K-12 | Read to Achieve

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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.


Supporting Students that Show Signs of a Reading Deficit
Lane Young with student

December 5, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Lane Young with studentLane Young, the Director of Educational Technology at Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, California says, “The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is super helpful to support children who are showing early signs of a reading deficit.”  The independent, co-educational private day school serves preschoolers through fifth graders in Silicon Valley near neighboring Stanford University. The school community inspires its more than 280 students to love learning, to develop a spiritual nature, to communicate effectively, to be kind and to respect the uniqueness of each classmate and to enjoy reading. Young says, “Audiobooks help children who struggle to read comprehend the context of a story or assignment.” As a former librarian, he believes audio support is a beneficial supplement to formal reading instruction to keep children engaged and reading consistently. 

Learning specialists at his school – one for K-2 and one for grades 3-5 -- work closely with each child to assess their reading skills, particularly in decoding and comprehension. If they assess a child with a potential learning disability or identify them as falling behind, the specialists prescribe the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution as a reading accommodation for additional support. 

The specialists download audiobooks for eligible children, which is roughly one-third of their overall student population. They find titles to match daily reading-themed studies, Readers’ Workshop assignments, and a variety of titles for literacy circles, where children may be reading several books. Young says the intention of all of these reading events is to promote a thriving culture of young readers. 

In third grade, each child receives an iPad. Young sees a big jump in technology prowess at this stage of learning. “Not surprisingly, we serve a lot of tech-native children in our school,” he says. Fourth and fifth graders enjoy even more opportunities to read and to make individual choices of what they want to read. “Learning Ally gives us plenty of access to all types of stories and curriculum. This versatility is great to keep all children engaged and motivated to read. We can select titles based on their personal interests and their comprehension and grade level. The supplemental, accessible library fits into our school’s student-centered philosophical approach to cultivate a growth-learning mindset in every child to become confident, independent readers and thinkers.”


Support Your Students with Reading Deficits with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.

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Learning Ally Celebrates SOVAS Award for Dave Fennoy’s ‘Best Voiceover Audiobook Narration-History’ of “March Book III” by Congressman John Lewis
SOVAS Award Logo

November 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:

PRINCETON, NJ., November 25, 2019— Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit education solutions organization producing human-read, high-quality audiobooks, is celebrating Dave Fennoy, a prominent voice artist and the win of a Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™ ) Award.

At the 2019 Voice Arts® Awards Gala at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA, Fennoy received the prestigious recognition for ‘Best Voiceover Audiobook Narration-History’ of “March Book III,” a graphic novel written by Congressman John Lewis, a central figure in American history for the civil rights movement.

Dave Fennoy is an iconic voice artist in Los Angeles. He has one of the most versatile voices in the industry narrating globally-recognized commercials, TV programs, games and educational programs for companies like Lexus, McDonalds, The Disney Channel, Time Life Music R&B, National Geographic and the Science Channel. 

For years, Dave has volunteered his time and unique voices to Learning Ally to narrate historic and popular titles in audiobook format so that students with reading based learning differences can better understand information and enjoy books their peers are reading. 

Lewis’ trilogy, coauthored by Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, is a New York Times Bestseller and one of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens. It was inspired by the 1950’s comic book to bring historic lessons to life for all generations, and is especially relevant for today's youth. 

Cynthia Hamburger, Chief Operating Officer for Learning Ally said, “Dave Fennoy has done an extraordinary job of narrating Congressman Lewis’ series, and we congratulate him and our production team on this outstanding achievement. Human-narration can have a powerful effect on students who struggle to read, which makes the SOVAS award extremely meaningful to our organization. This recognition is a testament to the high standards of our audiobooks, and why tens of thousands of students enjoy stories told the way the authors intended – with passion, veracity, and authenticity.”

The March Book I, II and III series can be downloaded from the Learning Ally audiobook library, which holds more than 80,000 titles narrated by subject experts, volunteers, and professional voice artists.

Visit www.LearningAlly.org.

About SOVAS

The mission of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) is to bring training, education, mentoring and employment opportunities to create and sustain a successful career in the voiceover industry with diversity and inclusion through educational events, financial scholarships, job placement, and awards recognition.

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multisensory reading accommodation for students with a reading deficit, composed of high-quality, human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student success. Used in more than 17,500 schools, this essential solution, along with its catalog of Professional Learning, bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential. 

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Growth in Reading Ability Transforms Struggling Learners
Jenna Ponx in class

November 21, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Students reading in class on their devices

When students enter Jenna Ponx’s class at Ira Jones Middle School in Plainfield, Illinois, most of them say that they hate to read, but by the end of the year, students are not complaining, they are celebrating. In Ms. Ponx's class you're more likely to hear a joyous, “Hey, Ms. Ponx I did it!” Students’ self-confidence skyrockets; more books are read and more hands are eagerly raised. Middle schoolers, who once thought themselves failures, are now willing to tackle grade-level text. 

Students fall, winter and spring I-Ready Diagnostic Assessments confirm significant improvement in reading levels. Some improved by two and three grade levels in one year. Others by as much as 100% to 400% growth, an increase of three to four grade levels. The same students showed similar growth on the Language Live Benchmark tests, making 200-300 point gains on their Lexile levels – a consistent trend in their reading skills.

An Award-Winning Teacher

Jennifer (Jenna) Ponx is a Special Education Teacher and Reading Intervention Specialist, and one of four educators in the United States to receive the 2019 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award.  "Nothing is more important than helping students believe they can be good learners,” she says. 

Her colleague, Katharine Sheble says, “Jenna is a champion teacher who takes a unique approach to educating students. Her passion for learning, combined with individualized instruction, accessible materials and supplementary resources, have instilled a love of reading in our most vulnerable learners.”

Customized Education Materials

The students in Ms. Ponx’s Language Arts classes are diverse learners. Some are honor students with dyslexia. Others struggle with different reading deficits. Yet all learn from the same curriculum-aligned textbooks and required novels – just in different formats. Ms. Ponx likes to provide multiple representations of instructional materials and give her students options when demonstrating knowledge or taking assessments. She routinely uses feedback loops and data to enable her students to chart their own reading goals and growth. 

Students who are eligible for a reading accommodation receive the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Ms. Ponx says, “Students who struggle with learning disabilities have to be coaxed to read. These audiobooks unlock their barriers to reading and the frustration of trying to decode words to read fluently goes away.” 

Listening Counts – Reading Independently Works

Ms. Ponx works closely with general education teachers and parents. “I want everyone to agree that listening to an audiobook is reading and we all learn in different ways,” she explains. “Hearing a story or textbook with human narration gives my students the right intonation and intensity to keep them engaged and comprehending information. This is a critical component to reading achievement.”

Data Mining - Setting Goals

For students using the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution, Ms. Ponx is able to use the Learning Ally Educator Dashboard to track their reading progress. She uses the reports to talk with students about their individual goals and growth. At the start of  each semester, students receive a required reading list to download and prepare for classes. They also have 24/7 access to any titles from Learning Ally’s library of 80,000+ books to pursue their own reading interests. Ms. Ponx’s rule is that students read independently for at least 20 minutes every day. 

Reading Best Practices

Her students are now equipped with strategies to increase retention such as taking good notes and organizing their thoughts by making mental movies. They understand the importance of background knowledge and looking up definitions for new vocabulary. They exercise their critical thinking skills through exposure to grade-level fiction and non-fiction texts. Their academic results are a powerful demonstration of the benefits that a reading accommodation and accessible text can provide.

Marked Reading Improvements 

“It is always a team effort to identify what the best instructional strategies are and what supplementary resources a student needs to achieve,” says Ms. Ponx. “When we understand dyslexia and see consistent reading growth, this is proof that what we are doing is working. When learning confidence shifts to pride, we know our students have the tools and strategies they need to succeed in whatever they do.”


Get Your Students Reading Independently with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.

Read More about Growth in Reading Ability Transforms Struggling Learners

Schools Can Sign Up Now for Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games...a National Audiobook Event to Ignite Reading Passions of Students with Reading Deficits
Teacher smiling with children holding up Great Reading Games certificates

November 20, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:

PRINCETON, N.J., November 20, 2019— Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to improving literacy for all, is currently inviting U.S. schools to sign up for its 2020 Great Reading Games – a nationally recognized audiobook reading event.

The seven-week Games occur in January and February to ignite a reading passion in school-age children with reading deficits, like dyslexia and visual impairments. The Games challenge students to improve their reading stamina, comprehension, fluency and vocabulary skills, while boosting their social and emotional belief that they can become high achievers. 

Terrie Noland, V.P. of Educator Leadership and Learning says, “The Great Reading Games focus on students who lack decoding skills, like those with dyslexia. These kids may have never finished a book or are reading low-level chapter books; nothing on grade-level. They rarely stand out academically, so teachers appreciate the opportunity to shine a spotlight on their efforts.” 

Students in grades 3-12 compete in brackets for awards and prizes. They monitor their school’s participation on a digital leaderboard and their progress against other schools and districts. At the end of the Games, students can participate in a live, nationwide online discussion with renowned authors, like Kwame Alexander, author of “The Crossover Series,” who talked with students last year about the joy of lifelong reading. 

In the 2019 Games, more than 380 7th and 8th graders at Luther Jackson Middle School in Fairfax, VA read over 150,000 pages for a total of 12,591 minutes. Students competed against 22,000 peers from 1,210 U.S. schools to place 2nd in the nation. Chad R. Lehman, former Principal of the school, said, “These Games significantly increased the amount of time our students read, and it led to a higher level of engagement with our curriculum.”

The Great Reading Games is no cost to Learning Ally schools. Prizes include Chromebooks, headsets and gift cards, and national recognition. Students enjoy 24/7 access to vast selections of human-read audiobooks, including curriculum-aligned textbooks, grade-level literature, popular series, graphic novels, diverse literature, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. They can read in school, at home and on the go with the Learning Ally app. 

Teachers can easily implement the Games into any instructional framework with these ready-made materials:

  • guided instructions and best practices tips 

  • class posters, badges and student certificates

  • letters to parents and caregivers

  • weekly recaps, and real-time, online reading data 

Sign up begins today for the 2020 Great Reading Games

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multisensory reading accommodation for students with a reading deficit, composed of high-quality, human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student success. Used in more than 17,500 schools, this essential solution, along with its catalogue of Professional Learning, bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential. 

Visit www.LearningAlly.org

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A Principal’s Approach to Building a Culture of Readers
Ms. Bilello with colleague dressed up in costume.

November 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Vanessa in her school hallway Principal Vanessa Bilello of the Hopkins Elementary School in Hopkinton, Massachusetts is on a quest. She wants all 580 students in her building to excel at reading. Just like the athletes who queue up to run the Boston Marathon each year on her track and fields, Ms. Bilello believes, “Reading is a marathon. It takes practice, motivation and persistence.”

Building a culture of readers isn’t easy, but Bilello and staff are resilient. Like many educators, they face the challenge of students with diverse needs and learning styles. Some students are over-achievers; others are not. Reading comes easy for some, and almost impossible for others. 

What seems like a daunting mission of “literacy for all,” this administrator addresses with a multi-structural language approach layered with access to curriculum with a reading accommodation when needed. “Getting all kids to enjoy reading takes effort,” says Bilello. “We’re working to ensure that students are equipped to study on grade-level, feel more socially connected, and prepared for a promising future.” 

Multi-Faceted Reading Approach

Hopkins’ fourth and fifth grade teachers combine SEL (social and emotional learning) with explicit literacy instruction. They use reading strategies to develop students’ decoding and encoding skills, improve fluency, reinforce comprehension and expose students to complex materials as part of a Readers’ Workshop model. This approach may include: 

  • Guided reading with the Fountas and Pinnell system, based on benchmark assessments.

  • Independent reading akin to personal interests.

  • Reading at home.

  • Heterogeneous book groups, according to student interests.

  • Peer to peer reading. 

  • Sequential intervention using Orton-Gillingham, Wilson System, Project Read, and Just Words.

  • Accessible content to level the learning field so students can study grade-level curriculum through Learning Ally.

Early Identification of Reading Deficits

Students have abundant opportunities to read stories based on their interests and a variety of genres, authors, and popular titles. Bilello believes that integrating reading time throughout the school day is critical for students whose comprehension skills are stronger than their decoding skills. “If students have not mastered fundamental reading skills by 4th or 5th grade, they can feel failure and frustration. We are not doing our job to meet their needs if we don’t provide adequate access to high quality, diverse titles of texts.” 

For students who are dyslexic or have reading deficits, Hopkins turns to The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution -- a quality reading accommodation and digital accessible library. Bilello says, “Listening is reading. When children show signs of struggle, this is the time to implement or intensify reading instruction. Audiobooks are a useful supplement while students work with their teachers to improve their decoding and fluency skills.” She also adds, “Children love to hear stories read aloud. Human narration builds their vocabulary and introduces new patterns of words, not to mention the sheer enjoyment of reading."

Reading while listening to text is a research-proven way to increase fluency and overall reading skills. For older students with learning disabilities, teachers use the audiobook solution to expose students to age-appropriate text, to build background knowledge, to encourage independent reading and social connections; and to introduce new genres and authors. 

Leveled Readers 

On the topic of 'leveled' readers, Bilello says, “We know that the biggest indicators of children reading well is practice. Audiobooks give students the ability to comprehend information at their intellectual level.” 

She is not a proponent of only giving students leveled books. “Many educators and parents believe a child can only do “P” books, but we don’t believe in limiting any child. This is the time to broaden their repertoire and to help them feel confident.”   

CARES Program – (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, Self-Control)

The theme of inclusion and diverse learning styles is carried through Hopkins ‘Understanding Our Difference Program.’ The year-long curriculum immerses students and staff to spend time learning about learning differences and what it’s like to be dyslexic, autistic or visually impaired. To reinforce the values of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy and self-control, Bilello developed a positive behavior recognition system called CARES, based on the Responsive Classroom model language. Students can earn CARES cards for demonstrating good values, distributed by students and staff to deserving students. Students whose card is selected in monthly drawings earn their choice of a paperback book. 

For thinking outside the box and promoting a culture of readers where every student has what they need for academic success, Vanessa Bilello is the recipient of the 2019 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award. This award honors U.S. educators who display exemplary leadership to ensure more students with reading deficits reach their full intellectual potential. Winners receive a monetary award for themselves and their school. It is not surprising that Ms. Bilello will use her award to strengthen her mission so that literacy for all stretches far beyond the classroom. 

If you know an educator, administrator or school that is making a difference for students with reading deficits, Learning Ally’s nomination process is now open for the 2020 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award.

For more information on Learning Ally, or to request a demo, visit www.learningally.org/educators or call 800-221-1098.

About Learning Ally                                                    

Learning Ally is a leading education solutions organization committed to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven reading accommodation composed of human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources. Used in more than 17,500 schools, this essential solution empowers students with reading deficits to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential.

 

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