Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


Tips for Supporting Reading at Home
Audio books for kids

November 8, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Student Reading at Dining Room TableTry these ideas to encourage your child to practice reading skills at home.

Encourage Daily Reading

Research shows that reading every day helps children build reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. Consider these suggestions for supporting your child with daily reading:

  • Establish a Routine Designate a specific time for your child to read a book at his or her level for at least 20 minutes every night. For example, set aside time for reading after dinner or before bedtime.
  • Create a Comfortable Reading Environment Use pillows, lamps, and comfortable furniture to set up a cozy reading area in your home. Read your own books there to model good reading habits.
  • Incorporate Fast and Fun Reads Use magazines, newspapers, recipes, TV schedules, and road signs as reading opportunities. Incorporate quick reading whenever and wherever you and your child happen to be.
  • Share Workplace Reading Bring home materials and documents from your job so your child sees the relevance of reading in the workplace and the long-term importance of becoming a successful reader.
  • Read and Ride Listen to audiobooks while traveling by car so your child hears modeled fluent reading. Bring a CD or mp3 player with headphones for your child to listen to audiobooks while on a train or plane.
  • Read and Chat Discuss the books that your child is reading. Ask questions such as: What was your favorite part? Who were your favorite and least favorite characters? Can you think of another ending?

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Tips for Supporting Reading at Home

Volunteer Spotlight: Actress Mojena Talien
Mojena Sitting on a Director's Chair

November 5, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

by guest blogger, volunteer,actress and voice over artist, Mojena Talien, talks about her first audio book recording experience with Learning Ally.


Actress, Voice Over Artist and Volunteer, Mojen TalienWhen I found out about the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and that I would be recording  audio books for it with Learning Ally, I felt honored, excited, and ready all at once. The voice-over and audio books industry have always been respected by me since I was a child in the theatre. Some of the actors I look up to now, as a child, I discovered their voice before I knew what they looked like. Like James Earl Jones in The Lion King and Star Wars or any character in a Disney Film. With the help of my voice and acting instructors Jay Goldenberg, Sara Buffamanti, and Eileen Connolly at The New York Conservatory I went into this project prepared and grounded in my technique.

The story that Angie Thomas tells is something that I feel very passionate about. Police brutality was first exposed to me with Trayvon Martin and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I was raised in Florida so that really opened my eyes to the issue. This book is important because it tells the story from the perspective of the adolescent. The book is a roller coaster of love, vulnerability, fear, and learning to come together no matter the differences; whether it be race, religion, and specifically social class. I would like to thank Alexis Bourbeau at Learning Ally. I hope you, the listener enjoys the roller coaster, for it is a great example of optimism and love. Self-love especially.

This is my first book with Learning Ally. You will hear and see me soon again. I just wrapped up a series of beautiful short films that were shot in West Palm Beach, Florida and I just got casted as a dancer and singer in The Greatest Showman that will open in May of 2019. The Hate U Give is a very important story and I’m glad that you’re listening. Here’s to art that enlightens the viewer, listener, or reader while telling the stories of those forgotten or not heard as much in our society. Happy listening!

Watch as we take you through a clip of our "The Hate You Give" audiobook, recorded by Majen Talien


Learning Ally is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers volunteer opportunities. Our volunteer nation has provided narration to our library of over 80,000 audiobooks and has helped students with a financial need, access services that help them succeed in school and in life by making a financial donation. Join the volunteer nation today!

Read More about Volunteer Spotlight: Actress Mojena Talien

Reading Challenges - Audio books A ‘Secret Weapon’
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October 29, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Pink Hair Challenege PhotoBBC world news published a story recently about a determined young girl, Samyra, who made a bet with her camp counselor to read 10 books in just five weeks. If she completed the bet, Oliver, would dye his hair any color she chose, but there was one catch, Samyra has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to read books in print. Since early childhood, Samyra hated to read until her mom and teacher teamed up to find a solution.  

That solution was audiobooks read aloud with human narration. Samyra’s school had provided her with access to Learning Ally, a reading accommodation that helps dyslexic kids listen to textbooks and literature on a device, like a tablet or smartphone, as they follow along the highlighted text. This multisensory approach provides the reader with more context of the story and eases the burden of frantically attempting to decode words, which slows the reading process to a crawl and frustrates the reader. 

To ace the bet with Oliver, Samrya chose the Whatever After Series, a modern day fairytale by Sarah Mlynowski. When her mom, Kristen, saw her face light up with joy, she knew this would change her daughter’s life. “She became a totally different kid,” said Kristen. 

Five weeks later, Samyra accomplished her goal. She read 10 books and 1796 pages. Oliver dyed his hair pink and she and Oliver were very proud. Kristen said, “Samrya would have never accepted Oliver’s challenge had Learning Ally not been her ‘secret weapon’.  

Before Audiobooks…Pain and Angst  

Prior to receiving access to audiobooks, Samyra didn’t sleep well. She always felt sick on the way to school. She had suffered horrible anxiety. She would tell her mom that she didn’t understand how other kids could read and know the answer, when she was still trying to comprehend the question. 

Kristen said, “How nerve-wracking it must be for kids with dyslexia to be called upon in class to read aloud and feel so inadequate?”

After years of mentioning her concerns to teachers, Kristen was grateful to her daughter’s 5th grade Science teacher, Mrs. Spence, who wondered why the youngster had not grasped the mechanics of reading. She observed these warning signs:  

  • Emotional frustration with reading assignments
  • Lack of comprehension of the story
  • Taking hours to read a short book
  • Poor spelling and handwriting
  • Difficulty understanding the sounds in words and mixing up letters

Waiting for a Formal Diagnosis

After a series of tests, her school gave Samyra an individual education plan (IEP) that provided extra time on classwork, a tutor who worked on phonetics with her, the ability to have tests read aloud and access to Learning Ally’s more than 80,000 audiobooks. She and her mom would wait nine long months for a formal diagnosis at the local hospital Dyslexia testing center. 

Kristen said, “Over many years of talking with teachers, I heard the same comments – “it was normal for children to go through this,” “she would outgrow it,” “she wasn’t trying.” These assumptions were all wrong. I wish I had been more persistent in pursuing resources, like audiobooks.” 

Today, Samrya is close to reading at grade level and is working on her school’s “Read 40 books challenge,” that she will accomplish with ease using Learning Ally’s mobile reading app, to read anytime and anywhere. “This technology is her constant companion,” said Kristen. “I hope more parents will encourage a struggling child to listen to an audiobook and see if it makes a difference. Audiobooks help children with dyslexia gain learning confidence in whatever they decide to tackle.” 

10 Million Students…Probably Many More!

Today, more than 10 million students in the U.S. are dyslexic, and probably many, many more have trouble keeping pace in school and believing in themselves as good learners. 

If you suspect your child has dyslexia, please share your concerns with your doctor, your school administrators and their teachers, and ask for help

Take dyslexia screener


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Reading Challenges - Audio books A ‘Secret Weapon’

Dyslexia - a Disability or a Difference?
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October 26, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Practicehope.orgby guest blogger Jen Palmer, a highly qualified teacher with 21 years experience. She has a masters in education and also is a certified dyslexia tutor. Her compassion to help parents comes from being dyslexic, navigating the special education world for her daughter with cerebral palsy, and creating a program at a local private school to help kids with learning differences see success as attainable.


Dyslexia DifferencesI sat across from a mother with tears in her eyes. Her daughter had just been diagnosed with dyslexia and a few other challenges. The wordy scientific books recommended to her were daunting. She searched for an understanding and jokingly asked if there was a Dyslexia for Dummies book to read.

This resonated with me for two reasons.

The first reason being that there is no simple way to explain the intricate processing of the dyslexic’s brain. The other is that our children learning to live with dyslexia have probably felt like “dummies” before.

The word dyslexia means trouble with words.

Kid struggling to readWe need to impress this definition into our children’s minds. They are not dumb or less of a person because they struggle. Many call dyslexia a disability. Disability means not able to do something. Our children do have the ability to read, write, and learn. They just do it differently. This is why we should describe it as a learning difference.

We all learn to tie our shoes differently, but we end up with the same result. It does not matter if it was made with bunny ears, loop over loop, or cross over and go through the hole. It’s a tied shoe that will not fall off.

Our children will learn, but we need to be patient. They may process sounds, letters, word, or directions in a different manner. They have such an amazingly complex network of neurons, that it may take a bit longer than you would expect to process information. As a parent and a teacher, I have to remind myself to stop, wait a minute, and maybe even describe a sound or word in a different manner to get those neurons connecting. Give your child the time. Do not assume they are zoning out or choosing to be difficult. I am pretty positive that they do not want to be different.

Parent reading with childAs you embark on this journey of acceptance and parenting a different learner, please be an advocate for you child. Advocate for them to try new things, spend more time doing what they are good at, and give them tools to make it through school. Work with your child’s teachers to explain that your child may need to access information and/or be assessed in a different manner than others.

I will be honest, that I struggle with the advice some parents are given when seeking a program to help their child with dyslexia. Some have been told teachers should never require their child to use a dictionary, take a spelling test, write in any subject, or have any homework. It seems futile to fight for a child to not be labeled disabled, but then treat them as disabled.

School is practice for life. There are modifications that can be made to keep your child from feeling like they are not able to learn. Shorten the list of spelling words, excuse them from mindless writing of the spelling words 10 times each, and then after the spelling test, give them tools to make corrections. The teacher should circle the missed words, then let your child use a spell checker, a laptop with spell check, or even a word wall.

The goal is to get your child to try.

We want them to understand they learn differently, and have the right to use different tools to help them learn.

Kid reading audiobooksSet a time limit when your child is writing. Let them know you understand writing is difficult, but want them to practice. After the kitchen timer beeps, scribe for your child, and then write the teacher a note detailing how long they wrote, and then you wrote exactly what your child said. Do not autocorrect their writing or interject your thoughts, because the teacher knows your child struggles with spelling and writing and can spot your work immediately. Set your child up with talk to text or a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking if their fingers cannot keep up with their imaginative writing.

You have the opportunity to take a situation that many of you have grieved about and turn it into something wonderful. Yes, your kid learns differently. Some people need glasses to see and hearing aids to hear, but they can still live a full life. Teach your child how to work hard and embrace their differences, because those differences are what will make your child shine in life. Each obstacle they overcome, each time they have to work harder than their peers, each tear of frustration shed is brightening their light and creating a star beautifully different from others.


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Dyslexia - a Disability or a Difference?

Volunteer Spotlight: Rowena Portch
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October 23, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Sarah Klipper, Learning Ally Production Assistant, interviews Learning Ally Volunteer, Rowena Portch.


For this year’s Dyslexia and Blindness Awareness Month, we are turning the spotlight on one of our own volunteers!

We are very lucky to have accomplished scholar, author and editor Rowena Portch join us as a Learning Ally volunteer. Despite losing her vision to Retinitis Pigmentosa, she continues to read and write with the help of screen reading software, braille display, and support from her husband Gregg. She does quality assurance (QA) with our Literature Community, checks files in Science textbooks, and has begun working as a Reader in the Upper Instructional Community. Look for her in the Virtual Water Cooler to say hello!

From her website, rowenaportch.com:
“Her spiritual commitment to God is foremost in her life, but her heart belongs to her husband Gregg and guide-dog Skye-Bear. Other professionals see her as an intelligent woman who learns quickly and follows through with commitments. Her true distinction, however, is her drive for learning. Her family and friends call her a perpetual student who hates wearing shoes.”

How did you find out about Learning Ally? What made you want to volunteer with us?
My sister told me about Learning Ally. I really wanted to learn how to do voiceover… So I looked into it, and it was really hard getting through the training and all that stuff, I had to really come up with different ways to be able to do it [and] make some adjustments.

What kind(s) of adaptive technology do you use as a volunteer checker/reader? How is it similar to what you use in daily life?
I use a lot of different things - I have a braille display that connects to my iPad, my Windows computer and my MacBook Pro all at once. I use EB on my MacBook and I use my iPad to bring up all the PDF files that I’m reading from. I put those into a program called Scrivener, and I cut and paste [the text]… so I can navigate to it and read it. My husband helps me out a lot, because I can’t see the pictures and the boxes and things like that. Then I go through the Guidelines and find out “how do I have to read this”, and I write it out exactly how I have to read it. Then I go to my braille display and hear what to read, and then I record with EB on my Mac. VoiceOver is my screen reading software that comes with the Apple products. For the Windows machine I use JAWS.

What are your favorite subjects to work with?
I really like the scientific books - anything to do with medicine. I went to school to be a doctor, so science and tech interests me. I have a master’s in Computer Science, so I’m very technical. I don’t like Math.

What was your favorite book to record so far?
I’m working on my first recording, and I’m really liking it a lot, it’s about Marketing. There was another one that i was checking, for medical students, and I really enjoyed that one as well.

What would you like to work on in the future?
I want to do novels, that’s my passion. The textbooks are very challenging because of all the different elements… but novels are easy, I can just read from the novel and it’s not a big deal.

What was your most challenging project, and why?
The women’s studies book was the most challenging. Mainly because it was really not a subject I was interested in, and it had way too many internal references that didn’t add anything to the information. In a single sentence you could have five references. By the time you’re done reading it, you don’t even know what the sentence was about! I was reading comments from people who were reading this book, and they loved it! But it kinda burnt me out and I had to take a break.

What do you enjoy about working with the Virtual Community?
I love people, I love listening. I love the Virtual Water Cooler, I think that’s an awesome idea. I love hearing everybody getting together and planning things, they share neat news and they get to know each other, and I like that a lot. The way it is organized is extremely good, very professional. I feel like I’m working with professional people. When I have a question it’s easily answered… I don’t have to wait forever. I think that they put a lot of thought and preparation into each project before they even release it, I think that says a lot. I like the convenience and staying connected. It gives me a sense of working with people without having to go anywhere.

What advice would you give to a student who has a learning difference, dyslexia, or a visual impairment?
If it’s something you want to do, find a way to do it. Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something because it’s never been done. I’m a huge advocate for the mad skills blind people have. I am also dyslexic - I was a blind, dyslexic editor at Microsoft for 10 years, if you can believe that! You can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to think outside the box and come up with a way to make it work.


Learning Ally is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers volunteer opportunities. Our volunteer nation has provided narration to our library of over 80,000 audiobooks and has helped students with a financial need, access services that help them succeed in school and in life by making a financial donation. Join the volunteer nation today!

Read More about Volunteer Spotlight: Rowena Portch

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