learners. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I don’t think “tutoring,” in the traditional definition, is appropriate for students before around first grade.

I think that four- and five-year-old preschoolers and kindergartners, frankly, have way more important things to do than to sit with a tutor. I would rather see them on their feet, playing, creating, following directions, problem-solving, and learning about the world around them. Children this age have a short attention span for things that aren’t their own ideas and that’s not a problem! That’s the way they are supposed to learn.

That’s not to say they don’t have a lot to learn before they start school. There is a huge range of starting points for kids entering kindergarten. But kindergarten teachers expect that wide range to enter their classrooms at the end of every summer.

In any public school classroom in the U.S., kids are likely to have birthdays at least a year apart. That’s just the nature of the public school system, due to enrollment cutoffs. Teachers expect that and use a variety of techniques to meet kids where they are and bring them through the year. By high school, you wouldn’t be able to guess the age of many of the students.

In kindergarten, though, the differences can be dramatic. But in my experience as a public school teacher, some gaps are much more concerning than others. I would much rather see a student come in to the classroom who can converse with peers and adults, manage her behavior, navigate the classroom space, and solve problems. If she doesn’t know all the letters in the alphabet when she starts school, I can work with that!

Parents are constantly getting the message that they need to get their kids “ready” for kindergarten. There are workbooks and intensive preschool programs. There are family members pressuring parents to do more, comparing these preschoolers to other people’s children who were reading earlier or doing remarkable things before kindergarten! And because parents want the best for their children, they’re not sure where to turn.

Stay tuned for the next few weeks where I will be sharing some ideas for how to know whether your child is ready for kindergarten success and what kind of activities and lessons you can teach to help them be ready or when school starts this fall!

As a special education teacher, I have worked with students coming in for kindergarten screening for years. I will share some of the things that make us wonder or worry about an incoming student as well as some of the best ideas I’ve learned for promoting of the things that really matter for your child going into kindergarten.

Sorry, I don't tutor kindergartners - Here's Why

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Kindergartners need lots of play and real-life experiences, not a tutor.

Coming soon: 4 Big Things to Teach Your Child Before Kindergarten. Join the mailing list for updates about the book and tips and tools to get your child ready for school!



More than flashcards – how to help your child learn sight words

What are sight words?

Sight words, also known as high frequency words, are the most common words encountered in printed text. According to research by Edward Fry, creator of the Fry Instant Word list, the 25 of these words make up one third of all printed material. Some of these words are easy for kids to sound out (like big) while others (like the and was) are irregular or “rule breakers.” Two common sets of sight words that schools test and teach are the Dolch words and the Fry word list.

Why are sight words important?

Strong readers have a large vocabulary of words they recognize by sight. Think about your reading here in this paragraph. Are you sounding out each word or recognizing most of them as whole units? Part of the process of learning to read is adding more words to your sight word memory, which increases reading speed and efficiency. Some words (think little, people, McDonald’s and Grandma) are difficult for young readers to figure out sound by sound, but they quickly come to recognize them because they are seen frequently and/or because they are meaningful and kids are motivated to recognize them!

Why do we have to do sight words for homework?

Some teachers assign sight word study for homework. For some kids, not a lot of practice is needed to memorize the sight words. Others need to look at them, read them and spell them again and again to get them into memory. If a child hasn’t memorized the age-appropriate sight words, it can make their reading slow, choppy and frustrating. It can also make it hard for them to spell in a way that others can read their writing.

Assigning this practice at home lets teachers focus on other aspects of teaching literacy. It also may make sense to practice at home because each child is likely to be focusing on a different set of sight words.

Ways to study sight words

There are lots of ways to make sight word practice fun and meaningful and to get the assignment done without losing your mind.

Tactile practice

Have your child write sight words in a shallow tray full of sand or salt, in shaving cream, or on the shower wall with shower paint. You can also fill a quart Ziploc bag with hair gel or colored liquid soap, seal the bag well, and write words with a finger on the plastic. The bag of gel is my favorite because it’s less messy, but any type of practice that gets your kids saying the word and its letters, feeling the shape of the letters as they write and trace and reading what they wrote is good practice because using multiple senses strengthens the memory of the word.

Use the cover-copy-check strategy:

  • Read the word and spell it out loud
  • Cover the word or flip the card over
  • Write it or trace it without looking
  • Check to see if you spelled it right

Games

When I’m working with kids, I’m likely to turn just about anything into either go fish, memory/concentration or 20 questions. Here are some game ideas for sight word study.

Go Fish: Write the words on pairs of flashcards. Use the cards to play go fish. Deal 5 cards to each player and ask, “Do you have was?” If a player draws a match, make sure they read the pair out loud before you let them keep it.

Memory: Use the same pairs of flashcards to play memory. Lay between 5 and 10 pairs of words on the table face down. Players take turns flipping over a pair of cards, reading the cards and keeping them if they match. Make sure they read the words out loud and don’t just match visually.

20 Questions: Lay out the cards where everyone can see them. One person thinks of one of the words, and the other asks questions to figure out which one it is. Ask questions like, “Does it have the /p/ sound?” or “Does it have 5 letters?” Encourage the child to move the cards around and eliminate/flip over cards that don’t fit the clues.

Online games:

  • Popcorn words on Fun4theBrain.com
  • Sight word games at Education.com
  • There are also an ever-changing array of sight word apps for Apple and Android

Mnemonics

Mnemonics are memory tricks, like learning the sentence, “My very educated mother just served us nachos” to remember that the planets in our solar system are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (Remember when Pluto was a planet and our mother served us “nine pizzas” instead? My favorite is the sentence, “Big elephants can always understand small elephants” to help kids spell because.

For sight words, the tricks your child picks will be individual to him or her. Check out Pinterest or search for “spelling mnemonic __” for whatever word your child is struggling with.

Think about meaning

Sight words can be tricky because they make kids remember whether a word starts with w or wh and that the uz you hear in does spelled like the oze you hear in goes.

The question words who, what, when, where, why all have wh.

Does and goes are both verbs and they both get the +es suffix on the end, even though they are pronounced differently.

Spaced repetition

Last, but definitely not least, is the strategy of spaced repetition. The linked video is geared toward medical students, but the idea of the forgetting curve is just as true with kids learning sight words! I’ll post a video soon on how to set up a spaced repetition system for sight words, but here are the big ideas:

If you are starting from scratch, pick five words to focus on. Once the child can read those words accurately on the first try, move those words over and only study them every other day. After a week of studying them every other day, move them to the twice a week group. At the end of that week, move them to once a week, then on to once a month. If the child misses a word, move it back to every day practice until they can do it correctly again. As the child masters the every day words, introduce new ones to work on so they always have about five new (hard) words and a bunch of others that they are getting really good at.

After they can remember a word they haven’t studied in more than a week (monthly), retire the word. It is definitely mastered!

When can we stop practicing?

This question is tricky because it’s different for every child and every set of words. The goal with sight words is accuracy and automaticity. If your child’s teacher is assigning sight word homework, he or she is probably assessing them in the classroom and will decide when to move words out of the practice set. If the child can read the word accurately, with no hesitation, spell the word, and read it when they see it in a sentence or story, they have mastered it and can stop studying.

Boy doing homework

How to tell your child she has a learning disability

Early in my teaching career, I worked in a substantially separate special education classroom for middle school students with significant disabilities. Many of these students had a diagnosis on the autism spectrum while others had cognitive impairment of varying severity. With some of these students, their impairments were so significant that they were unlikely to notice the extent of their differences from their peers. They got all their instruction with me in the small group classroom, with the exception of art, gym, and music. While they attended lunch and recess and social activities with their middle school peers, they needed the support of small group instruction at their academic level for their other classes.

One graduation night, I was in my classroom with a couple colleagues getting ready for the ceremony. A young adult we didn’t know came in and said, “I used to come in this classroom when I was in middle school. I never got the point of being in here. What do you teach?”

I hesitated, wondering if this young woman was unaware that she had been in special education in middle school. I knew of her, because some of her siblings were still at the school, but I had never met her when she went to school there. I didn’t really know much about her as a learner, except now I knew that she had been in my specialized program as a middle schooler.

I said, “Well, teachers have figured out that some students do their best learning in a big class with about 20 other students and different teachers all day long. Other middle schoolers do their best learning in a small group classroom where they have the same teacher for all their subjects.” She nodded and said goodbye. She seemed satisfied with that answer. But it made me think: what is the best way to tell students about their learning differences and when should they be told?

Now I have been working with a different population of learners. Many of the students I work with have specific learning disabilities in reading, writing or math. Some have diagnosis of dyslexia. I still work with some students on the autism spectrum and others with a variety of diagnoses, including ADHD. While many of these students are younger, I’m starting to wonder at what point they need to be told they have a disability.

While it’s certainly not my place to tell students any information that their parents haven’t explained to them, I do often have to have challenging conversations with students who are noticing their differences from peers and feeling like some of the work is too hard for them or than what they’re being asked to do is not fair.

It seems like third grade is the time that many students start to express this. By that point, everyone in the class knows which students have to leave the classroom to go to another teacher for reading, and which students are either never called on to read out loud or struggle and look miserable when they do get called on. In many classrooms, students protect and help the students who are struggling most. They often will take the lead in reading if they have a struggling reader in their group or jump in to help someone spell a word if they think it’s a difficult one. But 3rd grade is also the time when many of my students begin to wonder what’s wrong with them or begin to see themselves as stupid.

In my lessons with them, I do several things to combat that perception. First of all, I make a point to focus on the strengths of each of my students. Students with terrific vocabularies get asked to teach word meanings to their peers. Students who have had lots of explicit phonics instruction are called on to identify the vowels in a word because while many other students may be able to read the word, not all are able to analyze it in the same detail as my students who have had extensive Orton-Gillingham instruction. I make it a point to call on students to share their background knowledge about sports, or fishing, or animals, if I know it’s an area of interest and strength.

But I also frequently have to talk to students about their weaknesses. The way I do this is I start to ask them questions about things that are easy for them and things that are harder as young as kindergarten and first grade. These young students often have a great deal of difficulty identifying their best subject or their weaker ones. In fact, they often tell me that their favorite class is the one they’re struggling in most. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because that is when they get the most adult attention and help. But older students, beginning in about second grade, can pretty clearly tell me what they can and can’t do. They might say “I love to write but I’m bad at spelling.” Or, “I know all my math facts, but I’m not a good reader.”

For these students, I validate their experience, but I reframe it. If they say “I’m not good at spelling.” I say, “I’ve noticed that sometimes you have trouble remembering how words are spelled. Sometimes I see that you get all the consonant sounds right in your words but you mix up the vowel sounds. Is that what you notice, too?” I want them to analyze specifically what they can and can’t do so that they’ll be able to see their own progress. I also don’t want them to think of themselves as being bad at something. Having a growth mindset means that they see their struggles as goals they have not yet accomplished. When we think of skills that way, students are able to see that they make progress from week to week, month to month, and year to year.

These discussions about strengths and weaknesses are the same ones any parent can have with any child, regardless of whether they have a disability. But I think they’re especially important to have with children who struggle particularly in one academic area. It shouldn’t be a secret that students read slower than their peers. The teacher knows it, the parent knows it, and it’s important that we tell the student what we know. They should know that their area of difficulty is not something to be ashamed of. We know it’s not because of lack of effort. And we’re working hard to try to help them develop that skill. They need to know that.

After these conversations about strength and weakness, as a parent, you may want to give the child a name for those difficulties. I worked with one first grader who was incredibly proud to tell me that the reason he couldn’t do the spelling I was asking him to do was that he had dyslexia. What he hadn’t figured out yet is that’s why we worked together in the first place, but those realizations come with time.

Telling your children the name for the struggles they are experiencing can feel scary. The anxiety you may have had about their diagnosis and your worries about what will happen as they grow up may make you want to hide this information from your child. But I believe this is misguided. You can avoid naming your child’s learning disability, but you can’t protect them from it. They live in a world of struggling to read or not being able to remember math facts. In fact, giving a name to the thing that can frustrate and overwhelm them can give them a lot of power. 

These discussions can happen over the course of years, as you feel your child is mature enough to understand different things about their way of learning. Just like with any part of parenting, discussing a child’s learning disability is a long journey. But if you gradually give them information and responsibility, they will be much more ready to take on the self-advocacy and planning responsibilities required to help them succeed in school, college, the workplace and other facets of their lives.

Can you get Orton-Gillingham tutoring online?

Getting trained in Orton-Gillingham has totally changed the way I look at students and reading. Explicit, diagnostic, teaching in phonics makes an enormous difference in how students learn. But when I became an online tutor, I had to figure out if I could still do Orton-Gillingham tutoring online. Now that I have figured it out, I won’t go back to in-person meetings for O-G!

When I first became an Orton-Gillingham tutor, I found it really difficult to quickly manage all the materials I need in a lesson. Working with students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities who were reading below grade level (and often exhausted from a frustrating day of school), I knew it was really important to use their time wisely. I also worked with some younger students who had difficulty sustaining attention for an intense one-hour Orton-Gillingham reading lesson. Then I became an online reading and writing tutor. I have developed my set of tools so I can do Orton Gillingham tutoring online. And the results have been fantastic!

The key thing that makes an Orton-Gillingham lesson work is that the teaching should be should be systematic and based on a student’s mastery of earlier skills. That means that when I first start working with a student with dyslexia or a specific learning disability in reading, I use informal assessments to figure out what they need. Then I use my lessons to systematically fill those skill gaps. So if an older reader still doesn’t automatically use the right short vowel sounds, we have to go back to the short vowel sounds. 

Sometimes those materials can look really young because they are designed for students who are learning to read in first grade. What I can do in the online setting is quickly reformat and redesign materials to make them more appealing to older readers. For example, I can insert images to go with our vowel sound practice in the reader’s notebook that are not the traditional cartoony phonics images. I can also engage students in choosing their own visuals with a quick Google image search so that they can build their notebook along with me.

Another reason that I love doing Orton-Gillingham tutoring online is that it gives me so much flexibility within the lesson. Sometimes during in-person lessons, I find that a student doesn’t understand a vocabulary word we’re discussing or has trouble with a particular sound. In an in-person lesson I usually have to make a note of that and remember to review it in our next meeting. During an online Orton Gillingham lesson I can open a new tab in my browser and do a quick search for pictures of the thing we’re discussing. I can quickly give the student a visual of an emu or the city of Dallas to help them form a mental image to go along with the new words they are reading and learning. This strategy of using pictures as well as text as a context for learning vocabulary has been shown by research to help students remember words better and for longer.

And maybe the best thing about Orton-Gillingham tutoring online is that the student and I need very few specialized materials. For the multi-sensory part of the lesson, it does help for a child to have some physical materials in front of them. They definitely need paper and a pencil and it also helps to have some kind of textured surface, which can be as simple as salt poured in a baking sheet or a rough towel on which to trace their letters. Other than that, I supply everything and put it right up on the screen. I can use ebooks that I borrow from the library or get from Kindle. I can create word lists in a Google doc and share them right on my screen. I can create activities like word building and word sorts using Google Slides. And we have all of the free online reading games available to students online to choose from for reinforcements. (I really like some from fun4thebrain.com.) With my youngest students I usually build in a game break in the middle of the lesson, something like sight words or typing to reinforce their skills but give them a break from the challenging new content. Some of my older students don’t take a break at all during the lesson, while others ask if we can save the last 5 minutes for something they want to share with me, either a piece of work from school or a funny YouTube video.

What I do my Orton-Gillingham tutoring online, I’m also able to see more students in a day. For in-person tutoring there is travel time between the students and also time to set up and break down all my materials. By doing Orton-Gillingham tutoring and that way I am able to maximize the number of students I can help!

If you’re interested in seeing what an online Orton-Gillingham lesson looks like, please contact me today. I offer a free 30-minute consultation where I can assess the student and demonstrate some of the fun tools that we use.

Does Orton-Gillingham tutoring work online?

Is reading on a screen bad for the brain?

People of all ages are spending more time than ever before getting information on their screens. My three-year-old loves his piles of books, but he goes crazy for ebooks on my phone. And they are a great choice for me to give him sometimes, too, like when we’re traveling or when I am barely awake and holding a book over my head just doesn’t work. But is reading on a screen bad for kids? Does reading on a screen affect reading comprehension?

Some research shows that people remember things better and comprehend more deeply when they read information on paper, as opposed to on a screen. But is this something special about the human brain? Or is it a matter of teaching kids appropriate strategies for reading on a screen? I suspect it’s a bit of both. However, even if paper makes it easier for people to learn, digital information isn’t going away. We need effective strategies for making the most of digital content.

Skimming: Understanding the structure of text

If you are reading paper material, it is usually pretty easy to tell what kind of thing you are reading by looking at its physical appearance. Is it a thick book? A magazine? A photocopied packet? A newspaper article? Digital print is harder to figure out at a glance, so previewing the text helps you figure out what you are going to read and make a plan for doing it right.

  • When you are reading a text on a screen, take steps to make sure you understand the way the document is organized and to help you figure out and remember where things are.
  • Look at the table of contents or scroll from the beginning to the end. How many parts/chapters/headings are there? How long is each part?
  • Read the title of each main section. Which ones seem the most important to you? Which ones are you interested in or excited about?
  • While you are skimming, look for text features that stand out. Does the author use:
    • Bullets
    • Numbered lists
    • Lots of links
    • Tables
    • Infographics
    • Video clips?

Knowing the type of information you will find helps you plan your reading style.

Use search and bookmarks to find important points in the document

One downside I notice when reading an ebook or reading a long document on the internet is I have more trouble remembering where I read something. For example, in a novel I might flip back to a previous chapter to refresh my memory when I can’t remember a conversation characters had. If I’m reading in a paperback, it’s easy for me to remember that it was about a third of the way through the book. Reading on a screen, I have more trouble remembering where I saw something. Luckily, the search feature in a web browser or an ebook makes it easy to find a piece of text if I can remember any of the words around it.

  • If you find something that you know will be important, use the bookmark feature of your ebook reader to mark that page. Or use the highlighter to mark a line or word. If you are reading in your browser, write down or copy and paste a key word or phrase that you want to come back to later.

Note taking tools for marking up digital text

Studies of user behavior show that readers online tend to skim through information, scroll past details, and click on links. Have you ever found yourself on a website or watching a video on YouTube and had no idea how you got there? All you wanted to do was sit down and check directions to a new restaurant. But now here you are. This type of behavior can lead to interesting discoveries and but it can be a waste of time and an ineffective way to study or learn.

When you’re reading to find specific information, you need a system to take notes so that you will remember what you read. There’s nothing worse than spending an afternoon scrolling through articles only to realize that you can’t remember which one had the excellent fact you wanted to include in your paper. Use a note taking system, either paper or digital, to keep track of what you’re reading so that you don’t lose details.

One simple and quick system for doing this is a system like two column notes. You can either create a table with two columns or draw a line down the middle of a piece of notebook paper. There are a few different ways to use two column notes. One way is to write the key information about your source, including a link to the article, in one column and write the fact that you gather in the other. Doing this on a word processing document makes it easier to transfer it into your paper later. You can simply copy and paste the facts you found. Another way to keep track of information as you find it is to use a digital notebook tool like Evernote or Google Keep. Google Keep has an extension for your browser. When you highlight a piece of text and then click on the Google Keep icon, Google Keep creates a note on your notepad that has the information you selected, as well as a link to the source. The downside of this is you will have many separate notes for your topic by the time you are done.

Managing distractions like links

The really wonderful thing about reading texts in digital form is that writers are able to embed all sorts of helpful information that doesn’t fit in their paragraph. Links can give your digital reading experience a much more three-dimensional feeling than turning pages in a textbook. Want to see a map up close? Zoom in. Not sure who the scientist is that the author refers to? Click the hyperlink to go to a page about his work. Unfortunately, with all of that additional information comes a whole new kind of distraction that readers don’t have to deal with on paper. Here are some tips for dealing with beneficial and distracting links as you read.

  • Before you click a link, ask yourself will this help me meet my goal for this reading? If your goal is to find information on the causes of the Civil War, you don’t need to click links that will take you to information about modern-day geography of towns in the south.
  • If you do think a link will be beneficial, right click on it to open it in a new tab or a new window. This can be a double-edged sword, however, because before you know it you may have a dozen tabs open next to the article you’re reading and all of that information, good as it might be, just becomes a distraction. Use this strategy with restraint.
  • Consider reading an article twice. The first time, read through the text on the page and take any notes about important facts you read. The second time you go through the article, click on relevant links. In effect, if an article is valid, you can not only use it as a source but also as a source for further reading. Think of these as two different uses for the article and don’t try to do them at the same time.
  • Print to PDF and ignore the links. If you find that you have a very difficult time ignoring all of the hyperlinks in a piece of text, get rid of them. Click print in your web browser and print the page you are trying to read to a PDF. You don’t have to print the file to paper, because when you print the PDF it will make the links non-clickable. You can always go back to that source another time, and click on the links if you need more sources or more information.
  • If you really can’t stop yourself from clicking links or searching related material, the nuclear option is to use airplane mode. When your device is in airplane mode, you won’t be able to reach the internet to start that unnecessary “extra research” that always leads you to Facebook or the weird parts of Wikipedia.

Managing reading speed

Think about the way you scan the covers of magazines while you wait in line at the store. Now think about the way you read the next novel by your favorite author. Different kinds of content and different purposes for reading lead to different reading speeds. By being aware of your reading speed and choosing an approach that makes sense for the text, you can improve your comprehension.

  • What is your goal for reading? Are you trying to find a specific detail? Get an overview of the topic? Learn how to do something? Gain a deep understanding of a concept? Your purpose for reading will affect the way you read, including how fast you try to read.
  • What is your background knowledge about the topic? If you know a lot about something and are just looking to add a few more details to your understanding, you might read more quickly. If a topic is totally new to you and you have to master it, you are likely to read very slowly.
  • If you want to read faster, many digital tools will let you boost your reading speed. Zap Reader is a free, web-based tool. You paste text into the website and set your reading speed. It presents words a few at a time and keeps you moving through the text. The Kindle app has a feature called Word Runner that does the same thing. But just because you can read faster doesn’t mean you should. This type of reading seems best suited to light reading like fiction.

Understanding digital genres

Before you can set an appropriate reading speed, you need to know what kind of material you are looking at. In school, we learn genres like fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and historical fiction. But have you ever noticed that blog post is a genre all its own? How about slideshow or vlog? All of these are different genres you might be taking in to get information. Each one has its own purpose and its own flow.

Using text features will help you figure it what kind of text you are looking at and will help you use effective strategies.

  • Slideshow – Um, in my opinion, scroll on by. These are almost always a time suck with little content to offer. Unless it’s recipes, then click your heart out, my friend. Just know this is almost exclusively an entertainment genre. Don’t try to tell yourself you’re getting “background information” or, worse yet, “starting your research.”
  • Blogs – Blog authors work to make their content readable. They understand that their audience skims quickly. Look for short paragraphs, bullet points and lists. Blogs also tend to have a lot of links that might tell you where a blogger got their information, or how to find a similar blog you might want to read. Use the “Managing Links” tips to handle information you want to read later.
  • Video – Youtube allows you to bookmark videos at particular points. Many videos also have closed captions. Both of these features help you nail down specific pieces of information if it’s coming at you quickly. If the content isn’t something you need to learn deeply, did you know you can speed up video play (using the Settings cog wheel) to get through video faster? I do this when I’m working my way through a series of videos by the same creator and I don’t need to hear ALL the details of his projects each time. I’m just checking in to see what’s new. It’s like skimming for video!
  • News article – An important thing to remember about news that comes out on websites is that, unlike the print edition, writers and editors are likely to push out content on a breaking story before all the facts are in. So check the timestamp on an article and look at the bottom of the page to see if there is a note that the article has been updated or corrected. Sometimes the first information available is incomplete or downright wrong. If you are looking to get the facts, make sure you keep checking back as the story unfolds and the author has more time to write clearly.
  • Not-quite-news articles – Website owners with something to sell often buy articles, sometimes very cheaply, to make their website attractive to search engines and readers, and to make the pages look full. Often, website owners are trying to draw you to their page to sell you a product, or to get you to look at advertising that runs beside their articles. Think about the purpose of a website before you invest time (or money) in what they are offering. Is it a big-name website? Do you recognize the name of the authors? Can you figure out what the authors want you to buy or believe? Just because you don’t know the people involved doesn’t mean it’s bad information. But most people don’t spend time and money developing a website because of their love of knowledge. They usually hope to make money somehow. Are they the kind of people you want to support?

Listening to text

One awesome feature of digital text is the ability to listen to it instead of reading with your eyes. Some ebook readers offer text-to-speech support, like iBooks on iOS. Several options are available for having websites, pdfs or other documents read to you.

Chrome browser extensions:

  • Select and Speak – this free extension does exactly what is says. Highlight a section of text with your mouse and click on the play button. You’ll hear a computer-generated voice read the words you chose. Because it’s free, your options are limited, but you can choose a male or female voice and adjust the reading speed.
  • TextHelp’s Read&Write for Google – The paid version of this extension (and the 7-day free trial) offer great features including word prediction for writing, color-coded highlighting for note taking and vocabulary supports, as well as text-to-speech capability. Even once all those paid features go away, though, you still have text-to-speech leftover.
  • Audio books – through the magic of the digital age, just about any recent book, and many classics, that you want to read are available in digital versions. I always start with the digital downloads at my public library. A subscription to a service like audible.com is another great option. Either way you can download the audio book to your computer or mobile device and listen on the go. But what if you’re reading for school? What if you’re expected to quote text or take notes? That’s where it gets a little bit tricky but you can still use good reading comprehension strategies even when you’re listening.
    • Pay attention – Trying to learn from an audiobook by having it on while you do other things on your phone is like trying to learn math by keeping the textbook under your pillow while you sleep. Learning by osmosis doesn’t work that way. Think about reading from an audio book the same way you would read from a hardcover book, make sure you’re sitting in a quiet place. Turn off other distractions like TV, music, and conversation. Have a notebook and pen or a word processing document open.
    • Check your comprehension – At the end of each chapter or anytime you have to stop reading, talk yourself through the author’s main points. You may want to produce a written summary of what you read. Just a few notes about the highlights of each chapter will really help you remember what you read later when it comes time to use the material in your writing or to study for a test. This doesn’t have to be complicated, you can use the notes feature on your cell phone or just a piece of paper in your notebook to record your thoughts.
    • Use rereading – Familiarize yourself with your audiobook device. Most have a single button that lets you rewind 10 or 30 seconds at a time. For longer sections there is a slider that let you go back further or use the table of contents to click on the chapter you want to review.
    • Use bookmarks – Ebook tools usually have a bookmark feature. If you hear something interesting, press the bookmark button so you know the spot you want to go back to later.
    • Familiarize yourself with the layout of the book – Just as when you are reading a book with your eyes, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Start by looking at the table of contents and figure out how many chapters there are. Notice how many pages are in each chapter. Notice how many hours of audio the book is.
    • Reading speed – You may find that listening to an audiobook at regular speed feels too slow. Reading out loud is a slower process for most people than reading in their heads so listening to someone read out loud can be a slower pace than when you read something to yourself. Most audio book readers let you adjust the speed up or down. Many readers find that they can gradually increase the speed from one up to as fast as two or three times the original speed of the text with practice. However, you’re not going to be successful with this if you don’t read actively and have good attention.

When to use paper

Part of my background is that I am an assistive technology specialist. Using technology to teach and learn is one of the main parts of my work. A major part of my teaching philosophy is that students should have access to the technology they need to do their best work. I could not function without audio books, digital copies of text, and tools like speech-to-text and highlighting to get me through reading and writing tasks. In fact, I’m using speech-to-text right now to write this. However, it’s not the perfect choice for everyone or for every task. Knowing when to put away your device and settle in with a paper copy will help you make the most of your reading.

Here are some reasons you might want to read on paper.

  1. The material is visual. I would not think to use a digital copy of a math book or most types of science books. Although many, especially the proprietary ebook developed by the publisher, have great page design and let you see a lot of information at once, in many cases there is something to be said for being able to turn the book from side to side, put your finger on one part of a diagram, or flip rapidly between pages to compare a diagram to a practice problem. This goes along with my preference for doing math work on paper, although I do almost all written work digitally.
  2. The material is very difficult. If you’re working with subject matter you’re not comfortable with, it might make more sense to use a paper copy. For example, when I read an article in a psychological Journal, I prefer to have a paper copy. One reason is the PDF copies are often duplicates of the print page with material set up in two columns. I find it visually confusing to have to scroll up and down the column and then across the page to the second column. I also tend to flip back and forth frequently in text like this as I try to understand the terms the authors are using and remember elements from different parts of a study. Because this material is so complex, and I don’t read it in a linear way, it helps to have a paper copy of the study. I also make a lot of notes when I’m reading something challenging like that including underlining text, and writing words and often question marks in the margin. Although it’s possible to do all of these with a PDF markup tool, I find that I do it more efficiently with a pen and paper.
  3. You are reading to relax. It’s harder to disconnect and enjoy your book when you’re reading on a device with dozens of built-in reminders, and therefore distractions. When you get a new book by your favorite author, sometimes you just want to get lost in that world. That’s one time when reading on paper is a great option. I find this to be especially true when I’m reading old books, like those that existed before ebooks. There’s something about reading Jane Austen on my phone that is jarring. If I read those books on paper instead, I find I am more able to follow the book and to get into the author’s world. For me, it makes it more enjoyable reading experience. Of course, I don’t find a lot of time to pick up a paper back and read, so I often have to save books like this for vacations.
  4. You are reading late at night. There is evidence that the blue light emitted by our device screens can contribute to difficulty falling asleep. If you have to do a lot of your reading late at night, you might be better off reading on paper, or on a device that is not backlit, like some models of Kindle. The reason for this is the blue light emitted by your device tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, and makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Experts recommend that you turn off your devices at least an hour before bedtime. So if you have a long day of reading planned, save the stuff on paper for your after-dinner study time. Get all of your reading on the screen out of the way during daylight hours.
  5. You are reading with children. I acknowledge that there is no way to keep screens away from my children in the long run. I think it is important for them to know how to navigate devices, understand material on the screen, and take advantage of the many sources of information available on the internet. I also think it’s important that they understand the benefits of books in paper form. All of the things we talked about are things a child who has never read paper books would not know to look for. By giving kids diverse reading experiences using both hardcover traditional books and ebooks, we can help them to learn how they learn best.

I don’t think that reading on the internet or on our phones is going to do long-term harm to us as readers or thinkers, as some people seem to believe. But I do think that reading in the digital age is necessarily different than when all we had was paper. Remember, reading is not a natural act, something that we evolved to do. Reading of any kind is a technology that humans have invented. Like any technology, it will change and develop over time. Just as we need different skills to drive a car than we need to drive a horse and buggy, we need different skills for digital reading than paper reading. And also like learning to drive a car, we need to give students supervised practice before we expect them to do it well on their own.

Looking for help navigating the different kinds of reading expected of students today? Contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to see how online tutoring can help!

Is there a downside to reading on screens?

 

Do graphic novels count as “real reading?”

When I started teaching in the classroom 10 years ago, one of my sixth graders was obsessed with Baby Mouse. At the time, I did not know a lot of graphic novels for kids and figured that comic books were the territory of older boys and young men who were into superheroes. Now I know of so many fantastic graphic novel series for kids of all reading levels! Graphic novels are great “gateway” stories to get reluctant readers interested in books.

Graphic novels can be an excellent option for reluctant readers, for kids who are not reading as well as their peers, and for any kid who is looking for a fun read.

But are graphic novels “real” reading?

Graphic novels are great for developing some parts of a child’s reading skill. Having pictures to go with the story helps to develop kids understanding of plot and graphic novels could start a lot of great conversations about character development. A good graphic novel can also provide illustration for challenging vocabulary by having pictures that show what unfamiliar words mean.

I learned the word chaos from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode on TV. I had heard the word before and I had read the letters c-h-a-o-s before but I never put the two together until a comic-book-style part of the show that had speech bubbles over the heads of Bebop and Rocksteady while they commented on the chaos caused by a battle in the street. It was a lightbulb moment for me to see the word in print and hear the character pronounce it. I never would have put together that letter combination with the sound of the word chaos.

Kids won’t necessarily learn to pronounce new words from reading graphic novels, but they will have the opportunity to see what the illustrator imagined when he or she read the words in the story. For that reason, graphic novels can be a great option for kids who are having trouble comprehending grade level books. They can also boost vocabulary by providing richer context than words on the page alone.

The Downside

But graphic novels don’t address all parts of the reading equation. Because they usually have short sentences of text, they are not a good way for students to develop reading fluency. For that, kids should be reading connected text on a page at their independent level or just a bit above.

Graphic novels are also not usually great text for practicing sounding out words. Too often, there are enough clues in the pictures to help kids guess at words they don’t know. This can be a great support for kids who have trouble getting through a story because it has too many words they can’t read. However, it can help kids avoid sounding out words if that’s something difficult for them.

So do I recommend graphic novels? Heck yes!

But they are the snack food in a healthy diet. Eating well means having a variety of foods and striking a balance between treats and leafy greens. Graphic novels do stretch a students reading skills, and they’re certainly not junk food. But a reading diet made up of only graphic novels is not good for your child’s reading health.

Ready to give graphic novels a try?

Here are some of the graphic novel series that are capturing my students’ imaginations:

  • Geronimo Stilton – Geronimo is a mouse in the newspaper business who solves mysteries and crimes with his friends. They are somewhere in between a graphic novel and a chapter book, with whole paragraphs of text, lots of illustrations, and fun fonts and text effects that emphasize the words. These are a great fit for second, third and fourth graders.
  • Captain Underpants – Ugh, not my favorites, but I’m not the one who has to read them. These are silly and kind of gross and may not be a fit for every classroom or family. But they are hugely popular. These books seem to hit peak popularity in second and third grade.
  • Dog Man – Another Dav Pilkey series
  • Big Nate – These seem to have content that appeals to older elementary (fourth-sixth grade) readers but are written at a level that second and third graders can access. I find that younger readers in third and fourth grade don’t get all the jokes, even when they can read the words.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – These are one of the most popular series of graphic novels, especially now that there’s a movie. Like Geronimo Stilton, these have a mix of paragraphs of story with cartoon illustrations. Fourth grade seems to be the sweet spot for this series.
  • Amulet – This series is getting passed around by a lot of upper elementary students I know. It’s illustrated in the more familiar “comic book” style you might imagine when you hear graphic novel. There are lots of colorful pages and a fantasy setting and plot that seems to appeal to both boys and girls at the fourth and fifth grade levels.
  • Bone – Bone is a cute little guy who looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost, who goes on adventures through strange and engaging lands. It seems to appeal to third and fourth graders.

Do graphic novels count as real reading?

Do We Have to Read this Book Again? Yes, We Do

Read it again!

I’m so tired of re-reading the same books to my preschooler!

There must be hundreds of picture books in my house. There is everything from the classics of my mother’s childhood to brand new books by Julia Donaldson and Ian Falconer. We love them all! So then why, oh why, does my three-year-old only want to read Kermie, Where Are You?, a lift the Flap Book in which Muppet Babies characters play hide and seek in the nursery?

So do I have to read it again? The reading research says yes!  Just like my preschooler wants to watch the same Alvin and the Chipmunks Halloween movie over and over again, beginning when it hits Netflix in August, and tell me the same knock-knock joke over and over again until it makes my ears fall off, he wants to hear me re-reading the same familiar stories over and over again.

As exhausting as these repetitions are, they are what our young children need to become strong readers. By re-reading the same books over and over again, they are building an understanding of what language sounds like. They are learning to anticipate events in the story, which strengthens their comprehension. And they are strengthening their memory of the vocabulary they hear in the story.

I’m not saying they need to choose the story every time, or that you have to be re-reading the same boring book non-stop until they lose interest. I absolutely say to my son, “Not tonight. I find that book boring. I would much rather read something else now and read that one later.” I say the same thing about shows he wants me to watch. We have many interest in common, but I don’t need to be excited about all of his book choices, and he doesn’t need to be excited about all of mine. We often take turns choosing books or I suggest that he read a less challenging, more repetitive book to himself or to his baby sister. Usually, he remembers enough of the story to do it.

Give yourself a break

Another option for endless re-reading of books is narrated ebooks. Epic Books is one source that, with a paid subscription, lets your child choose from a collection of pretty good books. And many of them have built in read-aloud narration. Your public library might also subscribe to Overdrive, a collection of digital books. Many of the picture books, from Pete the Cat to Llama Llama can be read aloud by the app.

The light at the end of the tunnel

But at the end of the day, we often just need to suck it up and read Go, Dog, Go yet again. Just remember, this, too, shall pass. Someday, they’ll be reading by themselves. And maybe they’ll have a good recommendation for you!

Why do young children want to read the same book over and over again? Is it even good for them?

What Will Your Child Learn This Summer?

Are you looking back on your child’s school year and wishing things could be easier for them?

What if:What do you think would make your child's school year better?

  • Sunday night was a time for family dinner instead of scrambling to finish the weekend’s homework?
  • Essay assignments didn’t end in tears or frustration?
  • You didn’t have to spend as much time on homework as your child does?
  • Your child’s grades improved?
  • Your child went to school without feeling worried or afraid of what the day would bring?
  • You didn’t spend mornings looking for missing papers, lost library books, and pieces of clothing?
This summer, let’s work together to help your child get organized and prepared for school.

Does your child know HOW to study? I can teach them!I can help them:

  • Experiment with a planner or agenda book system to find one that actually make sense to them!
  • Learn note taking and study strategies that make it easy to get ready for tests.
  • Take the mystery and uncertainty out of planning and writing essays.
  • Make a plan for homework and stick to it to get a great start on the year!
  • Build vocabulary and reading strategies to help them read with confidence.

Contact me today for a no-cost 30-minute consultation to find out how I can help your child make next year the best school year yet!

 

5 Reasons to Give Audiobooks to Reluctant Readers

Getting books into the hands and brains of your slow developing or reluctant readers isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential. Over time, kids who read less fall farther and farther behind their average reading peers. Researchers have found that as early as first grade, average readers read up to three times as many words in a week as their lower performing classmates. They have called it “the Matthew Effect” because in reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When kids miss out on reading all those words, it limits vocabulary, makes it hard for them to comprehend more complex stories, and prevents them from becoming more fluent readers. They fall farther behind and become even more likely to avoid reading.

For this snowball of important reasons, it’s a great idea to give audiobooks to reluctant readers.

But isn’t reading an audiobook cheating?

This is the number one question that comes up when I suggest audiobooks for reluctant readers. But is it cheating when you listen to the news on the radio instead of picking up the newspaper? Is it cheating when your best friend starts to text you a great story and you say, “Call me instead!”?

Audio books are a great tool for kids to use and they don’t replace learning to read. In fact, they complement it.

Here are five reasons to get your kids listening to audiobooks

Build vocabulary

Students can comprehend material at a higher level than what they can read.  by listening to audiobooks at their listening comprehension level, kids can be exposed to vocabulary that they will not be able to read independently for a while. In turn, a better oral vocabulary helps with their reading comprehension and their ability to read those familiar words when they first see them in print.

Grow a love of stories

Listening to audiobooks can be just plain fun! Kids who struggle to read or get bored when they’re reading with their eyes may find it much easier to get into a story when they hear it. That doesn’t mean it’s cheating. Sometimes they are exposed to a story for the first time as an audiobook, then later go on to read other titles in the series.

Replace screen time

Audio books can be a nice compromise to replace screen time for long car trips for example. Times when kids are “bored” are great times to listen to audiobooks. You can either choose a title to listen to as a family or have the kids put in earbuds and listen to their own choices on tablets or smartphones.

Promote independent reading

If you find yourself struggling with your child about independent reading time, audiobook might be a solution that get them over the hump and help them create an independent reading habit. You might make a deal like letting the child listen to the book first and then having them reread it with their eyes. You could also set a schedule where Tuesday and Thursday are audiobook nights and the other nights are for eye reading.

Practice comprehension skills

Just like vocabulary, comprehension can be improved by listening to audiobooks. Kids have the chance to listen to text that is more complex, and maybe more interesting, then what they can read independently. Understanding things about story structure and character traits will help them comprehend better when they do read text with their eyes. Plus, it gives them a chance to practice those story-level skills without feeling distracted by the mechanics of reading words.

Some kids avoid reading because it feels hard. These can be kids with ADHD, or with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Other reluctant readers do not have disabilities, but for one reason or another would rather do other things and avoid reading. No matter the reason, audiobooks can be an excellent stepping stone towards a love of reading. Free audio books are available for download at many public libraries. You can also get books on CD from the library. Finally, a subscription to Audible would get your child a steady supply of new audiobooks each month. No matter what option you choose, consider offering audiobooks as part of a “balanced diet” of reading.

If your child is avoiding reading, they may be struggling with basic skills that make reading and writing frustrating and hard. Tutoring can help. Contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how online tutoring can help your child be a more confident reader by the end of the summer!

Audio books can improve kids’ vocabulary, comprehension and motivation to read!

10 Things to Say to Help Your Child Learn to Read

Reading together will help your child learn to read.

Reading with your kids has immense benefits. One of the biggest predictors of reading success is the amount of reading a child does. That means building fun, positive reading habits can help your child learn to read and have lifelong benefits.

Listening to beginning readers can be a challenge, though. They get distracted. They beg for help. They make mistakes.

You want to help, but maybe you’re not sure how.

When you are reading with your child and they make a mistake, what’s the best way to address it?

Telling a child to “sound it out” can be as confusing as telling a baby “get up and walk” if they don’t know how.

Often, I hear adults telling kids who get stuck on a word to “sound it out.” While that advice isn’t wrong, it’s kind of like telling a baby who wants to cross the room to “stand up and walk with your feet.” It is accurate advice but not helpful.

When a child makes a reading mistake or gets stuck on a word, it’s because something has gone wrong with “sounding it out.” They need some specific feedback and suggestions to get back on track.

Here are some things you can say to help your child learn to read when she or he makes a mistake while reading

  1. “I heard you say __. Did that make sense?”
    • Sometimes just drawing a child’s attention to the mistake is enough to cue them to fix it. Focusing on reading to get meaning from the text will help your child learn to read purposefully.
  2. What are the letters in that word?
    • Draw attention to a specific part of the word, like the first letter or the vowel, where they made a mistake. Getting a child to name the letters before trying the word again makes it less likely that they will guess.
  3. What sound does that letter make?
    • This is a reminder young readers might need, especially for vowel sounds. They often mix up the sounds of e and i, or o and u. Drawing their attention to the vowel (and making sure they actually know the correct sound) helps them correct vowel errors. You can help your child learn to read by making sure that they are using accurate letter-sound relationships.
  4. Let’s tap out the sounds in the word.
    • Use this technique if you hear the child leaving out sounds in a word (like saying cop for crop) or substituting sounds (like saying said for sat). This is what most people are thinking when they say, “sound it out.” Adding the step of tapping each finger to her thumb, or moving a block or penny on the table for each sound, helps a child focus on each sound and avoid leaving anything out.
  5. What would make sense here?
    • This question can help when the word in the sentence isn’t familiar. For example, if the sentence said, “When I heard the noise outside the tent, I was petrified,” the child might be able to predict that the speaker would feel scared. Depending on their reading skills, you might have to tell the child that the word is pronounced “petrified.” But figuring out the meaning is the other half of the equation.
  6. What’s the first syllable?
  7. Does this word have a prefix or a suffix?
    • This is a good question to ask students beginning in about second grade. Separating an ending like -ing or -es from the word, or a prefix like un- or re- helps with both pronunciation and meaning.
  8. That word is __.
    • Sometimes it just makes sense to tell a child the word they missed. If it’s something they haven’t learned to sound out, especially a non-English word (tamale) or a proper noun (Cincinnati or Lincoln). Telling them the word might be the quickest way to get the back into the story. Don’t overuse this tip, though. It can undermine a child’s confidence if someone gives them the answer every time they are unsure.
  9. Do you want me to take a turn reading?
  10. Please read that sentence again.
    • When a child has left out words or made multiple mistakes in a sentence, the whole thing might not make sense. Encourage him to point to the words as he reads them to make sure nothing is left out.

Any support you can give will help your child learn to read better and feel more confident!

All these steps might seem like a lot to take in. The idea of coaching your child through everything he or she reads might sound daunting and exhausting. Don’t let it scare you off, though. Any reading you do with your child is an investment in his or her future as a reader. And using any of these tips, even if you pick a few and use them sometimes, can help boost your child’s reading achievement!