Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement


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.

Pintastic Teacher Appreciation Contest
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April 12, 2017 by Mir Ali

Learning Ally   Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner, and we're kicking it off by helping you gain ideas to better utilize audiobooks in the classroom! Audiobooks are especially useful for students who struggle with reading due to dyslexia or visual impairments. Four educators will win a $500 gift card for new classroom technology! WOW! To enter:  Pinterest Contest Banner1. Follow Learning Ally on Pinterest. 2. Create a Pinterest board titled "Audiobooks in the Classroom" and highlight ways to utilize audiobooks, especially with struggling readers. 3. Upload your board link to our Wishpond page (this page) on or before May 5, 2017. 4. Wait to see if you've won! That's it! * Note: An alternative way of entry is to email your Pinterest board link to TeacherSupport@learningally.org. Need some PINspiration? Check out our example board here. Also, consider some of the following ideas:  how do you create time and space in your day for your students to listen to audiobooks, how do you encourage and influence other teachers to do the same, how do you continually motivate your students, how do you balance audiobooks with other instructional supports students need, how do audiobooks support reading skill development, how do you incorporate audiobooks into your existing reading/ELA curriculum, how do you encourage at home use and of course you can’t forget to include student impact! Get creative:  use videos (upload first to youtube or vimeo), articles, presentations, pictures, etc.

Enter Here

Official Rules: Enter for a chance to win 1 of 4 - $500.00 gift cards to purchase technology for your classroom.  Boards will be judged on creativity, diversity of Pins, and level of Learning Ally inspiration. Only public boards will be eligible to win. We will not sell your information to third parties, but we may use your image in future Learning Ally marketing materials. Contest begins on  Monday, April 17th  at 7am EDT and ends on Friday, May 5th at midnight EDT. Winners will be announced Tuesday, May 9th by contacting you via email and posting on Learning Ally’s social media. Read More about Pintastic Teacher Appreciation Contest

5 Ways to Use Audiobooks in the Classroom to Help Struggling Readers
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March 23, 2017 by Mir Ali

Audiobooks, like Learning Ally's, are used in classrooms across the world to help students with visual impairments or learning disabilities such as dyslexia access grade-level content. Now, however, experts are realizing the power of audiobooks to help students who struggle with many different issues and aspects of reading, including vocabulary, comprehension, and even fluency. Here are five unique ways you can use audiobooks in the classroom to help these readers.
      1. Class ReadingGive students a listening challenge, such as "How often does the main character change his mind?" or "Discover 3 places fossils are found." They can answer on a clipboard or via speech-to-text software.
      2. Set up novel student groups, so students of all abilities can listen/discuss the same novel.  Audio-supported readers listen with headphones while traditional readers read in books. Then, break into small groups for in-depth discussion.
      3. Create a listening station with art supplies, small toys or other objects to encourage students to draw/act out what they are hearing. Bringing in kinesthetic play can reinforce comprehension.
      4. Compare narrators, read a passage aloud, and then have students listen to the same passage in an audiobook format. Compare and contrast the differences - which part was emphasized more? Did the way it was read help you understand the story from a different angle? Were all of the names pronounced the same by both narrators?
      5. Write to one another. While studying the same story either through audio format or traditional reading, ask students to write or illustrate responses to the passages. Later, have students share their work with others. Did they discover something the other student missed? Did they both have the same feelings about the characters?
  Comment below with some creative ways you are using audiobooks in your classroom! We'd love to hear from you.    Learning Ally LogoTo find out more about Learning Ally, log onto LearningAlly.org/Educators. We have Quick Start packages available now to get your students started with our library of over 80,000 human-narrated audiobooks.       Read More about 5 Ways to Use Audiobooks in the Classroom to Help Struggling Readers

Supreme Court Unanimously Expands Reach of Special Education Rights
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March 22, 2017 by Mir Ali

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) must gain an educational benefit while in school. However, how much of an educational benefit has varied from district to district - until now.

On Wednesday, March 22nd, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision. In a unanimous ruling, the high court rejected the "merely more than de minimis" standard set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver.


Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that schools must offer an individualized education program that is "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child's circumstances."


This ruling comes from the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case. At the center of this case is "Drew," a student who has autism and ADHD. Drew had an IEP at his public school in Colorado. After attending the school from Kindergarten through 4th grade, his parents say he made minimal progress and his IEP goals were largely unchanged. Drew's parents placed him in a private school that focuses on autism, and they say progress began. Drew's parents felt he was denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) due to the lack of progress. The school district argued that the small progress Drew made was enough under the law. Today, in a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that in order to meet obligations under IDEA, a school must offer an IEP that is "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light on the child's circumstance."

Read the full report from the Supreme Court here.

Learning Ally LogoKnow a child or student who struggles with reading due to a learning or visual disability? Find out more about how Learning Ally can help by logging onto LearningAlly.org

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The Importance of Reaching Out: Advice for New College Students
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March 21, 2017 by Mir Ali

By Caitlin Mongillo, College Success Mentor Caitlin Close Up SmilingAs I made my transition from high school to college, I felt prepared for most things. I knew how to be an advocate, was fairly familiar with technology and wasn’t shy about asking for assistance in getting my needs met. The summer before I started my freshman year, I attended a week-long program for blind and visually impaired youth sponsored by my state’s blind services agency. We lived on a college campus, ate meals in the dining hall and attended a plethora of workshops to help prepare us for note taking, advocating and dealing with the rigors of academic life. If the program had been an exam, I would have gotten an A. I diligently took notes and asked questions. However, in my program evaluation, I noted that I learned nothing I wanted to know; in short, how did you make friends? I went to a large high school, but I was the only blind student in my grade. Everyone knew me by sight, as I was the only one wielding a white cane everywhere I went. I was nowhere near popular, but I always had a solid group of friends to support me and to hang out with. My lunch table was never empty, and my weekend social calendar was always occupied with either a trip to the movies or a coffee date or a sleepover. It was important to me to make new friends at college, but I was shy and not entirely sure how to do it. Friends with Service DogI quickly learned, though, that if I wanted friends, I had to seek them out. Everyone in high school accepted me as part of the landscape of classrooms and packed hallways. But in college, no one seemed to be used to the sight of a blind person. I felt obvious and uncomfortable in a group of strangers.
I felt like everyone was judging me and hyper focused on how different I was. Everybody could read with their eyes, so what did they think of my Braille Note? Everybody could read the numbers on the classroom doors, so didn’t they judge me for asking another student in the hallway for directions to a room I was right beside?
I was so focused on thinking I was the center of a universe filled with criticism and morbid curiosity, that I didn’t realize everyone was in the same boat as I was. So, I’m here to tell you, when you’re a freshman, you’re in an excellent position to meet people. Nobody knows each other. College is new and scary for everyone. All the other students in your year are coming in with nothing but a few old high school friends and a high school social status that is now obsolete. It doesn’t matter if you were the most popular student in high school, or never had a friend to speak of. The beauty of starting college is that you can recreate yourself; you can start again. Everyone is new and different and friendless and needs to work to build a new core group of friends. You are not the only one coming in alone and unknown. But … how do you do that? How do you cultivate new relationships and find your way in a new social hierarchy? It sounds crazy, but you just say hello. Or your greeting equivalent. Group of college studentsYou make casual conversation wherever and whenever you can. Introduce yourself to people in your classes, read the emails from student activities about upcoming events, and attend them. Try not to hold yourself up in your dorm room to study, and do some reading on the quad or at the campus coffee shop. The more visible you are, the more chances you will have to meet people. Realize that nobody knows you yet, so you are in control of what they see. You may be shy, but this is your time to be an extrovert. Smile, laugh, be engaging and interesting. If you still feel shy, try out introducing and talking about yourself with just one or two people, rather than with a whole group—for instance, at a table in the dining hall or with the person sitting next to you in class. Remember, too, that everyone else is new. You are all passengers on the same boat, just trying to navigate the rough waters of the college social scene. Though you may think your blindness sets you apart, realize that everyone else is probably worried about only themselves and could care less how you ask for directions or use your technology or need to read large print textbooks. Be brave, be confident, and never be too shy to say hello. It can make all the difference. LALogo_V_Tag_RGB - Copy - CopyCaitlin is a mentor in Learning Ally's College Success Program, a program designed for students who are blind or visually impaired. Want to learn more? Log into LearningAlly.org   Read More about The Importance of Reaching Out: Advice for New College Students

A 12-Year-Old's Story: Dyslexia Won't Hold Me Back

March 13, 2017 by Mir Ali

Guest Blog by Megan, age 12, Learning Ally YES! Program Member I can remember when I cried every night because my homework was so hard.  I watched everyone move up in their reading groups, but I always stayed the same.  I remember when my best friend made me a birthday card.  She was so proud!  She asked me to open it and read it in front of a group of my friends. Megan Close Up“Happy Birthday!  I love sss … sp … sp …,” I read.  My eyes filled with tears.  “I love spending time with you,” she finished for me.  I felt embarrassed and frustrated.  I thought I was dumb. All of that changed the summer before 4th grade when I was tested and identified as having dyslexia.  My Mom and Dad explained to me that there was a reason why I struggled so much in school.  My brain just worked differently from other kids.  I was smart.  I was so relieved! One of the first accommodations I was given was the ability to read with both my ears and eyes using Learning Ally.  It was amazing!  I could finally read books that interested me.  I could read the same books as my classmates and join in their conversations.
I went from hating books to loving to read with Learning Ally.
Learning Ally introduced me to the YES! Program.  I met many smart and talented kids with dyslexia like me. During the first meeting, a few of the YES! Ambassadors stood in front of the room and shared videos that they had created to talk about their dyslexia with their teachers.  They talked about the importance of self-advocating.  Megan and BrotherThey inspired me! Now every year before the first day of school, I send a video (see below) and message out to my new teachers introducing myself, telling them about how I learn best, and outline ways that they can help me.  The Reading Interventionist at my school has even used my video to help other teachers in the district learn about dyslexia.  I hope to become a YES! Ambassador this year! If I had to describe myself in a few words, “dyslexic” would be only one of them.  I‘m dyslexic, but this difference won’t hold me back.  I know that I have to work hard, but I am proud of every accomplishment that I’ve earned. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbw_kfRRp_s Learning AllyIf you would like to learn more about dyslexia, Learning Ally audiobooks or the Learning Ally YES! Program, log onto LearningAlly.org. We are able to provide these programs at a lower cost due to the generous support of donors. Our Building Books for Student Success campaign is going on right now. Find out how you can help here: LearningAlly.org/Building Books. Read More about A 12-Year-Old's Story: Dyslexia Won't Hold Me Back

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