Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


Morphology: A Critical Component In Reading Development
Headshot of Becky Welsch

May 6, 2019 by Jhara Navalo

Guest blogger Becky Welsch, has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. Becky’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She is a reading clinician at Reading Writing & Comprehension, RW&C, LLC; an online and traditional reading intervention clinic specializing in Structured Literacy methodology.


Learning to read is a complex process that requires children to perform multiple mental tasks simultaneously. When we discuss the roadblocks to learning to read and dyslexia, we often talk about phonics, phonological awareness, fluency, and comprehension. However, one critical but often overlooked component of the reading process is morphological awareness. A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language. For example, the word "jumping" has two morphemes, "jump" and "-ing".

Understanding morphology is crucial in reading development, and morphological interventions must be included in effective reading programs. In their article “Morphological Awareness Intervention for Students Who Struggle with Language and Literacy,” Julie A. Wolter and Ginger Collins examine the connection between reading performance and morphological interventions. The authors demonstrate that for students to be able to learn to read and comprehend text, they need to have an explicit awareness of morphological processes. That is, students need to be aware of word parts like base words, prefixes, and suffixes and have direct knowledge of their meaning. There is a direct link between morphological awareness and an increased ability to read and write proficiently.

The connect between morphological understanding, and reading skills were even more apparent in students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. Students who received direct and explicit interventions related to morphological awareness had better reading skills and were more likely to be proficient readers. Direct morphological instruction has also been linked to an increased sight word reading speed as well as increased decoding abilities, both of which lead to increased reading fluency and comprehension.

If a child struggles to understand and manipulate morphemes, their reading will become labored, and comprehension will suffer, especially as they get older and the complexity of the texts they are reading increases. It is imperative that any intervention program has an explicit morphology component introduced in the initial lesson to help struggling readers enhance their skills.

In an effective intervention program, each and every lesson needs to include a morphology component, and parents need to practice morphological skills with their children. Wolter and Collins identified a few critical skills students need when it comes to morphology. The first key understanding each student must have is the ability to segment words into their respective morphemes. For example, when giving the word "coming", they need to be able to identify that it is composed of "come" and "-ing" to form the new word "coming".

PREFIX

ROOT OR BASE

SUFFIX

come

-ing

come + ing = coming  drop the 'e' rule

You can help your child become proficient in breaking apart words into morphemes. One method is to use a graphic organizer to help categorize the material, by asking your child to break words apart into prefixes, base words, and suffixes. Each morpheme can be color coded to help organize the information in a meaningful manner that will lead to an increase in reading skills.

A second skill the authors identify is the ability to combine base words and various prefixes and suffixes to make new words. In an effective program, students need to examine different prefixes and suffixes with a variety of base words to create new combinations with a variety of meanings. For example, using the base words "struc, struct" students can build and determine the meaning of a plethora of words like construct, construction, instruct, instructor, destruct, destruction, reconstruction and many, many, more. For the competitive child, take turns building words with the morphemes and see who has the most allowable words!

PREFIX

ROOT OR BASE

SUFFIX

con-

struc, stuct

-ing

de-

-tion

in-

-or

con + struct+ ing = constructing
de + struc + tion = destruction
in + struct + or = instructor

Finally, Wolter and Collins suggest that students must have explicit instruction in the meanings of a variety of base words and affixes. Once students know these meanings, they can use this knowledge as an anchor to learn new words. For example, knowing that "sect, sec, seg" means “to cut,” and "bi-" means “two,” students can determine that the meaning of bisect is “to cut into two.” This has a clear link to increased vocabulary skills which aid in comprehension of higher level texts and is crucial for advanced reading comprehension.

Children who struggle with reading and spelling benefit from direct, explicit morphological instruction. For instance, during an effective morpheme lesson, students could work with the prefix "inter" and learn that it means “between, among.” They would then asked to apply this knowledge to understand the meaning of words like interrupt, interstate, and interpersonal. In doing so, they have the opportunity to practice manipulating morphemes which will increase their vocabulary and their reading abilities.

Another way you could practice morphological skills with your child at home is to use index cards. Use one color to write a variety of base words. The words you choose would be dependent on your child’s skill level. For emergent readers, you would want to stick with words like "jump", "cat", and other simple words. If your child is more advanced, you could use more difficult words like "struc" or "ject". You can find a list of age-appropriate base word with a quick internet search. In another color, write affixes which can include prefixes and/or suffixes, depending on the skill level of your child. Have your child match the base words with affixes to form new words. Have them explain how the affix changes the meaning of the base word. This can be as simple as creating plurals to as complicated as adding both a prefix and a suffix.

You can also take advantage of technology to help your child with vocabulary words and morphology elements. One great app developed by Learning Ally can help your child annotate as they are reading. This allows them to find and identify unknown words and affixes. It can also help them highlight and remember other important information. It comes with a built in dictionary to help with unknown vocabulary words as well.

If your child struggles with new vocabulary words and morphological skills, it is not something they will learn on their own. They need direct, explicit instruction in morphology. Just like phonics, it is not something they will just pick up on their own. Morphological awareness is an essential part of the Structured Literacy Framework.


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

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What to do about dyslexia? Maintain two column mindset

May 6, 2019 by Jhara Navalo

Richard Selznick, PH. DRichard Selznick, PH.D, Director of the Cooper Learning Center, Department of Pediatrics, Cooper University Health System, and author shares an excerpt from his fourth book "What to do about dyslexia? 25 essential points for parents" explaining why you should have a two column mindset.


What to do about dyslexia?Parents usually want guidance in helping their child overcome their difficulties, and they also often want to rush into things and hurry it along. But as we've discussed, hurrying rarely helps.

Fortunately, there's a way you can think about your child's dyslexia that will help you reduce the urge to rush and will manage any feelings of helplessness on her behalf. When I review assessment findings with parents, I frequently find myself in front of the white board mapping out different ideas and concepts. One of my favorite things to show parents is the notion of a two-column mindset when thinking about what can be done with their dyslexic child.
 

The two columns are:
Interventions Accommodations
(or ways around the problem)

I call this a mindset rather than just a chart because I see these two columns as the things you should start thinking about once you understand the nature of your child 's learning disability. These two categories, interventions and accommodations, should always be in the back of your mind – and occasionally brought to the foreground - as she progresses in school.

If your child is on any medication, such as Adderall or Concerta, then these medications are also interventions. Mind you, I'm not saying that all dyslexic children need all of these interventions. Each child needs to be considered on an individual basis. For some kids, the only intervention, and the only item in that left-hand column of the chart above, will be tutoring, while another child may be getting half a dozen therapies.

The same goes for the right-hand side of the chart, the "accommodations" column. To fill out the "accommodations" column, write down anything that you, your child's teacher, school, or tutor may be doing to help him around the problem.

Keep in mind that some of these may be done informally and may not be drawn up in a 504 plan or an IEP. You may have started many of these accommodations a long time ago, before your child even started remediation.

Examples of accommodations include:
 

  • Previewing words with your child prior to reading.
  • Reading material that you know will be difficult out loud to your child.
  • Using Assistive Technology (AT) and having chapter books read aloud on something like Learning Ally.
  • In the classroom, making sure directions are repeated and your child receives help getting oriented to the task.
  • Providing extra time if that is helpful.
  • Offering note taking assistance.
  • Allowing children to take photos of notes rather than copying notes by hand.
  • Not penalizing for spelling.

 

In my experience, parents tend to over-focus on the Ieft hand column, the interventions, often forgetting how important it is to implement and maintain accommodations. I've observed that as the child gets older (i.e., twelve years and up), it becomes increasingly necessary to keep accommodations front and center. Accommodations and workarounds help empower your child to take increasingly greater responsibility for his own learning, given his learning style and needs.

One example of this is a boy named Mitchell, who had severe learning disabilities and whom I worked with for many years. As Mitchell entered high school, he increasingly embraced a range of AT tools that helped him feel that he was taking charge of his learning in ways that he otherwise couldn't.

As Mitchell explained to me, "At the end of class I wait for everyone to go out and then I take out my phone and take a photo of anything on the board. For any extensive reading, I see if it's on Learning Ally, and if it's not, then I have the material scanned and it's read to me through Kurzweill 3000. I also am getting better at using Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate my ideas for writing. Nothing's perfect, but it certainly is a lot better than not using it."

Takeaway Point

Always maintain a two-column mindset when your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability such as dyslexia. As she gets older, the accommodations on the right side of the chart play an increasing role in her academic performance and everyday life.


About Learning Ally

LEARNING ALLY is a leading education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multi-sensory reading accommodation for students with a reading deficit composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student success. Used in more than 17,000 schools, empowering over 375,000 struggling readers annually, this essential solution bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

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What a Successful Public School Dyslexia Program Looks Like
Specify Alternate Text

March 9, 2019 by Mir Ali

pic4Texas parent, Jessica Bryant, made a beautiful post about her daughter's journey with dyslexia in her public school on Facebook, and this is what she wants teachers and administrators to know.  

Pay attention to the gap between intelligence and the scores

I want to share with you an example of what a child (who has dyslexia) looks like who has been tested in the public school, serviced appropriately by certified teachers (CALTs) in her public elementary and intermediate school, and will exit the dyslexia program after 4.5 years. She is in the minority population of students who are being supported, but learning success is happening thanks to Learning Ally." 

Students with dyslexia can be remediated by public schools. It is being done every day in Texas. It's not perfect for every student, but it did save my daughter. When she was in first grade, she couldn't read a BOB Beginning Phonics Book to save her life. She could kind of read a Step-Into-Reading Level 1/2 book because she had memorized the sight words and took cues from the pictures. That's not real reading, though. 

Second GradeMy daughter looked like a normal, slightly below average first grader.  She participated in class and loved her teacher and school. Homework on the other hand, was full of tears. I faulted myself for those tears, until that fateful night where I wanted to poke holes in my eyes while she was attempting to read the BOB Beginning Phonics Book.  It was torture.  Off I went to school the next week to mention this to her teacher. Like so many of us, I still thought it was my fault. This was September of first grade, I thought she was just a little behind, but she'd be fine. However, her teacher didn't brush me off.

We set up a Student Intervention Team (SIT) meeting, and off we went to the SIT meeting after Madeleine had met with the Intervention Specialist. It was decided she would be placed on iStation (reading intervention) for extra phonic/reading practice. Not a perfect start.

Fast forward to second grade - she does not read much better. As I said, our story isn't perfect. People continue to make remarks about her extensive vocabulary and what a conversationalist she is, but they don't know her reading has not improved. I do. I make a point to tell her new second grade teacher that Madeleine has a SIT plan and I have concerns about her reading.  He literally looked at me like I had 3 heads!  "She's one of my top students," he replies. 

The next week, he chased me down the hall with her Texas Primary Reading Index (TPRI) scores. They were borderline, still developing on many key skills.  Decoding, fluency, words per minute, and so forth were all low. 

She begins to make improvements when our district implemented a dyslexia testing schedule and program. 

You read thatpic2 right - a public school district that actually tests for dyslexia and has a program specifically for it. I didn't know at the time that this didn't happen in every school across the nation. I had no clue we were in the minority. I decided to have her tested. 

Once again we were in the SIT meeting reviewing the scores on the test. Before I went into that meeting, I was thankful for another mom who told me when I see  the score sheet, I will think the numbers look good.

"Pay attention to the gap between intelligence and the scores." 

As the educators at the table tried to explain the different scores to me, one score jumped out at me. Madeleine scored a near perfect score in comprehension (GORT-140.) They showed me the test. 

How does a child who cannot even read all the words in the short paragraph ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS CORRECTLY!  She scored very low in phonemic memory, accuracy, and spelling. She started dyslexia class the next week. 

Proper Remediation

Holding BooksHere's another area that sets our district apart. In our dyslexia program, we use a multi-sensory, explicit teaching approach in phonemic awareness and dyslexia teacher is also a Certified Academic Language Therapist who has been teaching dyslexics for 20 years.

I had NO IDEA these teachers didn't work in every school district.  I had no idea that my child was receiving intervention that is not accessible to the majority.

It still wasn't a quick fix. She is graduating from the program after 4.5 years, but she reads now. She reads! 

Look at her standing there in the picture excitedly showing me her book time line that illustrates success. She read those books and loved them! This is the child who in second grade could not read. 

Advocating for Change 

I want educators and public school administrators to know that it can be done. All these public school employees invested in my child without resistance. It is messy. It is costly. Not every teacher is perfect. Not every student is perfect. 

I share this information not to boast, but to offer an example of appropriate public school intervention and the result it can have in case someone, somewhere can use this information to illustrate the need for appropriate dyslexia programs.

How many children cannot read in second grade and are waiting for someone to make a difference in their lives?

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Learning Ally offers many services for parents, teacher and students. To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo or call 800-221-1098.   

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Graphic Novels in an audio book format?
El Deafo Audiobook

January 16, 2019 by Jhara Navalo

Maus Graphic Novel - Audiobook recordingGraphic novels are the only genre of books that has experienced a boost in sales and they currently bring in over $1 billion annually. The genre was initially not taken seriously until critically acclaimed books such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1991) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1987). The 2000s ushered in a bunch of new classics and award-winning titles like Marjane Satropis’s Persepolis (2000), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), and Raina Telgemier’s Smile (2010). Graphic novels are now part of every student’s required reading list and have been a great way to get a younger audience engaged in reading.

With over 70 years of experience in ensuring students with learning differences gain access to the books that students need and want to read, Learning Ally has taken up the challenge of providing graphic novels via an audio format. Dave Kozemchak, Audiobook Production Director at Learning Ally, is in the know of all that is popular in the literary world. He looked at the latest and greatest audiobooks for K-12 students and knew that Graphic Novels were wildly popular.  In an effort to ensure that Learning Ally is providing the most relevant content for our students, he worked with our Solutions, Technology, Audio Production, and Volunteer teams to find a way to produce Graphic Novels for all of our student members. Our solutions team quickly responded to the needs of our students by upgrading our Learning Ally’s Link App Reading tool to allow functionality for our students to fully access our graphic novel audio books.

Abigail Shaw - College Success ProgramAbigail Shaw, former College Success Program mentor and now full-time Learning Ally employee, gave us insight into the world of our blind and visually impaired students. Abigail is visually impaired and an audio production expert, providing Learning Ally with the perfect combination of talents to produce top quality audiobooks for students who struggle to read print.  Abigail has a of knowledge in the area of Accessible Media and knew ways that other media groups provide access to content for the blind and visually impaired. Netflix provides a function that consumers can enable allowing for audio descriptions of moving media for individuals who cannot see.  For example, in a scene when someone is leaving a room, Netflix Audio description functionality will quietly describe the non-verbal elements of a scene, such as “character x leaves the room”.  Non-verbal cues are big in communicating content and something sighted people can take for granted. We are fortunate that Abigail can provide us with that insight and help Learning Ally develop the best tools possible to support students who cannot read print!

To produce graphic novels, we needed 3 components to properly execute the production of audio books for graphic novels; (1) Book, with our first endeavor being El Deafo (2) Instructional text narrators to record visual descriptions, and (3) audio book narrators to record the text for the books.

Colleen - Asbury Park, NJ

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Colleen

Colleen is a classically trained dancer from Asbury Park, NJ, and a theater actress performing in shows such as 42nd street and West Side Story.  A Rider University School of Music graduate, Colleen moved to New York City two years ago and she heard about Learning Ally volunteering opportunities.

She attended an informational session at the NY studio and now volunteers from home.  She’s happy to know that she is using her God-given talent for good and volunteers between acting jobs. Colleen originally started recording instructional text such as textbooks, tutorials, table manners, historical references, and English books.  Her experience with recording instructional text gave her the ability to ease into recording graphic novels.  Colleen lends her voice to provide image descriptions and visual nuances that are specific to graphic novels, allowing these types of books to come to life for the visually impaired.

Why I Volunteer?

Chloe - Hightstown, NJ

Chloe from Hightstown, NJ has been a volunteer at Learning Ally since 2010.  She first came into the Princeton Studio with her mom; her mom was a volunteer in the days of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic before Chloe was born. Chloe started on quality control when Learning Ally was still distributing books on tape. She went off to New York University where she studied Linguistics, Psychology and minored in Politics. She came back to volunteering for Learning Ally in 2014, lending her voice and subject matter expertise in recording books in German and political topics such as voting rights.

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Chloe

Chloe specializes in Young Adult fiction, where she can use the sound of her young voice to bring life to popular characters for our students to enjoy, such as the voice over for El Deafo and the image descriptions for Sisters, two very popular graphic novels. Chloe has Amblyopia, a condition that affects her vision, and can understand the difficulties of not being able to easily read print.

Why I Volunteer?

Melody, New York.

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Chloe

Melody, originally a Learning Ally intern, was referred to us by the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. She has a portfolio of voice over for animated productions and volunteers a few times a week lending her voice to books such as Smile, Drama, Sisters, and other Raina Talagmeier books as well as voicing Ogi in the Wonder books.  Melody is talented in recording multiple characters in a book, providing a more consistent flow and completing a book in a more timely manner so we can get the books our students need and want to read.

Why I Volunteer?

Audiobook Recording Sample


Interested in Volunteering?

Learning Ally has over 70 years of experience in providing assistive technology to students with a learning difference such as Dyslexia or a visual impairment. Our talented team of employees and dedicated Volunteer Nation has persevered through an ever-changing audio production and distribution industry.  From Books on Tape, to CDs, and online streaming, we’ve maintained our efficacy in bringing both high-quality audio books and relevant content for our K-12 students to continue to read, learn, and achieve for lifelong success.

Volunteer Opportunities
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Tips for Supporting Reading at Home
Audio books for kids

November 8, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Student Reading at Dining Room TableTry these ideas to encourage your child to practice reading skills at home.

Encourage Daily Reading

Research shows that reading every day helps children build reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. Consider these suggestions for supporting your child with daily reading:

Establish a Routine 

Designate a specific time for your child to read a book at his or her level for at least 20 minutes every night. For example, set aside time for reading after dinner or before bedtime.

Create a Comfortable Reading Environment 

Use pillows, lamps, and comfortable furniture to set up a cozy reading area in your home. Read your own books there to model good reading habits.

Incorporate Fast and Fun Reads 

Use magazines, newspapers, recipes, TV schedules, and road signs as reading opportunities. Incorporate quick reading whenever and wherever you and your child happen to be.

Share Workplace Reading 

Bring home materials and documents from your job so your child sees the relevance of reading in the workplace and the long-term importance of becoming a successful reader.

Read and Ride 

Listen to audio books while traveling by car so your child hears modeled fluent reading. Bring a CD or mp3 player with headphones for your child to listen to audio books while on a train or plane.

Read and Chat 

Discuss the books that your child is reading. Ask questions such as: What was your favorite part? Who were your favorite and least favorite characters? Can you think of another ending?


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audio books that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Tips for Supporting Reading at Home