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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.


Supporting Struggling Readers: The More We Know, the More We Can Do

April 17, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By Tammy McEntire, Dyslexia Coordinator, Westside Consolidated Schools, Jonesboro, Arkansas

 

Ms. McEntire with a student who won the Great Reading Games standing together smiling. In my 29 years of teaching, I have worked as a first grade teacher, a fourth grade teacher, a reading recovery teacher and, most recently, a certified dyslexia therapist. 

During that time, I have seen many students become angry with themselves, their teachers and the world, because they struggle to read. More than ten million students nationwide struggle with reading, and only a small percentage of them get the support they need.

Struggling Readers Struggle with their Feelings

Struggling readers with learning differences experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, confusion, irritability, frustration and self-doubt. You name the negative emotion, and I’ll tell you a story about a child or teen who experienced it and suffered social and emotional consequences as a result.

When I taught fourth grade, children were reduced to tears when they couldn’t grasp simple words in their favorite books.  Middle-schoolers cringed at the sight of a book and felt ashamed when asked to read aloud. High-schoolers tried to hide their inability to stay on task.

Motivating and Engaging Your Students

Getting and keeping students engaged and helping them make an emotional connection with the material they’re reading are critical for struggling readers. I’ve found that Learning Ally is a great way to motivate students to read.  

This proven reading accommodation is specifically designed for struggling readers, especially those with dyslexia and other learning differences. It gives students access to a huge library of human-read audiobooks, including popular titles, literature and textbooks. It’s easy-to-use, and it has a bunch of student- and teacher-friendly features.

A Great Way to Promote Reading

One activity that gets my students really charged up is Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games. This seven-week national reading event is exactly what struggling students need to jumpstart their enthusiasm and passion for reading. It’s enough time to really generate some positive momentum, and students love the challenge of competing for individual and school prizes and recognition.

I want to challenge my fellow teachers to look for new and better ways to get all their students reading. Consider reading tools like the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Try motivational contests and events like the Great Reading Games. Find other ways to make reading inspiring, rewarding and fun. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like seeing the excitement on your students’ faces when they realize what they’re capable of doing.

Not only have more of my students improved their ability to read accurately and fluently through Learning Ally, they have developed more confidence. This year, our middle school came in ninth place in the nation in the Great Reading Games for the second year, and our high school came in fourth. I couldn’t be prouder.

Improving Access for All 

In Arkansas, our statewide mandate is to provide students who demonstrate characteristics of reading deficits with interventions that support their learning needs. Our school staff is constantly trying to improve our school performance.To accomplish this, students receive reading instruction and practice via Accelerated Reader throughout the school year, and their progress is closely monitored and assessed by Star Reading standards-based assessments.

We rely on the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to provide access for students who require a reading accommodation. Without Learning Ally’s digital library, many students would not be able to keep up with assignments, maintain grade-level status or read independently at home.

When We Know Better, We Can Do Better

Our middle school received the "Outstanding Educational Performance - Best Growth Scores ELA 2017-2018" in the state according to state mandates. Our third- and fourth- graders performed 12% higher in a single academic year. We attribute this success to great teachers and administrators and the right resources to support all learners.

I especially want to acknowledge the amazing work that our teachers in special education are doing to embrace audiobooks. They know that a reading accommodation is a vital resource for a student who clearly cannot keep academic pace with their peers. They know the importance of adding a reading accommodation and access to accessible education materials into students’ IEPs or 504 plans to ensure they have the necessary tools to achieve.

When we as educators clearly understand that students who struggle to read process information differently, we can implement the right tools and resources to make a difference. Learning Ally is one organization that supports our school’s goals, as well as my efforts to instill a passion for reading in students of all ages.

Explore the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for your struggling readers and how the reading data dashboard works. For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Let Your Voices Be Heard
U.S. Capitol building under blue sky

April 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By Ed Bray, National Director, Government Relations & State Initiatives for Learning Ally

U.S. Capitol building under blue skyIn state capitals across the United States, governors are proposing, and legislature are reviewing and revising, the spending plans that will determine what will, and will not, be in the new fiscal year education budget.

Competing priorities clash in the hearing rooms and hallways of state houses and town halls. This is the time when every advocate of students who struggle to learn and to read effectively --  a parent, a teacher, an administrator -- are busy raising awareness, raising support, and raising a ruckus if necessary to make sure all students can read well and have access to critical education materials. During this tumultuous season, it is vital that elected leaders and state budget planners who will make important choices on behalf of students who struggle to learn and to read effectively hear our voices. 

Crucial decisions such as whether, and how much, state funding support will be available is at a crossroads to provide accessible audiobooks programs, such as Learning Ally’s Audiobook Solution. Most states have not made this a priority, instead relegating this to local education agencies, school districts, regional co-ops, or special education agencies. Yes, a handful of leading districts have made this a priority, and their students are benefiting, but there is still a large unmet need for support, and we are asking you to advocate for more funds to support and expand access to Learning Ally in U.S. schools.

Four States, Four Stories

Florida

Florida has made access to accessible educational materials (AEM), such as human-read audiobooks, a priority.  The state funds a significant program that reaches tens of thousands of students across the state from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. This program has seen remarkable growth since the department reassessed the requirements for students to be eligible, coming into closer alignment with the standards used across the U.S.

Florida students have benefited from this expansion, but the rapid growth is straining our organization’s ability to sustain the program. To continue to support the large set of enrolled schools and the teachers who report overwhelmingly positive results on students’ performance and achievement, we are asking the state legislature to provide sustainability funding for students today who struggle to read now and in the future.     

Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education has repeatedly recognized the value of Learning Ally’s program funded through its “Blind / Dyslexic Person Reading Program.”  This year the Board recommended funding to grow the program to support 825 schools. We are asking the Illinois Legislature to agree to this recommendation and fully fund the program for the 2019-2020 school year. Our request will mean that Illinois schools that have asked for this program and are currently on our waiting list can gain the access they need. With your support, thousands more students who struggle today will have the tools to succeed in the coming school semester.

Massachusetts 

Massachusetts went from one of the more successful programs to one that stalled because of the 2007-2009 recession. The state’s budget was hit hard and the program received dramatic cuts from which it has not recovered.

Today Massachusetts supports 2,660 individual seat accounts for students to access Learning Ally.  In a state with more than 41,000 students served in special education for print disabilities and an estimated 150,000 more who struggle to read, this is barely a drop in the bucket. We are asking the Massachusetts Legislature to restore the funds to serve 400 schools.This will open up the opportunity to provide equitable access to thousands of students across the Commonwealth by dramatically increasing the reach of the program.

New Jersey

New Jersey had been a steady supporter of students who struggle with reading. The state is an innovator recognizing a multi-faceted approach that supports needy schools, assists schools in starting the program, and encourages local districts to value, integrate, and support an audiobook solution as an ongoing district program to meet the needs of the broadest set of schools.  

As the home of the Decoding Dyslexia movement, New Jersey is among the first states to adopt education reforms designed to increase teacher preparedness and accurately identify struggling students early in their education. Despite this impressive record, the funding for AEM has been reduced. This has driven us to engage education leaders across the state to not only restore the lost funding, but recommit the state to its record of expanding funding support.

A Call to Action – Let Your Voices Be Heard

While the specific details of each state’s program and predicament vary, there is one thing every supporter of students who struggle to read can do – talk to your state representatives. Write (e-mail or snail-mail), call, or even schedule a meeting with a local state representative and senator.

State legislators want to know what their constituents care about and now is the time to let your voices be heard for students who struggle to read. This is a valid concern that can open dialogue between you and your representatives.

Every state has a simple way for you to find out who your legislators are by your home address. Use these easy, free tools to find office phone numbers and e-mails and send along your thoughts in support of students who struggle to read and to specifically request funding for Learning Ally’s Audiobook Solution.  

One of the truest statements about being an advocate, attributed to Margaret Mead, is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  

Tens of thousands of students who struggle to read depend on your support. These students need as many thoughtful and committed supporters, like you, to take action. Raise your voices now and call on your state legislatures and governors to provide the funds that will transform the lives of struggling readers to successful and confident learners and achievers.

Learning Ally is a leading education solutions organization committed to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven reading accommodation used in more than 17,000 schools nationwide to help students with reading deficits reach their academic potential. 

Contact Ed Bray by email: ebray(at)learningally.org

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When Words Misbehave: Why Your School Needs Assistive Reading Technology

April 3, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Guest Blog By Christy Scattarella, Executive Director/Founder, The Shadow Project

Illustrated Letters in a cloud with a boy reading. Come reading time in Ms. Peggar’s 2nd grade classroom, my son would place a book on his head, rock back and forth, and hum to himself. Alex has dyslexia and attention deficit disorder or ADD. Trying to read the traditional way–with his eyes –resulted in words jumping around the page. I applauded this creative endeavor to redirect the book’s contents straight to his brain. After all, what other option did he have? At the time, decent alternatives to print books were virtually nonexistent. 

Fast forward to today: Assistive technology has revolutionized the way children with dyslexia and other disabilities can learn to read. That’s good news, because third grade reading proficiency is a key predictor of high school graduation.

Then there’s the less-than-great news: For various reasons, this urgently needed tool remains underutilized. I’ve heard some folks label reading technology  “cheating,” or decree, “That’s not really reading.”  Maybe they don’t know the courage it takes for these kids just to show up at school each day, dreading that moment they have to open a book where the words run around, or worse yet, get called on to read aloud.

Equity in education means removing systemic barriers to success and creating an educational environment where ALL children can achieve their potential. Students have the right to learn to read in modalities that capitalize on their strengths, so they can develop “reading to learn” skills that are critical for academic success in middle and high school.                    

Assistive reading technology narrows the gap between a child’s disability and capability, thus giving those who learn differently what the rest of us took for granted. For example, read the same grade-level texts as your peers.

It’s the difference between losing yourself in a story and just getting lost.

The nonprofit I founded, The Shadow Project (named for my son’s dog) partners with teachers to make learning more accessible and engaging for children with learning challenges. We’re in Oregon, where 79% of students in special education do not meet third grade reading proficiency. That’s one reason why we created a Reading Mentors program, which uses the Learning Ally audio-visual library, with human-read audio-visual books designed for kids who need a different way to read. We pair this technology with trained volunteers who motivate children to set reading goals and celebrate their progress.

photo of a student Let me introduce you to a few of these courageous readers:

Johnny, a  5th grader with dyslexia, would sit in class each day, afraid someone would notice he was only pretending to read. “I felt like I was cheating,” he said. Today, Johnny is a star student in his middle school and plans on attending college.

Eric, a 3rd grader, was bullied on the playground for his kindergarten “baby books.” Eric quickly learned to follow highlighted text on a screen and adapt the system to his learning style. He controlled the speed, font size and how often he needed to repeat a word. With this tool and a caring mentor to champion his progress, Eric, who never cracked a book at home, was soon reading 30 minutes a day. Now in fifth grade, Eric reads close to grade level.

Like all children, Annjel loves stories, but she was never able to read them. Surrounded by classmates turning page after page of their books, Annjel would sit staring at the same sentence. “Every time I would read, it would not make sense,” she said. “It was exhausting.” When Annjel could see and hear words at the same time, they began making sense. At school, she began skipping recess to discover a new story. At home, she’d read by flashlight after her Mom turned out the lights.  Annjel started middle school reading at grade level.

Adaptive reading tools are as essential as wheelchair ramps. They provide a virtual ramp to learning, inclusion and belonging. Teachers tell us their neuro-diverse students are engaging in classroom reading discussions for the first time and making friends over a shared favorite book.

That’s the case at Woodmere Elementary, a low-income school in Portland where adaptive learning tools are as standard as backpacks and contribute a transformative school culture. “Our students with disabilities are seeing themselves as readers,” says Principal Katherine Polizos. “They feel like they belong in the school community.”

Assistive reading technology raises expectation for students with disabilities, a population whose potential continues to be squandered by a bar set too low.  Not until 2017 did the U.S. Supreme Court declare that educational progress for this population needed to exceed barely more than trivial, or “de minimis.” Every child should have access to the reading tool he or she needs to succeed. Let’s make equitable education for diverse learners the rule, so the successes of Johnny, Eric and Annjel are not the exception.
Photo of Christy Scattarella

Christy Scattarella, M.A. is the founder and executive director of The Shadow Project, a Portland, OR nonprofit that has partnered with teachers to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for more than 11,000 children with dyslexia and other learning challenges. Teachers use Christy’s award-winning children’s book, The Boy Who Learned Upside Down about her son, to help struggling readers manifest their innate courage.

Listen to Christy's archived edWebinar, "Supporting Dyslexic Readers, How to Go From I Can't to I CAN!


cover of The Boy Who Learned Upside Down boy in meadow with this dog

Book cover illustrations © Winky Wheeler, 2014, from The Boy Who Learned Upside Down


 

 

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Struggling Readers Jump a Grade Level or More in Reading Growth
brooklyn.png

March 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Luvina Ruiz, MAE, Education Specialist, La Cumbre Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District, CA, says, "If you want to build your struggling readers’ confidence and reading skills and get them reading on grade level, Learning Ally is a solution worth exploring.”

I teach seventh and eighth graders who read well below grade level. Students in my classes are from diverse backgrounds with emotional and learning challenges. These learners do not have a good foundation in reading, and many have never experienced the “thrill of a book.” I believe pinpointing exactly what a student is struggling with is an important step in making sure the interventions we use meet that student’s needs.

To make sure my struggling readers and non-readers get the support to become better readers, I use the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This supplementary reading solution has provided our school district with a proven reading accommodation that offers our struggling students with equitable access to grade-level text, literature and popular books.

In the last three years, I have seen a big difference in my students’ reading abilities and self-esteem. Many have jumped a grade level or more, and now easily complete their Accelerated Reader quizzes without assistance and with good results.

One of my students jumped two grade levels in just two months.

STARR results chart

Within two months of having equitable access to grade-level text, this student was able to increase reading scores by two grade levels.

Another student, who is in high school now, had a very difficult time reading. With Learning Ally, his reading level jumped four grades in less than nine months. His comprehension skills soared, and his academic performance improved dramatically, especially in Language Arts.

Audiobooks enhance students’ ability to listen and learn and to participate in small-group instruction and independent reading activities. Students listen to stories narrated by a human voice, not the drone of a robotic voice. They stay involved. They learn what a word looks like and how it sounds. They hear proper pronunciation of words to support vocabulary development. What I like most is that they find joy in selecting books to read on their own, and they are much less frustrated with the reading process.  

For reading assignments, my students must select a chapter book, and if it’s above their reading level, they use an audiobook from Learning Ally. They have ten days to read each book, so they can finish at least two chapter books in six weeks for the Accelerated Reader marking period. With Learning Ally’s progress monitoring dashboard, I can make sure my students are reading the required number of pages each night.

It’s important for all educators to be aware of instructional strategies that support students with learning differences. I recommend the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to any colleague working with struggling readers and non-readers. If you want to build your struggling readers’ confidence and reading skills and get them reading on grade-level, Learning Ally is a solution worth exploring. 

Explore the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for your struggling readers and how the reading data dashboard works. For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Three Powerful Ways Reading Data Helps Teachers Enhance Personalized Learning
three teen boys walking in school hallway

March 18, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

It’s no surprise that personalized learning is a prime topic for educators. The world and the way we learn is aggressively changing. Some educators believe personalized learning is the “heartbeat” of what works well for a particular learner like audiobooks for struggling readers.

According to Patrick, Kennedy, and Powell (2013), personalized learning means tailoring learning for each learner’s interest, strengths and needs, encouraging flexibility to support mastery and enabling learners to influence how, what, when, and where they learn.

That’s pretty much what educators who rely on Learning Ally believe. Our audiobook solution is not only a vast database of digital textbooks, classics, literature and fun titles it is an important information hub for teachers to gain real-time reading metrics and insight into students’ personal reading preferences. This automated data saves teachers precious time. It enhances teachers’ ability to personalize achievement goals and make course corrections. This data also gives teachers the proof to celebrate every students’ reading efforts.

How can Learning Ally reading data be effective for you?

1. Set personalized learning goals for each student

We recommend 20 minutes a day for 33 days to make reading habits stick. The educator portal takes the laborious work of tracking each student’s reading progress on paper, to a digital dashboard tracking time on task, number of days a student reads, number of pages and books completed. Teachers tell us that by drilling down into individual student usage they gain insight into students’ preferred genres and favorite authors. This is useful knowledge to spark reading interests and encourage independent reading.  

2. Progress monitor and course correction  

The ability to make adjustments in a students’ reading program at any time during the semester is a tangible benefit. In the educator portal, teachers can quickly identify students that need additional support in accessing and using the Learning Ally app effectively to build stronger reading habits and pinpoint improvement areas in reading. Some teachers use the data in a more holistic approach to engage students in meaningful discussions to help them feel more supported and empowered to keep reading.   

3. Celebrate small and large successes

Learning Ally data can also lead to improved social-emotional well-being. Teachers appreciate the data they see about a students’ reading progress and use that data to support student recognition and to celebrate the successes of the most vulnerable readers – a notable effort.

Strengthen Your Reading Environment with Personalized Data

With the right data, educators can be more confident that they are reaching each student individually and helping them to make progress according to their learning potential. The ultimate goal is to motivate students who don’t like to read to help them enjoy more books and thrive in the classroom. This is the heartbeat of personalized education and when this happens, there is no greater gift for the student and the teacher.

Let’s get you signed up for Learning Ally!  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for your struggling readers and how the reading data dashboard works. For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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