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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.


Addressing Equity and Access in an Era of Social Distancing
Addressing Equity ad Access in an Era of Social Distancing

December 15, 2020 by Learning Ally

4 Tips for Promoting Equity and Access

Video Transcript: Betsy McGowan, Reading Specialist, Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School

Give students a choice

We are trying to provide a lot of student choice and just in every way emphasize like, letting them express their knowledge and mastery through different modes. So hopefully that can accommodate them. We've been trying to provide things in different formats, so we've used podcasts I think more than before.

We did a podcast on George Washington's chef, an enslaved man named Hercules, and it was such a hit with the kids. They loved exploring a text in that different format. That was one of our best lessons we've done so, and that was great because it provided an audio format to all the students in the grade, and I think everyone was really excited about it.

Model Technology

We have gone back to basics on modeling, in the simplest way. Just like that you know as intervention teachers we know we model everything, and I have kind of put that at the front I think of the grade team's mind.

So, even if it's something like copy and paste. Copy and paste…there's actually a lot to that. Kids who have computers and more tech in their households know it and we can assume that they know it. But not everyone does and so if you proceed if, you tell a kid to copy and paste the notes as an accommodation, like you give them the notes and you're like "copy and paste it" and you don't teach them how to do it with explicit modeling, then that actually might compound the inequities. So we're really working on modeling every single tech skill and slowing it down in that sense.

Leverage Speech to Text

We've taught all the kids to use the speech to text features which they may not have been able to use before. Maybe they've been taught once but they weren't, you know, working often enough in, on the computer to really practice it. So I think a lot of kids are taking notes with speech to text, which is exciting.

Empowering Students with Audiobooks

It just started with a couple of teachers using Learning Ally and it became a really good tool. Now everyone can access a full library of books. That was a real concern: How are kids for ELA classes going to keep doing their reading, their jotting, their reading logs? And this solved the problem for us and yeah, kids have been using it. Parents have expressed that they're really appreciative of it and it's definitely an equity tool at this time.

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5 Tips to Engage Struggling Readers in Remote Learning
Young Girl Listening to Audiobooks

November 25, 2020 by Learning Ally

by Terrie Noland, C.A.L.P, VP of Educator Leadership and Learning

As educators, we know that the journey for struggling readers is difficult under the best of circumstances. Throw in a pandemic that disrupts daily routines and shifts in-person classes to remote learning into the mix and that journey becomes even tougher.

To figure out how to help these vulnerable students succeed, I turned to three talented reading specialists: Katherine Hoover, a middle school reading teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia; Betsy McGowan, a reading specialist and 7th grade social studies special education teacher at Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School in New York; and Nelda Reyes, an intervention and dyslexia teacher at San Marco CISD in Texas. Here’s the advice they shared:

1. Build connections with students and parents

Developing relationships in this era of social distancing is hard but is well worth the effort. Teachers know first hand how important social emotional connections are, especially for struggling students.

“I don't normally make phone calls during the school year but I called all of the students on my caseload and it was so cool,” Katherine explained. “I ended up chatting with them for so long and I think that's one thing to remember if we get back to in-person school. By building those relationships, I felt comfortable talking to the families and talking to my students.”

Nelda agreed and shared a story about a first grade boy who gave her a tour of his family’s garden via Zoom. “They're opening their homes to us and letting us in to see their dogs, their pets, and talk to their siblings,” she said. “That's one of the greatest things. Another is the communication with parents. I have had great communication with parents due to this pandemic.”

2. Use all available contacts to reach non-responsive students

When schools closed abruptly last spring, teachers across the country worried about losing contact with their most vulnerable students. Educators have become detectives, using whatever contacts they have, to locate their students and make sure they are safe.

“We are blessed to have an emergency contact system where we've got mother, father, grandfather and all these contacts,” said Nelda. “So if I can't contact that first listing, I'm calling Grandma, I'm calling anybody who's on that contact list.”

Katherine enlists her middle school students’ help to check on their peers. “One time I had a student not show up so I said to one of her friends, ‘You need to call McKenzie right now and tell her to log on.’ So she called her during our class and got her to join.”

3. Leverage technology to level the playing field

Betsy has several tips on how to use technology to improve equity and accessibility for struggling readers. First, she teaches all her students how to use the speech-to-text feature on their mobile devices. Some of her students were familiar with the feature but haven’t had the opportunity to practice using it because they didn’t use computers that much in the classroom. She is excited to see her special education students using the functionality for note taking, allowing them to keep up with grade-level content and participate in class discussions.

Betsy also believes in giving students a choice of format to demonstrate their content mastery. For example, some of her students developed a podcast about George Washington’s chef. “It was such a hit with the kids,” she said. “They loved exploring a text in a different format. That was one of our best lessons we've done and it was great because it provided an audio format to all the students in the grade.”

4. Model technology to empower students

To make the most of technology, it needs to be accessible to all students whether they are in the classroom or at home. Since some students have more access to technology than others, Betsy has gone back to basics with modeling. She explained, “Even if it's something like copy and paste, there's actually a lot to that. Kids who have computers and more tech in their households know it and we can assume that they know it. But not everyone does. And if you tell a kid to copy and paste the notes as an accommodation, and you don't teach them how to do it with explicit modeling, then that actually might compound the inequities.”

Larger school districts can develop self-service resources to help students work independently. “Our Assistive Technology Services department made a lot of videos,” Katherine explained.“So I've been posting them to my Blackboard and Google Classroom to remind my students what they already have access to help themselves at home.”

5. Give students access to high quality content

With schools and libraries closed, it may be hard for struggling readers to find appropriate reading material in user friendly formats. And without grade-level content, the achievement gap grows.

To address that concern, Betsy’s school turned to the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. “We are so glad that now everyone can access a full library of books. It solved the problem for us. And the kids have been using it. Parents have expressed that they're really appreciative of it and it's definitely an equity tool at this time.”

Nelda’s school uses the same solution. “It's just amazing and it's always been a game changer for our kids.” She added that access to historical documents has also been helpful, “You can access the Declaration of Independence and that is so critical for our kids in middle school and high school.”

To help you remember these 5 tips, download our infographic. And if you have tips to share on how you are engaging struggling readers remotely, please put them in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you!

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In Gratitude to Ellen Hanna...Lifelong Volunteer

November 25, 2020 by Learning Ally

For over fifty years, our longtime volunteer and friend, Sarah Ellen Argo Hanna, contributed her time and talent in so many ways. At the age of 91, she passed leaving an extraordinary legacy – one our organization will always be grateful for and never forget.

It is not surprising that Ellen was an avid reader and found a home at Learning Ally’s recording studio. She narrated math textbooks well into her 80s, but beyond that, she was always willing to lend a hand to do anything that served our mission: entering data, preparing textbooks for recording, answering the phone, and fundraising on our behalf.  She served as chair of our local studio in Athens, GA, and on our Board of Directors. Ellen delighted in telling the story of when she answered the studio phone and a student recognized her voice and said he loved hearing her sweet southern voice explain algebra. 

Ellen and our many thousands of volunteers truly define what makes our organization’s mission so meaningful and our audiobooks special. They give life to our audiobooks -- a human touch. They record stories with purpose, passion, and intensity. Stories that every reader can deeply comprehend and connect with. They narrate subject information with depth and breadth so that more students can read and achieve with grade-level texts.

Ellen attended Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and Birmingham-Southern College. She was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority. She earned a Master’s Degree in Education at the University of Georgia. She taught math and science at Burney-Harris Middle School and Patti Hilsman Middle School. Ellen was an early adopter of technology and one of the first teachers to bring computers into her classroom. She was an educator who recognized the impact technology could have on learning, especially for students who are blind, visually impaired, disengaged, or challenged with a reading deficit like dyslexia. 

A proud mother of five boys, grandmother, and great-grandmother of ten, Ellen loved horses, sports, traveling, and sunsets. She participated in the Athens League of Women Voters. She was a Cub Scout Den Mother, President of the University Wives Club, and member of the Glenwood Garden Club. For her extraordinary community service, she received a commendation from President Obama in 2015. 

Sarah Ellen Argo Hanna’s life accomplishments cannot begin to touch on the intangible qualities of love, integrity, and strength of character that she carried throughout her daily life. Her legacy of service to others and her devotion to learning, teaching, and family are exemplary. We honor her commitment to our organization, her community, and to humanity. 

Our team is filled with gratitude to Ellen and to all our volunteers who give so much of their heart and soul recording our audiobooks with authenticity and passion. We are thankful to our advocates and donors who continue to support our mission to champion “reading for all.”  Because of you, we are reaching and engaging 1.5 million students and 130,000 educators in 18,500 U.S. schools nationwide. Because of you, our vision remains vital – to support early literacy; to strengthen educators through professional learning; to provide quality resources to ensure equitable learning for at-risk students, and to be part of the reading solution that transforms many struggling readers into high-performing achievers.  

In her final wishes, Ellen encouraged donations to be made to Learning Ally. Her voice will live on in the hundreds of audiobooks she so lovingly recorded.  

Paper checks may be mailed directly to:

Learning Ally

20 Roszel Road

Princeton, New Jersey 08540

Thank you.

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Top Literacy Leaders Form Learning Ally’s Inaugural Advisory Board to Champion Mission of ‘Reading for All’ in Education
board room.jpg

November 17, 2020 by Learning Ally

For Immediate Release:

November 17, 2020 PRINCETON, NJ — Learning Ally, the nation’s leader in education solutions to promote literacy for all students in American schools, has officially launched its inaugural Advisory Board.

Eight distinguished literacy experts with impeccable credentials and outstanding achievements in PreK-12, research, advocacy, entrepreneurship, and publishing, will work closely with the Learning Ally leadership team to further its mission -- to ensure more children and adolescents who struggle to read, especially vulnerable populations including students with reading deficits, English Language Learners and those with uncovered reading deficits can reach their full academic potential in school and experience a lifetime of accomplishments. Especially as Learning Ally makes advances into early literacy and assessments, moving research into practice, the Board will be instrumental in providing input to ensure educators are armed with robust tools, services and solutions aimed at accelerating literacy success.

Andrew Friedman, CEO of Learning Ally said, “We are thrilled to have such a talented group of individuals on our Board. The depth of their professionalism, experience and knowledge on early childhood, literacy, and professional development for educators is insurmountable. These are the people who will help us take our mission to the next level to accelerate early learning success.” 

The newly-formed Advisory Board includes: 

  • Dr. Nancy Akhavan, a nationally recognized educator, author, and consultant. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at California State University, Fresno, and has taught a variety of grade levels and courses including doctoral courses on Educational Leadership. 

 

  • Kai-leé Berke, a lifelong early childhood educator and administrator. Ms. Berke is Senior Advisor with Promise Venture Studio, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable growth and impact of social entrepreneurship in early childhood development. She is also Vice-Chair of the Board and former CEO of Teaching Strategies.

 

  • Dr. Sonia Cabell is a former second grade teacher and Assistant Professor in the School of Teacher Education and the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. Her research focuses on early language and literacy intervention, with a particular interest in preventing reading difficulties among children living in poverty. Dr. Cabell has authored over 50 publications.
     

  • Dr. Kenneth Kunz is a former teacher and nominee for the New Jersey State Governor’s Teaching Award. He also served as Supervisor of Curriculum Instruction in the Middlesex Public School. Dr. Kunz is currently an Assistant Professor in Literacy Education in the Curriculum and Instruction Department, and President of the New Jersey Literacy Association (NJLA).  
     

  • Julie Scullen serves as the Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin Schools in Minnesota. Ms. Scullen also serves as adjunct at Hamline University in the Masters and Reading Licensure Programs and is a doctoral candidate at Judson University.
     

  • Dr. Cynthia Shanahan is Professor of Literacy, Language and Culture; Executive Director of the Council on Teacher Education; and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught at Georgia State University and the University of Georgia. 

 

  • Mannu Sikka is a consultant for the Consortium for Educational Change in Seattle. She has 10+ years working as an instructional coach supporting student learning through professional development. She has helped to design and facilitate school-wide instructional planning. She is an ASCD Emerging Leader.
     

  • Dr. Sharon Vaughn is a Professor at The University of Texas, and the Manuel J. Justiz Endowed Chair in Education and the Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, a unit she founded. Dr. Vaughn is the first woman to receive the Distinguished Faculty and Research Award. 

About Learning Ally                                          

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to equipping educators with proven solutions that help new and struggling learners reach their potential. Our range of literacy-focused offerings for students in Pre-K to 12th grade and catalog of professional learning allows us to support more than 1.5 million students and 135,000 educators across the US. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is our cornerstone award-winning reading accommodation used in approximately 18,500 schools to help students with reading deficits succeed. Composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student progress, it is designed to turn struggling readers into engaged learners. Visit www.learningally.org/educators. Call 800-221-1098.

 

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Learning Ally Announces First “Spotlight on Early Literacy” Virtual Conference with Special Guest, Andre Agassi
Photo of Andre Agassi smiling. Headshot

November 4, 2020 by Learning Ally

For Immediate Release:

November 4, 2020 PRINCETON, NJ — On December 4, 2020, Learning Ally will host its first, “Spotlight on Early Literacy,” a virtual professional development conference for educators working with all children who are emerging readers. 

The organization’s mission is to address America’s literacy problem especially amongst its vulnerable populations -- students with low reading readiness, English Language Learners, and those with uncovered reading deficits. Learning Ally provides a suite of literacy solutions ranging from early literacy through later literacy, with professional learning to support educators, day to day practitioners and champions for students.

A special fireside chat with Andre Agassi, Tennis Pro and Founder of the Andre Agassi Education Foundation is planned. Mr. Agassi will share why literacy is so important to him and the learnings from his Foundation in helping more schools evoke positive and systemic improvements in literacy. 

Learning Ally is expanding its “Spotlight On Learning” virtual conference series, after a successful “Spotlight on Dyslexia” event earlier this year, attended by over 9,000 educators. The day-long “Spotlight on Early Literacy,” in partnership with edWeb.net., features nationally acclaimed speakers, including an academy award winner, master teachers and literacy experts who will share the best practices of early literacy and whole child development. Sessions focus on the science of reading and learning engagement to help educators explore innovative ways to break through barriers to reading. 

Attendees will take away new knowledge to understand: 

  • how to define clear milestones in early literacy development,

  • the five pillars of reading especially in distance and learning environments, 

  • ways to improve everyday instructional practices,

  • how to build a culture of accomplished readers, and

  • what it means to be intentionally anti-biased and culturally relevant to teach literacy in a diverse classroom

Kai-lee Berke, Vice Chair of the Board, Teaching Strategies, and Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment Author, and Barbara Steinberg, Founder and Owner of PDX Reading Specialist, LLC will keynote the event.

Andrew Freidman, CEO of Learning Ally said, “Working with educators, researchers, and advocates like Andre Agassi, we share a passion to champion a culture of ‘literacy for all.’ What we know for sure is that it is never too early to identify reading challenges, and never too late to integrate new processes and methodologies that support educators and can change the projection of a child’s future.”  

The Spotlight on Early Literacy conference is one component of Learning Ally's professional learning suite. In combination with its quality reading accommodation, Learning Ally is equipping more educators to become literacy leaders. The organization will continue to host its annual “Spotlight on Dyslexia” virtual event in June, 2021.

Educators can earn up to 16 CE certificates live or on demand through January 31, 2021. View the full agenda and list of speakers, and register now to attend the “Spotlight on Early Literacy”. 

About Learning Ally                                          

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to equipping educators with proven solutions that help new and struggling learners reach their potential. Our range of literacy-focused offerings for students in Pre-K to 12th grade and catalog of professional learning allows us to support more than 1.5 million students and 135,000 educators across the US. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is our cornerstone award-winning reading accommodation used in approximately 18,500 schools to help students with reading deficits succeed. Composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student progress, it is designed to turn struggling readers into engaged learners. Visit www.learningally.org/educators. Call 800-221-1098.

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