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.


A District Approach to Using Assistive Technology to Support Struggling Readers

August 12, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Professional Learning EdWebinar
CE Certificates - 
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 2 pm Est.

Are you ready to empower students with reading deficits to achieve higher outcomes? 

Learning Ally’s edWebinar series offers continuing CE certificates in support of educators in K12 who serve students with reading deficits and print disabilities. 

In this edWebinar panel discussion, educators Jenn Regardie and Jennifer Carr, two assistive technology “powerhouse teachers” from Fairfax County Public School System, Virginia, share their large district’s proactive approach to “equitable access for all.” 

  • Discover how to get your district to embrace technology to support reading.

  • Learn innovative assistive technology tools.

  • Explore academic outcomes of students who have prospered.

  • Gain proven teaching and learning best practices to replicate in any classroom, school or district reading initiative. 

 

Our PresentersJennifer Regardie, Fairfax AT Teacher

Jenn Regardie has worked in special education for 18 years. She is the parent of a child who discovered a love of reading through audiobooks. Her teaching career began in elementary school and she is now an assistive technology resource teacher in middle and high school. Jenn supports teachers to implement supplemental, assistive technology tools with fidelity, including The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. She holds a M.Ed. in special education from Lehigh University and a B.S. from Ithaca College.

 

Jennifer Carr, Fairfax Assitive Technology TeacherJennifer Carr has had a long-standing passion for assistive technology. She works closely with students in pre-school through twelfth grades to find the right AT tools for those who require an accommodation. She is a leading expert in the implementation of AT for all levels of diverse learners and has presented at many local, state, national and international conferences on the topic. Ms. Carr is co-author of “Developing Your Assistive Technology Leadership: Best Practices for Success.”

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Join Learning Ally’s Professional Learning Community

Take part in this dynamic network of educators working toward a common goal and national movement to ensure equitable access for all students.  

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Did you miss the first back to school edWebinar, “Strategies and Supports for Spanish-Speaking Struggling Readers?” 

You can still review the archived presentation and receive a CE certificate. 

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Virginia Teacher Empowers “Take Charge” Attitude in ESOL and Special Education Students

July 30, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Katherine Hover with two students in comfy class chairs reading. Katherine (Kate) Hover is a military mom and middle school teacher with keen insight into how students learn. Over her teaching career, she has worked with children of all ages, backgrounds, customs, and cultures. She says there is one thing in common with all students. "They have a 'deep desire' to have someone believe in them. Empowerment and individualized learning can unlock so much potential."

Passing the Virginia SOLs

Many of Kate’s seventy-plus students at Irving Middle School, a Fairfax County Public School System, had never passed the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) standardized reading test before Kate’s tutelage.

In just two years, her middle school students’ Lexile levels and proficiency rates improved significantly. "Students are decoding English more rapidly and passing the SOL reading tests," she says. "Many have gone from 7th to 8th grade as a skilled reader with a clear understanding of their learning style and the strategies and resources that most effectively match how they learn."

Her colleagues say that Kate is a “take-charge” teacher, not in the sense of micromanaging the dually-identified ESOL-Special Education students she teaches, but by encouraging them to own their learning process. This is one reason why Kate is a 2019 recipient of the Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award  

Students participate in their Individual Education Planning process

Kate has implemented a system whereby students discuss their learning challenges and participate in building their own Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Although many students in self-contained learning environments are not typically involved in the development of their IEP, Kate’s students are integral in the process. In planning meetings, they review their Lexile levels and their proficiency ranges. They discuss learning styles and the tools and resources available. 

One way Kate empowers students is to provide login access to The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This digital accessible library contains textbooks, literature and popular titles, narrated by real voices. Kate says, “English language learners need to hear English spoken to increase their ability to read words and build vocabulary. Learning Ally provides a perfect resource to meet that goal for students who are eligible with a reading deficit."

Progress Monitoring & Early Language Development

She and her students view tracked reading data to get a better picture of reading growth and to see patterns of genres that students prefer reading. “Giving students the ability to look at their own reading data and choose some of their own books boosts their motivation to read.”

Scarborough Reading Rope displaying each strand of skills necessary for reading in a weaved pattern. Kate shares Scarborough’s Reading Rope with students to determine their strengths and needs. The Rope was developed by Hollis Scarborough, a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories, and a leader in research of early language development and its connection to later literacy. 

“Students must practice reading aloud,” says Kate, “but many struggling readers do not like to read aloud. It creates a lot of unnecessary pressure.” As an alternative, Kate pairs her students with elementary students. They use the video application FLIP Grid to film themselves reading aloud with their virtual reading buddies, and to assess their own reading fluency. Each quarter, Kate’s students get to 'act as the teacher' and conduct their own fluency check and do a self-assessment. 

“Students are not stymied by the fear of reading aloud in the typical classroom scenario,” she says. “They practice the essential Reading Rope skill strands without pressure. This activity boosts their confidence along with their ability to read with automaticity. For years, these students have had teachers tell them that they are not reading fluently, but most do not have a clear understanding of what that means.” 

District Challenge 

In addition to her students' reading improvements in the VA SOL, Kate's students in 4th period won the Great Reading Games in their category. They read over 16,000 pages. A top performer in the challenge had gone through elementary school not passing any SOL reading tests. He went from a score of 394 on the SOL (passing score is 400) in the 6th grade to a passing score of 492 in one year. He increased his Lexile level from a beginning Lexile of 810 to an end of the year 1080. 

Other top readers demonstrated gains in reading with a combined total of 61,463 pages. These students increased their Lexile level anywhere from 11 points to 238 points. Many are now “proficient” readers on grade level. One student read 23 books and 6,126 pages. He increased his Lexile level 177 points and passed the SOL reading test.

Cindy Conley, Kate’s Principal says, “She is a teacher who takes advantage of learning experiences. She thoughtfully considers how to utilize her skills with her students and she has a collaborative nature that has helped other teachers and administrators grow in innovative ways.”

At an EdCampNova conference in Washington, DC, Kate demonstrated Learning Ally for educators who wanted to learn how to help struggling readers. She told them, “This audiobook solution can be beneficial at every level - elementary, middle and high. If your school doesn’t have a Learning Ally membership, get one!" 

Her district is planning to implement the supplemental reading resource into the high school to provide equitable access to audiobooks, including textbooks. literature and popular titles. Kate says, "This solution is a game changer for me and has helped to make a tremendous difference in our students' school learning years and their future."   

Learn more about Learning Ally  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for students with dyslexia and other reading deficits.

For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Supporting Students as Executive Functioning Skills Develop

July 22, 2019 by Cher Ware

Upon finding my son’s homework in the trash, I asked, “Honey, why is your homework in the trash?” His response, “Mom, I’ll be honest with you. I looked at that homework and thought about how long it was going to take me and so I threw it in the trash.”

If this conversation sounds familiar, you might be the parent or teacher of a student with executive functioning issues. Their approach to coping with the rigorous demands of school may not always match our expectations. Your student may also struggle to stay focused on complex reading assignments. Learning Ally can help!

Research shows how executive functioning impacts reading and learning.  Students who struggle with it often:

  • lack critical thinking skills
  • struggle to persevere
  • find tasks requiring working memory challenging 
  • struggle with reading  

Read Executive Skills and the Struggling Reader, by Kelly B. Cartwright for an excellent, in-depth overview of how executive skills play an essential role in reading. 

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multisensory reading accommodation specifically designed for students with reading deficits causing them to struggle with decoding, fluency or comprehension. It acts as an effective boost to any instructional strategy by bridging the gap between a student's reading ability and their cognitive capability.
 
If your student also struggles with executive functioning, consider implementing some of these tips to help:

  • Motivation - If a student has trouble getting started with reading, set small achievable goals and reward them with praise or tangible rewards to encourage their progress.
  • Tactile reminders - Students who struggle with executive functioning may need to keep a printed page in their notebook or taped near their reading area to remind them how to log-in the  Learning Ally Audiobooks App.
  • Routine - Try to establish a reading routine that is the same time every day in the same location. Help the student set a timer to know when he or she should begin reading and encourage parents to create reliable reading routines at home as well.
  • Focus Tools - Remove distractions and/or provide tactile supports to help students who need to fidget in order to focus. Simply wearing headphones while reading an audiobook can help students ignore distractions!  Sometimes students with executive functioning challenges can benefit from the use of bicycle chairs or bouncy bands so they can silently move their feet while they read. Finally, tactile objects such as modeling dough, a palm weight or a tangle of pipe cleaners can help students stay focused on their reading. 

With the right support, students who struggle with executive functioning can complete their assignments, make progress on reading grade-level text and gain confidence in their own skills.

We want to hear from you!  What has worked in your classroom or at home for students who struggle with executive functioning?  Leave a comment!
 

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New Jersey District Reading Initiative Aims For Every Child Reading Well

July 10, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Photo of Ms. Joelle Nappi

Joelle Nappi, a Dyslexia Therapist for Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, in Freehold Township, NJ is an avid user of audiobooks for reading and learning.  After her school embarked on an initiative to ensure more students with reading deficits received grade-level text in digital format, she saw marked improvements in their reading frequency and self-esteem. 

On average, her middle school students improved their reading engagement by 36%. “We won’t stop until every child feels confident as a learner,” she says. 

Students in Ms. Nappi’s classes are not proficient readers and spellers, and are often unable to keep pace with grade-level classwork. “Reading can be a super hurdle for some students," she says. "Often, they would rather do anything else. At this age, if they cannot enjoy great stories and if they are not exposed to rich language and complex literary structures, they are likely to be turned off to reading for good.”

Beyond Leveled Readers - Target Instruction with Accessible Curriculum

To prevent this scenario, Ms. Nappi uses intervention programs like the Wilson Reading System and Project Read®,  and Learning Ally for accessible literature. The goal of the interventions is to promote reading accuracy (decoding) and comprehension, as well as spelling (encoding) skills for students with word-level deficits. The interventions also teach phonemic awareness, alphabetic principles (sound-symbol relationship), word study, spelling, non-phonetic/high frequency words, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Ms. Nappi says, “Students with dyslexia and other reading deficits need targeted instruction that directly teaches the sound-symbol relationship using controlled, decodable text while they are growing their decoding skills. In addition, they need to listen to self-selected grade level texts.” 

She points out how vital good comprehension skills are to each student's learning success.

“We simply cannot just give leveled texts and ask students to read more in the hopes that this will improve outcomes. Coupling targeted structured literacy interventions with audiobooks of novels and literature, above a student’s independent decoding level, has been critical to our students’ reading growth. Every student with reading deficits should receive tiered supports, including modifications, technology accommodations, and accessible books.”

Jumping on the Accessible Book Bandwagon

She credits her principal, colleagues and parents for jumping on the accessible book bandwagon. At first, there was some skepticism, but through progress monitoring on the Learning Ally teacher dashboard, she was able to report sustainable growth in her students’ reading performance in reading frequency, vocabulary and the number of books they read.

Change Reading Habits to Increase Reading Engagement

Ms. Nappi recommends six to eight weeks to create new reading habits. This year's reading data confirmed that her 6th, 7th and 8th graders improved in reading engagement on average by 36%. Some students now read on or above grade-level and study in general education Language Arts classes. 

"Listening to human-read audiobooks, coupled with direct instruction in the alphabetic code at students’ decoding level, is having a positive effect in my district," she says. "Students, who never saw themselves as readers, read regularly and show marked improvements. Human narration has helped my students improve comprehension and fluency skills by following highlighted text and listening to appropriate modeling of phrasing and intonation."

District-Wide Usage

Seeing this transformation, her district leadership broadened their access of Learning Ally to support students at every grade level on a district-wide basis. “We are proud of the amount of reading that is taking place," says Ms. Nappi. "This investment in accessible literature to enable all children to read well is a perfect example of the mindset that sets Freehold Township Schools apart and can be a model of reading success for more schools in our area and in our country.”

Learn more about Learning Ally  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for students with dyslexia and other reading deficits.

For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Multisensory Learning May Be Just What Your Struggling Readers Need

June 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

by Cindy Kanuch, Title I Reading Interventionist, Calhan Elementary School, CO

I’m a big believer in a multisensory, structured literacy approach, especially for students who struggle to read due to dyslexia and other learning differences, and I work closely with general and special education teachers to identify students with reading deficits and help them succeed. Here are my five tips for teaching students with dyslexia. 

  1. Don’t ask them to read to aloud.

  2. Give them more time on task.

  3. Don’t penalize them for spelling mistakes.

  4. Offer multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge. 

  5. Provide access to grade-level fiction and texts via audiobooks.

Over the years, I have noticed that struggling students have a very difficult time reading and understanding what they’ve read when they interact with printed text alone. Fortunately, we now have access to adaptive technology that can provide a different kind of learning experience. By giving struggling readers a proven reading accommodation that lets them access grade-level materials in audiobook format, you will improve their reading skills, build their vocabulary and background knowledge, and boost their confidence.

In 2013, our staff learned that our state test scores had dropped to the lowest range. Under the guidance of a new principal, we moved from Turnaround status to Performance status in a single year. This was a rare accomplishment. How did we get more struggling readers on the path to learning success? We began to use research-based reading practices with fidelity and incorporate human-read audiobooks—making subjects, like English, History, Science and Social Studies more accessible to students with reading difficulties. 

As an associate level member of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham and a Certified Academic Language Practitioner, I understand the positive impact reading and listening to a book simultaneously can have on students. I have used this multisensory structured language approach with students who have difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.

Building Reading Endurance and Independence

To build reading endurance and reading independence, I use The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This proven reading accommodation has made a profound difference in my students’ reading strength and stamina. 

Before access to Learning Ally, my students were limited by their skills to reading short, decodable “baby books.” Now they read the same books as their peers and keep up with assignments. I’ll never forget when a severely dyslexic student chose a thick book to read. He was so proud of himself. He had never attempted to read a chapter book on his own, but with this resource, his confidence soared.   

Legislating Early Intervention and Training

Mrs. Kanuch discussing reading goals with a student.I also believe in early intervention. My state recently passed the Colorado READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) to focus on K-3 literacy, assessment and individual planning for students reading below grade level. The Act requires identification of students with significant reading deficiencies and provides funding and training for appropriate resources and interventions.

This is good news, because most general education teachers are at a major disadvantage when it comes to working with students who struggle to read. These teachers have not received adequate training on reading science or the challenges of learning differences such as dyslexia.

Giving Teacher the Tools and Support They Need

While the Colorado READ Act is a step in the right direction, it lacks the accountability necessary to ensure that teachers receive appropriate instruction in reading science and that students are being accurately identified and provided with scientifically researched instruction and interventions, such as The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution.

There is still much to do and learn about dyslexia and other learning differences and making the right choices of how best to serve students. We must also do a better job of exposing teachers to the science of reading and neurological research on how we learn. One of my favorite books for teachers is Reader Come Home: the Reading Brain in a Digital World by Dr. Maryanne Wolf.

Making a Shift to Accessible Books

Children with dyslexia are often out-of-the-box thinkers, but this learning disability can rob them of time and self-confidence. Providing grade-level text in audiobook format allows these learners to participate in class and sparks their creativity. Making a shift to accessible materials unlocked more of my students’ learning potential.

Early in my teaching career, I knew I was onto something powerful when a child demonstrated substantial growth in his reading skills after I combined a multisensory structured literacy approach with instructional materials. We must help more students make meaningful connections to reading and overcome their feelings of inadequacy.

Multisensory Learning Can Be a Game-Changer

Readers must be thoroughly competent at decoding and fluency before they can accomplish deep reading and full comprehension. They need both targeted reading instruction to improve decoding and fluency skills and access to grade-level text. In addition to whole-class, grade-level instruction, my students receive individualized instruction to work on missing or weak foundational skills, and they have access to The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution.

By giving your struggling readers access to grade-level reading materials through audiobooks, you will improve their reading skills, build their vocabulary and background knowledge, and boost their learning confidence. If struggling readers don’t get the help they need, they’ll develop feelings of inadequacy and lose their passion for reading and learning, and sadly, many of them will fail to reach their academic potential.

If students aren’t learning the way we are teaching them, then we need to teach to the way they learn. For students with dyslexia and other learning differences, that means a multisensory learning approach that allows them to absorb grade-level content and develop a love for reading. Learning Ally is a reading accommodation that is proven to do just that. It might be exactly what your struggling readers need to read and succeed.

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

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