Educators incorporate Learning Ally at their schools in many creative ways, but Gretchen Schroeder’s technique in her library is one of our favorite examples. Read her description of how she adds Learning Ally labels to the books in her library to make it easier for students to find the books they want to download and enjoy.
When I came to the Woodlynde School as the new librarian in 2006 one of the jobs that was handed to me was to promote and coordinate the use of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (now Learning Ally) for our students. As a parent of a student in the school who was a candidate, I immediately saw some of the challenges with getting the students to take on the program. One of those included getting the books that students wanted to read into their hands. I knew that while the books they needed for schoolwork were important, if I really wanted them to buy into the technology, I needed to make it as easy as possible to access the books they might want to read.
One of my first moves was to start shelving my fiction by genre, making it easier for student to find the type of stories they liked, and the second was to begin to label books in our library that were available in Learning Ally. This would allow students to easily identify the books that were available for download from Learning Ally without having to ask for assistance. This was especially important with new users who were self-conscious about using Learning Ally.
With permission, I incorporated the Learning Ally logo into a simple spine label with space for the Learning Ally shelf number for the book. (Download Gretchen's spine label template.) To further assist me with identifying and locating the books, I added catalog records for the books as well. This was a big job at first, so I started with the most widely circulated books in the school, and searched for them in the Learning Ally catalog, then I moved to award winners and popular authors.
Labeling books was a first priority, so I kept a barcode list of all labeled books and would follow up as time permitted with cataloging. When I catalog the books, I add the information into two fields. I add a simple note with Learning Ally and the shelf number. I also add a listing into the 530 tag in MARC records (additional formats available), listing Learning Ally as the source, restricted by membership and indicating the shelf number. Now that the system is in place, I search all new books as they come in for cataloging and add the fields as part of my standard cataloging procedure. If a student user selects a book that is not listed, we do a quick search for that book. If it is in the Learning Ally catalog, I immediately label the book; scan it to the cataloging list, and send the book out with the student.
The result is that Learning Ally compatible books are more visible, students are more likely to select Learning Ally books for their outside reading, and as a result are more comfortable using the technology when they need it. We first used Learning Ally in our lower school, when I noticed one of our fourth grade students who had previously been excited about coming to the library and engaged in stories suddenly back away from reading. I knew that he had difficulties with decoding, and suspected that his interest level in books had begun to outstrip his reading level, making the books he wanted to read too difficult for him. I quickly reviewed this case with his teacher and his parents and decided he was a good candidate for Learning Ally. Since he was in our lower school where students didn't have dedicated laptops we provided him with a playback device downloaded with his first book.
The next morning I watched that same student get off the school bus and walk down the hall with the headphones on and the book open. When I cautioned him about the dangers of walking that way, he said, "but I just got to a good part, I don't want to stop now!"
After that, the difficulty was more about keeping up with his book needs. This made it clear to me that the 4th/5th grade levels were a critical time to reach some of those students. I personally realized the benefits of the program with my own daughter Hannah. Hannah is quite severely dyslexic, and struggled greatly with decoding and managing her mental energy when attacking a reading task. I of course knew the science behind the benefits of using recorded books, but did not truly realize it until Hannah first used the program.
After the first day or two using the technology, she was pushing me out of the door because she could do this alone now. When she finished that first book, she commented to me, "Mom, I just realized something, I may not like to read, but I love reading, I love the stories and ideas! Now I can do it on my own!"
Her teachers also noticed an immediate change; Hannah was not only contributing to the class discussion of the book, but was leading the discussions adding insights well beyond expectations. Hannah has never looked back and while doesn't need the program often still uses it as needed in college.
Learning Ally has led to the success of our students at Woodlynde school by simply giving them access to texts that would have otherwise been beyond their reach. This crosses the boundaries of all the disabilities we see, whether due to decoding problems, fluency, or comprehension. It builds confidence in their abilities not only as a reader, but also as a thinking human being. When students can access the information they want or need, they can succeed!
By: Gretchen Schroeder, Woodlynde School Librarian
Watch the below video about Gretchen's school: