K-12 | Read to Achieve


Welcome to Learning Ally’s blog. You've come to the right place if you are an innovative teacher who wants to transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers.

97% of Elementary Students with Dyslexia at The Academy at Nola Dunn Meet or Exceed STAAR Reading Requirements
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August 31, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Ninety-seven percent (97%) of elementary students with dyslexia at The Academy at Nola Dunn, in Burleson, Texas, met or exceeded the STAAR reading requirements this year and placed third in The Great Reading Games, a national reading competition offered by Learning Ally.

Proud 5th graders gather in their school lobby holding their reading certificatesDana Blackaby, the Dyslexia Specialist who works with the children says, “Reading engagement is critical to keep my students motivated and building skills, especially those who hate to read and have little learning confidence.”

In her fifth grade classes, 100% of students with dyslexia met or exceeded the 2018 STAAR reading requirements with 60% demonstrating two years growth. The class also read more than 130,000 pages in just seven weeks during Learning Ally’s signature Great Reading Games, an engagement program incentivizing struggling readers to read frequently and compete for awards, prizes and recognition for them and their schools.

Learning Ally is an edtech nonprofit audiobook solution that supports educators who want to bridge the gap between students’ decoding ability and cognitive ability.

 “My students demonstrated significant improvements in reading comprehension and vocabulary skills,” says Blackaby, who also observed an increased level of reading engagement and a deeper desire to learn in her students. She attributes much of their success to the human-read stories in Learning Ally audiobooks with VOICEText enabling them to enjoy the content rather than struggle to decode every word.

A third grader read nearly 10,000 pages during the games to take his school to victory and win third place in the nation. Prior to participating in the competition, he tested at 40 wpm and now reads 61 wpm. “He was extremely proud of himself,” adds Blackaby, who encourages her struggling readers to choose audiobooks above their reading level and to talk with peers about the books they read.

In this video, a local Dallas news station interviewed Mrs. Blackaby, her principal, Lindsey Byrd, and students at The Academy at Nola Dunn about the competition and their reading successes. “Once you get them hooked on audiobooks, they feel strong and eager to read in class and at home,” says Blackaby. “Their efforts are reflected in their test scores and their learning confidence, and that is a win-win for everyone!”

About The Academy at Nola Dunn

The mission of The Academy at Nola Dunn, an innovative learning community, is to inspire and empower life-long learners by offering a brain-based environment and instruction including: experiential field trips, vertical and horizontal schedules, character focus and instruction, hands on learning, vertical teams and buddy classes, after school clubs, an Extended Day Program, and narrative report card.

About Learning Ally                                                      

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit edtech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success.

Learning Ally successfully partners with more than 15,000 U.S. schools, districts and leading state education systems across the country to empower over 375,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Contact Learning Ally at 800-221-1098. Schedule a demo at www.learningally.org/educators.





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When it comes to struggling readers "motivation matters"
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August 9, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Do Kids Hate to Read?

Search “kids hate to read” on Google and you’ll find an alarming batch of research to confirm that this is the norm in America.

Some studies even suggest that the standard way of teaching -- to assign core reading from only textbooks or have students read books from only their decoding level -- could dampen enthusiasm to read at all. Face it, if a book doesn’t interest you, you aren’t going to read it.

The Nation’s Report Card says only 36 percent of eighth graders read at proficiency level. This statistic increases slightly to 37 percent by high school. Additionally 1 in 5 students are dyslexic. These statistics suggest that a U.S. classroom could be filled with many low-level and non-readers who aren’t going to make the grade. This is a daily challenge for teachers, like BeLinda Martin at Buffalo Gap Elementary School in Texas.

Mrs. Martin’s 5th Grade Class

Mrs. Martin is a Reading and History teacher. About 20 percent of her class doesn’t like to read and some students have never passed a reading test. Determined to flip this paradigm, Mrs. Martin gave up some traditional teaching practices and beliefs.

She no longer teaches only to the test. She does not accept the idea that students will remain stuck in lower reading proficiency levels, and she does not rely on direct instruction alone to engage her students.

What Mrs. Martin does do is make reading fun and playful for struggling readers. She uses e-books with human-read audio intertwined with reward-based activities to motivate students to read, and read frequently. Martin believes that students must enjoy the act of reading before they will be successful learners.  

Do Kids Read for Fun Anymore?

The National Center for Education Statistics conducts surveys of 9-,13,- and 17-year olds as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) long-term trend assessment. In addition to measuring children’s reading achievement, this survey of about 26,000 students included how often these young people read for fun. The data indicated a sharp drop once students hit middle and high school. According to the study, half (53%) of all 9-year olds, a quarter (27%) of all 13 year olds and one in five or (19%) of 17-year olds read for fun each day.

Research Says Motivation is Critical for Learning Success

Overwhelming evidence now supports "motivation to read" does have direct implications when it comes to achievement. (Gambrell, 2015; Jang et al., 2015; Fisher et al., 2018; Gambrell, 2011; Applegate et al., 2010; Mucherah et al., 2008)

Additionally, teachers identified “creating interest in reading” to be what they most cared about (Applegate et al., 2010).

In her book, “When Kids Can’t Read,” Kylene Beers (1998) discusses how struggling readers tend to think that good readers are good, just because they are. These students do not realize that good readers employ strategies and techniques that help them read.

The reverse can also be true. Sometimes good readers’ strategies are so automatic they don’t realize what they are doing helps them get through a passage.

Confident readers monitor their understanding and determine meanings of words by using context clues and base word strategiesThey read with fluency, are willing and active participants in discussion and read with stamina.

You can Read Kylene’s article in School Library Journal, “LISTEN”.

Research by Beers, Melekogu and Wayne conclude:

-- “Struggling readers stop reading when the passage gets too tough, they turn to others for help, they read to get by, but tend to be inactive in discussions.” (Beers, 1998 & Melekogu, 2011

-- “Reading skill deficits can lead to negative attitudes about reading and lower motivation (Melekoglu, 2011). When struggling readers aren’t motivated to read, they don’t read and the result can be detrimental to their academic, social and emotional success. As one of the indirect but noteworthy reasons for low achievement in reading, motivation to read is an important key for all students with and without LD to be successful in school.”

-- “Struggling readers seldom get to experience how great it feels to finish a book and how much fun it can be to escape day to day life by jumping into a good book” (Wayne, 2011, pg. 8). (Melekoglu, 2011, pg. 249).

-- “Promoting motivation in struggling readers can have a positive effect and therefore should be an essential focus for educators.” Melekoglu (2011)

So how do we increase reading stamina and reading engagement? How do we help students understand the value associated with reading? How do we change the discourse for struggling readers and redefine a culture of readers? How do we ensure that students of all reading abilities are successful and improve academic achievement?  

Let’s Continue the Conversation

Watch a recording of the edWebinar held August 29, 2018 by Terrie Noland who gives a comprehensive review of research that MOTIVATION does MATTER when it comes to struggling readers and academic achievement. Her 10 research-based points have implications for administrators, educators and students. 

Gap in the Research

As importantly, there is also a gap in the current research. Terrie will shed new light on resources and strategies that “if addressed and implemented in schools,” could have a powerful and lasting positive impact on the motivation of struggling readers and their self-belief as successful learners and achievers. Join us for this EdWebinar. Educators receive CE credits.

Terrie Noland is the VP of Education Initiatives for Learning Ally. She develops engagement programs, professional learning services and communities for educators. Terrie has 25 years of experience as a motivational leader and developer of content.

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NEW App Features Aid Educators in Meeting Classroom Goals
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July 31, 2018 by Jenny Falke

girl with Learning Ally app on tabletWith Learning Ally’s new features in the audiobook reading app, educators can now more easily integrate audiobooks into classroom curriculum and assignments.

Enhanced features allow educators to:

  • Evaluate reader’s critical thinking skills via note sharing capabilities
  • Boost vocabulary and comprehension with in-app dictionary
  • Encourage independence with a customized reading experience

Students Can Show What They Know Directly in Learning Ally's Reading App

Now students can create and share notes allowing them to complete assignments and email teachers directly from the app.

5 ways students from elementary through high school can use note sharing to achieve their classroom goals:

  • Writing Summaries - Teachers can assign students to summarize what they’ve read after specific parts of the story and have students email those summaries back to be graded.
  • Designing Book Reports - Students can note their reflections, mark specific places to go back to including character names and key vocabulary words and then email all those notes to themselves to have a detailed outline perfect for finishing up a book report.
  • Citing Evidence - Students can note each time they notice, for example, figurative language within a chapter and email all those instances directly to their teacher. Teachers can then evaluate the student’s written note about why that particular part of the story was indeed figurative language.
  • Interpreting & Describing - Teachers can assign a section of reading and ask students to describe a character and email their interpretations back to the teacher about why the character responded in a specific way.
  • Completing Research Papers - Students can mark each area they want to quote within a book and email their findings to easily and quickly prep for writing research papers.

Boost Vocabulary and Improve Comprehension at a Grade-Level Pace

Educators know it’s best to teach vocabulary in context. The app now includes a dictionary (BETA)  so students can look up words and automatically mark them to create a vocabulary list for studying and homework assignments. Students can:

  • Mark all the vocabulary words assigned to them and easily study each word’s meaning.
  • Easily look up words to improve their comprehension of grade-level assignments.
  • Use the Learning Ally reading app to manage their workload alongside their peers. Now, they can gain even more time back as they look up words directly within the app.

Customization Puts Students in Control to Ease Reading Experience

Having the power and the choice to select your own font size, the space between the letters and lines, or the text color-just to name a few options-maximizes the student’s reading experience and allows them to discover and advocate for what is necessary for them to learn best.

  • Have fun with colors! Change the highlighting color to a favorite sports team motivates students to read more and builds on their love of reading and foundation for learning.
  • Adjust the spacing and sizes for increased reading stamina to discover and advocate for a personalized reading experience where students learn best.
  • When students decode below grade level, adjusting the speed of the reader helps them complete an entire novel on time. This allows them to engage in discourse with the rest of the class.

Update The App Today and Log In To Get Started

Learning Ally’s reading app is available for students with Learning Ally accounts on computers, phones and tablets. Educators can use the app in many ways based on their classroom and instructional environment. View the strategies by device tips to get more ideas.

Explore all of the ways you can use Learning Ally’s NEW features to make classroom assignments and projects a breeze so your struggling readers can thrive. Share ideas with us on Twitter and tag @Learning_Ally.


Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit edtech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success.

To learn more about how your school or district can support struggling readers with the Learning Ally solution, join a demo or call 800-221-1098 today!

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Five Things to Give Up…So Your Struggling Readers Won't
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July 19, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

BeLinda Martin, a 5th grade English Language Arts and History teacher presents CE credited EdWebinar, “Five Things to GIVE UP So Your Struggling Readers WON’T” - Wednesday, Aug. 8, 3:00 pm est. Sign up now!

Every year, BeLinda Martin, an English Language Arts and History teacher, faces a similar challenge to many teachers across America – her students don’t like to read, and some have never passed a reading test. By the fifth grade, they come to class dreading reading. They are disheartened. They tell their teacher, “Reading is hard, I can’t do it.” Mrs. Martin says, “You haven’t taken reading with me yet.”

Martin’s students have short attention spans. Many are labeled as “poor readers” by teachers, parents or peers, and begin to believe it. Mrs. Martin says, “It’s difficult to get these students to open a book. They feel immediate angst. Some have mastered the art of ‘fake reading’ to hide their struggle. “They do not want to look dumb.”

For these struggling and non-readers, reading comprehension is the biggest hurdle. Mrs. Martin says, “If you cannot understand what you read, you definitely are not going feel good about yourself and learn.”

So what does this elementary teacher do to change the future for learners who dislike reading?

Giving Up Old Ways

Years ago, Mrs. Martin decided to give up five traditional ways of teaching. Giving up these beliefs, she was able to help more struggling readers let go of their own belief that they could not be good students. The five things she gave up are:

1. Thinking that direct instruction was the only way to reach and engage students.

2. Designing the environment first without taking into consideration the needs of students.

3. Believing that students remain “stuck” in lower levels of reading proficiency.

4. Teaching to the test.

5. Believing that audiobooks are cheating. 

Addressing Reading Gaps for Children Who Hate to Read

To address students’ learning stigma and gaps in reading, Mrs. Martin begins every school year by talking with fourth grade teachers. She wants to learn more about her incoming students. “Kids growing up today want instant results,” she says. “They believe everything should be a quick response. They expect reading to be like this. I focus on making reading fun and getting results that can change the way they perceive themselves as learners.”  

Let the Play Begin!

In Mrs. Martin class, you won’t find neat rows of chairs or reading groups like Robins or Bluebirds. What you will see each day are students busily rotating through reading stations in small groups. For thirty minutes, they focus on skill building exercise to emphasize reading frequency. Mrs. Martin believes that unless children intrinsically enjoy the act of reading and get value from it (pleasure, knowledge, confidence, respect from peers,) they will not produce the desired achievement levels.

Her reading instruction revolves around education ‘game-like’ activities that fifth graders can relate to: roll the dice, theater role-play, artistic expression, and audiobooks read by human narrators. Story selections feature characters who display perseverance. She uses the Learning Ally audiobook library to find high-interest stories to pique students’ curiosity and support her efforts to raise their grade-level reading ability.

Five Reading Stations that Empower Learning

  • Get Your Teach On
    • Students read aloud and work on individual reading skills. Mrs. Martin gives personal attention to understand how each student feels about themselves as learners.
  • Got Skills
    • Students learn and review vocabulary words using artistic expressions. They carry on conversations with peers to demonstrate knowledge. This task also builds on their reading engagement, comprehension, social and communication skills.
  • Listening and Learning
    • Students listen to human-read audiobooks skillfully narrated to make characters and plots come to life. They follow highlighted words and use Learning Ally’s mobile app. This app has just been released with new updates, like note-taking to capture important details, vocabulary definitions, and reading the same page number as a print version – a feature teachers appreciate. 
  • Relax and Enjoy  
    • Students curl up in cozy chairs with a print or a digital book from Learning Ally and get the extra time they need to enjoy the reading experience.
  • Tech-Time iStation
    • Students use iStation, a blended learning program that provides growth charts to help students see and talk about their skill improvement progress.

Mrs. Martin believes audiobooks can help to remove students' reading stigma of struggling to decode words. “You watch their eyes move across the screen with more ease, and know their minds are processing information. The challenge of decoding words is not so intense so they read with more fluency and frequency.”  


Scoring High on the Texas STARR

Mrs. Martin’s students in Region 14 had top reading scores. They all passed to the following grade – an exceptional accomplishment. “Students were over the moon,” she said, “and so were their parents.”

One child had a goal of reading chapter books. “I want to read by myself,” he told Mrs. Martin. He was so strong in his conviction. She set him up with an audiobook and he went on to read the entire series of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Another student who is hearing impaired didn’t want to read at all. With hearing aids and an iPhone, she began to love to listen to audiobooks. It opened a new world and today, she reads lots of books.    

Defying Reading Stereotypes and Teaching Traditional Ways

Thanks to Mrs. Martin switching up the learning process to meet the needs of struggling and non-readers her students enjoy reading and defy their labels. She says, “With the right resources and creative expression, reading can be fun! Once students reach the last reading station and see progress, they think, “Hey, I can do this!” That is a magical moment. I know they can move to sixth grade with confidence.”

This year, Mrs. Martin will tap into Learning Ally to find audiobooks listed on the Texas Blue Bonnet reading list. She wants her students to learn about Texas history and has already prepared assignments. “I’m ready to get back to school and have some fun reading activities up my sleeve.”

Teachers and administrators, sign up now for this important CE credited edWebinar. 

You can also Demo Learning Ally at a time convenient for you. 


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Developing a Growth Mindset in Struggling Readers
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July 11, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

By the time Samantha reached 4th grade, she had lost hope of keeping up with her friends who liked to read books. Samantha did not get good grades. She would not make the honor roll again this year. She knew she was not dumb, far from it, but her reading was slow and confusing. Reading assignments were getting harder.

“Why can’t I get the gist of the stories I am assigned to read,” she thought.” “Why is everyone else talking about books in class, but not me?”  

Night after night Samantha struggled with her reading homework, often losing sleep. Like many students with reading challenges, she felt helpless. What Samantha needed was a jumpstart in her growth mindset – the empowerment to ask for help and to get the extra support and resources that she needed to break through her reading challenges. 

What is a Growth Mindset?

Psychologist Carol Dweck popularized the concept of a growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Many educators use her theories to inform how they teach their students, but lots of teachers and parents have not heard of the approach.

According to Dweck, a “mindset” is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves – like believing that you are either “intelligent” or “unintelligent.” People’s mindsets typically relate to their personal or professional lives, such as -- “I’m a good teacher,” “I’m a bad parent, “I’m stupid because I can’t read,” or “I will never be a good student.” 

Students, especially children, are unaware of their mindset in their education journey.  Unless there is encouragement by a teacher or parent “not having a positive growth mindset” can have a profound negative effect on achievement, skill acquisition, relationships, and other life goals.

To help Samantha and students like her develop a positive growth mindset Dweck advises teachers and parents to consistently reinforce the fact that all children can learn with the right encouragement and resources. In Samantha’s case, a reading accommodation was just what she needed to gain access to curriculum assignments. Text in digital format enabled her to listen to information read aloud by a skilled narrator and she could easily follow the digital text highlighted in a background color that she could personalize on her technology device.

Reading Accommodation Makes the Difference

The reading accommodation was Learning Ally audiobooks – a comprehensive digital library with tens of thousands of audiobooks that align with grade-level requirements.  This solution, built for a school learning environment, provides teachers with an easy-to-manage dashboard to select and assign audiobooks and to monitor reading performance. Throughout the year, the nonprofit also develops creative, teacher-supported, reward-based reading activities and competitions to keep students reading independently and to build stronger reading habits.

Using an iPad and Learning Ally audiobooks, Samantha could read consistently for meaning. She understood what she read. She kept pace and more fluency. She liked seeing the highlighted words and listening to the narrator which helped her vocabulary to enlarge because she heard accurate word pronunciation. She completed reading assignments in less time, with less frustration. She slept soundly and was excited to participate in class. Samantha was proud that she could read the same book as her peers, which boosted her self-esteem. Teachers and parents praised her efforts, celebrated her resilience and encouraged her to read more books.

Audiobooks was the key to unlock Samantha’s academic potential. The reading accommodation was not so different from reading a book in print – she just read information on a technology device with earbuds. Today, close to 300,000 children, like Samantha, use Learning Ally human-read audiobooks to address their reading barriers, like dyslexia and vision impairments.

Sign up for a demo of Learning Ally today!

A growth mindset begins by acknowledging a child’s struggle and responding consistently with encouraging language, such as, “Reading is a challenge for you, but together we will find a solution to break through this barrier.”

Audiobooks can help you make that breakthrough!

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