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.

Step Up Your Game: 12 Tips to Help Your Students Make the Most of the Great Reading Games

January 30, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Learning Ally's Great Reading Games Image with text Celebrate Our Readers and the image of a trophy.Each year, innovative teachers sign up their students  for Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games. This annual national event complements any classroom reading activity and supports teachers’ efforts to motivate and reward struggling readers, build stronger reading habits and boost learning confidence.

Here are a dozen awesome tips from teachers.

1. Find Books Students Want to Read

Alyssa Gray, a Special Education Teacher at Robinson Middle School, Fairfax, VA prints a list of book titles for students to rate by watching book trailers on YouTube. She says, “Students love to self-select books and feel part of the learning process.”

2. Teach Students How to Listen and Learn

Audiobooks help struggling readers go from painstakingly decoding words to reading with fluency. Encourage students to listen to human-read audiobooks while following highlighted text to improve their reading comprehension, background knowledge and confidence. Learning Ally’s professional voice actors are skilled at delivering proper intonation and emphasis of words and phrases to strengthen students’ vocabularies, while conveying the full experience of literature, popular fiction and textbooks.

3. Promote a Schoolwide Culture of Readers

Rebecca Phirman, Intervention Specialist for St. Mary School, Alexandria, KY is proud that her school implemented audiobooks to inspire a schoolwide culture of readers. In addition to the Great Reading Games’ Chromebooks and headsets for students, rewards for teachers and recognition for schools, Rebecca has created other fun events and activities, like “Ice Cream Social Day” and “Out of Uniform Day.”

4. Suggest Audiobooks Narrated by Authors

Human-read audiobooks add an element of authenticity to every story. And sometimes that authenticity can be taken to a whole new level, like when students get to hear a book narrated by its author. Delaney Dannenberg and her mother Shelley visited St. Mary School in KY to talk about helping students with dyslexia. She and Delaney wrote the book “I Have Dyslexia: What Does That Mean?” Delaney is the narrator of the audiobook.

5. Leverage the Digital Leaderboard for Motivation and Reinforcement

Teachers tell us the digital leaderboard serves many purposes during the Games:

- A way to keep students motivated and excited to read

- A tracking tool to monitor reading progress in real time

- A confidence builder for students who struggle to read 

- A visual reminder of how students and schools are doing

6. Reach Higher—Go Beyond Leveled Readers

Few books in print will meet a struggling reader at their independent reading level.  Joelle Nappi, Dyslexia Specialist for Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, Wyckoff, NJ encourages teachers to do more for struggling readers than just giving them leveled texts and asking them to read more in the hopes that this will improve outcomes. Ms. Nappi recommends combining targeted structured literacy interventions with textbooks, literature and popular fiction in audiobook form that are on or above students’ decoding levels. 

7. Celebrate Milestones in a Livestream "Meet the Author" Event

Kwame Alexander profile Give students a great reason to keep reading. Let them know your school will celebrate the end of the Games by participating in a Livestream webinar with bestselling author, Dan Gutman, author of the series, My Weird School, which has more than 60 books in this series, and has sold more than twenty-five million copies! Dan's talk, "There's Nothing Weird About Reading" will be a hit with students of all ages! Register today! 

8. Out-of-the-Box Fun!

Students in Penny Moldofsky’s classes at Woodlynde School in Strafford, PA love the fun ways she coaches them to victory, like providing them with unique badges and keychains. We especially like her referee jersey! Woodlynde displays a reading tally board in their lobby to build school spirit and recognize student achievement.

9. Read about Famous People with Dyslexia

Youngsters in Dana Blackaby’s class at the Academy of Nola Dunn elementary school in Burleson,TX like to read about famous people with dyslexia, including artist Chuck Close, actor Henry Winkler and financier Charles Schwab. They also participate in a living museum activity, dressing in costume and presenting book reports to the entire school.  

Instagram photo of The Schneck School classroom. Students reading audiobooks intently.

10. Pack Students’ Bookshelves with Interesting Reading  

Packing students’ digital bookshelves all year long with various authors, genres and diverse literature will ensure that your students are developing their confidence and self-esteem, broadening their interests and increasing their chances of becoming a lifelong reader.  

11. Make Time for Independent Reading

The Schenck School in Atlanta, GA reminds us of the power of reading practice. Just 20 minutes a day can transform a struggling reader into a grade-level achiever.

12. Create a Goal-Tracking Sheet

Holly Sanford of Rockwall ISD, Rockwall, TX reminds us of the importance of setting and tracking goals. Her goal-tracking sheet makes it easy to monitor students’ progress during the Great Reading Games. 

There’s still time to get your students in the Great Reading Games!

Learning Ally sends a BIG THANK YOU to all of the wonderful teachers across the nation who work diligently each day to develop confident, engaged young readers. You inspire our dedication to “literacy for all.”


Learn More about Learning Ally

New to Learning Ally? You can get a closer look at our audiobook solution by scheduling a live demo.

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How Audiobooks Helped Me Get My Struggling Readers to Read

January 22, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By Alyssa Gray, Special Education Teacher, Robinson Middle School, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA 

Headshot of Alyssa Gray My seventh and eighth graders at Robinson Middle School in Fairfax County, VA are excited to participate in the 2019 Great Reading Games, a national audiobook event hosted by Learning Ally. This competition is wonderful because it helps me to motivate my reluctant readers and get them hooked on reading books – audiobooks that is. 

Several years ago, my district purchased the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to ensure that students with print and learning disabilities had equitable access to digital contentincluding required textbooks, literature and popular titles. The district’s goal was to enhance students’ ability to read grade-level text and have opportunities to access age-appropriate books based on their interests.

The Great Reading Games is a fun, engaging way to inspire struggling readers. I like the seven-week challenge because it helps me jumpstart my students’ reading mindset each year and the prep work is done for me. My students rarely enjoy reading, but they love to win prizes! They also love to watch the digital leaderboard on Learning Ally tally up the number of books and pages they have read. As they watch their numbers go up, they are elated. Many neighboring schools in Fairfax County also participate in the Games, which helps our schools build a culture of readers throughout the district.

Pique Students’ Interests

Screen shot of Alyssa's digital shelf of book covers and video trailers on You-TubeI know that my incoming students who cannot easily read printed books will comprehend more of the information they read with audiobooks. One strategy I use is to print a list of titles for them to rate by watching book trailers on YouTube. They love the opportunity to self-select books in Learning Ally’s digital library. Parents are thankful too, because they don’t have to purchase physical books. As the Games proceed, my students are extra-motivated to read at home to compete for gift cards and prize packs. Teachers can win too. Last year, I won a Chromebook for my social media posts about how my students built stronger reading habits.

The Power of Reading Practice

You can never underestimate the power of reading practice. At the beginning of every school year, students who qualify for Learning Ally receive an account. This resource is easy to justify because it supports students who require more reading support.  I use it every day in rotating reading stations so that students have silent reading time. My rule is to read for 20 minutes a day during the school week.

Audiobooks Enhance Learning

As students listen to audiobooks, they follow highlighted words without distraction. This frees up their minds from painstakingly decoding words, enabling them to read more fluently.

My ESOL and special education students especially benefit because they can hear English spoken properly through skilled human narration that strengthens word recognition, vocabulary and prosody.

Learning Ally’s reading app makes it easy for students to take notes for research and book report citations. The app has all the classroom tools built in so that students can create vocabulary lists and set their reading preferences. This is a definite advantage for students who have a difficult time completing reading assignments.  

Students with headphones sitting at their computers reading a book. Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources are a great resource for teachers, students and our schools. The proven reading accommodation helps us to provide access to grade-level curriculum to build students’ reading skills, foster reading enjoyment, encourage independent reading, and to help more students build a foundation for learning. It can help you make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of your students who struggle to read. 

Many thanks to Ms. Gray for sharing her best teaching practices in the Great Reading Games. 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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Differentiation, A Key to Reading Success: Using Technology and Audiobooks to Enhance Small Group Instruction

January 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Ms. Sharon Plant headshotSharon Plante, Director of Technology for the Southport School in Connecticut, presented an edWebinar on the “Use of Technology to Support Small Reading Instruction.”

With 22 years of teaching experience in special education, Ms. Plante emphasizes the use of technology to make reading instruction a multisensory process – one that is engaging and explicit, but that also maintains individualization and diagnostic-prescriptive aspects of the lesson.

“Students must have a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge,” says Ms. Plante. “To enhance my skill-based instruction, I want students to have access to educational content, like audiobooks, to help them read grade-level materials and reach their highest learning potential.”

Student Needs Assessment – Differentiation is the Key

Ms. Plante is a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor (CE/AOGPE). She leverages her training and understanding of technology to ensure each student has the resources and instructional environment they need to strengthen their subject knowledge based on their needs assessment. The Southport School is unique in that it works with students who have language-based learning disabilities. A driving principle of the school is to align class instruction based on a student’s intellectual ability, rather than by a traditional grade-level system. 

Each day at Southport, 110 students in grades K-8 attend classes with their peers relevant to their subject-knowledge. They transition in and out of different classes and move to other supportive learning environments as necessary to strengthen their aptitude.

Southport educators know that students with learning differences who struggle to read print can only stay on or close to grade-level assignments through equitable access to educational content in digital format. “This is a critical piece of their learning process,” says Ms. Plante.

Without access to quality audiobooks (textbooks, literature, reference), many students would falter in their academic progress. She likes Learning Ally because the audiobooks are read aloud by skilled narrators who keep students engaged in the listening and learning process through natural voices that will intrinsically motivate them to keep reading.

Improve Comprehension by Reducing Reading Barriers

Some Southport students receive access to education audiobooks as early as first grade. Ms. Plante believes that the earlier we provide children with accommodations who need them, the sooner they can comprehend education materials on their intellectual level and be inspired to read independently. She says, “Reducing reading frustration is the ‘sweet spot’ to hurdle reading anxiety and to help students read fluently enough to decode words and comprehend the context of the subject matter.”

Expand School’s Digital Library

Southport relies on Learning Ally, a proven audiobook solution, to complement its use of Accelerated Reader. Combining this instructional component with audiobooks ensures that more struggling readers harness their enjoyment of reading. “Prior to our access to audiobooks, many children who struggled never wanted to read,” says Ms. Plante. “Reading is still difficult for these students, but audiobooks help to reduce feelings of failure. Technology enables me to provide multiple representations of education materials. This is what universal design for learning (UDL) and the ability to personalize learning is all about.”

Learning Ally’s audiobook solution also enables the school to expand its digital library and easily manage the process of assigning digital textbooks, literature and popular reading. “We have reduced the number of lost books and excuses for not having books in class,” adds Ms. Plante. “Parents appreciate this cost savings and the fact that their children can find popular titles, books on college prep, reference materials and books that interest their lifelong pursuits.”

Southport students can sit back and get lost in a good audiobook story while their brains’ executive functions recognize new words, build larger vocabularies and instill background knowledge. Students also discover their personal interests, favorite genres and bestselling authors. Ms. Plante recalled one student who loved an audiobook so much he could not stop listening to the story he was reading.

“We try to encourage independent reading,” says Ms. Plante. “While students in small-group reading instruction may be at different reading levels, it is vital that all students have access to the same article, passage or novel.”

In addition to Learning Ally, Southport School uses other technology programs such as Newsela, Freckles, Rewordify, and Bookshare.  

Ms. Plante says, “Learning Ally lets me identify Lexile measures and monitor students’ reading progress. Multiple options for students to learn information the way they need it to be presented is giving them the ability to access the same text as their peers and ensures more participation in class discussions, improvement in their reading skills and their confidence that they can achieve higher goals.”

Educational Webinars

Throughout the year, Learning Ally sponsors Edwebinars for the education community to gain CEU credits, while learning best practices of skill-based instruction, technology and proven learning strategies like UDL and behavior management techniques.https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51jeSXwaaSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

About Sharon Plante

Sharon is the co-author of Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities, which highlights the incorporation of technology through the Universal Design Model to reach all learners. She has presented at IDA, The Dyslexia Foundation, Everyone Reading, EdRev, ATIA, New York Chapter of ALTA, Spotlight on Dyslexia and AssisTechKnow. Sharon is a member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools Commission on Technology, and was awarded the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award from George Mason University College of Education and Human Development.

Special thanks to Sharon Plante. 

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.

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U.S. Teachers and Students Gear Up For National Audiobook Event to Get Hooked on Reading

January 3, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:                     

 January 3, 2019, Princeton, NJTeachers across the United States are gearing up for the Great Reading Games hosted by Learning Ally, a leading education solutions organization.

Learning Ally has expertise in building reading engagement programs for struggling readers with learning differences like dyslexia. In support of educators and students alike, the organization hosts several classroom-friendly programs throughout the year to motivate students who struggle to read and help them succeed in school and beyond. The seven-week program improves vocabulary, comprehension and academic performance, and many students from participating schools also feel a huge sense of accomplishment. The Great Reading Games will run from January 7, 2019 to February 22, 2019.  

Terrie Noland, Learning Ally’s V.P. of Educator Initiatives says, “Students who struggle to read are often intellectually bright, but have difficulty keeping up with grade-level assignments due to a learning disability. The Great Reading Games gives these students the freedom to listen, learn and become immersed in a good book without frustration, and be rewarded for their efforts.”

Participants in the Games have access to more than 80,000 high quality, human-read audiobooks. They can select titles from the largest library of its kind to find curriculum-aligned textbooks, graphic novels, diverse literature and popular series, like Harry Potter, and Dog Man.

Additional program benefits include real-time insights, progress monitoring tools and digital rewards. These additions support the educator and make it easier to implement the program. The opportunity to win prizes such as Chromebooks, headphones and gift cards motivate students to keep reading for the entirety of the event.

Each year, Dana Blackaby, an educator and dyslexia specialist, signs her students up to participate in the Great Reading Games. She said, “97% of my students met or exceeded the STAAR standards after participating in the Games in 2018, and they won 3rd place in the nation. It was a truly proud moment.”

The Great Reading Games will officially close on Read Across America Day with a live “meet the author” webinar on March 1 with bestselling author Kwame Alexander. Mr. Alexander is an American writer of poetry and children's fiction known for connecting with young readers through books like The Crossover, Booked and Rebound. He is the recipient of the Newbery Medal and was a 2018 Read Across America ambassador for the National Education Association’s Read Across America. This live event will inspire, motivate and connect educators and students nationwide.

Sign up is now open for the Great Reading Games. Schools can call 800-221-1098.

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. Our proven audiobook solution includes quality, human-read audiobooks that align to schools’ curriculum in grades 3 -12, and a suite of educator resources to help students who struggle to read due to learning differences succeed in school and beyond. Today, more than 16,000 schools nationwide use Learning Ally. www.LearningAlly.org


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Behavioral Strategies that Can Work with Struggling Students
Terrence Gordon photo

December 18, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Terrence standing with studentChildren and teens in Denver, recognize Terrence Gordon. For years, they heard his distinctive voice and appreciated his unique ways of looking at the world. Terrence spent his early years working as a Program Instructor with kids from the inner city and county for Denver’s Division of Parks and Recreation. He was also a gym/field supervisor at the Schlessman Family YMCA

Terrence knew about diversity. He knew what bullying could do to a child. He knew that many behavioral issues were really about masking something – "a broken family," "living in poverty," walking through "run-down neighborhoods," not being able to read well.

Eventually, Terrence taught English/Language Arts and physical education for Denver Public Schools and DSST. He also became a Restorative Practices Coordinator, working with at-risk kids. His academic and behavior training brought him to an important mission -- to help more struggling kids get to the root of their emotional and academic challenges. 

In this blog, Terrence discusses facilitation methods of restorative practice interventions, and how he applied behavior management techniques around care, comfort, calm, clarity, learning challenges, and culture.


Be authentic. Kids want someone to trust. If you try to be something you’re not, your true self will reveal just at a time when kids don’t need people to change. That’s when relationships deteriorate. Show students that you experience a wide range of emotions, just like they do. This will allow them to view you as a real person rather than “the teacher” or another authority figure.

two boys in the libraryComfort

Create comfortable surroundings with bean-bag chairs and a 'cool down' area where students could safely go if they were upset, agitated, or simply too excited to participate in class. Play music – not what you would expect in a traditional learning environment. Students responded favorably to music. Children in my classes also craved structure and appreciated some forms of rituals and routines, like a unique handshake or a hug, special eye contact, individualized greetings, rewards, and open invitations to talk about their ideas and challenges to learning.


Struggling learners are accustomed to chaotic situations. When your environment is not turbulent, many students find themselves uncomfortable or apprehensive. That’s when behavior issues come into action. Sadly, students will act out in order to create chaos because that is what they are used to feeling at home or outside of school. I remained calm at all times, vowing that challenging situations would not dictate my mental or emotional state and derail my classroom. Once students realize they aren’t getting a reaction, they learn that being calm is a behavior they might find useful. It’s a teaching moment!

Group of middle school children on top of the mountain with a teacherClarity in Emotional Response and Positive Reinforcement

Struggling learners are often good at discovering loopholes and behaviors that teachers might have, but maybe don’t recognize them. I tried to be enthusiastic when students performed great work, but not show the emotion of surprise. I saved this emotion to show astonishment when kids acted out or had a misstep in class. It catches them off guard. I also made sure to give explicit instructions using multiple representations of materials attuned to students’ learning styles.

Challenges in Learning

Students learn in different ways, so we must deliver instructions and encourage students to complete their assignments in multiple mediums whenever possible. Some students respond to oral instructions. Others will want you to write things on the board, or write their own notes. Others may require a hands-on assignment or learning device. Struggling readers may require digital materials, and a reading accommodation. As educators, we must reinforce the message that "all kids learn differently, and that’s okay." This is the time to assure students they can be good learners, and provide resources, like audiobooks, and emotional reinforcement. 

Cultural Differences

Cultivating a students’ belief system that they can be good academic achievers was my number one goal! I wanted anyone who entered my classroom/office to feel calmness and a culture that welcomes all types of learners, learning styles, and cultural differences. I tried to introduce diverse literature to encourage class discussions on topics that are happening in the world, or to a certain subgroup of people, such as the book, The Hate U Give.  Building a culture of readers, including those who struggle, can be an extraordinary gift to this undeserved student population that unites kids and makes them more open to others and self-reflection.

Special thanks to Terrence Gordon who writes for Consumers Advocate.

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.

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