How technology and district pressure are ringing the anxiety bell for teachers
COVID-19 has changed our education system in ways that very few people could have dreamed. Last spring, most schools in the United States closed their doors to thwart the spread of the deadly virus. This fall, some school systems opted for remote learning or a combination of remote and in school learning known as the hybrid model. Both approaches left teachers scrambling to become experts in technology and learning apps. I can say this, having been an educator for 31 years and a reading specialist for the past 22 years, teaching reading and writing skills remotely or through the hybrid model to emergent and transitional readers has been a monotonous task.
Though remote or hybrid, teachers know the goal of any lesson is to keep students interested and engaged, so learning will take place and outcomes can be measured. Unfortunately, fun, engaging reading lessons I prepared to target specific skills for my K-3 students have gone awry or been interrupted due to technological quirks. Incessant feedback from iPads, iPads going dead during lessons, iPads freezing, microphones unexpectedly muted or students dropped from the meeting have severely disrupted learning. That is truly no fun when teaching the Orten-Gillingham method which depends on fidelity. Oh, my goodness! Anxiety alert!
Pointing out these tech issues are in no way a slight to the dynamic, almost superhero job that my school’s ITC has performed keeping us all well-connected, but technology surely has been an issue that sets off the anxiety bell in teachers. Though these tech interruptions have lessened, ensuring that struggling readers are attaining the essential skills that will create future success in reading has been nerve wrecking to me.
The anxiety that many teachers feel may also be due in part to the demands placed upon us by school districts. I have spoken to teacher friends across the country who say that their districts seem not to take into account the technological challenges teachers face, having a shortened school day, students not always making themselves available for learning or attending class regularly plus the emotional distress factors that we are all facing as human beings because of the pandemic.
In my district, teachers are still expected to write student intervention plans, provide the interventions, do progress monitoring, and get the same results while managing under more time constraints. On top of that, we have to make sure that children are prepared to take upcoming standardized tests when some of them do not even cut on their microphones and cameras or participate in class. The anxiety bell rings louder!
A friend of mine who teaches in a nearby county told me the stress of preparing kids for high stakes testing is just unfair to teachers as well as to students. How is this going to go smoothly when there are kids whose parents have opted strictly for remote teaching? School districts need to recognize that things are different because of the pandemic and teachers are not superheroes nor magicians. We are trying our best to focus on social and emotional needs of students as well as teaching state standards but the added pressure of preparing students for standardized test while teaching remotely or hybrid is stress inducing. I hear Billy Joel’s 1980s hit song, “Pressure,” ringing in my ears!!!
Testing and knowing how children are performing in school is necessary. But in the age of Covid-19, calm down a bit please. Things are different and should be acknowledged and treated as such.
For more information about Kids Read Now’s K-3 Summer Reading Program, please contact us.
On the importance of self care in a difficult era
2020 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone in the world but especially for essential workers. Teachers and educators are definitely essential. This was clear when schools switched to remote learning and no one had a clue on how to service the children of the world. Educators took on that role and did it with such grace and fluidity so that our children can concentrate less on what was going on around them. But who took care of the teachers, counselors, and administrators? As an educator we often hear words such as “burn out” and “babysitter”. We tend to re-think our positions as educators and if we are valued enough in this career.
I myself wondered “Is there more for me to offer?”. As a school counselor I help students and parents with their emotional and mental well-being; but I started to wonder who truly helps us as educators with our own well-being? We’ve all attended workshops on mindfulness, yoga, and other forms of self-care, but how are we holding ourselves accountable with keeping up our mental self-care? Life coaching came into my life in 2020 and was life-changing. In October of 2020 I became a life coach. Holistic life coaching provided a different outlook on my life and how I can be the best version of myself in order to give back to the world. I have truly found my life’s purpose and want to share it with others, especially my fellow educators.
Coaching is not therapy or counseling but instead allows the individual to work on themselves through powerful questions that will lead to discovery and action steps for their goals. Coaching offers you accountability that other self-care methods may not offer. While at home I wondered “How can I guide my fellow educators?”. I developed a 6-week program that I feel will challenge and provide insight for educators – 6 weeks to a Better You Educator Edition. I broke down each letter of the word ‘better’ and provided words that would be the weekly focus. The words are Balance, Educator, Team, Time-Management, Elevate, and Reward. How do you as an educator balance your time with your teams in order to reap the rewards of an educator?
I based these programs on my own experience as an educator; and as someone who just wanted to live a life that was aligned with my authentic self. In my own experience I’ve used these letters to form better relationships with my students. I ask my students “How can I help you stay accountable?”, “How can we balance your time with schoolwork, homework, and chores at home?”. Personally I hold myself accountable by keeping sticky notes handy. Whenever I feel overwhelmed with time, I write down everything that needs to be done and enjoy crossing it out when I’m finished. When I feel overwhelmed with emotions, I have a note on my laptop that says “stop, breath, proceed”. It’s a constant reminder that I need to be calm in order to teach my students.
When you start living authentically for you, everything falls into place. My name is Jennifer Henriquez and I hope I was able to touch someone with my experience. Being an educator is truly rewarding and helping others is my life’s purpose.
For more information on the Kids Read Now summer reading program, contact us.
Reading time can be fun time too!
Learning to read opens different worlds to children – fantasy, mystery, funny, history – but it can also help them understand the things around them in everyday life that maybe they never thought to notice before. Here are four fun ways to incorporate reading into everyday activities!
Cereal boxes, labels, and cooking instructions
Whether you’re sitting down for breakfast in the morning with the cereal box on the table, preparing dinner with lots of different ingredients, or baking a delicious dessert from a scratch, ask your child to identify words on the boxes, labels, and in cookbooks. Sure, some ingredients are difficult for even the most proficient adult to pronounce, but most packaged foods have easy-to-read packaging and recipes help teach new words while sequencing different steps together.
Kids so often know how to get to their favorite places (school, grandma’s house, the park), but may not be paying attention to the signs on the way there. Ask them to and help them read the street and informational signs on the way to your next destination. Instead of turning left at the big tree, soon you’ll be turning left at the stop sign on Maple Street. This is also a great way for kids to learn short abbreviations such as Rd for road, St for street, and Blvd for boulevard. You can also take time to talk about the meaning of potentially new words like yield, U-turn, roundabout, and dead end. These contextual clues help kids remember the words by building on schematic theory.
Especially on longer trips, ask children to look out the window and choose any object they see. They can then say, “I spy something that starts with the letter ‘C’!”. Start naming things around you that begin with the letter they choose. In this case, “corn”, “cow”, and “clouds” could be what they’re spying! Who knows, maybe they’ve spied something that you’ve never noticed! Take turns spying and guessing. Not only is this a fun game to increase family engagement, phonetic understanding, to pass time during car rides, but it helps kids identify the first letter of familiar sights!
Many enjoy a little screen time every day, so turn screen time into reading time by simply turning on the closed captioning. There are many benefits to closed captioning, and your kids may not even realize they’re learning while enjoying the show. Closed captioning is completely free and oftentimes comes in several different languages if you’re wanting to really spice up screen time. With technological advances, there’s never been an easier time to enjoy and practice reading every day!
If you have any questions about reading every day, please contact us for more information.
Here are 3 easy ways to keep reading social while social distancing
The cancellation of events has left everyone disappointed at points throughout the past year, and that list of most missed gatherings looks a little different for everyone. For me, it has been the cancellation of two fundraising luncheons that annually bring together authors and readers. I’m what you might call an extroverted reader. By looking at the number of books I consume each year, it’s clear that I value alone time to read and recharge. On the flip side, I have a big appetite for talking with others about what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I plan to read. Since gathering with reader friends for discussion hasn’t been an option, I’ve been relying on technology to satisfy my need to connect with other readers.
Here are three ways that I’ve been able to keep reading social while social distancing. All the strategies below would work for any grownup committed to modeling the life of a reader for the young people in their lives — teachers, librarians, coaches, school administrators, literacy advocates, and parents. Talking about books is what readers do!
ILA and NCTE, like other professional associations, have pivoted to virtual programming through the pandemic. I’ve enjoyed keeping on top of new titles, learning about emerging writers, and making new reader friends through various web events that both ILA and NCTE affiliates have hosted. Most of these events have been free, and even if you can’t be present for a live event you can typically sign up to view the recording later.
Commit to Goodreads
I’ve become somewhat of an unpaid ambassador for this social media platform over the years as I’ve pressured countless friends and family members to join. It’s because I’m a believer! With Goodreads, I’m able to quickly assess how reader friends in Chicago and California rated and reviewed the same title. I’m always eager to learn if others loved a book as much as I did or shared the same frustrations. For grownups not interested in Goodreads, start a text message thread with friends you know who prioritize reading. Three local friends and I have text messaged non-stop since the pandemic began. We snap photos of library hold arrivals and coordinate book drop-offs on each others’ front porches. These phone messages have been welcome day brighteners.
Follow favorite authors on social media
Since book tours and author events haven’t been a possibility for the past twelve months, more writers are turning to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to generate interest in their recent publications. I now have the habit of immediately following an author on social media after finishing a book I love. It’s fun to see who in my circles of friends and colleagues is following the same author, and occasionally I’ll tag a writer to share my praise. It’s a thrill to hear back from an admired author or to receive a like on a post. Following authors writers on social media is also a great way to be alerted to upcoming releases.
There will always be something to be said for discussing the latest bestseller or celebrity book club selection over a shared plate of appetizers. Until groups of friends and colleagues can again safely convene in person to talk about books, consider how virtual author events, social media platforms, and text messaging apps can keep readers connected with other readers. There is no reason to not keep reading social while social distancing!
Kids Read Now would like to thank Kristin for her guest blog contribution. If you have any questions about the Kids Read Now in-home reading program, please contact us.
Nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This is an alarming number! Many new teachers enter the profession with little support and even less knowledge about the workload being asked of educators. Here are 3 key lessons new teachers must learn to avoid burnout and minimize the high rates of teacher turnover.
You’re not expected to be perfect.
As a new teacher, it is easy to fall into the perfection trap. The need to have every day planned down to the minute, every lesson be the best you’ve ever delivered, and feeling that there is no room for mistakes, will leave you frustrated and drained. You are human and the sooner you can let go of the need to be perfect the more effective you will become as a teacher.
The more hours spent in the classroom does not equate to your dedication for the job.
I used to be the first one at school and the last one to leave; I thought this made me dedicated. That was wrong. I was dedicated because I cared deeply and always strived to grow as a teacher, not because I spent the most hours in the building every day. What that will do however, is send you on the fast track to burnout. Set your boundaries early and stick to them. Remember, you also need sleep to be a successful teacher.
You deserve to have fun outside the classroom!
You get to have brunch with a friend instead of lesson planning all day Sunday, you get to take a personal day or a needed long weekend, and you get to eat dinner without the stack of papers to grade in front of you. Prioritize fun in your free time and don’t lose touch with who you were before you became a teacher. Education is what you do, not who you are.
Lastly, remember you are not in it alone! Lean on your community, your peers, your family and friends for the support you need. Being a teacher is hard, it is also rewarding and meaningful. We need you to take care of you first so that you can show up and help your students thrive!
Kids Read Now would like to thank Anna for her guest blog contribution. If you have any questions about the Kids Read Now in-home reading program, please contact us.
Although we don’t generally think about it, every experience we have adds to a repertoire of events that create “us” – our background. The stories we share with friends, the lessons we teach our kids, and the bank of knowledge we use to make decisions in the moment. Everything we encounter adds to this background, called schema, which we use to put new information into meaningful context.
Schema is added to and shaped by new experiences and lessons. Throughout the school years, teachers and parents expose children to new information, adding their own background information to the lessons. It is in this way that many generations of humans have passed down information that is important; although, how we share these stories has evolved over the centuries.
Schema Theory uses open-ended questions to encourage students to use their backgrounds to dissect and comprehend media or a situation. Since this is a blog about reading, lets focus on using Schema Theory with books. As mentioned, you can help activate and build children’s schema by asking them simple, open-ended questions. Often it is easiest for children to focus on the relationships in a story since the ups and downs of a relationship are familiar to them. For example, if you just finished Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might discuss with your child the following:
“At the end of the story, Charlie wins. What character in another story has to pass a test to see if they are worthy of winning something?”
This is an example of a “text-to-text” comparison question, where one story is used to put another into context. Kids Read Now uses questions written in Schematic Theory as a ready-made guide for parents and educators to expand comprehension of what is being read. Every Kids Read Now selection has 4 questions written at the reading level of the book, called Discovery Questions. Each question uses a different aspect of schema theory to encourage connections.
The first 3 questions are:
- The aforementioned “text-to-text”
- A “text-to-self” question where the student is asked to compare the events or themes in the book to his or her own life
- A “text-to-world” question in which the student is encouraged to think about the greater world at large and how a story might be thought about from different perspectives. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you might ask your child to think about how the factory must be passed to a child. What would the adults of the world think of this? The other children?
The final question Kids Read Now adds to a book’s set of Discovery questions is a creative question. As we look back to our example of Roald Dahl’s classic, we might ask readers to invent 5 rooms in the chocolate factory with different candies, and then have them describe how these candies might get naughty children in trouble. Have them draw these rooms and tell you out loud, so you can ask them questions and have fun!
My final tips on building schema are to celebrate discoveries and help them share what they know! The confidence in their new connections will encourage them to continue to expand and grow!
During meetings, are you a notetaker? I often find myself scribbling down notes throughout a meeting only to never refer to them again, simply because I remember what is on them. The act of writing down the information helps my brain convert it to long term memory. The same thing happens when children write. Even more importantly, it helps teach their brains HOW to remember. This is called the “Retrieval Effect” and it’s why practice tests work to help you study for the big test in school.
When you write about a topic, it strengthens your memory and helps you make connections and have deeper thoughts about the subject. As you write, and you think about what you want to write, you begin to weigh the importance of different aspects of the topic. Professor Steven Graham of the Arizona State University Teaching College found—after compiling over 56 studies—that writing “reliably enhanced learning” in science, social studies, and math.
When you ask a student to write about a topic, it helps them demonstrate their comprehension on that topic and reveals gaps in their knowledge. Low stakes writing exercises are a great way to allow free flow thinking and encourage those connections to come to the surface. A low stake writing exercise has no right or wrong answer and is not about spelling or grammar. You are just trying out new ideas. When you remove the pressure of being “right”, you encourage students to find their voice and see the value in their ideas. Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” or, “What’s one thing you know and one question you have?” to help develop an inner dialogue.
MyStories is a writing prompt book developed by Kids Read Now as a fun and engaging set of low stakes writing exercises. Each page has a colorful picture and an area for writing. There’s no right or wrong way for students to use these books. It’s the perfect activity to get students’ creative juices flowing. Visit kidsreadnow.org for more tips on engaging with your children through reading and writing!
Emotions. We all have them. We’ve felt the good, the bad, and the ugly. Happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, guilt, love. Even though kids are small they can feel some huge emotions, and they should be normalized and discussed.
Building a Support System
Your child should feel safe to discuss emotions and feelings with family, friends, teachers, and other trusted adults like coaches and mentors. This forms your child’s support system. Sharing positive feelings can reinforce good behavior and help your child celebrate accomplishments. Sharing negative feelings can help take some of the burden from your child to allow him or her to be able to process and form a deeper understanding of him or herself.
Emotions are NORMAL
Having emotions is completely normal! It’s important to understand why we’re feeling what we’re feeling so we know how to move forward positively. Have you ever been angry? Did you ask yourself why you’re angry? Did you acknowledge your emotion as valid and real? How did you move forward and release that anger in a healthy way? You can ask and answer these same questions with joy and sadness, too. Girls and boys have big emotions, so don’t let society tell them their feelings are invalid. Girls can be tough warriors and boys can cry, so forget any societal norms that limit or stunt your child’s emotional growth.
Celebration and disappointment
Celebration and disappointment can be two of the hardest emotions to process. Celebration, you say? Yes! So often we don’t take time to celebrate achievements and small victories and go right on to setting the next goal. Take time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments and acknowledge his or her hard work! Celebrations, whether a huge family party or a mini dance party in the car to a great song, reinforce goal setting, hard work, and discipline. On the other hand, if you have a sensitive child, feelings of disappointment can feel all-consuming and overwhelming. It’s important to let your child know that as unpleasant as disappointment is, it’s a normal emotion to feel and it will pass. Disappointment doesn’t have to ruin everything.
Don’t repress emotions
What happens when you shake a pop bottle? The carbonation fizzes and if shaken hard enough, it could explode. There is a time to hold it together and a time to let it go— a time to be strong and a time to be vulnerable. Many adults have trouble knowing the difference, so our children absolutely deserve our support when dealing with big emotions. As adults we know that it’s not always appropriate to have our big feelings in public places, so reinforce your child’s emotions and set expectations for how to deal with those big feelings.
Positive ways to express and release emotions
- Reading – read books with your child and discuss how the characters handle emotion, diversity, and conflict
- Art – have your child draw, paint, collage, or sketch how he or she is feeling
- Writing – have your child start a journal and write down how he or she felt throughout the day
- Music – have your child pick a song that describes how he or she feels and turn the volume up
- Talk – create a safe space at home where your child can tell you exactly how he or she is feeling, ask questions, and help him or her feel in control by coming up with a plan
- Take a break – sometimes it’s best just to take a break and let your child’s mind calm down so you can have a thoughtful discussion when the time is right
How to get more books and build bigger libraries for your young readers
Parents always ask how they can expand the Kids Read Now summer reading program into the rest of the year.
Here are seven great ways to get more free or almost free books. This will keep your children building their reading skills whether school is open, they’re learning remotely, or it’s somewhere in the middle.
- Ask your Principal to check out the Book Bridge program from Kids Read Now. With the Book Bridge program we will mail a book each week to your home for seven weeks. These books include fun and popular titles at your child’s reading level, and you get to get them forever!
- Rent or check out books. Most public libraries are open to lend books; most have Kindle, Libby, or myON links that allow downloading eBooks to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Just call your local library! Like paper books, many favorite electronic books have a waiting list; but it’s easy to reserve books now and get them when available in a few weeks. Digital books from the library have a return date and will automatically vanish from your device when time is up.
- Work with your Principal and/or PTO to have a book swap. Children bring in gently used books they have outgrown or are tired of reading, lay them out on tables, and swap for different books to take back home. This can be done with social distancing by having just a few at a time go into the swap area.
- Visit used bookstores. They offer terrific titles for just a buck or two, and some even offer book-buy programs, so children can sell books they no longer want and earn money for new books! Find a list of those in your area here.
- Scope out library book sales. Most local libraries have an annual book sale where a shopping bag full of books is just a few dollars! Here is a list of those sales in your area this season!
- Little Free Libraries. Communities across the country have already established over 100,000 “Little Free Libraries.” These are sheltered bookshelves in public places where people are invited to leave-a-book, take-a-book. If your town doesn’t have these, it’s easy to start. Learn more here.
- Barbershop Books. The barbershop book program is a new and innovative community program in cities and towns where libraries can be hard to find. Placing a set of books in barbershops aims to give young boys a safe and convenient place to get books and read with an adult (who is waiting for a haircut)!
More books at home makes a difference. Children from homes with 100 or more books are much more likely to go to advanced trade schools or college; they often go on to get high paying jobs from there as well. This is an amazing benefit just by spending a few dollars and an hour or two a month adding books to your home library. Help assure your child has books at home to practice reading skills learned in school and become a stronger, better, and more confident reader. If you have any questions about how to get more books, please contact us!
Pleasure reading and assigned reading are not mutually-exclusive activities
Have you ever taken pause to consider your personal literary history? I remember back to my senior year, an honors English class where I was asked to do this very exercise. It is remarkable how influential the very first pieces of text you consumed are. They can influence your life and relationship with reading. As a recovering perfectionist, I struggled to find the joy and adventure in reading. The fear of receiving a poor grade due to not recalling a piece of text often overshadowed the book in front of me.
I remember back to second grade and the textbooks that would weigh down my small backpack. I was terrified of the reading tests that would follow each chapter we read. It was at that point I began to associate reading with work or something I had to do. This struggle between associating reading with work or fun would continue throughout most of my K-12 career. Reading textbooks, tests, book reports, and presentations were not things I looked forward to as a child; however, there were several books that would eventually mean the world to me as I yearned to keep reading from being a chore.
The first book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. In fourth and fifth grade my evenings were filled with reading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. In sixth grade we were asked to read a particular book that was accompanied by a lime green workbook. This book in particular caused me to resist reading. In high school, books like The Bell Jar and 1984 (though assigned reading) kept alive the joy of reading.
This pattern and struggle between reading for assignment and reading for pleasure persisted until a couple of years into college when I was truly able to let go of the idea that I would be graded or forced to recall the text I just read. I cannot help but think of the couple key books that kept my love for reading alive. The freedom to select books I wanted to read helped me overcome anxieties related to assigned reading.
Research shows, “Students who engage in pleasure reading experienced marginal average increases of .11% in English and 1.71% in science and higher increases of 4.43% in mathematics and 2.05% in history”. It is imperative we teach and model pleasure reading to the children in our lives regardless of our positive or negative past experiences. Recently, I have found a love for reading self and professional development books in addition to assigned readings. I have realized the two activities are not mutually exclusive. It took a while, but I have gotten to the point where assigned reading no longer replaces or interferes with pleasure reading. Have you given yourself the opportunity to read for fun regardless of your past experiences with reading?
The Kids Read Now Wish List includes over 120 popular titles, so please contact us to learn how we can help your little readers find new books they’ll love to read!