K-12 | Read to Achieve


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Intervention Specialist Shares Pilot Test of Human-Read Audiobooks
Photo of Rebecca leaning over her students in a classroom.

May 22, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By: Rebecca Phirman, Intervention Specialist 

There is a growing literacy crisis in America. I know because I am an intervention specialist for St. Mary School, a national blue ribbon school of excellence in Alexandria, KY. I see the challenge on my students’ faces who struggle to read. Many of these students have a learning disability, like dyslexia, but many more go years without a formal diagnosis. These students feel the anxiety and humiliation of faking their way through a reading assignment or struggling to complete a test about a book they could barely read. 

This article is about how I pilot tested Learning Ally and the impact it has made for my students.

Pilot Testing Audiobook Support

At my school, we have elementary and junior high school students who rarely pass Accelerated Reader exams and are unable to discuss a book with their classmates. Their reading ability is well below grade level according to the NWEA assessments they take three times a year. If students are six months or more below grade level, we target reading instruction with effective research-based strategies to address this reading gap. If students do not receive the support they need, they will fall farther behind and this is why educators are constantly looking for a resource that can help them bridge the reading gap.

The Power of Learning Excitement

When I first discovered human-read audiobooks by Learning Ally, I asked a few students to test them for their next class or independent reading assignment. We talked about the benefits of learning with an audiobook and that it wasn’t cheating. They agreed to try. After all, it gave them a chance to use their device at school, and they didn’t have to do the “work” of reading. They were excited to get through an assigned book at the same pace as their peers, and they helped us (their teachers) make decisions about whether audiobooks were a good resource to help others.

Some of those first audiobook assignments included Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life, The Outsiders and Walk Two Moons. The students who read these audiobooks began to participate more in class. Clearly, they understood what they read. They also passed Accelerated Reader exams.

For their independent reading, struggling readers chose audiobook titles that their higher-performing peers had read and recommended, rather than titles that were at their reading level. They liked being able to self-select titles of interest and reading the same books as their friends. After the experiment was completed, these students were excited about audiobooks and wanted to read more. They told me proudly, “Look at me, I’m reading!”

Turning Struggling Readers into Academic Achievers

Struggling readers, especially in junior high, are not motivated. Years of hiding their reading challenges have undermined their learning confidence. This first group of courageous students convinced me to move forward. I discussed the audiobook approach with fellow teachers and my principal. I discussed it with parents and began to coordinate the resource into students’ learning plans and reading practice. Interestingly, I found that the word “accommodation” had a negative connotation for some teachers and parents, so we called it a reading support tool. 

This resource helped to restore my students’ confidence in their ability to read and contribute to class discussions. It complemented our schoolwide literacy efforts in a holistic way to enable students to reach their true academic potential and develop their social-emotional skills.

Intrigued by Highlighted Words and Book Report Functions

A seventh grader saw me using Learning Ally. She was intrigued that the words lit up on the screen. She was instantly excited about the mobile app and thrilled that the app could help her read books faster and prepare book reports. She liked the ability to take notes directly in the app and re-listen to a chapter or passage. Her demeanor changed from a reluctant reader to a confident learner. Her vocabulary grew. She felt more inspired. I am proud to say that she was able read a book in print written very close to her grade level with minimal teacher support. Two years ago, she wouldn’t have even tried!

The Power of Human Narration

Our second-graders love audiobooks too. They get their iPads out, put on their headphones and are reading in no time. They maneuver the mobile app masterfully to select the color of the font and rate of speech. It’s magical to see these little learners enthralled by a book and reading with ease and confidence, especially since I know they can enjoy audiobooks for a lifetime.

Teachers and parents ask me, “Do students prefer human narration?” Absolutely! My students particularly like books read by the author. 

A few years ago, Delaney Dannenberg’s mother, Shelley Ball-Dannenberg, came to our school to talk about identifying and helping students with dyslexia. She and Delaney wrote the book, “I Have Dyslexia: What Does That Mean?” Many of our students have read the book in Learning Ally. Delaney narrates the book, so she is the voice that the students hear. What a neat experience to have an author share her story with you.

A Valuable Tool for Teachers

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution not only works for my students; it works for me. I use the teacher dashboard all the time. It lets me monitor  data of what students are reading in real time. It gives me insight into their reading preferences and reading habits. It lets me add books directly to their bookshelves and then track their reading progress. It gives me the knowledge I need to show the resource’s effectiveness to our teachers, our administrators and our parents.

National Audiobook Challenge Supports My Efforts

We also participate in Learning Ally's national reading event (The Great Reading Games) designed to support teachers’ efforts to get more struggling readers to try audiobooks. This reading challenge is a natural fit for our school culture, and our school library has significantly expanded with access to digital reading materials to support struggling readers.  During the Games, we watch the digital leaderboard on Learning Ally and post these weekly results on our school bulletin boards and in school hallways. My students like the “read for rewards” aspect of the Games and the chance to win Chromebooks and headsets. Our school adds incentives like Ice Cream Day and Out-of-Uniform Day – both fun rewards.

Learning Ally Bridges the Reading Gap

Struggling readers are empowered by audiobooks because they can choose books that interest them, and they aren’t limited by their reading level. They like the human narrators. Used in conjunction with other research-based reading interventions, Learning Ally has enabled us to bridge the reading gap for more struggling readers, bringing them up to, or even above, grade level. When I see my students enjoying reading, I remember why I became a teacher. It makes me feel good knowing that St. Mary School is doing our best to help more students succeed and to address the need for “literacy for all.”

Looking for a Solution? 

Schedule a demo to see how the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution 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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“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

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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