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.


Girl Scouts Goes for the Gold with Assistive Technology
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October 10, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Brother using Learning AllyCaitlynn, a high school senior and Girl Scout, has decided to focus on assistive technology as her project to earn her Girl Scouts Gold Award.  The Gold Award is the highest level of Girl Scouting and she wanted to use this opportunity to highlight and bring awareness to students who learn differently due to a difference in learning styles such as dyslexia

Inspired by her brother, who has been a Learning Ally member for over 5 years, she’s decided to work with her local library to add iPads filled with software that can help students who learn differently succeed academically.

Caitlynn noticed that ever since her brother started using assistive technology such as Learning Ally, he’s been able to complete his homework independently and has a better understanding and grasp of his eighth-grade curriculum. Seeing the progress that her brother has made and noticing how her family has also benefitted from the solution, she wanted to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn. 

Caitlynn shares,

“If struggling readers knew about the resources available to them they could ask for proper accommodations.  If a student is interested in something then they’re more inclined to learn.”

Assistive Technology Vision BoardSpringfield Public Library in New Jersey, will benefit from Caitlynn’s project.  She will load iPads with various assistive technology applications, including guides to help students get the most out of the learning tools.  She will also provide the library with a few non-digital kits of supplies, such as pencil grips, highlighted paper, slant boards, whisper phones, etc., to help students heighten their educational experience.

Caitlynn in Her Girl Scout Uniform“By creating a free assistive technology lending library, I want to put assistive technology into the hands of kids with learning disabilities. I want to raise awareness for learning disabilities and assistive technology in general. Assistive technology is not a crutch, but rather a necessity to help bridge the gap between kids with learning disabilities and their peers.”

 

Caitlynn, we commend you for shedding light on an issue and providing solutions to help students, who learn differently, succeed academically.  You are an inspiration and we wish you good luck in your effort to attain your Girl Scouts Gold Award.


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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Learning Ally's Essential Solution
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October 9, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By guest vlogger Erin Walker, National Director of Solutions Strategy and Design for Learning Ally.


Erin Walker Headshot

The key to success in any area of growth comes from developing and maintaining a belief that success is possible. Belief has the power to inspire vision, ignite action, as well as forge strength of will and resilience. From my experience with learning about advocating for my brother who is dyslexic, and as an educator understanding the value of providing students access to complex text - especially when they haven't developed the ability to decode text for themselves- I've developed a deep-seated belief in the power of audiobooks to transform the lives of struggling readers.  

I hope this video encourages you to think about what you believe about the power of audio books and inspires you to contribute your talents and experience to help struggling readers succeed.

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The Big Five Supplemental Resources
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October 4, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By guest blogger Lorna Wooldridge, dyslexia specialist tutor.


Student Writing in ClassroomIn a recent blog I wrote for the Orton-Gillingham Online Academy (OGOA) on “The National Reading Panel and The Big Five”, I explained what exactly “The Big Five” are, and why they are so important for reading. I plan to blog extensively about each one in the next few months, again for the OGOA, and will include resources and ideas that parents, teachers and tutors, can use with their struggling readers. I hope you will check in on those through the OGOA blog page. Today, I’m going to include five online supplementary resources which we have used in our tutoring practice, Wise owl Services, and which our students use at home to address the “Big Five.” 

1. Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

We have been using the HearBuilder program with all our students for almost a year. Since it is only practical for us to work on phonological and phonemic awareness skills for about 10 minutes during a 60-minute session, we have found it a very useful supplement. The Phonological Awareness program is the first of four that we use with our students. This program is available for individuals, tutoring practices, and schools. As an administrator, I can limit the programs available to each student, until they are ready to move into other areas. I can also set the difficulty level, and skip a student onto a higher level if they are finding the work too easy. 

To control the order in which I want the activities to be played, I make sure the parents of each student know what they should be doing to reinforce what I am teaching in our face-to-face sessions. I regularly monitor each student’s progress and keep their parents informed. 

I have found HearBuilder to be both very effective and reasonably priced, offering far more than the phonological and phonemic awareness skills. For evidence that this program is effective for developing phonological and phonemic awareness skills follow this link. 

2. Phonics

I have been part of a trial for two online phonic programs, neither of which we currently offer through our practice, mainly because of the cost of a tutoring practice subscription, though our families found them useful reinforcement exercises. A couple of these families have continued to use one of these two programs. 

Nessy is a very colorful and fun program, but generally only appeals to younger children. It is possible for an administrator to turn off certain elements (islands,) so students can only discover activities and practice the phonics they have been taught in our sessions. Personally, I found it much harder to administer than HearBuilder. 

For educational establishments, Reading Horizons offers a number of online programs for different ages. They also sell a home version, for individuals. As part of the trial, I received free training, and I was extremely impressed by both the training and the program. The difficulty using this program might be that for certain concepts, a tutor may use different methods to those used in this program. Reading Horizons, like other online tools, has a particular way of teaching syllabication, and if their teacher or tutor teaches something different, students may become confused. However, I feel this program does have lots to offer teachers, tutors, and parents, and maybe a possible option where a tutor isn’t available. To be effective in these kinds of situations, a parent needs to take the Reading Horizons training and use the online program in conjunction with the manual and other materials. 

3. Fluency

Student Using Learning Ally There are several fluency programs available on the market, but I actually prefer the audiobook services offered by Learning Ally. They offer human narrated books, and the ability for students to simultaneously follow the text with their eyes helps develop prosody. This process also encourages orthographic mapping of phonemes to letters in words on the page, and sight word recognition is developed as the student is exposed time and again to words they might struggle with if they had to decode the text. As the student isn’t having to work so hard to decode the text, they can focus on comprehension and understanding what they are “ear reading and eye following.” To quote from Learning Ally:

Exposure to human-read audiobooks can significantly enhance a struggling reader's ability to read more fluently and to make deeper contextual meaning to content.May 23rd, 2018.

Plus, students just love being able to access the books!

4. Vocabulary 

In our practice, we have been using InferCabulary for over a year now,  and we have just renewed our subscription. InferCabulary is a web-based, visual vocabulary and reasoning program that uses the Semantic Reasoning Method. Through a verbal mountain climbing challenge, it uses pictorial and audio examples that illustrate the meaning and nuance behind words such as “ascent”, “seldom”, and “cluster”. You can see a demonstration using this link. 

To discover more about the program and their subscription plans, please visit their website. The program is easy to administer, reasonably priced and allows you to track words with which a student is struggling. We incorporate these struggle words into our sessions to teach and reinforce them. InferCabulary includes words from books students are typically expected to read at each grade level, allowing the vocabulary for these to be understood ahead of reading the book. 
The visual/auditory approach also make this a useful program for building vocabulary knowledge in students who are nonverbal, or for whom English is their second language. 

5. Comprehension

Student Comprehending with AudiobooksThis is where I return to two of the programs I previously mentioned: Learning Ally and HearBuilder. Learning Ally develops comprehension by allowing a student to focus on understanding the text and gaining meaning, rather than all their energy going into decoding. It doesn’t directly teach individual comprehension strategies, such as inference skills, but it can certainly be used to develop a student’s background knowledge in a certain subject. HearBuilder’s other programs, which include Following Directions, Sequencing, and Auditory Memory, all help develop a child’s ability to comprehend a text. 

I hope you have found today’s blog helpful. I ’d love to hear from you. You can find my contact info on my website, and check out  Lorna’s Resources while you are there. If you have further suggestions for “Big Five” online supplemental resources, or questions about the ones I have suggested, share your suggestions in the comment box below. 

 


Lorna WooldridgeThis blog was previously published on the Literacy Nest. Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.


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 The Big Five Supplemental Resources

Reading Success: Integrating Spelling and Writing
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October 2, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By guest blogger Timmie Murphy, founder and managing member of RW&C, LLC., an online and traditional reading intervention clinic.


Reading Success: Think of Spelling and Writing as Integrated Processes

 

Students Writing in a Classroom SettingWhen students struggle with reading and literacy, it is imperative that their reading intervention go hand-in-hand with writing and explicit spelling instruction. Often, in the classroom, it is the case that spelling instruction is an after-thought and is confined to spelling drills and memorization (Birsh, 2005). However, for students who struggle with dyslexia or other reading difficulties, memorization and drills are not enough and engaging in traditional spelling activities does them a disservice. Read on to learn how spelling and writing are integrated into a Structured Literacy program and how it can help students who struggle with reading.

Throughout the years as a reading specialist, I heard teachers and parents comment that a student’s spelling, “is terrible but there is always spell check!” This message implied spelling was not an important skill to spend much time. This all too common classroom philosophy continues to prevail, that if students were immersed in print, and taught to read, they would somehow magically learn to spell (Birsch, 2005). However, research has shown to the contrary that integrating spelling into a program is crucial to reading success.

Learning Ally Voice-to-Text AppSpelling and writing are absolutely essential parts of the reading process. Students need explicit spelling and writing instruction in order to become proficient readers. In fact, research conducted by Brady and Moats in the mid to late 90’s indicated that learning to spell is a more complicated process than learning to read and requires explicit instruction (Birsch, 2005). Until students have closed the spelling gap, it is important they have access to tools to help with the writing process, such as Learning Ally's reading app.

Without direct spelling instruction, many children will struggle to spell and ultimately to write even after their reading struggle has been remediated. Written expression is a necessary skill and needs to be explicitly taught in conjunction with reading skills. Students need to be taught about language and structure in order to learn to effectively spell and read words.

When engaging in spelling activities, the teacher, parent or reading clinician must be an active participant and must be able to accurately impart knowledge about the rules of the English language. These include a deep knowledge of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics. Additionally, knowledge of orthography (conventional spelling rules and the representation of sounds as written symbols), morphology (prefixes, suffixes, and base word analysis), and vocabulary must be addressed during spelling instruction. These activities engage the student in a process that deciphers the reason for the spelling pattern rather than rote memory.

Many spelling difficulties arise when students are not able to accurately segment and blend the sounds in words. For example, if students do not understand that the word <tree> has three distinct sounds, they cannot accurately spell it. An essential component of effective spelling instruction is the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness. For the struggling student, it is important to incorporate a phonemic awareness component to every single lesson whether students are working on letter sounds or advanced reading comprehension until this skill is mastered.

By ensuring that students can hear and manipulate sounds in syllables and words, an effective reading instructor will make sure that students have and continue to develop the skills necessary to spell words correctly, increase written vocabulary and express ideas in writing.

In addition, students need to understand the relationship between the sounds in words (phonemes) and the written symbols (graphemes). All structured literacy lessons should focus on this relationship with both reading and writing, helping students learn and internalize basic spelling patterns to complicated patterns.

Equally important, there should be a focus on morphology which is a critical component of any spelling program. Understanding root words and rules for adding prefixes and suffixes helps students understand spelling patterns. For example, looking at the word <business>, many people may wonder where the <i> comes from since it is unvoiced. Understanding that the root word is <busy> and knowing that <y> changes to an <i> when adding a suffix (with the exception of a few orthographic rules) means that students will understand why the word is spelled the way it is and will help them internalize the spelling pattern.

By introducing, modeling, and practicing these skills explicitly, it helps students learn how to spell words correctly which improves and reinforces all literacy skills.

Having extensive knowledge of child development, a reading instructor will understand when to correct spelling and when to allow children to rely on inventive spelling that is based on their own internalized understanding of phonemes and graphemes. This allows the instructor to teach the skills that students are ready for and not skills that are above their developmental spelling level. Just like in reading, in spelling it is “not the age, it’s the stage.” Students should not be pushed to memorize spelling patterns they are not ready for because it will ultimately cause much frustration.

An effective program integrates a multi-sensory approach to spelling according to the Structured Literacy framework. Students are engaged in looking, listening, repeating, segmenting, naming, and writing spelling patterns. Words are also integrated into phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to promote and develop further understanding. Research has shown this to be the most effective way to teach spelling and to integrate it into reading and overall literacy development (Birsch, 2005).

Spelling and writing are integral parts of literacy instruction and must be included systematically and explicitly in all literacy programs, especially those designed for students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. While one may think direct and explicit spelling instruction is a distraction from content writing, it actually enhances it by empowering students to use a wider and more sophisticated vocabulary to describe their story rather than choose words that are easier to spell. If your child struggles with spelling, it is not a problem that will simply fix itself and will likely lead to other literacy difficulties down the road.

The important take away is that our English language spelling system is logical, makes sense, and is critical to reading and writing. Approximately 87% of English words are reliable to read and spell (Hanna et al., 1966) once the orthographic patterns have been mastered. However, for the novice or struggling speller, in order for the system to make sense it may take a Structured Literacy expert to help your child navigate the nuances of the English language.


About the Blogger

Timmie_MurphyGuest blogger Timmie Murphy is the founder and managing member of RW&C, LLC; an online traditional reading intervention clinic specializing in Structured Literacy methodology. While Timmie realizes the limitations of helping every struggling reader; she is dedicated to helping one family at a time and can honestly say: “I made a difference to that one.”


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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#SRT18 Home Edition Winners
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September 25, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Reading over the summer is crucial in ensuring that students succeed in the next school year. To avoid the summer slide we’ve established a program to help students who learn differently keep up when school is out. A very big CONGRATULATIONS to all of the students who participated in this year’s Summer Reading Together (#SRT) program.

Within a three month period over 4,600 students actively read over 2 million pages for 2.3 million minutes. On average each student participant read 1,581 pages for 1,973 minutes...that’s like reading all of the Lord of the Rings, War and Peace, or Atlas Shrugged. Kudos to all of our students!!!!

To make this reading program a bit competitive we offered prizes to our most committed readers. We had a total of 8 winners - two monthly winners and two overall winners – in two separate categories: most pages read and most 20 min. + reading days.

Here are our winners:

Overall Summer Reading Together 2018 Winners

Most Pages Read:

Photo of Timothy

Timothy
Ponchatoula, LA
21,881 pages read
90 days reading 20 min. or more

20 min. + days reading:

Photo of Ondrej

Ondrej
Belgrade, MT
9,241 pages read
91 days reading 20 min. or more


August 2018 Winners

Most Pages Read:

Photo of Joseph

Joseph
Tulepo, MS
8,803 pages read
27 days reading 20 min. or more

20 min. + days reading:

SRT Games Logo

Thomas
Marietta, GA
4,698 pages read
31 days reading 20 min. or more


July 2018 Winners

Most Pages Read:

Photo of Kiernan

Kiernan
Alameda, CA
8,944 pages read
29 days reading 20 min. or more

20 min. + days reading:

SRT Games Logo

William
Concord, MA
2,170 pages read
31 days reading 20 min. or more


June 2018 Winners

Most Pages Read:

Photo of Timothy

Timothy
Pachatoula, LA
7,935 pages read
29 days reading 20 min. or more

20 min. + days reading:

SRT Games Logo

Isaiah
Chugiak, AK
6,815 pages read
30 days reading 20 min. or more


Great job! We look forward to the next Summer Reading Together games.


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. Learn More About Becoming a Learning Ally Member.

Read More about #SRT18 Home Edition Winners