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Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement
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.
Webinar: Summer Reading Together
On May 19, 2015 in
Jenny Falke (LAE)
This summer, Learning Ally is hosting Summer Reading Together, an engaging community to encourage kids with print disabilities to read every day! Summer Reading Together gives students who may struggle with reading a chance to participate in a summer incentive program that specifically supports them.
Be sure to prepare for Summer Reading Together before your summer break! The program runs from May 1 – August 1, 2015. Members, non-members and educators can participate in different ways. Visit
to get started. To kick off the program, we teamed up with experts for a webinar to explore the research behind fighting summer slide, share ideas to motivate readers and explain how students can use Learning Ally audiobooks to inspire daily reading.
Download the slide presentation
and fill in the online form to register to
watch the recorded event on demand
Many questions came in during our live event that we did not have time to fully cover. Read the Q&A below for great insights and information from
Larry - Can you explain the term "summer slide" and what people are really referring to when they use that term?
Summer slide, or summer learning loss, refers to the loss in reading and math skills that typically happens over the summer, especially for disadvantaged children or those with language-based learning disabilities. Several different research studies have documented this loss, and one of the best ways to fight it is to have children read books over the summer, and participate in ongoing MSL tutoring or a high-quality summer reading intervention program.
Larry - What is National Summer Learning Association doing this summer to support students learning and where could we find more information on that?
Every summer, we support programs all over the country with our technical assistance and assessments. You can find information about our resources and services at
. Another big way we support the field is through our Summer Learning Day.
National Summer Learning Day is Friday, June 19
Pledge to #KeepKidsLearning and put your event/program on NSLA’s interactive map at
Alexis - Can you provide more strategies and information on how to reach struggling readers in grades 6-12 who have slipped through the cracks and hate reading? How do we motivate them? How do we choose rigorous books of interest for them?
I am a firm believer in "1 in 5". One in five students are in the dyslexic spectrum and struggle with the first step of learning HOW to read. By the time students reach 3rd-4th grade, they are now expected to "read to learn" and basic reading skills are no longer being taught. To help struggling readers in the upper levels, our district uses Wilson Reading System designed for adults. The program focuses on the first layer of decoding text and spelling. However, this does not address the "hate"/disdain/lack of motivation for reading that has developed due to the gap growing larger and larger.
As I state in my presentation, we have to acknowledge and discuss that it is okay to struggle with reading, reading
rocket science. Sometimes our brains are wired to be creative and sometimes that amazing part of our brain takes over other tasks such as reading. Students need to know it is okay and that they are not alone and that YOU will never give up no matter the push back.
Make a goal -- any goal, as long as it is attainable and realistic. I have students make weekly goals for reading fluency between first and repeated readings of text. We create goals about books or series we want to start. We also create other NON-reading goals -- usually about advocacy and strengths. I was shocked when we read a passage about smoothies, that ALL of my students shot up at least 50 words per minute just because they were promised a smoothie for reaching their goal.
Rigorous books...for a struggling reader, everything is rigorous. I would make sure to stick to chapter books, series or novels. All books will have quality time for comprehension and vocabulary discussion. Currently with my middle school students, we are reading
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
and they are just in awe by the art and motivated to finish it. The book has to be interesting to them no matter what we might feel about the quality/rigor. You have to hook them in with interest. I have students reading juvenile romance/scandal books, vampires, lots of horror books and like I mentioned, books that are now movies. I have quite a few students reading
. In reality, we do not choose, we allow them the freedom to choose. I do try to lead them to pick something that is at least at their grade level or more when browsing the Learning Ally audiobook library.
Alexis - How do you encourage High School age children with reading disabilities to read over the summer?
There are many books that students in Texas are required to read over the summer before the next school year even starts. I would definitely download all of those ebooks. While your student ear reads, teach them to use technology to take notes, summarize and even jot connections to the text. I would make this a family affair. All of you read one book at a time, one chapter at a time. Stop, discuss your thoughts and move on. One of these books might become the gateway into finding the right genre. It wasn't until one of my teachers required
The Diary of Anne Frank
that I finally finished my first book. Since then I will ear read any historical fiction book about Holocaust survivors. Don't give up! Even if you know none of these required books will be "the one", offer a compromise of watching the movie after they read it OR trade reading every other book with a required book and a book of their choice.
Learning Ally has made a huge difference in our child's reading progress. She now has a love of reading because of Learning Ally. We have made attempts to help our school embrace Learning Ally and thus far have made no progress. Do you have any suggestions on getting Learning Ally into our school/district?
Learning Ally loves parents and the contribution you all make for your student's reading. First of all, I commend you for taking an active role in your child's education! Parents have
strong voices. Reach out to your child's school faculty and let them know what a difference Learning Ally has made in your child's life. I have seen parents succeed in bringing Learning Ally services to their child's school by just being an active voice in their school community. Learning Ally also provides wonderful parent resources; please
see our parent support page
It is very difficult to change the "old school" thoughts of how to access text. Find that special teacher in the school who already embraces technology. Build a team of parents and teachers who are willing to hear you. It is a movement that is growing, and the more we talk about it and make people aware, the future will change. I host "movie nights" at my school and my principal has allowed "jean day passes" (VERY Valuable) to teachers who attend the movie. I show clips about reading disabilities, testimonials about using text-to-speech and speech-to-text in the school system. This improves awareness at my school around the need to use these programs and resources. Also, if your daughter has a 504 or IEP plan, have etext/assistive technology specified as part of the accommodations. Seek an advocate if you are denied.
Alexis - I have two questions: You said you have dyslexia and that you got through high school "without ever finishing a book." However, you were able to achieve both a Bachelor's and Master's degree. Is it possible to get through college without finishing the books as well? Or did you find a way to complete them after high school?
I love this question because it reveals so much about reading and the ability of some students to fake their way through school. You are right -- I never finished a book that was required in school. I was in Pre-AP English (not sure why) but I survived with cliff notes, skimming, researching online and watching movies to understand. Unfortunately, I was not exposed to audiobooks yet. I did manage to finish one book only,
The Diary of Anne Frank
, an amazing story. That began my journey into historical fiction. However, I never read a book, or finished a book, for enjoyment since I was consumed with catching up on schoolwork in middle and high school. College... Well, I had to find the best-fit college for me and the best degree plan for my strengths. I went to five universities before I found "the one" and here is what I learned:
For required English courses, I lived at the writing center.
Use Ratemyprofessors.com to find the those with teaching styles that are right for you.
Find your preferred teaching/learning style. I found that I did better in lecture style classes (with my Livescribe Pen), I preferred online text books to activate the speech-to-text ability, I had to learn how to take notes and rewrite notes on my computer and then rewrite them again (on my computer). I did much better in classes that were presentation based than exam based. Night classes and online classes allowed me to go at my pace. Small class size and cooperative learning was essential.
Reading/writing is my disability and I had to own it and be okay with asking for help.
I chose a major that allowed me to show off my strengths. My experience in achieving my Masters in Advanced Literacy was amazing. It is a private small university and I was very open about my struggles. All classes were presentation based. Books were broken down into teams to present to others. We synthesized information and applied it into our classrooms. It was very hands-on. I hope this is encouraging.
Nancy - Can you share more examples of how to use your practice tips with older high school age students?
My tips regarding creating special outfits and creating special practice "nests” don’t apply to high school kids. But the basic
behind such comforts can be adapted to the needs of older children. That is, IF a child finds it comforting and helpful to have a “witness” when he’s working hard at practicing, then a parent can either offer to bring his own reading material into child’s room (or hang out there doing something else that is quiet), or invite the teenager to keep him company in another part of the house while he’s practicing. IF a child is only willing to practice for a few minutes at a time, that’s okay—he should still be praised for trying to practice since some reading is better than no reading. Parents can also encourage children to read for a few minutes, then take a break to do something mindless and relaxing, and then read a few more minutes if possible. The main thing is to acknowledge how much effort it takes to practice reading, and reward the child for trying to improve. “Practice makes perfect” applies to reading as well as all difficult skills in life. So the willingness to work hard to master a new skill is a valuable and important character trait that deserves nurturing.
Nancy -- I read to my children, introduced as many new words as possible and interacted with them and their reading rigorously. I am afraid this isn't working for my children as they are now older and still seem to avoid reading. What can I do to help them?
I never thought of my interactions with my children as being "rigorous" as much as I thought of using words for fun. So my suggestion is to lighten up your approach and focus on enjoyment. Find material you and your children will enjoy, and share it with them by reading it aloud. Figure out what your kids
like to read on their own and encourage them to eye read those things even for short amounts of time, whether they are comic or cartoon books, vampire novels, books about sports, or children's books meant for much younger children. (Even some adults love reading children's literature.) You can also encourage them to do ear reading—listening to enjoyable things on audio equipment. The goal is to encourage them to use reading as a source of entertainment and relaxation.
Quite a few questions were asked about the balance of audiobooks with print books. So, we’ve compiled a bit of research and more discussion from other Learning Ally colleagues on this topic:
The answer to how much students should use audiobooks versus print books is a very individual decision based on the student's needs and where they are in their own reading development. If a student is just learning to read print they do need lots of practice reading passages at their skill level but that doesn't mean denying them access to higher level materials and stories via audio formats and reading to them. Parents should do both and I think parents naturally understand this … it's why we continue to read to our kids even when they are beginning to learn to read on their own. If a student is older and still working on underlying reading skill development, then they will need to practice reading passages on their independent level to build word identification and fluency skills and they will also need audio formats for content absorption when the materials are above their current skill levels. Then, there are the students that have reached grade level accuracy in their reading skills but may still face challenges with reading fluency. These students may make decisions about whether they are going to read or listen to their content based on passage length, familiarity with the subject, stamina, balancing other assignments, etc. It's usually parallel programming that works best to build reading skills … remediation that will involve lots of practice reading independently, and accommodation that allows for content absorption through listening. Usually it is required that the book or text be used in tandem with listening so that word identification is reinforced if the student is still working on those skills. For a student with adequate word identification accuracy, listening may be what's needed to overcome residual fluency issues when content absorption is what matters most. It’s important to understand that when working on reading skill development students do need lots of practice eye reading to develop efficient decoding and word identification skills and that ear reading has a very specific place both in helping with vocabulary, background knowledge and higher-level language-comprehension skills as well as being an accommodation when needed. During the summer months many parents worry about the best balance between continuing tutoring and "down time" for our kids. Pleasure reading alone for students who are still in the midst of their remediation will not ward off the summer slide. The long summer break from instruction and reading practice can be detrimental. Students with dyslexia need lots of practice eye reading with appropriate level material to build their skills. Students with visual impairments need lots of practice finger reading to learn Braille. We can use ear reading to stay on reading level and enjoy books, but students also need to practice learning Braille and decoding skills.
Citing further research on this topic:
Julie Kara-Soteriou (2009) has written that audiobooks allow teachers to meet the needs of various learning styles by differentiating instruction for struggling students who might encounter a difficult text and believe it to be boring and unreachable. Frank Serafini (2004) has explained that much research validates the importance of reading aloud to students, positing that the act of reading aloud introduces new vocabulary and concepts, provides a fluent model, and allows students access to literature they are unable to read independently. Audiobooks expose struggling readers to something they have never experienced before by allowing them to experience what fluent readers have every time they read a book (Stone-Harris 2008). According to Ann Holum and Jan Gahala, technology is most beneficial when used as an addition to reading; they have said, “When used in conjunction with written texts, audiobooks help children’s reading skills” (2001).
Summer Reading Together
is a way to encourage kids that may struggle in reading to participate in a summer program that they typically would be excluded from. We’re inviting everyone to
come read with us
in our community – where it’s safe and fun, and allows our members to use audiobooks to continue to grow academically over summer break. Get started at
About the experts
provides technical assistance for the leadership of summer learning programs across the country. He promotes program quality and continuous learning in the field through his management of the National Summer Learning Association’s (NSLA) Best Practices Database, Affiliation Groups, and Field Consultants. Prior to joining NSLA, Larry spent 25 years providing services and managing programs for at-risk youth. He has managed a foster care program for high-needs youth, founded a summer camp, counseled youth in psychiatric hospitals and alternative schools, and been a classroom teacher in an urban high school. Smith has a master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri—St. Louis, and a bachelor’s degree in science from Cornell University.
is a remedial English teacher, parenting educator, author, and parent of dyslexic children who overcame their reading difficulties and became voracious readers. Since 1995, she has shared her effective approach to raising readers with parents and educators at schools, libraries, and conferences. Combining the latest scientific research with what she learned as a teacher and mother, Newman offers simple, joyful, practical, everyday strategies that boost literacy skills and instill a love of reading in all children. Her new book,
Raising Passionate Readers: 5 Easy Steps to Success in School and Life
, is an outgrowth of her lectures.
Natasha Fortis, M.Ed
is a former Language Arts teacher and professor. She began her education career as a high school English teacher, but completed her post-secondary licensure in both elementary and secondary Language Arts. Upon completing her master’s degree in English as a Second Language, Natasha worked as a Title One Reading Specialist in Douglas County Public Schools near Denver, Colorado. She has also taught Writing Fundamentals at Red Rocks Community College. After 10 years actively teaching in various milieus, Natasha now works as a program manager for Learning Ally, a nonprofit organization that provides audiobooks to students with print-based disabilities.
is a bilingual dyslexia teacher with Hays Consolidated ISD. Currently she provides dyslexia instruction using Esperanza, Reading Readiness, Basic Language Skills and Wilson Reading System with elementary and secondary students. In this role, she also coaches classroom teachers in multi-sensory literacy instruction, identification of dyslexia in both monolingual and bilingual students, and the use of classroom accommodations to level the playing field. As a dyslexic herself, Alexis is a big believer in empowering students. She supports assistive technology and the power of ear reading. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts from Texas State University and a Masters of Education in advanced literacy from Concordia University Texas.
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