Dyslexia Intervention in an Age of Online Education; One Teacher’s Journey


Part 3 of 3 - Tutoring Turned on Its Head And The Virus that Shall Not Be Named

When we moved to Arizona in July of 2017, I had no intentions of immediately starting tutoring again. I had left several students in Oregon, which left me emotionally exhausted—discouraged, too, even though the move was completely voluntary.

My break from teaching did not last long. I agreed to help a dear friend's daughter temporarily. I taught her until her very experienced grandmother, who spent years as a speech-language pathologist, could move nearby and take over lessons.

I also found a creative teaching outlet by starting a YouTube Channel ( I honestly doubted anyone would see my videos and knew that the generations younger than mine were the ones who used this platform for gaming, beauty, and other "influences". So what could I possibly contribute? Well, I was wrong. I have found this creative teaching outlet an incredible source of joy for teaching adults, parents, teachers, and kids. The theatre actress in me enjoys setting a stage for learning. Using animation has been a tremendous challenge to satisfy my own need to continue learning new things. The best compliment of all has been receiving email messages from teachers and professors of pre-service teachers asking to use my videos for instruction. In particular, this one and this one on orthographic mapping, the way we learn to read. Creating educational content has been the most affirming part of using YouTube for education. I'll never be a "YouTube Influencer" by Millenials' standards, but to get nearly 2000 followers for an education channel is gratifying. It means I am using my skills to reach a wider audience for free.

Now to the part of my journey that is shared by all in my field. When the new season of our teaching careers were sidetracked, sidelined, and plain flip turned upside down when COVID-19 hit our country. Before the pandemic, I thought about offering online tutoring, but the learning curve seemed steep; previously, any thoughts of tutoring online were quickly dismissed.

With the pandemic, we had no choice. Well, we could abandon our students, our careers, and our income. Still, I find those in the teaching profession are not likely to do any of those things for various reasons. So off we went, letting those tutors who had already discovered the benefits of teaching online (traveling and flexibility, to name a few) lead us into the online world of online tutoring. Learning to use Zoom, Google Classroom, Miro Boards, Jamboards, Bookwidgets, Word Wall, Canvas, Teams, etc. It was OVERWHELMING. Not only for tutors and teachers but for the students and parents too.

It did not take long to discover not only the advantages of online learning but also the pitfalls. With connectivity problems, students struggling with controlling our screens, or simply not showing up to tutoring, the novelty of zoom (and other platforms) quickly wore off. One student was utterly obsessed with trying to figure out why he had to keep clicking on text boxes on the Zoom whiteboard. His computer repeatedly beeped a loud error sound as he typed. Typing a word could sometimes take 5 minutes, and it was not due to his disability but due to technical issues.

I cannot pinpoint when I discovered the answer to online tutoring fatigue, Koala Virtual Classroom. It was sometime in September of 2020. Yet, when I look back, it feels like I've been using Koala all along. Then, of course, there are the vivid memories of trying to convince my student he could not solve the Zoom technical issues, no matter how much he talked about it.

I learned about Koala from Facebook. So I clicked on their webpage and started to read and figure out what this platform offered. Seeing they offered free webinars to get started in this 3D virtual classroom, I figured I had nothing to lose but time investigating if this was worth changing the platform.

Since then, it's been an exciting ride. I was so intrigued by the Koala platform itself and the team-building happening with the Koala creators. What was their goal? Who were these creators? Why were they doing this? How can it possibly be free?

So I asked questions, attended webinars, and slowly but surely, started to use Koala. But, if I am honest, I did not begin to use Koala Classroom immediately when I learned about Koala. There were several things that the platform did not offer that kept me from starting.

Here's the thing; I told them what was holding me back. I listed the features that had to be in place to take the leap and learn a new online platform. Unlike so many teacher experiences, where we state our ideas, what we need, what must be in place for our success, and the student's success, they listened to me! Not only was I listened to, but the changes also happened. Not only my suggestions but the countless brilliant ideas tutors and teachers brought to the Koala team came to fruition!

I can go on and on talking about the cool features of Koala Classroom; I can tell you why it is engaging for kids and much more fun for tutors. However, the bottom line is this; when tutors speak, the Koala Team listens and acts. I've enjoyed helping them create video tutorials, give direct feedback, and engage in brainstorming ideas. Anyone with experience working in a school environment knows the "red tape" and administrative lip service teachers receive when we voice concerns, beliefs, or needs. What got me to start using Koala was not only the benefits of the platform but the people creating the platform and their motivations and responses to those of us using it. I would invite you to get a behind-the-scenes view of Koala from this interview with co-founder Benjamin Roux.

Is there a learning curve?* Of course, but they continually work to flatten that curve so that students and tutors can access the classroom and move from learning the platform to learning by using it.

*Here are some other videos I have created for using Koala. There is also a quick tutorial I helped them develop to get tutors started using the platform.

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