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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.


“Keeping it 100” for My Struggling Readers

May 14, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By Katherine York, Reading Specialist, Walt Whitman Middle School, Fairfax, VA

For students who struggle with reading, everything about school is hard. I’ve lost track of the number of times my seventh and eighth graders have told me they hate to read. By the time these students reach middle school, they’ve been failing for years. Their reading scores are low, and so are their confidence and self-esteem.

Virginia Teacher Katherine York standing at her classroom door with pictures of author Kwame Alexander.Changing minds. Changing lives.

Every day I see students who have lost faith in themselves, but I also let them know that I believe in them. That is where their journey begins.

As soon as students walk through my door, we have tough conversations about their reading barriers. I start by addressing the elephant in the room. That’s how I keep it real with my students. Rebuilding their confidence isn’t easy, but it is possible—by creating a safe, supportive environment and by building positive, trusting relationships.

Keeping it 100 with Students

One of the first things I tell my students is that, “It’s okay if you don’t always understand everything you read. You’re going to become better readers, but it’s going to take time, and you’re going to have to work at it.” These aren’t easy conversations, but I’ve found that students appreciate my openness, and they are glad to know that I’m on their side. They call this “Keeping it 100,” which is slang for keeping it real or being completely honest.

It makes me sad when I think about all the students who would rather do just about anything other than reading. Many of these students have never shared their feelings about their reading differences with a friend, a teacher or a family member. It’s a terrible cycle. They can’t read. They don’t want to read. They can’t succeed without reading. Why are so many students failing to read well? Here are just a few reasons:

  1. They come from lower socioeconomic status families and typically have less access to books and reading role models.
  2. Students don’t think it’s cool to carry books and are often bullied for doing so.
  3. Teachers don’t teach reading fundamentals, or students don’t absorb them.   
  4. A learning difference, such as dyslexia, impedes a student’s ability to process information in print.
  5. English isn’t their first language.
  6. Students don’t understand how to navigate the maze of books in the school library.
  7. Students aren’t given many opportunities to select books that interest them.
  8. Academic conversations about books aren’t part of the curriculum.
  9. Students don’t know what kind of books they like to read.
  10. Teachers don’t give access to resources that could help more students be successful.
  11. Students don’t have class time to delve into a book for independent reading practice.

Creating an Atmosphere for Struggling Readers to Thrive

Class time for independent reading is a frequent challenge for schools that do not have block scheduling. Fairfax County School District, Virginia, allots 90 minutes of reading time three times a week. I believe this in-class reading is beneficial for the more than eighty struggling readers who attend my classes. Knowing that they have time to read, students rarely show up late. Their commitment to read is strong. Thanks to the many devices donated by generous parents and our school, students don’t have to sit at their desks to read.

A Different Kind of Classroom

If students are relaxed and comfortable, it is much easier for them to focus on reading. They also like choices. In my classroom, students have choices when it comes to seating. We have comfy beanbag chairs, swivel chairs and rockers. We have exercise bikes. One student was so caught up in a story, he rode three miles!

For the first half hour of my class, students put on their headsets and dive into an audiobook from Learning Ally. They pair with a classmate to discuss the story and decide how to demonstrate their comprehension. This could be a book report, an oral report, acting out a scene, designing a poster, a fun guessing game of “who am I,” or a Q&A with me. Multiple ways of learning resonate with struggling readers. This strategy is UDL or universal design for learning.

Motivation and Assessment

Part of keeping it 100 is making sure that each student understands their Lexile level at the beginning of class. They take quarterly assessments to measure their reading progress. They read independently – a critical part of becoming a good reader. They commit to read for 30 minutes a day in school and at home.

Through probing discussions, my students explore topics that interest them. They learn about various genres and authors. They read diverse literature and books about celebrities like LeBron James and Henry Winkler who struggled to read. Small rewards keep them motivated—from a simple hug or a sympathetic ear, to reading certificates and class recognition. My students light up when I say, “Hey, you’re doing it!”

Pages Fly by with Learning Ally

Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games are a homerun reading activity for my students. Last year, we came in fifth in the nation. My students were thrilled! One student said he didn’t like to read anything. I gave him Kwame Alexander’s book Swing. He couldn’t put the book down. He hugged me and told me how much he enjoyed it. He related to the story and the characters. He felt enormous pride that he read the book cover to cover. I saw a change in his demeanor – a tangible result of giving him the right book at the right time. There’s no better feeling than the joy that comes from seeing your students succeed, especially those with reading barriers.

Reading, Learning and Growing

From time to time, my students, who are in high school now, come back and visit. They say, “Ms. York, I’m keeping it 100.” I smile when I think about how far they have come. They still have reading barriers, but they also have the strategies, the resources and the motivation to break through them and thrive in school and life.   

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Learning Ally Recognized by Three Top Education Awards Programs in 2019

May 10, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Join Learning Ally in celebrating! The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has been named a winner or finalist by three of the top awards programs in the education industry: the Parent and Teacher Choice Awards, the SIIA CODiE Awards and EdTech Digest’s Cool Tool Awards. 

Parent and Teacher Choice Award - a gold circle with leaves surrounding it. Parent and Teacher Choice Awards Gold Medal Winner—Best Website

The Parent and Teacher Choice™ Awards from HowtoLearn.com are the most recognized and valued international awards by both parents and teachers. These awards honor educational products, services, media and toys with exceptional quality for their brain-based learning principles, creativity, innovation and fun.

To be considered for this award, nominees must reflect proven learning values, stimulate higher-order thinking skills, employ brain-building principles, be innovative in their approach to helping children learn, play or be creative. Products must promote social and emotional growth, use humor if applicable, build character and help children see the joy in learning or play.

 

 

SIIA Codie Award logo

SIIA CODiE Awards Finalist—Best Solution for Exceptional Students

 

The SIIA CODiE Awards is the only peer-recognized competition in education and business technology. For more than 30 years, the SIIA CODiE Awards have been honoring software, education information and media products for excellence and innovation in technology. This year's program features 32 categories, several of which are new or updated to reflect the latest industry trends.

“The 2019 CODIE Award finalists represent the finest in innovation and creativity in educational technology,” says SIIA President and CEO Jeff Joseph.  “These breakthrough products are opening doors for learners of all ages by developing and utilizing new technologies to respond to the diverse needs of student and educators.”

 

The edtech awards symbol. Black background with infinity circles and the words cool tool finalist.EdTech Digest Cool Tool Awards Finalist—Special Needs/Assistive Technology Solution

The largest, most competitive recognition program in all of education technology, the EdTech Awards recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere.

Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual program shines a spotlight on cool tools, innovative leaders and innovative trendsetters in the K-12, higher education and skills and workforce sectors. The EdTech Awards recognize people, the products they produce and the lives they shape.

Andrew Friedman, Learning Ally President and CEO, was a 2018 EdTech Leadership Award finalist for global leadership.

Bring the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to Your School

Sign up for a demo today by calling us at 800-221-1098 or emailing programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Kids Become Empowered Readers When Given Access to Grade-Level Text
Photo of Marlene Moyer

May 9, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By: Marlene Moyer – English and Social Studies Teacher, South Tahoe Middle School, South Lake Tahoe, CA

Peer interaction plays a huge role in our ability to fit into the “norm” at school and feel good about ourselves as learners. When we are learning and feeling proud of our accomplishments, we create positive connections socially and emotionally with our peers. Conversely, if we struggle to read and rarely understand what we are trying to learn, we suffer the consequences of negative social and emotional feelings. If a child who struggles to read does not demonstrate improvement when direct reading instruction is at its pinnacle in 3rd and 4th grades, the probability of being behind grade-level and lacking self-confidence follows that child their entire life.

Struggling to Read is Traumatic

As a seasoned English and Social Studies teacher, I have deep empathy for kids who “try and fail” repeatedly. This failure turns into a nagging stigma and heartache for the student, their teachers and their families. Even sadder is that many struggling readers have above average intelligence; they just don’t know how to harness it. This type of trauma is avoidable.

Years ago, I decided that no more students who struggled to read were going to “try and fail. The solution I found was accessible education materials and human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally.  This resource made an incredible difference in my class instruction, my students’ skill level and in their social and emotional health.

Giving students equitable access opened their world and an opportunity for self-reflection. Students who had never thought of themselves as learners began to speak up. Their self-doubt changed to positive self-identity. They showed vast improvements in reading and began to talk about the books they read with peers. They made huge strides in their social connections. The transformation was nothing short of incredible.

Conversing is Learning

In my classes, I have a fair amount of reading assignments and discussions. With Learning Ally’s audiobooks, struggling readers got into the groove of listening and conversing right away and I saw positive changes. It was a real game changer! Students wanted to self-select their own books in the digital library. They selected books on and above their grade-level. They led book discussions and small reading group activities.  Seeing students who were once emotionally shut down and labeled as “low readers,” now interacting with peers, one could not argue the impact on my students’ emotional well-being and the change it made for all of my students.   

“Look at Me” Class Discussions

Audiobooks enabled me to raise up every struggling reader to say, “Look at me reading, Mrs. Moyer.” What a wonderful phrase… “Look at me reading!” In all of my 16 years of teaching, Learning Ally’s Audiobook Solution is the ONLY thing that has made a significant difference to so many kids. Not only are they improving their reading skills, their IDENTITY as readers has solidified. These kids FEEL like readers now. Nothing else I’ve tried has done so much good for them academically, socially and emotionally.

A reading accommodation and access to digital content was the solution to get more students who struggle to read – reading. They experienced reading growth. They felt dignified. These positive results and emotions are powerful and I could not be prouder or more grateful for Learning Ally.

To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo or call 800-221-1098.

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7 Tips for Learning Ally Educators to Have a Stress-Free Summer
educator-laptop

May 6, 2019 by Jenny Falke

The count-down to summer has already started! You have so many projects to wrap up, but don't stress about your school's Learning Ally subscription this summer. Use these seven tips to end the year right.

1. Hold off on updating students until next year!

Don't update students or assign books for the 19-20 school year just yet! On August 1, 2019, Learning Ally systems, including the educator portal, will reset and your students will need to be updated AFTER that date. Here's a look at what to expect after the reset on August 1.

2. Export your student reading data.

After the reset, students reading data such as pages read and days read will reset in the educator portal. Make sure you have the data insights you need by exporting the data before August 1.

3. Remove unqualified students.

Go ahead and archive students you know won't use Learning Ally during summer or next school year. If you have students pending certification and will not qualify, archive those students. Master Admins and Administrators also have the ability to delete archived students.

4. Complete your renewal early (if it's time)!

If it's time for your school to renew your Learning Ally subscription, speak with your account manager today to confirm your students will have access all summer long! (You would have received an email notification if it's time.)

5. Add more teachers to your subscription.

Tell other teachers and add them to Learning Ally. It costs nothing to add more educators as Learning Ally users and more educators means more success for your students. You may also have a few educators you need to deactivate if they've left your school.

6. Help students win summer reading prizes!

Sign up your students for Summer Reading Together, and share about our social challenge. You can help students get the most out of summer reading using our simple lesson plan, plus more downloads like our parent letter and printable tracking calendar.

7. Assign required summer reading.

Hand out our fun summer reading list, which includes books from the Collaborative Summer Library Program's space exploration theme. You can also ensure any required summer reading books are assigned and on student bookshelves.

Share these tips with fellow educators to be sure your school starts the year off right with Learning Ally next year.

Last but not least, don’t forget to go ahead and register for Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia Virtual Conference featuring Dr. Maryanne Wolf.


Bring Learning Ally's Audiobook Solution to Your School

Learning Ally is a cost-effective solution to help your students who read below grade level boost their vocabulary, comprehension and test scores. Our extensive library of human-read audiobooks includes core content, is easy to set up, and fits into your existing curriculum. Learn how you can transform the lives of your struggling readers.

Sign up for a demo, call 800-221-1098, or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Learning Ally Reading App Named Finalist For 2019 EdTech “Cool Tool” Awards
EdTech awards logo

April 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:

Princeton, NJ, April 25, 2019 - Learning Ally, a leading education solutions organization, today announced that its reading app has been selected as a 2019 EdTech "Cool Tool" Awards finalist in the category of special needs/assistive technology solution. 

The Learning Ally reading app gives students with dyslexia and other learning differences anywhere/anytime/any device access to an extensive library of human-read audiobooks, including age-appropriate fiction, literature and textbooks. It is currently used by more than 375,000 students nationwide.

Available to students in grades 3-12 in schools that use Learning Ally, this versatile app promotes independent reading inside and outside of the classroom and enables students to manage all aspects of their reading experience in one place. Student-centric features include notetaking, a built-in dictionary, sharing and customization.

Terrie Noland, VP of Educator Initiatives at Learning Ally, said, “For students with reading deficits it is critical to have an integrated learning experience rather than dealing with different apps and support tools to complete assignments. Our reading app does this effectively. This recognition reinforces our commitment to doing everything we can to level the playing field for more struggling learners.”  

For nearly a decade, the EdTech Awards have been celebrating individuals, organizations and solutions that are transforming today’s educational landscape. Andrew Friedman, President and CEO of Learning Ally, was named a 2018 EdTech Leadership Award finalist for global leadership.

About Learning Ally

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 comprised of human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources. Used in more than 17,000 schools nationwide, this solution helps students with reading deficits become engaged learners and reach their academic potential. 

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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