March, 2020 update: I have created a new website including a growing collection of videos for tutors about how to set up reading tutoring online. Check it out here: http://deeprootslearn.com/videos-for-tutors/
I also have a Facebook group. Please join for more information about getting started as an online reading tutor. https://www.facebook.com/groups/194704258484350/
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 would be like for your child, 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.
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:
Lots of links
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“Could you really keep my second grader focused online?”
I have talked to a few parents who were looking for reading and writing tutoring for their young children but had not considered online tutoring because it seemed like their children weren’t old enough. While many of my students are in middle school or high school, online tutoring can also be a great approach for children who are younger, as long as they have the right tutor and a parent to help them get set up the first few times.
I started online tutoring using Zoom for video conferencing with a fifth grader. For the first one or two sessions, his mom helped him log in and made sure that the tools were working for him. Then she was able to step away. At first, I shared my screen with the student and he could watch me or I could give him control of the screen when it was time to practice. Gradually, he got better and better at using the online tools and learned to share his screen with me when he had something like a story that he wanted me to see.
After the first few sessions, that fifth grader was able to use the tools in Zoom as well as any teenager or adult I have used it with.
I’ve worked with younger students, too. I find that students in first through third grade need a little more adult in-person help than older students. For my younger students, a parent usually sets up the session and makes sure that they are sitting so that they can be seen on camera and that they can hear the audio. For some younger children, it works best when a parent hangs out where they can hear the session and checks in as needed to help with things like finding letters on the keyboard or positioning the camera. For these students, having the computer set up in the kitchen or living room, where parents can work nearby but siblings don’t interrupt, can work well. Some children, even as young as third grade, are pretty independent. Some students are able to sit alone at the computer and follow my directions and guidance to use the mouse and keyboard to participate in the lesson.
Some great features of online tutoring that I love for young learners are:
It’s easy to incorporate online games or quick videos that keep kids engaged and motivated.
I can quickly update my lesson, like by typing more words that they need to practice. My handwriting is not great, so if I write words out by hand it takes me longer. Typing also lets me pick a font that works best for students.
The student and I can shop for books in the ebooks section of my public library and read one together on the computer screen. With in-person students, I bring a selection of books and stories with me, but I don’t always have something that the student is excited about.
Convenience for the families. With young children at home myself, I know it can be challenging to get everyone into the car and to the place they need to be, let alone to have the other children in the house stay quiet and occupied while a tutor is visiting for one of the children. With online tutoring, siblings seem less distracted by the tutoring experience and tend to interrupt less than when I’m actually visiting someone’s home. On the flip side, if you are sitting somewhere waiting for your other child to finish sports practice or dance, all you need is a wifi connection and a quiet place to sit and tutoring can still go on! This flexibility can be a huge help for busy families.
Health. Another benefit for families is that online tutoring can help everyone stay healthier during cold season. I don’t do in-home tutoring when I’m sick, but there are days when I can tutor online in spite of a cough or runny nose. When you have sick family members, or your child is getting over an illness, but well enough to work, online tutoring can go on as usual. Meeting consistently is so important for students to make progress, and online tutoring lets us do that.
If you’re thinking about online tutoring for your young child, there is not much of a downside. Lessons are fun, engaging, and flexible. Thanks to digital games, ebooks, and video conferencing, your child can get anything they would get from in-person meetings and maybe even more!
If you’re interested in trying online tutoring, contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to help you decide if online tutoring is a good fit for your child.
If I had a dollar for every time a student told me their homework was
“study” or “math worksheet,” but then couldn’t figure out what to do, I could probably retire now. Students take out their planner in the last couple minutes of class, the teacher hands out a study guide or writes the numbers of the homework problems, or the name of the chapter, on the board and the student writes exactly that. Six hours later, sitting at her dining room table, she doesn’t know how to use that information. You need to write yourself homework directions that you can use! Here’s how:
Get the facts
Teachers may talk all through class, but they have a way of telling you what information is important. For some teachers, the most important things are the ones they write on the board. Others raise their voices or repeat details. They aren’t doing this out of boredom or by accident. The things they emphasize are the things you need to write down. Make sure you have these facts about every assignment.
Who (All students? Everyone who hasn’t passed the test? The group presenting Monday?)
What (What book? Which chapter? Odd problems or even? Write an outline or a draft? The whole packet or just the first page?)
Where (Are the resources on the teacher’s website? Do you have to go to the library? Is it the paper he gave you last week? Which one?)
When (When is it due? Will you be checking in about it tomorrow or turning it in all at once next week?)
Why? (Is there a quiz coming up? Did you struggle with these problems in class? Will you need this draft for peer editing tomorrow?)
How? (Write notes or full sentences? Type it or write it by hand? Submit it online or hand in a paper copy?)
Before you leave class, try to imagine yourself doing the assignment and write down a few specific details in your
or on top of the page.
The due date
Which class it is for (use color coding to keep this simple)
A verb – I’ll say more about this in a minute
Any essential information – do you need your textbook for this? Are you meeting with your group?
Make a plan
Next to the date on your paper (or in your planner if you don’t have room), write down an action plan. This can be simple, like the single verb “study” or “solve” or it can be a multi-step plan if the teacher’s instructions are detailed.
Schedule the work
There’s a difference between the “due date” when you turn in the work and the “do date” when you sit down and make it happen. Record both in your planner. (Hint: For successful students, these are NOT the same date.) You might want to use different colors, like highlighting the due date in yellow and writing your do dates in regular pen. When you write your do date, take into account things like soccer practice and family plans. Are you really going to read that chapter after you get home from the birthday party Saturday night? Or do you need to schedule it for Friday afternoon to make sure it happens?
By thinking ahead when your teacher assigns homework, you can make sure you have everything you need to get the homework done quickly, do it right and get the grade you deserve!
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!
You’ve made it through back-to-school shopping, those first weeks of homework, and waking up to an alarm clock. Your child knows the routines for getting ready in the morning and doing homework at night. You’ve even mostly figured out how to get dinner on the table before your kids fall asleep. So now it’s time for the parent-teacher conference! Schools often hold conferences at the end of the marking periods or after the first few months of school. That means teachers have some data to report and parents have some questions in mind.
The conference is a great opportunity to find out more about your child’s school day. But what should you be trying to find out?
Ask about expectations for homework at the parent-teacher conference
Depending on the teacher, school policies, age of the students, and subject of the class, homework expectations can vary widely. Many districts have a policy about how many minutes per night of homework students should have at each grade level. While I am very cautious about recommending homework to students because research shows that it may not benefit younger children, every teacher has their own philosophy.
Talk to the teacher about a plan for prioritizing the homework. Be honest about the amount of support you are providing at home to help your child get the homework done. If you are finding that you and the child are spending an exceptionally long time working together to try to complete the homework or if you find that your child is totally relying on you to reteach something they have learned in school, there may be a mismatch between the homework they are getting and their independent skill level.
One possible solution is to agree on a time limit for homework. If your child works more slowly than his peers in math, for example, agree that he will complete as many as he can in 15 minutes, if the rest of the class is expected to take 15 minutes to complete it. If handwriting is an issue, talk to the teacher about weather your child can type his spelling list for practice, or whether he could write the target words one or two times in if the class writes them three times. this can be tricky are at the upper grade levels, when some teachers grade homework assignments. but it is important that you and the teacher share expectations for homework and can work together as a team to help your child be successful.
Benchmarks for reading and math
Ask your child’s teacher what benchmarks or informal assessments they are using to learn about your child’s skills in reading, writing, and math. These are most often determined by the school district. Ask how many words per minute your child should be reading at this point in the year and how many she is reading. Find out how long the average written composition is for students in your child’s grade so that you can figure out whether her writing meets the standards. This is an important conversation because it means you won’t be surprised when report cards come to find that your child is not meeting expectations for the grade level.
If your child is not meeting benchmarks, ask what is being done to help them
Often schools use an approach called response to intervention, which identifies students who have not met learning targets at a certain point in the year. These students are given targeted additional support in their area of need. The way the support is given varies a lot from grade to grade and school to school but it often includes small group instruction where targeted concept is pre-taught or re-taught to help children who have not yet mastered it. Although the data may not be directly shared with parents, because response to intervention is a dynamic process in which students are moving in and out of intervention groups as they reach their goals, your teacher should be able to tell you generally when and how students are moved in and out of groups and how those decisions are made.
You may also ask about what staff members are participating in the response to intervention groups. It helps to know who the teachers are that your child is meeting with. You might be surprised or confused to hear them mention an unfamiliar name because often staff from across disciplines including paraprofessionals, teachers at other grade levels, and specialists like special education teachers and speech and language pathologists participate in response to intervention and take groups of students with the same specific skill needs.
Best way to communicate about questions or problems
Teachers often cover this on back-to-school curriculum nights at the beginning of the year, but if you don’t have a plan for the best way to get in touch with your child’s teacher, make sure you ask at the conference. Is it best for you to email your concerns? Do they prefer to have a phone message left for them at school? By the same token, be sure to let them know the best way to reach you. Do you prefer to be called on your cell phone or at your work number? Does the email address you gave at the beginning of the year still reach you during the day? It’s important to have a plan for communication to ensure that issues don’t linger and questions can be answered promptly so that your child and teacher and get on with the business of teaching and learning at school!
What systems are in place for behavior in the classroom
You may have a child who makes it all the way through the school year without ever mentioning the behavior management system in the classroom. Or you may know the system inside and out by the end of September. It helps to find out from the teacher what the individual and group behavior expectations are for your child’s class and what systems are in place to address those. Does your teacher use a token economy system, like tickets the children can trade in for prizes? Does the class earn a collective reward when they get enough marbles in their jar? Are behavior corrections public like names written on the board or a classroom behavior chart? Or are corrections and reminders individual and personal? Does your child’s classroom use consequences like removal of recess time?
You know your child best and you may be able to suggest approaches to reminders or consequences that will be effective and efficient at helping your child be on her best behavior throughout the school day.
Suggestions for working with children at home
If there is an area where your child is not yet up to grade level, the parent-teacher conference is a great opportunity to ask the teacher for suggestions on how to practice at home. Does he recommend specific books or stories for building reading fluency? Are there math games that will help your child learn to recognize place value or memorize the multiplication tables? Is there a website that offers video reviews of the math skills your child doesn’t seem to remember? If you plan to give your child extra practice for their school work at home, resources from the teacher are a great place to start to keep your practice aligned with what’s going on in the classroom.
Recommendations for independent reading book
Some readers may have worked their way through every book in the house and most of the classroom library and be looking for more. Others may have trouble settling into a book or a series that interests them. The classroom teacher can tell you what your child has been reading in school and what other readers in the grade tend to like. That gives you good information for your next trip to the bookstore or library.
If your child is struggling, what’s next?
Talking about a child who is struggling with what is taught in class makes for a challenging conversation on both sides. As a parent, you feel worried that your child isn’t getting what he or she needs or you may feel frustrated that the school doesn’t seem to be solving a problem that you see at home. Maybe it’s not the first conference you have sat in where the teacher said your child is not meeting the grade-level benchmarks.
While it can be difficult, try to stay open to this new teacher’s plan. The vast majority of teachers are doing their best and using a range of creative tools to help your child be her best.
These conversations are easiest when the parents and teachers share the same concerns. For example, your son is avoiding reading at home and the teacher has data that shows he reads slower than his peers and has trouble with some of the phonics rules that were taught last year.
Ask the teacher what strategies she is using in the classroom to support him. She may talk about spending one to one time with him or having another adult in the school spend time with him regularly during the week to practice his reading. She may have him participating in targeted small group instruction, in which he and several classmates with the same needs are reading together. These approaches often fall under a system called response to intervention which is a method for supporting students that is based on classroom assessment data and providing targeted teaching in the area of weakness.
Ask how the teacher will know if his reading is getting better. Find out how often he is participating in groups, what specific program – if any – is being used, and how long the group will go on. For example, is her plan to reevaluate his skills after 8 or 12 weeks or will he participate in this small group all year long? While it is hard to rearrange and reformulate groups frequently, and kids often need the same practice for a large portion of the year, I hope you will hear that the teacher plans to reassess skills in a month or two and find out what the student should work on next.
What if you and the teacher don’t agree?
The conversation at the parent-teacher conference about next steps to support your child can be more challenging when you and the teacher are not seeing the same things. For example, you might be really concerned about a weakness in spelling while the teacher says your daughter’s skills are age-appropriate and that she’s getting better. It can be frustrating as a parent to hear a teacher dismiss your concerns. Try to remain open to what you’re hearing, but if something is an ongoing problem, don’t plan to give up. The teacher has the benefit of seeing many students over a period of years make progress through her class. She may have seen that students with your daughter’s needs often grow out of a skill weakness during her class. If the teacher does not jump on board with a concern you have, consider this conference the beginning of many conversations.
Try to leave the conversation with the thinking that you will both keep an eye on the problem you’re seeing and talk or meet again if you continue to have concerns about your child’s progress. Teachers understand that your role as a parent is to advocate for your child. Their role is to provide the learning environment and curriculum that allows your child to succeed and gives them the tools they need. You are on the same team, even if your perspective is different.
Another difficult conversation occurs when you hear your child’s teacher saying that there is a problem with your child’s learning and you were not aware of it. It is easy to feel blindsided and defensive the first time you hear that you’re sweet, smart, child is not making the progress expected in class. Again, think about the perspective your child’s teacher can offer you. She has seen many children over a long period of time. Your perspective is often limited to what you have seen your child or children do. She may be aware of challenges in school that you had not yet considered. If the area the teacher is worried about is something you know your child can do, think about why your child might not be showing their best skills in class. Think about how how to build your child’s confidence or help them demonstrate their strengths to the teacher.
On the other hand, your child might truly have a weakness in an academic area. Kids are great at focusing on the things they are confident in and avoiding things that they find difficult. It may be that you have not seen your child’s weakness because it’s in an area that he doesn’t engage in at home. The teacher may have seen problems in an area you have not observed.
A parent-teacher conference is a rare opportunity to get to know your child’s teacher and to spend a little time in the world of school where your child spends so much of her time. Also, think about how your child might be feeling about two of the important adults in his life sitting down without him. Most likely, he will want to hear that you and the teacher like and respect each other and that you are both proud of him and excited about the way he will grow this year. Hopefully, a parent-teacher conference with a positive conversation we’re both parties walk away with that feeling. If it doesn’t come easily, hopefully you can at least find some common ground with the teacher and come up with some positive elements to share with your child.
Memorizing and recalling information is a basic, concrete, way of using your memory. It’s simpler (but not necessarily easier) than applying facts to problem solving or demonstrating something you have learned. But sometimes teachers just test you on what you remember.
You can use these simple techniques to help you memorize information for a test.
Can imagining Buddha in a Porsche get you an A?
Can reliving your walk to school help you recall Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy?
If you connect images and everyday events to help to the things you are trying to memorize, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!
One way to memorize information for a test is to create a silly or outrageous mental picture that helps you recall all the details you have to memorize. In a class I took, the professor went around the room and asked each of us to say a word. He wrote them all on a large piece of paper. Then he gave us 30 seconds to memorize as many words as we could. The next day in class, he asked us to write down as many as we could remember. I was the only one who got all of the 15 or so words. I did it by connecting them and making a silly story that used all the words. The only ones I remember now, ten years later, are door handle, blue and balloon. But hey, remembering 3 out of 15 random words I learned one Saturday for 10 years is something, right?
Here’s how you can use it:
Let’s say you have to memorize the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. You might picture a man with a speech bubble that has the word “free” in it (First amendment – free speech). His sleeves are rolled up (Second amendment – the right to bear arms (bare arms)). He’s throwing quarters at a soldier standing inside a house (Third amendment – about the quartering of soldiers in private homes). Nearby, a police officer is going through the man’s luggage (Fourth amendment – prohibits unreasonable search and seizure). You get the idea. All the amendments are represented in a single picture, so that when you imagine the picture during your test, you’ll be able to see clues for each one, and each amendment will trigger your memory for another one.
The memory palace technique, also known as the method of loci, takes this a step further. It is an ancient strategy that relies on your mental image of a familiar location to help you recall new information. It works like this:
As you picture a familiar location, like your bedroom or landmarks on the way to school, you imagine each piece of information on one of the landmarks of your familiar setting. Once you have created your mental image of all the steps or parts you need to memorize at each location, you just have to imagine sitting in your bedroom, looking from your closet to your desk, to the drawers in your bureau, to recall each item on your list.
Here’s how you can use it:
Start now. “Build” your memory palace ahead of time by constructing a list of 10 or 15 things in your bedroom or noticing the details of your trip to school. That way, when your teacher assigns a poem to memorize, you just assign a line of the poem to each part of your memory palace, which will help you recall the lines and keep them in order.
A mnemonic is a term for any kind of memory device, but it usually refers to a word or phrase that reminds you of different words that have the same beginning letters. A famous example is ROY G. BIV which reminds us of the colors of the rainbow (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo and Violet). Another is the sentence, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos,” which has the same first letter as all the planets of our solar system, in order.
Fun fact: I learned “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” because in my day, poor Pluto was a planet, not just a dwarf planet.
Here’s how you can use it:
Create a mnemonic if you have to remember a list of information in a particular order. A simple example would be the water cycle: Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, and Collection. You might remember the initial letters: E, C, P, C with the sentence “Every Child Prefers Chicken.”
You may have to try one more than one memory strategy to figure out which one works best for you. Some people prefer to visualize pictures like in a Memory Palace or a mental image while others remember things better when they use words, such as with a mnemonic device. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose.
The important thing is to be strategic when you are memorizing information. Reading and rereading flashcards will probably eventually get you the results you want but interacting with the information and using the creative parts of your brain will help you remember things for longer and memorize the more quickly. On the other hand, don’t get so caught up in making a beautiful picture or a silly mnemonic that you lose sight of the end goal, which is to remember the information.
All of these strategies take time to implement. The night before a test is not the time to create a mnemonic or build your memory palace. By planning ahead and using active strategies, you will find that studying becomes easier and less stressful and you get the grades you want and have fun doing it!
If you need help setting up study strategies for your classes or creating your study schedule, a tutor can help! Contact me for a free, 30-minute consultation to see if online tutoring is right for you.
The benefits of online tutoring are well worth the initial setup process. Once you figure how how online tutoring works, starting a session is as simple as making sure your child is logged in when the session starts. Here are some benefits you can enjoy when your child meets with their tutor online.
Fewer sick days
Sometimes your child, or your tutor, is just too sick to work. However, there are lots of other times when a cough or runny nose might keep your child and tutor apart. But if you work with your tutor online you can meet on those days without worrying about spreading germs. This also works if you are sick or if somebody else in your house is sick. You don’t have to worry about inviting the tutor into your home full of germs or sitting around the library waiting for your child when you would much rather be lying down.
Meet in any weather
This has been a rough winter for snow storms. I think my New England school district had at least six snow days. And there were other nights when it was too icy or snowy for me to tutor in the evening even if there wasn’t a major snowfall. With online tutoring, as long as you and the tutor have power and internet access, you can meet in any weather. That means fewer evenings of brushing off the car, squinting through snow squalls and watching out the window to make sure the weather doesn’t get worse before your session is over. Everyone stays warm and dry while your child gets the tutoring she needs!
Meet from anywhere
For busy families, the ability to conduct tutoring no matter where you are can be a lifesaver. Although it works best if your child works in a quiet, familiar location, tutoring can take place anywhere they happen to be. I work with some students who meet with me sometimes from one parent’s house and sometimes from the other. Other students might meet with a tutor from their afternoon babysitter’s house or from a friend’s house if they go away for the weekend. If you decide to go on vacation this summer, you might be able to continue tutoring while you’re gone. I know not every kid wants to meet with their tutor in the middle of the vacation, but if you have a long trip planned, online tutoring can prevent your child from losing ground over the summer.
Hire the best available tutor
Opening your search to online tutoring means you can work with a tutor from anywhere in the world who has the skills your child needs to learn. You will be able to find a tutor who shares your schedule, or your child’s special interest, or who is knowledgeable about your child’s greatest area of need. And tutoring rates can be more affordable because the tutor doesn’t have to travel to your home and therefore those travel costs are not built into your fee.
Students are more comfortable
One of the greatest advantages of online tutoring is the comfort it brings many students. For students that are anxious or shy around new people, sometimes having the distance of a web camera and not having to sit side-by-side with the tutor or look them in the eye helps them to feel more comfortable and focus on the lesson. It also make students more comfortable when sharing materials. When I can share a document on the screen and point to it with my mouse, we don’t have to sit side-by-side. This can be especially an advantage for older students, like middle school and high school kids. I can also quickly point out mistakes or highlight information without interrupting the students flow. I keep the work right on the screen where they are already reading or writing.
Easier to share resources
Speaking of sharing resources, online tutoring is great because it lets me as the tutor introduce new resources quickly and flexibly when they’re needed for the lesson. When I travel to a student’s home or to the public library, I don’t always have access to the internet. So if a topic comes up that a student doesn’t have background knowledge about or something that they are confused about, it’s harder for me to share visuals to quickly teach them something new. On the other hand, with online tutoring, I can quickly pull up a picture or a resource to share a needed fact. For example, when reading an article about Olympic records, I realize that my student wasn’t familiar with the long jump event. A quick Google search and a couple images from Wikipedia let me show him what the event looks like, and what the article was describing. This can be especially helpful for students who are working to build their vocabulary or who are visual learners.
And if a student finishes the work I had planned, I can quickly open the next article we plan to read, instead of being limited to the text I have printed in my bag. I was working with an in-person student recently and he was talking about what he had learned about Wilma Rudolph, the Olympic runner. He was very impressed by her story but, unfortunately, I had to stop him and totally change the subject to the text I had planned for that evening. If we had been meeting online, I could have quickly shown him a different article I read earlier that connected to his interest in Wilma Rudolph. I brought the connected article the next week, but it felt like a missed opportunity to capitalize on his interest.
Who is online tutoring for?
Online tutoring isn’t the best solution for everyone. For some younger learners, it can be challenging to navigate using the mouse or too distracting to have to draw or write their responses on the screen. I can facilitate a lot of this by offering to do the writing myself and keeping the lessons very verbal.
Other times, a parent has found they need to sit beside the young student and support them as they learn to use the mouse and keyboard efficiently. Although there can be a learning curve for some students when doing online tutoring, it can be a great solution for older students who are comfortable on the computer. Many students who are digital natives, used to using devices throughout their school day and for fun, find online tutoring very natural.
Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation so I can show you how online tutoring would look for your child.