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.


Dyslexia - a Disability or a Difference?
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October 26, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Practicehope.orgby guest blogger Jen Palmer, a highly qualified teacher with 21 years experience. She has a masters in education and also is a certified dyslexia tutor. Her compassion to help parents comes from being dyslexic, navigating the special education world for her daughter with cerebral palsy, and creating a program at a local private school to help kids with learning differences see success as attainable.


Dyslexia DifferencesI sat across from a mother with tears in her eyes. Her daughter had just been diagnosed with dyslexia and a few other challenges. The wordy scientific books recommended to her were daunting. She searched for an understanding and jokingly asked if there was a Dyslexia for Dummies book to read.

This resonated with me for two reasons.

The first reason being that there is no simple way to explain the intricate processing of the dyslexic’s brain. The other is that our children learning to live with dyslexia have probably felt like “dummies” before.

The word dyslexia means trouble with words.

Kid struggling to readWe need to impress this definition into our children’s minds. They are not dumb or less of a person because they struggle. Many call dyslexia a disability. Disability means not able to do something. Our children do have the ability to read, write, and learn. They just do it differently. This is why we should describe it as a learning difference.

We all learn to tie our shoes differently, but we end up with the same result. It does not matter if it was made with bunny ears, loop over loop, or cross over and go through the hole. It’s a tied shoe that will not fall off.

Our children will learn, but we need to be patient. They may process sounds, letters, word, or directions in a different manner. They have such an amazingly complex network of neurons, that it may take a bit longer than you would expect to process information. As a parent and a teacher, I have to remind myself to stop, wait a minute, and maybe even describe a sound or word in a different manner to get those neurons connecting. Give your child the time. Do not assume they are zoning out or choosing to be difficult. I am pretty positive that they do not want to be different.

Parent reading with childAs you embark on this journey of acceptance and parenting a different learner, please be an advocate for you child. Advocate for them to try new things, spend more time doing what they are good at, and give them tools to make it through school. Work with your child’s teachers to explain that your child may need to access information and/or be assessed in a different manner than others.

I will be honest, that I struggle with the advice some parents are given when seeking a program to help their child with dyslexia. Some have been told teachers should never require their child to use a dictionary, take a spelling test, write in any subject, or have any homework. It seems futile to fight for a child to not be labeled disabled, but then treat them as disabled.

School is practice for life. There are modifications that can be made to keep your child from feeling like they are not able to learn. Shorten the list of spelling words, excuse them from mindless writing of the spelling words 10 times each, and then after the spelling test, give them tools to make corrections. The teacher should circle the missed words, then let your child use a spell checker, a laptop with spell check, or even a word wall.

The goal is to get your child to try.

We want them to understand they learn differently, and have the right to use different tools to help them learn.

Kid reading audiobooksSet a time limit when your child is writing. Let them know you understand writing is difficult, but want them to practice. After the kitchen timer beeps, scribe for your child, and then write the teacher a note detailing how long they wrote, and then you wrote exactly what your child said. Do not autocorrect their writing or interject your thoughts, because the teacher knows your child struggles with spelling and writing and can spot your work immediately. Set your child up with talk to text or a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking if their fingers cannot keep up with their imaginative writing.

You have the opportunity to take a situation that many of you have grieved about and turn it into something wonderful. Yes, your kid learns differently. Some people need glasses to see and hearing aids to hear, but they can still live a full life. Teach your child how to work hard and embrace their differences, because those differences are what will make your child shine in life. Each obstacle they overcome, each time they have to work harder than their peers, each tear of frustration shed is brightening their light and creating a star beautifully different from others.


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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Volunteer Spotlight: Rowena Portch
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October 23, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Sarah Klipper, Learning Ally Production Assistant, interviews Learning Ally Volunteer, Rowena Portch.


For this year’s Dyslexia and Blindness Awareness Month, we are turning the spotlight on one of our own volunteers!

We are very lucky to have accomplished scholar, author and editor Rowena Portch join us as a Learning Ally volunteer. Despite losing her vision to Retinitis Pigmentosa, she continues to read and write with the help of screen reading software, braille display, and support from her husband Gregg. She does quality assurance (QA) with our Literature Community, checks files in Science textbooks, and has begun working as a Reader in the Upper Instructional Community. Look for her in the Virtual Water Cooler to say hello!

From her website, rowenaportch.com:
“Her spiritual commitment to God is foremost in her life, but her heart belongs to her husband Gregg and guide-dog Skye-Bear. Other professionals see her as an intelligent woman who learns quickly and follows through with commitments. Her true distinction, however, is her drive for learning. Her family and friends call her a perpetual student who hates wearing shoes.”

How did you find out about Learning Ally? What made you want to volunteer with us?
My sister told me about Learning Ally. I really wanted to learn how to do voiceover… So I looked into it, and it was really hard getting through the training and all that stuff, I had to really come up with different ways to be able to do it [and] make some adjustments.

What kind(s) of adaptive technology do you use as a volunteer checker/reader? How is it similar to what you use in daily life?
I use a lot of different things - I have a braille display that connects to my iPad, my Windows computer and my MacBook Pro all at once. I use EB on my MacBook and I use my iPad to bring up all the PDF files that I’m reading from. I put those into a program called Scrivener, and I cut and paste [the text]… so I can navigate to it and read it. My husband helps me out a lot, because I can’t see the pictures and the boxes and things like that. Then I go through the Guidelines and find out “how do I have to read this”, and I write it out exactly how I have to read it. Then I go to my braille display and hear what to read, and then I record with EB on my Mac. VoiceOver is my screen reading software that comes with the Apple products. For the Windows machine I use JAWS.

What are your favorite subjects to work with?
I really like the scientific books - anything to do with medicine. I went to school to be a doctor, so science and tech interests me. I have a master’s in Computer Science, so I’m very technical. I don’t like Math.

What was your favorite book to record so far?
I’m working on my first recording, and I’m really liking it a lot, it’s about Marketing. There was another one that i was checking, for medical students, and I really enjoyed that one as well.

What would you like to work on in the future?
I want to do novels, that’s my passion. The textbooks are very challenging because of all the different elements… but novels are easy, I can just read from the novel and it’s not a big deal.

What was your most challenging project, and why?
The women’s studies book was the most challenging. Mainly because it was really not a subject I was interested in, and it had way too many internal references that didn’t add anything to the information. In a single sentence you could have five references. By the time you’re done reading it, you don’t even know what the sentence was about! I was reading comments from people who were reading this book, and they loved it! But it kinda burnt me out and I had to take a break.

What do you enjoy about working with the Virtual Community?
I love people, I love listening. I love the Virtual Water Cooler, I think that’s an awesome idea. I love hearing everybody getting together and planning things, they share neat news and they get to know each other, and I like that a lot. The way it is organized is extremely good, very professional. I feel like I’m working with professional people. When I have a question it’s easily answered… I don’t have to wait forever. I think that they put a lot of thought and preparation into each project before they even release it, I think that says a lot. I like the convenience and staying connected. It gives me a sense of working with people without having to go anywhere.

What advice would you give to a student who has a learning difference, dyslexia, or a visual impairment?
If it’s something you want to do, find a way to do it. Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something because it’s never been done. I’m a huge advocate for the mad skills blind people have. I am also dyslexic - I was a blind, dyslexic editor at Microsoft for 10 years, if you can believe that! You can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to think outside the box and come up with a way to make it work.


Learning Ally is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers volunteer opportunities. Our volunteer nation has provided narration to our library of over 80,000 audiobooks and has helped students with a financial need, access services that help them succeed in school and in life by making a financial donation. Join the volunteer nation today!

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If you Can Read… You Can Learn Anything!”
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October 19, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By guest blogger Mira S. Halpert, M.Ed, educator, author, founder of the hands-on learning program 3D Learner.


If you Can Read… You Can Learn Anything! I grew up with this statement, and truly believed it.

When our daughter was struggling with reading and we had tried YEARS of interventions, when her frustration was high, and her reading comprehension had not improved, a high school teacher, who I trusted, suggested we try audio books…in those years it was “books on tape”!!

This teacher had encouraged me to let my then high school daughter read what she wanted to. With some reluctance, I agreed to let her read a Danielle Steele romance novel. Probably not my first choice, but I was desperate to get my daughter to read and know what fun it could be. At that time, all of her friends were reading those books, and thinking back on it, they are VERY VISUAL. She could visualize everything that was happening!

Within a day, my daughter was hooked!

You can imagine my excitement when I walked into our living room and found our daughter curled up in a blanket, completely engaged and excited about READING! She was listening and following every word that was being read to her; completely attentive.

That was 22 years ago. From that moment on, she was hooked on reading. She reads a few books at a time now- and is a guiding light to her 5th grade students who say they don’t like to read.

I had many discussions with the head of the rather large County Library System administrator lamenting about why teachers “didn’t get” this amazing teaching tool. We spoke about trainings for teachers that unfortunately never materialized. Over the years, I would have every one of my students get “talking books” and register them on what was the “Reading for Blind and Dyslexic” (RFBD - before Learning Ally) and be sure that any IEP (Individual Education Plan) or 504 plan included that support. What a wonderful feeling to have students report how “fun” reading actually was!

Fast forward 22 years. Learning Ally is a ‘life-saver’ for so many students and there are many more formats available now. I’m happy to say that many more teachers are letting students use audio books, but I still have a lot of work to do convincing parents to get on board.

USING LEARNING ALLY IS READING

Especially, when students follow along with the text.


Not all children learn to read the same way or at the same rate. Many bright and creative students start to lose interest, become frustrated and want to quit. As parents, we want our kids to succeed and we get stuck on the belief that “reading is everything”.

The Act of Reading is complicated. Researchers have been studying this for decades - but our kids are whole beings and we need to be flexible to recognize our child’s abilities, especially with what new technology offers. Having kids have access to great stories to let them use their visualization skills and abilities to match oral language to the written work—like Learning Ally provides- can make all the difference. I urge parents to ‘change their picture’ of reading- and help their kids succeed.


Mira founded 3D Learner over twenty years ago, to help smart struggling students and their parents succeed. She can be reached at 561-361-7495, or by email parents@3dlearner.com or learn more at https://www.3dlearner.com/.


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!

Read More about If you Can Read… You Can Learn Anything!”

Dyslexia Awareness Audiobook Selections for All Readers
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October 18, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Why are so many accomplished entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson, and scientists, like Albert Einstein, and mathematicians, like Norbert Wiener, and artists, like Pablo Picasso dyslexic? People with dyslexia see the world differently. Each of these amazing individuals struggled as young learners, but their determination, grit, and ability to perceive new ways of doing things, brought them extraordinary fame and gave our humanity unprecedented gifts.

In this blog, we’re celebrating National Dyslexia Awareness Month because we know that with the right champion, resources and motivation, all students can learn and reach their dreams. We hope your students will be inspired by this selection of audiobooks to appreciate and celebrate diversity in thought, mind, and ability.

 

My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz

Synopsis
Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2008, Philip Schultz could never shake the feeling of being exiled to the "dummy class" in school, where he was largely ignored by his teachers and peers and not expected to succeed. Not until many years later, when his oldest son was diagnosed with dyslexia, did Schultz realize that he suffered from the same condition.


 


Who Is Richard Branson? by Michael Burgan

Synopsis
What would you do with a billion dollars? This question gets a definitive answer from billionaire Richard Branson: do everything! Born into a wealthy family in London, Branson suffered from dyslexia and was a poor student. Still, his knack for business started early with a successful parakeet-breeding enterprise at age 11.


 

The gift of dyslexia : why some of the smartest people can't read and how they can learn
by Davis Ronald D. (Ronald Dell)

Synopsis
In this exciting book, Davis shares the startling discovery he made which helped him overcome his own dyslexia; reveals how dyslexia may be linked to uncommonly high levels of intelligence, creativity, and imagination; and outlines a clear and simple plan that anyone can use to help themselves or others conquer this all-too-common disability.


 

Leaders Visionaries and Dreamers
Extraordinary People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities
by Paul J. Gerber; Marshall H. Raskind

Synopsis
This book is an in-depth look at 12 incredible people with LD and dyslexia whose lives are characterised by major accomplishments and contributions that they have made in their respective fields as well as on the contemporary American scene.


 

Dyslexia A True Book Health Series by Ann O. Squire

Synopsis
From diet and exercise to dangerous diseases to the way we are born, our health is affected by countless factors. Learn more about the ways different factors can impact your body and mind with this A True Book subset. Readers will discover how diseases are diagnosed and treated, how they can avoid getting sick, what steps they can take to improve their health, and much more.


 

Dyslexia LifeBalance by Landau Elaine

Synopsis
What did Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, and Alexander Graham Bell have in common? They all had dyslexia. Today, it is estimated that 5 to 20 percent of school-age children are affected to some degree by this learning disability. Elaine Landau relates the inspiring stories of individuals who overcame dyslexia to excel in life. She also explores the various ways in which people are affected by dyslexia, how it is diagnosed, and the latest educational techniques that are being used in the classroom to help students cope with this problem. Book jacket.


 

The Power of Dyslexic Thinking How a Learning Disability Shaped Six Successful Careers
by Langston Robert W.

Synopsis
In The Power of Dyslexic Thinking, Robert Langston shares the inspirational stories of people who overcame the hurdles of living with dyslexia to become influential business and cultural leaders. From Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea to prominent financier Charles Schwab to Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Peters, Langston profiles some of the biggest players in the business world and elsewhere to paint amazing portraits of courage and dedication. Through both research and personal experience, Langston has come to believe that dyslexia is a condition that does not need curing, but rather a greater understanding of the different capabilities and skills it can provide those who have it. He hopes that understanding more about the creative and intuitive benefits of dyslexia will allow educators and parents, as well as dyslexic children, to see dyslexia not as a disability, but as a gift.


 

Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia
An Interpretation for Teachers
by J. P. Das

Synopsis
This book is a ready reckoner on dyslexia, a condensed and updated source of information on the subject, for not only teachers and parents, but also for professionals concerned with Learning Disabilities. For the school psychologist, the book is an interpretation that gives pre-eminence to the PASS (Planning-Attention-Simultaneous-Successive) theory of cognitive processes--the four major processes that replace traditional views of IQ and redefine intelligence.


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 375,000 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.

Learn More About Becoming a Learning Ally Member

Read More about Dyslexia Awareness Audiobook Selections for All Readers

Teaching Literacy Through Skill Building Exercises
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October 12, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By guest blogger Holly J. LaVine, Director of Literacy Learning Solutions, LLC, Nashua, NH


Child's BrainThere’s an old adage that says, “everything I ever learned, I learned in Kindergarten”. I am excited to offer this blog to all parents of Kindergarten children as a former seasoned public school educator, now turned dyslexia clinic director of her own literacy clinic. Essentially, what I am saying is a modified version of this very same adage from the teacher's perspective. “Everything I ever learned about properly teaching the English language, I learned through my role as a Kindergarten teacher!” Allow me to explain and elaborate. Explicit, direct, prescriptive and purposeful instruction in the sound-letter code of the English language coupled with rich exposures to language building activities is the effective and powerful approach I had used in balancing a top-down literacy teaching strategy with bottom-up skill building exercises.

With a few resources and a little bit of education on this topic, parents can also empower themselves to successfully engage in this reciprocal teaching, in order to set their children up for maximum literacy achievement. And, the best news is that they might already being doing it without even realizing it.

When I was a Kindergarten teacher, I was vigilant over embedding phonemic awareness training in everyday language activities. These activities included the following and were conducted on a weekly basis.

  • Rhyme discrimination and production
  • Count words in sentence, voice to text match
  • Differentiating between letters, words, sentences
  • Syllable Counting
  • Syllable Blending
  • Syllable Segmenting
  • Phoneme Isolation , beginning/end/middle

This told me in an informal way whether or not my students were ready to acquire reading from the perspective of a well-developed phonological processing foundation.

After all, dyslexia research tells us that deficits in the phonological core centers of the brain will impede the acquisition of reading without early intervention measures. “Dyslexia occurs primarily at the level of the single word and involves the ability to decode printed words. This has been known for many years. Print represents speech through the alphabet and words are composed of internal units based on sound called “phonemes”. In learning to read, the child must make explicit an implicit understanding that words have internal structures linked to sounds” (Foorman, B. R.,2008)

The good news is that we can reduce the risk of impoverished phonological sense if parents engage in this fun word-play with their child even while just driving in the car! It is aural with no visual prompts required and it begins to feel as easy as singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Additionally, in terms of understanding development of language comprehension, I would continuously and vigilantly assess students’ oral language processing abilities. “I CAN” statements became our mantra as we self-reflected on what our language learning goals were. We read a variety of engaging fictional and informational texts and the students would assure themselves of these truths.

  • I can ask questions about informational text. I can answer questions about text.
  • I can tell you what a text is mainly about and show details from the text.
  • I can connect ideas in a text.
  • I can ask and answer questions about words I do not know when I read.
  • I can show you the front cover, back cover, and title page of a book.
  • I can tell you the author and illustrator of a text and what they do.
  • I can match the illustration to the text.
  • I can tell you what the author thinks and why.
  • I can compare text about the same topic.
  • I can participate in group reading activities.

Mother hugging SonWe would use these statements as our framework for our choral and oral reading and parents can do this, too, as they read regularly with their children. These activities were meant to develop a solid foundation for comprehending language to establish a basis from which their reading comprehension could then naturally develop.


For more information on strategies and activities, you can feel free to contact me at hlaLiteracy Learning Logovine@literacylearningsolutons.com. Also, check out the resources available to educators at the Florida Center for Reading Research’s website and the bevy of activities offered at www.readingrockets.org.

Reference:Foorman, B. R. (2008). Prevention and Remediation of Reading and Learning Disabilities: What We Know From Research. Presentation at the Virginia Branch of the International Dyslexia Association in Richmond, Virginia. February 1, 2008.


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!

Read More about Teaching Literacy Through Skill Building Exercises