She’s known as the Pokémon Lady, and that’s because Tammy Wenhame has found a creative way to engage kids in creative writing (including sentence diagramming!) by way of a shared love of Pokémon. Tammy has only been with Outschool for 8 months, but her “Poké Boys” and “Poké Girls” are devoted to her Super Pokémon Sentences, Pokémon Writing Camp, and Pokémon Book Club: I Choose You Pikachu classes.
You need a niche. I think in some ways, it doesn't have to be themed, but it definitely has to be what you're passionate about.
Her offerings span ages 7-14 and range in style from private tutoring to bootcamps; and from prerecorded, flex classes to weekly, live courses, allowing elementary and middle school kids to get their feet wet and build confidence in their writing.
Pokémon Paragraphs! is Tammy’s most popular class, and she has hit upon a winning format. To begin with, she recommends entering the Zoom classroom at least five minutes early. She then uses an ice breaker to kick off the class. For instance, she has the kids decode Pokémon Emojis, guessing if they are real or not, which allows the kids to bond, provides a hall pass for latecomers, and permits Tammy to do a subtle audio and camera check for each learner.
Tammy then conducts a “pencil check,” where kids give her a thumbs up that they are pencil ready so that time isn’t lost during the lesson as kids search for materials. Her teaching shifts from describing a writing prompt and expectations to a group brainstorm, and she begins writing learners’ responses on a shared screen via a graphic organizer. During this time, the kids become more comfortable with each other and with the platform.
There's a whole realm that is beyond a classroom. So in our school, it is an amazing opportunity to reach the learners and to reach the learners in their home where they're comfortable.
Through a model writing approach, Tammy participates alongside her learners, responding to her own prompt. She’s most proud when all she sees online is the tops of kids’ heads as they write furiously on lap-sized whiteboards. She says that as an Outschool teacher, you have to keep their hands busy! Tammy steps them through the exercises, such as “exploded writing,” as she toggles back and forth between screens to monitor her learners’ progress, expressions, and participation. She’ll break off for a “mini session” if a learner is not focused or is struggling with a task. She also gives them the permission to not know by reassuring them, “That's what I'm here for -- to help you.”
I am not only building writers, but I am building a writer’s self esteem as well.
Tammy relies on active learning strategies to keep her learners engaged. She is determined to create a way of giving “digital brag tags,” which she describes as virtual high fives and fist pumps. Meanwhile, she keeps her kids accountable by having them show their work to one another -- she says 95% do share their writing out loud! She provides feedback, starting with the positive and course correcting as needed with alternatives and examples.
At the end of a class, Tammy teases the next week’s prompt and encourages her learners to find a favorite Pokémon item to bring to class -- and yes, costumes are encouraged! Kids become even more invested when Tammy follows up with a link to create a Pokémon card (more writing!) And at the end of the three-week course, she sends a report to each and every learner with a balanced approach of a positive comment + an encouraging comment + a “you might need help here” + another positive comment.
Tammy’s foray into online teaching began when she started working towards a teaching license through the American Board as she homeschooled her kids. Tammy has never taught in a classroom -- she’s actually a packaging designer and mother of two. Yet, she has an inherent love of learning and love for teaching.
I personally just believe in engaged learning; that's just my philosophy.
Tammy doesn't strive to emulate a brick and mortar school. Instead, she aims to foster an engaged learning environment by leveraging the fact that today’s children are technology driven. She credits her 11-year-old son, whom she describes as a “reluctant writer,” for cocreating her first course. It was his idea to use Pokémon to jumpstart his own writing, and Tammy realized that he represented a ripe market that she was able to support beyond the four walls of her home.
I have to tell you, it is such an exciting time to be an online educator and to be participating in this new form of education. It really truly is.
- Take advantage of your Zoom account, and practice by playing around with the features and becoming familiar with the user-interface.
- Invest in your technology setup, especially headphones, to have the best experience.
- Don’t be afraid to use the mute button, but perhaps have kids also practice “the art of waiting.”
- Be prepared to multitask as you will be managing Zoom, troubleshooting audio problems, answering questions, and teaching.
- And don’t get frustrated -- go with the ebbs and flows!