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.


Middle Schoolers' Reading Scores Triple with More Independent Reading Time
Girl Reading Audiobook

February 24, 2020 by Julie Heaton

Last October, middle school English teacher, Cathy Hatcher, decided to do things differently in her classes. She gave up some instruction time so her middle schoolers would have more time to read independently; then, she challenged them to read for thirty-three days. Her students' reading scores tripled. Their reading habits improved. Students could more easily recognize their own reading interests, and as importantly, they felt really good about their reading progress.

Instruction Time vs. Reading Time

“Giving up precious instruction time is a decision that teachers do not take lightly,” shares Ms. Hatcher. “Yet, the value of giving up my time, increased my students’ love of reading, as well as their self-esteem.”

Cathy Hatcher is a seasoned teacher in secondary and higher education. For the last three years, she has worked with 7th and 8th English Language Learners at Folsom Middle School, Folsom-Cordova USD in California.

33 Days of Reading

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For her students with reading deficits, like those with dyslexia, and with IEPs requiring a reading accommodation, Hatcher chose access to the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. “I wanted to test the theory that if students read for 20 minutes a day for 33 days, they would improve their reading habits and it worked!” Her students experienced considerable growth.

One and a Half Year Reading Growth

Students began to see a pay-off from reading human-read audiobooks. Their fluency skills improved. Upon taking the standard iReady diagnostic exam, Hatchers’ students’ reading scores tripled thanks to the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Students were reading one and a half grade levels above their baseline. Hatcher knew she was on to something big! "We were completely overwhelmed with their reading progress," said the teacher.

Hatcher also saw positive changes in her students’ learning confidence and self-worth. “They were excited about reading on grade-level. They read daily and on weekends. They read audiobooks of interest and understood what they read. They felt accomplished."

Critical Time for Reading

Hatcher affirms that middle school is a critical time for students to have positive feelings about themselves as learners. “At this age, children are still eager to please their teacher and explore new ideas,” she shares. “They aren’t shutting down, like many older students who struggle to read. They liked the autonomy of selecting books on their own. They liked the trust we had in them to access the Learning Ally digital library of more than 80,000 human-read audiobooks 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Diverse Reading Interests

One of Hatcher’s students, an 8th grader, who decoded words on a 3rd grade level, became completely absorbed in the Raider’s Night, by Lipsyte Robert through the human-narrated audiobook. This book is fairly large and listed at a 9th grade reading level. Hatcher said, “It would have stalled a struggling reader. When he saw how thick the book was in print, he became so impressed with himself. He never would have read that book on his own.”

Access to Core eTextbooks

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For class instruction, Hatcher downloads core textbooks and novels from Learning Ally. She encourages students to browse the audiobook library for additional reading assignments and titles that interest them.

In addition to students reading independently, they listen to a selected audiobook for whole class discussions. Students recently read Kwame Alexander’s novel, The Crossover. “It was a big hit!” adds Hatcher. “They really related to this book. They enjoyed the figurative language. We analyzed the characters and looked at the poetic nature of Kwame’s writing style. They loved the reading assignment.”

Hatcher’s students also participate in Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games, an annual 7-week national reading challenge. Her class won 4th place in the nation.

Reduction in Reading Delay Tactics

Hatcher says her students no longer use delay tactics to avoid reading. They put on their headphones, press play on their devices, and are quickly absorbed in an audiobook. “They aren’t hung up on trying to decode words that slow their comprehension,” she says. “Their cognitive skills are more intact because their frustration to read is minimized.”

All Students Matter

Folsom School District is in the early stages of developing equity training to ensure that every student receives the right kind of support, like the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution, to address their unique needs, and Cathy is leading the charge. “We want all students to believe that they will learn English and pass the ELPAC exam,” she says. “It starts in believing in yourself. Adding independent reading time into my class schedule was a win/win. It enabled my students to improve their reading habits and their learning confidence. Learning Ally’s prescribed formula of reading for 20 minutes a day for 33 days was successful. No teacher will say “no” to this kind of reading progress.”

Note: Since writing this article, the Principal of Folsom Middle School has moved to the elementary campus, Navigator Elementary, a Title I School. After seeing the reading success of Hatcher’s middle schoolers, he implemented the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution so that younger students with reading deficits would have the earliest opportunity to access human-read audiobooks and improve their chances for academic success.


Support Your Students with Reading Deficits with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.

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Learning Ally is Giving Students a Chance to Meet Popular Children's Book Author, Dan Gutman
Dan Gutman Books

February 20, 2020 by Julie Heaton

PRINCETON, NJ, February 12, 2020 – Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit education solutions organization that transforms the lives of new and struggling learners through proven literacy solutions, is pleased to announce that they are giving students the opportunity to meet best-selling children’s author, Dan Gutman as part of their on-going “Meet the Author” webinar series on February 27 at 1:00 PM EST.

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Mr. Gutman is the author of more than 160 books for kids from kindergarten through middle school, including the wildly popular "My Weird School" series for beginning readers, the long-running “Baseball Card Adventures” series, and the New York Times Best-Selling “The Genius Files” series. His webinar, “There’s Nothing Weird about Reading,” will include an opportunity to ask questions, and is guaranteed to be a hit with students of all ages.

“We’re so excited to have Dan as part of our Meet the Author webinar series,” says Learning Ally Vice President of Educator Initiatives, Terrie Noland. “Dan has made it his goal as a writer to inspire reluctant readers to love reading, which aligns with our goal to help educators with effective programs and solutions that help struggling readers to succeed.”

Dan himself says that he hated reading as a kid, so he tries to make reading his books feel effortless. He says, “I'm trying to write stories that are so captivating that kids will look up after an hour and feel like they'd been watching a movie in their head."

Dan has even prepared a message about his upcoming webinar.

The event coincides with Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games, a nationwide reading competition that motivates struggling readers to read twice as much, three times as often. The games provide a great opportunity for teachers to excite and motivate struggling readers in a way where students can feel confident and engaged in reading.

Terrie Noland says of the event, “the Great Reading Games celebrates students’ reading achievements; even students who struggle to read have a chance to win awards.”

It comes just as the games are finishing and are the perfect way for schools to celebrate the students who just completed a marathon of reading success while bringing awareness to dyslexia and other reading struggles, across their entire school.

Register today for the free webinar: "There's Nothing Weird About Reading" with Dan Gutman on February 27th at 1:00PM EST


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education organization dedicated to equipping educators with proven solutions that help new and struggling learners reach their potential. Our range of literacy-focused offerings for students Pre-K to 12th grade and catalog of professional learning allow us to support more than 99,000 educators across the US. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is our cornerstone award-winning reading accommodation used in more than 17.500 schools to help students with reading deficits succeed. Composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student progress, it is designed to turn struggling readers into engaged learners. For more information, visit www.LearningAlly.org.

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The Struggle is Real: Transforming Struggling Readers Into Happier, More Confident Students
girl on ipad

February 18, 2020 by Julie Heaton

At a private school in Greenville, South Carolina, imagine having 157 students who feel the struggle of their reading deficit, every-single-day. Not only do they struggle with reading, but they face the reality that the public school setting did not work for them. As a result, there are 157 students who face the inevitable drop in confidence after leaving their classmates who could learn, “the normal way”. At Camperdown Academy, the need for specialized educational services for students with dyslexia is greater than what they can serve, harkening further to the increasing need for some sort of intervention across schools in Greenville in order to level the playing field in equitable access.

Meet Leslie Davis, a reading tutor at Camperdown, and true fan of the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Davis's daughter struggled with reading and used Learning Ally's audiobooks throughout high school and even in college. "Learning Ally became an invaluable tool for my daughter, and I knew it would help others as well," she said.

Davis used Learning Ally with her reading intervention class on an individualized basis for each student. The human-read audiobooks gave students access to grade-level content. More importantly, it "gave her struggling readers access to what their friends were reading." For many of these students, the missed opportunity to enjoy good stories and share those experiences with their friends made them feel defeated.

"Learning Ally gave students an opportunity to those who wouldn't read on their own." But Learning Ally changed this entirely as Davis also had students participate in the program's reading contests which empowered them to become independent readers and keep up with their peers.

Student Spotlight: Seth, like most of his classmates at Camperdown Academy, struggled with reading, and also had no motivation to try. With the integration of Learning Ally into his tutoring sessions with Davis, he was so motivated he participated in the reading contests and consumed far more books than he had before. As a result, Davis said, “it transformed him into a happier, more confident student.”

Learning Ally gives students “equitable access to be like their peers, so they do not have a sense of being all alone”. That is why Davis expressed that the parents of these students choose to continue their subscription beyond the school walls--because they see the academic and social-emotional impact that Learning Ally has on reading development. Furthermore, it is the confidence students gain when using Learning Ally, their ability to now enjoy the same positive experience as their peers, but also perform at an improved capacity in reading that allows them to reach their literacy potential.


Support Your Students with Reading Deficits with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.

Read More about The Struggle is Real: Transforming Struggling Readers Into Happier, More Confident Students

From Despair, To Guilt, To Hope: Reflecting on Our Transformational Experiences in Teaching
teacher

February 10, 2020 by Julie Heaton

Blog Author: Terrie Noland

You were that kid. The full package. Your teachers always gave you rave reviews. Your parents never felt the need to really “worry about you” when it came to school. The awards came in year after year---spelling bee winner, top math student, best invention, top attendance, spirit award, and not to mention a recognized athlete. Or singer, dancer, actor. Maybe all of them because you knew how “natural” school and extracurriculars were for you and you felt like a superstar. You were the profile student. If anything, you created the mold from which all other students should fit in.

Then you went on to college and still held those accolades within the palm of your hand. It never left, you were motivated, you loved school. The envy of the crowd; the envy of the parents who struggle with their children, of your peers who need help, but couldn’t get it. You knew you would be an amazing teacher someday because you were the smartest, most recognized student your entire life. One would never expect that someday, despite all of the recognition and success, you would learn that all of this was not what mattered after all.

DESPAIR

You leave your own bubble of academic success and go out into the world with so much enthusiasm to change the world one student at a time. You fit the profile of a prepared teacher. Except you realize that you are not.

You start to work with students. Their academic needs and beliefs about themselves defy your preconceptions of what you thought you could do to engage, motivate and teach. You look around and see the child with their head down, the child that is acting out, and the child who throws the book to the ground in frustration, or the child that just doesn’t get reading. How can this be? School came so easy for you. You’re an awesome teacher, why aren’t these kids engaged? What happens is that these realizations cause you to feel a sense of despair.

It’s then that you find yourself on a mission - a mission to learn more, a mission to understand the why behind what is going on for your students and a mission to never let any student feel defeated in school. Learning is no longer one ideal profile, but several ones that have just as much potential than those learners who just don’t need help. The experience changes the way you prioritize the accolades. Instead, you prioritize equity. Equity for allowing others to reach their potential, no matter what their needs are, just like you did.

GUILT

This mission takes you on a journey of discovery and growth and you become immersed in understanding the science of reading because being able to read is the foundation of learning. You become a trained professional in how to teach an evidence based structured literacy program and you see so much growth and progress for your students. However, another feeling starts to creep in. Your despair has now turned to guilt. Guilt of knowing that your first year students didn’t get the best you. Guilt of knowing that you could have impacted students if you would have just been taught properly from the get go. Guilt of knowing that you failed your students.

HOPE

The end of the story doesn’t stop there, your growth and transformation continues. Hope begins to peek into your teacher heart and spirit. A hope that says, now that I know better, I want to light a flame of understanding and enthusiasm in other teachers, I want to do better. A hope that says your students are getting the best you. A hope that says when students are learning at your feet, they will build a foundation of reading that is their launching pad for a successful academic career and a purposeful life. A hope that says, continue to learn, continue to grow and continue to provide every student with equity in reaching their full potential.

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"I remember teaching my Pre-K kids how to trace letters without attaching any sounds to those letters. We did tracing papers and that was IT! Now that I know better, I want to do better and I want other teachers to learn from my mistakes. I have figured out my own personal growth plan and strive to do better every day. #KnowBetterDoBetter" - Terrie Noland, C.A.L.P. - Vice President, Educator Leadership and Learning

Are you on a journey of knowing better in order to do better? What transformational experience changed the way you look at learning? Tag us on Twitter and Facebook and use the hashtag #KnowBetterDoBetter and share your story! Or email us at professionallearning@learningally.org


Support Your Students with Reading Deficits with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.

Read More about From Despair, To Guilt, To Hope: Reflecting on Our Transformational Experiences in Teaching

Fulfilling Students' Potential Through Engaging Literacy Practices
student engaging with audiobook

February 3, 2020 by Julie Heaton

Blog Author: Kate Stewart

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Our featured edwebinar speaker on December 3rd, Dr. Evan Ortlieb, believes there is a book for everyone… every learner… we just have to hook them. And his talk, Fulfilling Students' Potential Through Engaging Literacy Practiceswill help you do just that with practical, hands-on teaching strategies that you can implement right away in your classes. As a leading researcher in this area, Dr. Ortlieb’s focus is on re-engaging learners and motivating them towards reading and writing fluency. He highlighted the erosion of engagement from 1st grade through 6th grade for multiple reasons, including the move from picture books to chapter books as students age. However, as Dr. Ortlieb explains, all is not lost when students see literacy as a means to learning, communicating, and interacting with peers. 

This is an instrumental interview to watch as Dr. Ortlieb provides practical solutions based on his own teaching experience and research. His Attraction Theory, which is a model to engage learners, could be put to use in a classroom right away. Our favorite example of a reading engagement strategy was the use of “jolts.” Implementing a jolt targets an emotional response in the learner and challenges his or her existing knowledge on a topic. Take the mudskipper that Dr. Ortlieb spoke on, which is an amphibious fish that walks, eats, and courts on land. You could envision the students’ surprise while reading about the mudskipper and learning that a fish could survive out of the water! The goal is to “jolt” the students into wanting to learn more and to be inquisitive since research shows inquisitiveness relates to high proficiency learning. Another strategy presented and discussed was the Ortlieb Experiential Survey to better tailor lessons to your specific classroom demographic. What we loved most about this talk is how educators will walk away with numerous new teaching methods to try with their own students. 

Dr. Ortlieb also spoke about how to use the in-between spaces outside of the classroom and other modalities, such as video and Learning Ally’s human read audiobooks, to keep students engaged: “Multimodal spaces are the easiest way to encourage jolts. Learning Ally has an incredible database for audiobooks… The in between spaces are an opportunity, not just when you are at school or you’re home, but in between those spaces, I think, should be built upon and opportunized as possible learning opportunities.” The Templeton Twins, by Ellis Weiner, is brought to life by Learning Ally’s audiobook solution. It is a perfect example of a “jolt” story, which when paired with the human read audiobook experience, will keep struggling readers engaged in the material. Listen to a short clip here

To watch the full webinar for more ways to re-engage your students in reading, please click here.


Our Presenter

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Dr. Evan Ortlieb is a Professor and Director of the Manhattan Campus in the School of Education at St. John’s University in New York City. He also coordinates the PhD in Literacy program. He is an internationally recognized leader in the field of literacy education with previous work experience in the multicultural milieus of Australia and Singapore and whose expertise centers on empowering disenfranchised readers and writers, preparing literacy teachers, and differentiating literacy instruction for native and non-native English speakers. He has published over 130 manuscripts that substantiate some of his contributions to the field. 


Join Learning Ally's Professional Learning Community

Take part in the dynamic network of educators working toward a common goal and national movement to ensure equitable access for all students. 

Learning Ally's edWebinar series offers continuing CE certificates in support of educators in K12 who serve students with reading deficits and print disabilities. 

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