K-12 | Read to Achieve

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Welcome to Learning Ally’s blog. You've come to the right place if you are an innovative teacher who wants to transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers.


Developing a Growth Mindset in Struggling Readers
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July 11, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

By the time Samantha reached 4th grade, she had lost hope of keeping up with her friends who liked to read books. Samantha did not get good grades. She would not make the honor roll again this year. She knew she was not dumb, far from it, but her reading was slow and confusing. Reading assignments were getting harder.

“Why can’t I get the gist of the stories I am assigned to read,” she thought.” “Why is everyone else talking about books in class, but not me?”  

Night after night Samantha struggled with her reading homework, often losing sleep. Like many students with reading challenges, she felt helpless. What Samantha needed was a jumpstart in her growth mindset – the empowerment to ask for help and to get the extra support and resources that she needed to break through her reading challenges. 

What is a Growth Mindset?

Psychologist Carol Dweck popularized the concept of a growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Many educators use her theories to inform how they teach their students, but lots of teachers and parents have not heard of the approach.

According to Dweck, a “mindset” is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves – like believing that you are either “intelligent” or “unintelligent.” People’s mindsets typically relate to their personal or professional lives, such as -- “I’m a good teacher,” “I’m a bad parent, “I’m stupid because I can’t read,” or “I will never be a good student.” 

Students, especially children, are unaware of their mindset in their education journey.  Unless there is encouragement by a teacher or parent “not having a positive growth mindset” can have a profound negative effect on achievement, skill acquisition, relationships, and other life goals.

To help Samantha and students like her develop a positive growth mindset Dweck advises teachers and parents to consistently reinforce the fact that all children can learn with the right encouragement and resources. In Samantha’s case, a reading accommodation was just what she needed to gain access to curriculum assignments. Text in digital format enabled her to listen to information read aloud by a skilled narrator and she could easily follow the digital text highlighted in a background color that she could personalize on her technology device.

Reading Accommodation Makes the Difference

The reading accommodation was Learning Ally audiobooks – a comprehensive digital library with tens of thousands of audiobooks that align with grade-level requirements.  This solution, built for a school learning environment, provides teachers with an easy-to-manage dashboard to select and assign audiobooks and to monitor reading performance. Throughout the year, the nonprofit also develops creative, teacher-supported, reward-based reading activities and competitions to keep students reading independently and to build stronger reading habits.

Using an iPad and Learning Ally audiobooks, Samantha could read consistently for meaning. She understood what she read. She kept pace and more fluency. She liked seeing the highlighted words and listening to the narrator which helped her vocabulary to enlarge because she heard accurate word pronunciation. She completed reading assignments in less time, with less frustration. She slept soundly and was excited to participate in class. Samantha was proud that she could read the same book as her peers, which boosted her self-esteem. Teachers and parents praised her efforts, celebrated her resilience and encouraged her to read more books.

Audiobooks was the key to unlock Samantha’s academic potential. The reading accommodation was not so different from reading a book in print – she just read information on a technology device with earbuds. Today, close to 300,000 children, like Samantha, use Learning Ally human-read audiobooks to address their reading barriers, like dyslexia and vision impairments.

Sign up for a demo of Learning Ally today!

A growth mindset begins by acknowledging a child’s struggle and responding consistently with encouraging language, such as, “Reading is a challenge for you, but together we will find a solution to break through this barrier.”

Audiobooks can help you make that breakthrough!

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Dyslexia Interventionist Shares Reading Strategies to Create a Dyslexia-Friendly Classroom
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July 2, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

elementary students standing in classroom

Nelda Reyes, Dyslexia/Reading Interventionist at DeZavala Elementary School, San Marcos, TX shares best practices to inspire reading and learning through audiobooks. 
Sign up for this credited EdWebinar for teachers and administrators - July 10 at 1:00 EST.

Decoding Every Word is Tiring

If you had to decode every word you ever read, would you tire of reading? I would.

For my students with dyslexia, every word on a printed page is a challenge to decipher. Over time, this frustration causes academic progress to stall. Without the right reading accommodations and tiered literacy interventions, these students will statistically underperform and fail. They will withdraw emotionally and we do not want this to happen.

I am an elementary teacher and dyslexia interventionist for DeZavala Elementary School at SMCISD  in San Marcos, Texas. My students are bright, underprivileged youngsters who are not good readers. They need the right strategies, resources and advocates to help them break through reading barriers. Children who cannot read well are not dumb or lazy, their brains do not process information like you or I. They need empowerment and tools to ease their struggle.

Audiobooks Are Learning Breakthroughs

To help more students enjoy breakthrough moments of reading, I use human-read audiobooks. Skilled narrators inspire my students to request and read more and more books. They like hearing different voices and become engaged with the story.

Some teachers and parents are skeptical. They ask me, “Is my child really learning when they listen to a book read aloud?” The answer is YES!

Thoughtful human narrators can heighten a struggling readers’ senses with correct intonation and phrasing. Their voices ease the burden of decoding to enable students to read with fluency and this leads to increased comprehension and larger vocabularies.

Digital Learning Dive-In

Years ago, our school did not have funding for technology devices, but I managed to get two Kindles. Kindles did not support Learning Ally, but a media specialist knew how to “jelly” the devices to work. I handed them to two students with stories they would not be able to read in print. Success! I could see real emotion on their faces. This was a game-changer! I needed more devices, so my dyslexia coordinator, Clarissa Talbert, made it happen.

This experience led me to create a video called (Fight.Song), where my students described in their own words and handwriting what it felt like to be dyslexic. Their compelling phrases pleaded viewers -- “Don’t give up on me.” “I need more time,” “Believe in me,” and “I learn through audiobooks.” That video made a big impact to teachers and administrators.

At a "Night of Empowerment for Parents”, Kathy Hansen, a former Director of Special Education saw my video. Kathy was the President of our School Board and has always been a strong supporter of my dyslexia/literacy initiatives in the district. She nominated me for the 2018 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award, and I won!

Develop a Culture of Learners with Reading Practice

Teachers do an amazing job, but we do not always find the time to develop extra-curricular activities. Learning Ally does this for us. 

All year long, I can tap into teacher-supported activities that are engaging and fun. I use 33& Me and The Great Reading Games because my students love the digital leaderboard -- it’s like a reading cheerleader and scorekeeper. This quickens their desire to read in class and at home. They listen and learn. They retain information. They discuss stories. They practice reading.

Research proves that students who practice reading consistently for 20 minutes or more per day read with more fluency.

With Learning Ally, my students have access to a wide range of stories on and above their grade level. They can read and entertain themselves. We create fun activities like “Read with a hero, partner reading, class read-alouds, read to a parent, or to a pet,” a big hit! 

Many of my students score above average on the Texas STAAR. They are independent learners, confident and prepared. Some are top ten in their classes -- all great achievements!

Use human-read audiobooks to ease the painful process of decoding words in a textbook or a story for struggling readers. This will help them to increase reading stamina, vocabulary, comprehension, critical thinking skills and self-esteem. Do this, and the academic rewards you long for your students to achieve will become a reality and they will believe in themselves.

Join our thriving community of parents and educators who are making a real difference in helping more struggling readers reach their true learning potential. 

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“Summer Reading Together” by Learning Ally Supports Teachers’ Efforts to Prevent Summer Reading Slide with Human-Read Audiobooks
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May 23, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

girl reading with headphones and a smartphone in a hammock. Learning Ally has kicked off its “Summer Reading Together,” a program designed to motivate struggling readers to read for twenty minutes a day using human-read audiobooks.

Each year, thousands of students experience summer reading slide, especially those with print and learning disabilities. Reading skill setbacks not only affect student performance in the coming school session, but many teachers have to reteach skills, and over time, these setbacks can have a lasting impact on students’ academic future.

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. As students become engaged in the reading process, they are apt to read more and enjoy the experience, while building foundational skills in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking.

Learning Ally, a leading ed-tech nonprofit organization, delivers a comprehensive audiobook learning solution for struggling readers, and students with learning differences, like dyslexia. Students who qualify typically read below grade level, but have the aptitude to be high-level achievers. Teachers rely on Learning Ally to provide a quality reading accommodation and access to grade-level K-12 textbooks, novels, and literature.

Terrie Noland, Learning Ally’s Director of National Educator Engagement says, “Summer reading slide disproportionately effects the children who need to read the most. Our rewards-based program is “ready-to-implement” for teachers. It has popular book choices that students will love, and human narration in our audiobooks transforms each story into a true adventure!”  

Summer Reading Together includes:

  • - A four-part scaffolding ‘take-home’ lesson.
  • - Detailed parent letter describing the program.
  • - Instructions to use Learning Ally’s mobile app.
  • - Grade-appropriate summer reading list to engage all readers.
  • - Tracking card to record reading activity for self-motivation.

Twenty top prizes award students for their efforts and a social media component enters them in a random drawing to win a Chromebook.

This year, over 20,000 student members participated in Learning Ally’s reading engagement programs, including its signature national reading competition – The Great Reading Games.

The nonprofit also recognizes exemplary administrators, teachers and students nominated by their peers with financial scholarships annually.

Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Program begins June 1 and ends August 31, 2018.

Contact Learning Ally at 800-221-1098 and schedule a demo at www.learningally.org/educators.

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 an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read at home and at school, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief.

Learning Ally successfully partners with more than 13,000 U.S. schools, districts and leading state education systems across the country to empower over 300,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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Northern California Community Gather to Discuss Strengths, Supports and Successes of Students with Learning Differences
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May 14, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally


Northern California educators, parents and researchers will gather in Los Gatos at the Loma Brewing Company on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 to discuss an important education topic that effects more than 10 million students in the United States – how to help more children and teens with learning differences succeed.

An estimated 10 million students (1 in 5) have dyslexia, a language-based processing disorder that effects the ability to decode words in print. Often, these students are intellectually bright, but lack the necessary resources and support to keep academic pace. Learning disabilities slow down the brain’s ability to read fluently and disrupts comprehension of the “context” or meaning of information. Many students feel frustrated in the learning process. The good news is that there are researchers and organizations dedicated to transform the education landscape for these learners.   

Dr. Maryanne Wolf, a research expert in the field of dyslexia for the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice at UCLA, Tufts University Center for Reading and Language Research and friend of UCSF Dyslexia Center, will lead this discussion to share groundbreaking research and strategies proven to help more struggling learners become high achievers.

This local event, proudly sponsored by Learning Ally, UCSF Dyslexia Center and LOMA Brewing Company, will take place on Tuesday, April 24 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at LOMA Brewing Company. Tickets are $20 per person and $5 for teachers. Light refreshments and beverages served.

The California Dyslexia Guidelines lists Learning Ally as a recommended reading accommodation in support of students with dyslexia. The statewide guidelines provide clear and useful direction for general and special education teachers and parents on the need for, and uses of, accessible educational materials to identify, assess, and support more students with the learning disability.

Please RSVP by April 12, 2018. Local media is encouraged to cover this critical issue.


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 an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read at home and at school, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases student confidence and self-belief.

Learning Ally partners with 13,000 U.S. schools, districts and state education systems to empower over 300,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.


About UCSF Dyslexia Center

The mission of the UCSF Dyslexia Center is to address and remove the debilitating effects of dyslexia while preserving, and even enhancing, the strengths of each individual. We take a multidisciplinary approach based on latest scientific discoveries in neuroscience to characterize the strengths and weaknesses associated with dyslexia.

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Luther Jackson Middle School Celebrates Win of U.S. National Reading Competition
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May 14, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally


Luther Jackson Middle LogoLuther Jackson Middle School in the Fairfax County, VA Public School System, has won 2nd place in the Great Reading Games, a national reading competition designed to support teachers to motivate K-12 struggling and non-readers to read 20 minutes or more a day.

The Great Reading Games is the signature reading engagement competition offered by Learning Ally, an education technology nonprofit, based in Princeton, NJ. 

The national competition aims to support a school’s efforts to build a positive culture of readers in a school environment. A digital leaderboard tracks and highlights the number of pages students read, and how many students read in a school. Winning schools, teachers, and students receive Chromebooks, gift cards, headphones and prize packs.

Luther Jackson Middle School has a schoolwide emphasis on developing disciplinary literacy with a staff dedicated to improving students’ reading skills. This year, more than 380 7th and 8th graders read over 150,000 pages for a total of 12,591 minutes in the seven-week competition. Students competed against 22,000 of their peers from 1,210 U.S. schools and districts to place 2nd in the nation.

Chad R. Lehman, Principal at Luther Jackson Middle School, said “Our students and staff are extremely excited, proud, and honored to be recognized by Learning Ally as a top performer in the 2018 Great Reading Games. This is the first year our students and staff have utilized Learning Ally as a tool to support students who are working to improve their literacy skills and develop a love of reading. Learning Ally has significantly increased the amount of time students spend reading and has led to a higher level of engagement with our curriculum. Our teachers and students brought their “A” game to the reading competition and won!”

Top Student Winners

Two students at Luther Jackson Middle School will receive top honors. Qais Sakaji won 3rd place and Alexander Melgar won 6th place overall for reading the most books. Ten more students were also among the top 25 readers in Fairfax County.

Barbara A. Barnhart, a Special Education English Teacher said, “Learning Ally really resounded with Qais. He was a reluctant reader and passively read in class, flipping through pages, but not really engaging with text. He truly embraced the idea of reading for pleasure.  He would add books regularly to his bookshelf and tell me how many pages he read per night. He was motivated to earn more points on the school’s leaderboard. His reading stamina improved as did his vocabulary and he hasn’t stopped reading.”

Maggee Albertson, a Learning Disabilities Teacher and Sponsor of Model United Nations says, “Alex really embraced reading audiobooks from Learning Ally. After we read a novel in class, which was the first in a series, he read the rest of the series from Learning Ally. He came to class each day and wanted to share what was happening in the lives of the characters. He talks with me about what other books he might like. He would let me know if he liked the story. It was great to see him exploring new genres of fiction and discussing them with me.”

Luther Jackson Middle School serves more than 1450 students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. A majority are second language learners with more than 45 different languages spoken at home. Additionally, many special education students are dually identified as ESOL students. Students using Learning Ally can easily download audiobooks directly to their tablets, computers, smartphones, Chromebooks and other devices to read in school or on the go, even without Internet access. 

School Celebration –April 10, 2018

On Tuesday, April 10th at 9:00 am, Principal Lehman, along with faculty, parents, and Kim Norkin Banks, Learning Ally’s Education Manager, will honor the school’s victory and the students who made reading a priority with their rewards and prizes.

Rachel Haymond, a Fairfax County Assistive Technology Resource Teacher said. “It was awesome to see the playful “rivalry” among students and how effective this competition is to ignite students who struggle to read. I loved seeing the students read daily with such vigor.”

Hundreds more students in the Fairfax County Public School District use Learning Ally all year long and have collectively read over 1,000,000 pages.

If your school would like to participate in the Great Reading Games, call 800.221.1098, email programs@LearningAlly.org or visit www.LearningAlly.org/Educators


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 an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read at home and at school, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases student confidence and self-belief.

Learning Ally partners with 13,000 U.S. schools, districts and state education systems to empower over 300,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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