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.


New Search Categories Make Finding Audiobooks & Textbooks Easy

October 28, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

by Cher Ware, Classroom Integration Manager

Educators working to support struggling readers know that it can be difficult to help students find the right book. It can also be daunting to give students, who are decoding below grade-level, access to the instructional texts that are part of the curriculum. 

Learning Ally has an extensive library of over 80,000 human-read audiobooks including fiction, non-fiction, textbooks and primary source documents. With several ways to search for just the right audiobook, the browsing features of our audiobook library makes finding the right  books easy for students and educators. 

New! Browse by Curriculum

Educators can now search for audiobook titles which align to their curriculum to better support reading instruction. 

Curriculums included are:

  • ARC® Core 2017

  • Amplify ELa 2016

  • EngageNY 2016

  • Learnzillion

  • Pearson MyPerspectives™ 2017

  • Texas Education Agency Instructional Materials

The Declaration of Independence Book Cover - three revolutionary people marching Educators can also search our category called “Standards Aligned and Primary Source Documents” to find instructional text aligned to rigorous standards. This category includes primary source documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. If you use these texts in your classroom, make sure all students have equitable access with Learning Ally.

Grade and Subject

The Grade-Band Carousel, located on the Browse Audiobooks page, is organized into three categories: Excite in Elementary, Motivate in Middle and Encourage in High School. The carousel highlights titles which will engage students and keep them coming back for more reading. 

You might consider highlighting this search area with your students who are unsure how to search for a book they will enjoy. It’s an easy way to get them started previewing text and finding text that meets their interests. 

Searchers can also filter by categories such as grade and subject area. This is beneficial for educators who may be looking for a book on a specific topic like the Civil War, women in science, or books for a book club. This search feature can be especially helpful to students who may be browsing for a book on a topic in order to do research or discover a new book that matches their interests such as graphic novels. 

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King - Book Cover Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Category

Several options are available when searching by Category:

  • NEW! Recently Added - Students and educators can now find the latest additions to the Learning Ally audiobook library by searching in the Recently Added category. These books are updated frequently so be sure to revisit this browsing feature often. 

  • Great Starts - Includes highly engaging titles that will motivate readers, especially first-time readers to keep coming back to read. These titles are changed quarterly. 

  • VOICEtext - Learning Ally’s audiobooks are narrated by volunteers who help bring the story to life for readers. These books include audio and text together to provide students with multisensory learning experiences.

Lexile 

If using Lexile levels to find books for students to read, keep in mind that Learning Ally’s human-read audiobooks allow students to read books at their comprehension level instead of their decoding level. With Learning Ally, students are given equitable access to grade-level text along with their peers. They can read books they need to read and the books they want to read. 

Whether an educator is looking for a book which aligns with curriculum or a student is looking for the latest young adult fiction, Learning Ally’s audiobook library makes finding that perfect book easy to do.

Learn more about Learning Ally  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for students with dyslexia and other reading deficits.

For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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How I Got My Principal on Board to Implement Audiobooks for Learning

October 23, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Grant Elementary School in Shasta County, California has some of the highest academic scores of any school in the region, yet, like many schools, there is a population of students who aren’t making reading progress. 

This is where Eilyne Davis, an Early Development Literacy Coordinator and Intervention Specialist, steps in. She works with children identified through her school’s early screening process who have reading deficits. One of her strategies is to use human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally as a supplement to explicit reading instruction. 

Ms. Davis initially experienced audiobooks with her son, Archer, who has dyslexia. Through his journey, she was determined to help more children to read successfully and sought out to show her principal, Mike Freeman, the potential of this resource to unlock children’s reading barriers.

Archer’s Journey

Eilyne and her son huggingEilyne heard about the human-read audiobooks from her son’s literacy tutor. Archer was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. As a teacher, it was painful for her to watch her son struggle, so she purchased a household license for the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. “He read books,” said Eilyne. “This was a big deal!” 

She then spoke with Archer's third grade teacher to find out what books he would be required to read in class. She downloaded them for him on the Learning Ally Audiobook App. 

A Long List of Students to Support

In her K-6 classes, many children showed signs of reading deficits in decoding, phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. Eilyne raised their challenges with her Principal, Mr. Freeman. She shared her son’s experience and asked, “What if we could help more children with this resource?” They evaluated how audiobooks with human narration could break through reading barriers like decoding, and improve skills in listening, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, prosody and verbal reasoning. When Mr. Freeman saw how audiobooks could unlock more children’s potential, he initiated a school-wide literacy program.  

Eilyne had demonstrated how audiobooks were effective and provided equitable access to content. She said, “At some point, every teacher will assign books that one or many students will not be able to read. This is when they fall behind and can’t meet their goals.” 

Watching Brooke Grow in Fluency and Comprehension 

Ms. Davis and student, Brooke in a classroom Brooke, a sixth grader with reading challenges, was struggling to keep up with her peers in class. She also expressed her frustration at not being able to read books that many of her friends were reading. Using the Learning Ally Audiobook solution, she logged 2000 pages in one week. “She worked so hard to fit in but always felt isolated and different,” said Eilyne. “In the first trimester, her reading fluency was 94 words per minute. When we re-assessed her in the second trimester, she improved to a whopping 120 words per minute! Her comprehension went from a Lexile level of 625 to 900!”

Reading Data Reveals More Students’ Progress

Eilyne routinely reviews her students’ reading data on the Learning Ally teacher dashboard. She wants to get a glimpse of their reading behaviors and genres that interest them. “Students love searching for books and tracking their pages read,” she says. “When you empower them to select their own books, they are more apt to read independently. They see your confidence in them that they can do it.”

Sharing Success Through the School Community - Facebook Live

Eilyne and her principal decided to do a Facebook Live meeting with their community to help more teachers and parents to understand how the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution works, and the power of audiobooks for students with reading deficits. Principal Freeman said, “We want reading to come alive. Learning Ally is like having a public library in our students’ book bags.” 

Stacking the Bookshelves for Transition to High School

At the beginning of fall semester, Grant teachers determine how much summer reading slide occurs. Eilyne says, “Children, who once saw so many books out of reach, now read. We love seeing the joy on their faces.” Brooke and many other students are transitioning to high school. “This is the time when they will be assigned complex material,” said Eilyne. “They are ready! The ability to ‘see and listen’ to audio textbooks and literature has given them confidence and skills to comprehend more grade-level work and feel good about their future.”

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Audiobooks are Cheating? Not at all.

October 17, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

With the rise of audiobooks and technology supporting spoken text to accommodate students who struggle with reading, or even those who just enjoy listening to a story in that format, there is great speculation as to whether the impact to learning and comprehension holds any weight. And some regard listening to audiobooks as cheating. Psychologist, Daniel Willingham writes that some, “think you’re getting the rewarding part of it … and it’s the “difficult” part that you’ve somehow gotten out of..{..}..and your brain is doing less work than reading” (Science of US, 2016)

While some researchers have hypothesized that reading and listening would process semantic information differently, findings from a study by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed just the opposite (Deniz, Nunez-Elizalde, Huth, & Gallant, 2019). 

Lead researcher, Fatma Deniz, used 3D semantic maps that represented MRI recordings of their volunteers’ brain activity while listening and reading a story. They paired this technique with semantic word categorization and “voxelwise encoding” (or in other words, how the brain decodes things we have previously remembered) to indicate which parts of the brain would be activated when words were listened to or read. It was expected that different areas of the brain’s cerebral cortex would be activated, but the semantic maps revealed that listening and reading yielded identical brain activation. 

What does this mean? Whether we are reading or listening to an audiobook, our brains process the words in the same way—they have the same semantic processing reaction. We create the same meaning with text whether read or listened to, which implies that we derive a comparable level of critical thinking in both formats—there is no slacking in how our brain sorts, remixes, and creates inferences. 

The findings of this study have significant implications for the estimated 1 out of 5 people who have Dyslexia (International Dyslexia Foundation, 2019), and warrants further exploration regarding how people with the disorder make meaning of text through audiobooks. 

"If, in the future," Deniz suggests, "we find that the dyslexic brain has rich semantic language representation when listening to an audiobook or other recording, that could bring more audio materials into the classroom."

So, go ahead, pick out that audiobook, it’s not cheating. Over 375,000 students in over 17,500 schools have boosted their reading skills by using the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Our multisensory reading accommodation allows students to not only read in a way that best suits their needs, but also to take an active role in reading. They can listen, take notes and highlight text, and still be able to process what they are reading, aiding in retention, comprehension and the ability to apply their critical thinking skills..In fact, our audiobook solution empowers students to work to their true potential by leveling the playing field and allowing students to access grade level content that they couldn’t previously.

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Learning Ally Partners with Square Panda to Deliver Reading Solutions Across Entire Pre-K to Grade 12 Range

October 9, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release: 

SUNNYVALE, Calif., and PRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 9, 2019—Square Panda, creator of an award-winning multisensory edtech literacy platform aimed at pre-readers and early readers, and Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit education solutions organization focusing on struggling learners, announced today that they have signed a strategic partnership. The partnership will enable the two companies to collaborate on sales, marketing and implementation opportunities, and serve the entire pre-K to grade 12 education market.

As the sole distributor of Square Panda products in the U.S. education market, Learning Ally will now complement its award-winning Audiobook Solution targeting students with reading deficits in grades 3-12, and Professional Learning catalogue reaching nearly 100,000 educators, with the ability to provide an early literacy learning system designed for students in pre-k to 3rd grade.

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multisensory reading accommodation featuring human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of educator tools for real-time progress monitoring and data reporting that helps struggling readers with a reading deficit become confident, engaged learners, capable of reaching their academic potential.

Square Panda’s learning games are grounded in the latest neurological research around brain development and reading. Its multisensory playset interacts with tablets to help children learn reading skills with confidence. Its proven approach helps build essential reading skills in children ages 2-8 years old—engaging multiple senses, including sight, touch and sound, as research has shown this is how young children learn best.

“For more than 70 years Learning Ally has been providing innovative support for students from across the United States with reading deficits, blindness and visual impairments, and physical disabilities that don’t allow them to read standard print,” said Andy Butler, CEO of Square Panda. “We are proud that Learning Ally has chosen Square Panda as its phonics and reading readiness partner to extend its offering to reach early learners. Their current reach to 17,500 schools and their educator success infrastructure will allow us to move the needle on ensuring all children in our schools meet the ‘Read by [grade] 3’ goal, which all educators aspire to achieve.”

“We are thrilled to expand our footprint into early literacy and partner with Square Panda,” said Andrew Friedman, CEO and president of Learning Ally. “Square Panda’s literacy platform will enable early childhood educators with an adaptive literacy system, allowing them to better meet the needs of all types of students with different social-economic backgrounds and/or learning differences to develop core fundamental reading skills.”

About Square Panda

The award-winning Square Panda™ playset is a complete phonics learning system with multisensory play. Designed for kids two and older, the playset blends physical and digital learning as it keeps kids entertained through age-appropriate learning games grounded in research-based curriculum. Early readers play their way to reading fluency as they engage with physical smart letters that connect them to a library of learning games. Every play session guides children as they explore the alphabet, practice letter sounds, discover rhymes, build vocabulary and more. For more information, visit www.squarepanda.com.

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 multisensory 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 17,500 schools, this essential solution, along with its catalogue of Professional Learning, bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential.  For more information, visit www.LearningAlly.org.

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Dyslexia…Is it Overlooked in Spanish-Speaking Struggling Readers?

August 27, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Teacher working with students in a classroom on the computer. Reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, cross all ethnic and linguistic lines. For teachers of English Language learners, it may be doubly difficult to identify the signs of dyslexia when searching for the underlying causes of why a student struggles to read. 

In the United States, 10.9 million school-age children speak a different language, and 80% speak Spanish. Sadly, only 21% of Spanish-speaking English Learners in eighth grade have achieved “proficient” or “above proficient” levels in reading.

For these students, educators may misdiagnose dyslexia as simply the struggle to learn a new language. Additionally, some teachers lack the training to look for signs of a learning disability, particularly when it is cloaked by a language barrier. Even fewer teaching professionals are trained to use effective strategies and resources to teach and remediate such students. 

How do we recognize the signs of dyslexia in Spanish-Speaking English Learners?  What explicit strategies and resources can we use to empower these learners to be more socially and emotionally connected to literacy and learning? How do we build fundamental skills in decoding and comprehension while giving ample opportunities for the student to read grade-level text?

Strategies and Supports for Spanish-Speaking Struggling Readers

On August 7, 2019, Learning Ally hosted an edWebinar led by educators *Nelda Reyes, a Dyslexia Interventionist at San Marcos CISD, and Alexis Juusola, Education Specialist on the Academic Services Team of the Texas Region 13 ESC. These experts discussed actionable teaching strategies aimed at Spanish-Speaking English Learners who struggle to read. 

Earn CE certificates by listening to this edWebinar, and to learn how to:

  • Understand the relationship between the Spanish language and phonological processing

  • Learn assistive technologies that improve reading comprehension

  • Identify instructional strategies to try with Spanish-speaking struggling students

  • Build background knowledge, increase fluency skills and strengthen vocabulary 

  • Empower Spanish-speaking struggling students to become engaged learners

Characteristics of Dyslexia

If we notice a Spanish-speaking student struggling with fluency or rapid naming of digits, letters, and shapes, consider investigating a diagnosis of dyslexia. Some other characteristics to look for include: 

  • Inability to blend syllables and words together 

  • Difficulty accessing oral vocabulary words 

  • Finding the right word and looking for synonyms

  • Slow reading speed and comprehension

  • Following multiple-step instructions

  • Remembering a series of numbers

  • Intensive lack of prosody

  • Struggling to copy notes

Another important characteristic to watch for is when a student exhibits being an excellent “out of the box thinker,” but their writing skills do not match their oral language and vocabulary skills.

Number One Criteria in Diagnosing Dyslexia in Spanish-Speaking English Learners – Fluency and Rapid Naming Skills 

The Spanish language is syllabic and highly rhythmic; rhyming is important to the development of reading. A critical relationship exists between the Spanish language and a student’s ability to “phonologically process words,” i.e. develop patterns children often use to simplify adult language. 

Phonological awareness is important, however, it is not necessarily the key factor in recognizing dyslexia in a Spanish-speaking student. A common misconception is to use the same criteria to diagnose a Spanish-speaking student with dyslexia as we do an English-speaking student with dyslexia. 

Connecting Neural Pathways – Finding Common Ties Between English and Spanish  

English and Spanish are languages based on alphabetical symbols and common sounds. Research on brain activity shows cognitive advantages to biliteracy, such as a rapid transfer of skills when learning a second language. These changes in neurological processing can be achieved when the educator uses explicit instruction and resources, like audiobooks to provide a multisensory reading experience

To improve skills in comprehension, prosody and for independent reading, Mrs. Reyes and Ms. Juusola recommend human-read audiobooks to scaffold their instruction with digital content that is on grade-level and age-appropriate. 

Leveled Readers Are Only Part of the Answer 

Many teachers try to find “leveled” content that meets the students’ decoding level, rather than their intellectual level, but this isn’t always the best option. Without access to grade-level content, students lose the opportunity to develop vocabulary and background knowledge. Audiobooks give students the exact same content they would find in a book, but in an easy-to-absorb format. 

High-quality human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally enrich the reading experience because students can follow the highlighted text with their eyes while listening to the text spoken accurately and authentically. This allows their brains to process the information with automaticity so they can enjoy a deep reading experience. Deep reading, in contrast to “skimming” or “superficial reading,” is the active process of thoughtful and deliberate reading to enhance comprehension and personal enjoyment of a text. Being able to experience this with the assistance of audiobooks creates a positive reading experience that can lead to empowering a student’s social and emotional confidence. 

Join Learning Ally’s Empowering Struggling Readers Professional Learning Community 

Join a dynamic network of educators across the nation who believe in a common goal – “literacy for all students.” 

For more teaching strategies to enhance the learning potential of Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners with reading deficits, listen to the Learning Ally archived edWebinar in its entirety to receive professional learning CE certificates. 

 

*Nelda Reyes is a 2019 National Award Winner of the Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Award for outstanding performance and exemplary teaching in U.S. schools.

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