K-12 | Read to Achieve


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Differentiation, A Key to Reading Success: Using Technology and Audiobooks to Enhance Small Group Instruction

January 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Ms. Sharon Plant headshotSharon Plante, Director of Technology for the Southport School in Connecticut, presented an edWebinar on the “Use of Technology to Support Small Reading Instruction.”

With 22 years of teaching experience in special education, Ms. Plante emphasizes the use of technology to make reading instruction a multisensory process – one that is engaging and explicit, but that also maintains individualization and diagnostic-prescriptive aspects of the lesson.

“Students must have a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge,” says Ms. Plante. “To enhance my skill-based instruction, I want students to have access to educational content, like audiobooks, to help them read grade-level materials and reach their highest learning potential.”

Student Needs Assessment – Differentiation is the Key

Ms. Plante is a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor (CE/AOGPE). She leverages her training and understanding of technology to ensure each student has the resources and instructional environment they need to strengthen their subject knowledge based on their needs assessment. The Southport School is unique in that it works with students who have language-based learning disabilities. A driving principle of the school is to align class instruction based on a student’s intellectual ability, rather than by a traditional grade-level system. 

Each day at Southport, 110 students in grades K-8 attend classes with their peers relevant to their subject-knowledge. They transition in and out of different classes and move to other supportive learning environments as necessary to strengthen their aptitude.

Southport educators know that students with learning differences who struggle to read print can only stay on or close to grade-level assignments through equitable access to educational content in digital format. “This is a critical piece of their learning process,” says Ms. Plante.

Without access to quality audiobooks (textbooks, literature, reference), many students would falter in their academic progress. She likes Learning Ally because the audiobooks are read aloud by skilled narrators who keep students engaged in the listening and learning process through natural voices that will intrinsically motivate them to keep reading.

Improve Comprehension by Reducing Reading Barriers

Some Southport students receive access to education audiobooks as early as first grade. Ms. Plante believes that the earlier we provide children with accommodations who need them, the sooner they can comprehend education materials on their intellectual level and be inspired to read independently. She says, “Reducing reading frustration is the ‘sweet spot’ to hurdle reading anxiety and to help students read fluently enough to decode words and comprehend the context of the subject matter.”

Expand School’s Digital Library

Southport relies on Learning Ally, a proven audiobook solution, to complement its use of Accelerated Reader. Combining this instructional component with audiobooks ensures that more struggling readers harness their enjoyment of reading. “Prior to our access to audiobooks, many children who struggled never wanted to read,” says Ms. Plante. “Reading is still difficult for these students, but audiobooks help to reduce feelings of failure. Technology enables me to provide multiple representations of education materials. This is what universal design for learning (UDL) and the ability to personalize learning is all about.”

Learning Ally’s audiobook solution also enables the school to expand its digital library and easily manage the process of assigning digital textbooks, literature and popular reading. “We have reduced the number of lost books and excuses for not having books in class,” adds Ms. Plante. “Parents appreciate this cost savings and the fact that their children can find popular titles, books on college prep, reference materials and books that interest their lifelong pursuits.”

Southport students can sit back and get lost in a good audiobook story while their brains’ executive functions recognize new words, build larger vocabularies and instill background knowledge. Students also discover their personal interests, favorite genres and bestselling authors. Ms. Plante recalled one student who loved an audiobook so much he could not stop listening to the story he was reading.

“We try to encourage independent reading,” says Ms. Plante. “While students in small-group reading instruction may be at different reading levels, it is vital that all students have access to the same article, passage or novel.”

In addition to Learning Ally, Southport School uses other technology programs such as Newsela, Freckles, Rewordify, and Bookshare.  

Ms. Plante says, “Learning Ally lets me identify Lexile measures and monitor students’ reading progress. Multiple options for students to learn information the way they need it to be presented is giving them the ability to access the same text as their peers and ensures more participation in class discussions, improvement in their reading skills and their confidence that they can achieve higher goals.”

Educational Webinars

Throughout the year, Learning Ally sponsors Edwebinars for the education community to gain CEU credits, while learning best practices of skill-based instruction, technology and proven learning strategies like UDL and behavior management techniques.https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51jeSXwaaSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

About Sharon Plante

Sharon is the co-author of Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities, which highlights the incorporation of technology through the Universal Design Model to reach all learners. She has presented at IDA, The Dyslexia Foundation, Everyone Reading, EdRev, ATIA, New York Chapter of ALTA, Spotlight on Dyslexia and AssisTechKnow. Sharon is a member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools Commission on Technology, and was awarded the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award from George Mason University College of Education and Human Development.

Special thanks to Sharon Plante. 

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.

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U.S. Teachers and Students Gear Up For National Audiobook Event to Get Hooked on Reading

January 3, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:                     

 January 3, 2019, Princeton, NJTeachers across the United States are gearing up for the Great Reading Games hosted by Learning Ally, a leading education solutions organization.

Learning Ally has expertise in building reading engagement programs for struggling readers with learning differences like dyslexia. In support of educators and students alike, the organization hosts several classroom-friendly programs throughout the year to motivate students who struggle to read and help them succeed in school and beyond. The seven-week program improves vocabulary, comprehension and academic performance, and many students from participating schools also feel a huge sense of accomplishment. The Great Reading Games will run from January 7, 2019 to February 22, 2019.  

Terrie Noland, Learning Ally’s V.P. of Educator Initiatives says, “Students who struggle to read are often intellectually bright, but have difficulty keeping up with grade-level assignments due to a learning disability. The Great Reading Games gives these students the freedom to listen, learn and become immersed in a good book without frustration, and be rewarded for their efforts.”

Participants in the Games have access to more than 80,000 high quality, human-read audiobooks. They can select titles from the largest library of its kind to find curriculum-aligned textbooks, graphic novels, diverse literature and popular series, like Harry Potter, and Dog Man.

Additional program benefits include real-time insights, progress monitoring tools and digital rewards. These additions support the educator and make it easier to implement the program. The opportunity to win prizes such as Chromebooks, headphones and gift cards motivate students to keep reading for the entirety of the event.

Each year, Dana Blackaby, an educator and dyslexia specialist, signs her students up to participate in the Great Reading Games. She said, “97% of my students met or exceeded the STAAR standards after participating in the Games in 2018, and they won 3rd place in the nation. It was a truly proud moment.”

The Great Reading Games will officially close on Read Across America Day with a live “meet the author” webinar on March 1 with bestselling author Kwame Alexander. Mr. Alexander is an American writer of poetry and children's fiction known for connecting with young readers through books like The Crossover, Booked and Rebound. He is the recipient of the Newbery Medal and was a 2018 Read Across America ambassador for the National Education Association’s Read Across America. This live event will inspire, motivate and connect educators and students nationwide.

Sign up is now open for the Great Reading Games. Schools can call 800-221-1098.

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. Our proven audiobook solution includes quality, human-read audiobooks that align to schools’ curriculum in grades 3 -12, and a suite of educator resources to help students who struggle to read due to learning differences succeed in school and beyond. Today, more than 16,000 schools nationwide use Learning Ally. www.LearningAlly.org


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Behavioral Strategies that Can Work with Struggling Students
Terrence Gordon photo

December 18, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Terrence standing with studentChildren and teens in Denver, recognize Terrence Gordon. For years, they heard his distinctive voice and appreciated his unique ways of looking at the world. Terrence spent his early years working as a Program Instructor with kids from the inner city and county for Denver’s Division of Parks and Recreation. He was also a gym/field supervisor at the Schlessman Family YMCA

Terrence knew about diversity. He knew what bullying could do to a child. He knew that many behavioral issues were really about masking something – "a broken family," "living in poverty," walking through "run-down neighborhoods," not being able to read well.

Eventually, Terrence taught English/Language Arts and physical education for Denver Public Schools and DSST. He also became a Restorative Practices Coordinator, working with at-risk kids. His academic and behavior training brought him to an important mission -- to help more struggling kids get to the root of their emotional and academic challenges. 

In this blog, Terrence discusses facilitation methods of restorative practice interventions, and how he applied behavior management techniques around care, comfort, calm, clarity, learning challenges, and culture.


Be authentic. Kids want someone to trust. If you try to be something you’re not, your true self will reveal just at a time when kids don’t need people to change. That’s when relationships deteriorate. Show students that you experience a wide range of emotions, just like they do. This will allow them to view you as a real person rather than “the teacher” or another authority figure.

two boys in the libraryComfort

Create comfortable surroundings with bean-bag chairs and a 'cool down' area where students could safely go if they were upset, agitated, or simply too excited to participate in class. Play music – not what you would expect in a traditional learning environment. Students responded favorably to music. Children in my classes also craved structure and appreciated some forms of rituals and routines, like a unique handshake or a hug, special eye contact, individualized greetings, rewards, and open invitations to talk about their ideas and challenges to learning.


Struggling learners are accustomed to chaotic situations. When your environment is not turbulent, many students find themselves uncomfortable or apprehensive. That’s when behavior issues come into action. Sadly, students will act out in order to create chaos because that is what they are used to feeling at home or outside of school. I remained calm at all times, vowing that challenging situations would not dictate my mental or emotional state and derail my classroom. Once students realize they aren’t getting a reaction, they learn that being calm is a behavior they might find useful. It’s a teaching moment!

Group of middle school children on top of the mountain with a teacherClarity in Emotional Response and Positive Reinforcement

Struggling learners are often good at discovering loopholes and behaviors that teachers might have, but maybe don’t recognize them. I tried to be enthusiastic when students performed great work, but not show the emotion of surprise. I saved this emotion to show astonishment when kids acted out or had a misstep in class. It catches them off guard. I also made sure to give explicit instructions using multiple representations of materials attuned to students’ learning styles.

Challenges in Learning

Students learn in different ways, so we must deliver instructions and encourage students to complete their assignments in multiple mediums whenever possible. Some students respond to oral instructions. Others will want you to write things on the board, or write their own notes. Others may require a hands-on assignment or learning device. Struggling readers may require digital materials, and a reading accommodation. As educators, we must reinforce the message that "all kids learn differently, and that’s okay." This is the time to assure students they can be good learners, and provide resources, like audiobooks, and emotional reinforcement. 

Cultural Differences

Cultivating a students’ belief system that they can be good academic achievers was my number one goal! I wanted anyone who entered my classroom/office to feel calmness and a culture that welcomes all types of learners, learning styles, and cultural differences. I tried to introduce diverse literature to encourage class discussions on topics that are happening in the world, or to a certain subgroup of people, such as the book, The Hate U Give.  Building a culture of readers, including those who struggle, can be an extraordinary gift to this undeserved student population that unites kids and makes them more open to others and self-reflection.

Special thanks to Terrence Gordon who writes for Consumers Advocate.

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.

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Making Reading Comprehension Click for Struggling Readers
Penny Moldofsky

December 10, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Penny Moldofsky with studentsStudents at Woodlynde School in Pennsylvania are revving up to participate in The 2019 Great Reading Games -- a national audiobook event hosted by Learning Ally. The annual challenge supports teachers’ efforts to motivate struggling readers to improve their reading habits and comprehension skills.   

Multi-Tiered Learning Approach

Students who attend the accredited independent Pennsylvania school are learning to be fluent readers, but may be coping with dyslexia, that makes it hard to understand and respond to grade-level text. While these students are intellectually capable, they require a personalized approach to learning and access to text that is appropriately challenging for their stronger comprehension and thinking skills. 

Leading the school's effort is Penny Moldofsky, Director of the Literacy Institute and an accredited Wilson Reading Trainer. Ms. Moldofsky is a passionate advocate for students who learn differently, and has a big heart for students who find it excruciating to read. 

As a Wilson® Accredited Partner school, her students receive intensive intervention, lots of reading practice, and access to text structures and new vocabulary that are essential components of literacy. Ms. Moldofsky recommends a multi-tiered learning approach using the Wilson Reading System® as a proven multisensory, structured literacy program, and 

Learning Ally human-read audiobooks to ensure grade-level access to reading materials

She says, “Audiobooks make mental movies of text in students’ minds. I like knowing that students aren’t spending so much time figuring out words, but are excited to read.”

For 45 years, Ms. Moldofsky has molded the minds of children and teens to look beyond their learning disabilities and to find proven strategies and resources that work best for their needs. She frequently references brain studies by dyslexia experts, Sally Shaywitz and Barbara Wilson, who encourage teaching literacy skills along with providing accessible materials on grade-level that build students’ love for reading and learning.

Motivating Students to Read – The Great Reading Games

Last year, during the Great Reading Games, Ms. Moldofsky’s students competed against 1200 U.S. schools. They read 5.3 million pages. They rallied in their lobby and gymnasium to see who was reading the most books. They went online to view the national leaderboard and talked about the audiobooks they read. At the end of the event, 220 students celebrated a top win in PA schools and 27th place in the nation.

To motivate students, Ms. Moldofsky dressed in a sports referee jersey. She coached students to listen to audiobooks daily. Students loved the excitement of looking at the reading tally board in the school’s lobby. They wore badges and keychains to display their competitive spirit. She saw marked improvement in students' reading habits, including stronger comprehension skills and larger vocabularies. "Students discovered they were quite capable of learning and succeeding and were thrilled with their gains," she said. 


Independent Reading

Ms. Moldofsky believes independent reading strengthens students' understanding of how to read and how to comprehend different authors’ text styles. She likes the careful narration in Learning Ally audiobooks by voice professionals with proper intonation of words and phrases. She says, “Narrators carefully convey the full experience of the story line. If students have problems with comprehension, audiobooks can make stories come alive because students’ brains can process information on a deeper level.”

Packing the Digital Bookshelf

Each semester and summer break, Ms. Moldofsky and the teachers at Woodlynde School pack students’ digital bookshelves with titles they want to read. Ms. Moldofsky calls it ‘bookmatching,’ and believes that students are more motivated to read books that interest them personally. 

She says, “Few books in print meet a struggling reader at their independent reading level. Books for young children are easy to find, but when you are older, it is more difficult. Students must be able to practice reading with controlled text at their comfortable reading level. Learning Ally helps to make up for that gap and interest level.”

Through the online library she can find popular titles to interest all ages. Each student receives a password. They can use the mobile app for homework and reading “on the go” using classroom tools like bookmarking, taking study notes, citing references for book reports, word definitions and setting personal preferences.

Ready for a Bright Future

Learning Ally and The Great Reading Games keep my students motivated to challenge themselves,” says Ms. Moldofsky. “Students, who rarely enjoyed a book, began reading without anxiety with audiobooks. Words clicked as they saw them, heard them and comprehended them. They believed in themselves as learners. I know they are on their way to a bright future and eager to set even higher goals."


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Celebrate Read Across America Day with Author Kwame Alexander
Kwame Alexander

December 4, 2018 by Jenny Falke

Learning Ally’s Read Across America Day “Meet the Author” event will connect classrooms across the country with best-selling author Kwame Alexander on March 1 to celebrate readers and bring awareness to the different ways kids read and learn, like through Learning Ally human-read audiobooks.


Kwame uses his novels, The Crossover, Booked, Rebound, Solo, and Swing to immerse students in rich, lively poetry. Engaging readers through rhythm, rhyme, and relevant literature, he empowers students to transform their literary lives and infuses them with an unparalleled excitement for reading and writing. Kwame wants students to know they are worthy and capable and that embracing words and books is a risk worth taking. No, not a risk…a prize. A prize that will set them on an incredible journey toward success in everything they do.

Without human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally, some students would not be able to independently experience the power of Kwame’s poetry. Students who struggle with the lower level processes of reading, like those with dyslexia, thrive with Learning Ally’s human-read audiobooks. See a sample of Kwame's latest book on the Learning Ally audiobook reading app.

“Learning Ally students have access to grade-level content and authentic literature that opens a pathway to discovery and provides endless hours of enjoyment,” explains Vice President of Educator Initiatives Terrie Noland. “Kwame’s books help Learning Ally students get hooked on reading and we’re thrilled to give educators another chance to motivate struggling readers and build a culture of reading in their school. As students become engaged in Learning Ally human-read audiobooks, they transform into lifelong learners.”

“Students who struggle to read rarely win awards for reading, but through Learning Ally’s reading programs, like the Great Reading Games, these students are celebrated for their reading achievements. This event comes at the perfect time, just after the games, and is a great opportunity for schools to honor the readers who just completed a marathon of reading success and bring awareness to dyslexia, and other reading struggles, across the entire school. It’s so important for the whole school to rally together to support struggling readers!”

Get Students Reading Kwame’s Books for the Great Reading Games

Solo by Kwame AlexanderSwing by Kwame AlexanderBooked by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Encourage students to finish all the books before the event and set them on a path to Reading With Frequency.

Schools are Invited to Join us to “Meet” Kwame

Learning Ally invites K-12 schools to join them in celebration of Read Across America Day as Kwame connects with classrooms across the country. We invite schools to LIVE stream this event to your entire student body to bring awareness to the many ways students read and learn. Learning Ally schools received an exclusive invitation after they signed up for the Great Reading Games before December 15. Now open to the public, register now for this event.

This event cannot be recorded. Schools will be able to connect to a LIVE stream on March 1, 2019 at 11 AM ET. Should the presentation be recorded by the school, they will be instructed to remove the video. Space is limited. Please join the event early to be sure you have a spot; we apologize in advance for anyone who is not able to attend.

About Kwame Alexander

Kwame AlexanderKwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 28 books, including SWING, SOLO, and REBOUND, the follow-up to his, Newbery-medal winning middle grade novel, THE CROSSOVER. Some of his other works include BOOKED, a NATIONAL BOOK AWARD Nominee, THE PLAYBOOK: 52 RULES TO HELP YOU AIM, SHOOT, AND SCORE IN THIS GAME OF LIFE, and the picture books, OUT OF WONDER, SURF’S UP, and THE UNDEFEATED. The 2018 NEA Read Across America Ambassador, Kwame is also the host and producer of the literary variety/talk show, Bookish, which airs on Facebook Watch, the co-founding director of the LEAP for Ghana initiative, and the Founding Editor of VERSIFY, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.

Need a Learning Ally school subscription to get in the games?

Join a demo or learn more about Learning Ally's audiobook solution that turns struggling readers into grade-level achievers. Call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.


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