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.
February 10, 2020 by Julie Heaton
Blog Author: Terrie Noland
You were that kid. The full package. Your teachers always gave you rave reviews. Your parents never felt the need to really “worry about you” when it came to school. The awards came in year after year---spelling bee winner, top math student, best invention, top attendance, spirit award, and not to mention a recognized athlete. Or singer, dancer, actor. Maybe all of them because you knew how “natural” school and extracurriculars were for you and you felt like a superstar. You were the profile student. If anything, you created the mold from which all other students should fit in.
Then you went on to college and still held those accolades within the palm of your hand. It never left, you were motivated, you loved school. The envy of the crowd; the envy of the parents who struggle with their children, of your peers who need help, but couldn’t get it. You knew you would be an amazing teacher someday because you were the smartest, most recognized student your entire life. One would never expect that someday, despite all of the recognition and success, you would learn that all of this was not what mattered after all.
You leave your own bubble of academic success and go out into the world with so much enthusiasm to change the world one student at a time. You fit the profile of a prepared teacher. Except you realize that you are not.
You start to work with students. Their academic needs and beliefs about themselves defy your preconceptions of what you thought you could do to engage, motivate and teach. You look around and see the child with their head down, the child that is acting out, and the child who throws the book to the ground in frustration, or the child that just doesn’t get reading. How can this be? School came so easy for you. You’re an awesome teacher, why aren’t these kids engaged? What happens is that these realizations cause you to feel a sense of despair.
It’s then that you find yourself on a mission - a mission to learn more, a mission to understand the why behind what is going on for your students and a mission to never let any student feel defeated in school. Learning is no longer one ideal profile, but several ones that have just as much potential than those learners who just don’t need help. The experience changes the way you prioritize the accolades. Instead, you prioritize equity. Equity for allowing others to reach their potential, no matter what their needs are, just like you did.
This mission takes you on a journey of discovery and growth and you become immersed in understanding the science of reading because being able to read is the foundation of learning. You become a trained professional in how to teach an evidence based structured literacy program and you see so much growth and progress for your students. However, another feeling starts to creep in. Your despair has now turned to guilt. Guilt of knowing that your first year students didn’t get the best you. Guilt of knowing that you could have impacted students if you would have just been taught properly from the get go. Guilt of knowing that you failed your students.
The end of the story doesn’t stop there, your growth and transformation continues. Hope begins to peek into your teacher heart and spirit. A hope that says, now that I know better, I want to light a flame of understanding and enthusiasm in other teachers, I want to do better. A hope that says your students are getting the best you. A hope that says when students are learning at your feet, they will build a foundation of reading that is their launching pad for a successful academic career and a purposeful life. A hope that says, continue to learn, continue to grow and continue to provide every student with equity in reaching their full potential.
"I remember teaching my Pre-K kids how to trace letters without attaching any sounds to those letters. We did tracing papers and that was IT! Now that I know better, I want to do better and I want other teachers to learn from my mistakes. I have figured out my own personal growth plan and strive to do better every day. #KnowBetterDoBetter" - Terrie Noland, C.A.L.P. - Vice President, Educator Leadership and Learning
Are you on a journey of knowing better in order to do better? What transformational experience changed the way you look at learning? Tag us on Twitter and Facebook and use the hashtag #KnowBetterDoBetter and share your story! Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Categories: Education & Teaching, Educators, General, In the news, Reading Strategies for K-12, Teacher Best Practices, Webinars
February 3, 2020 by Julie Heaton
Blog Author: Kate Stewart
Our featured edwebinar speaker on December 3rd, Dr. Evan Ortlieb, believes there is a book for everyone… every learner… we just have to hook them. And his talk, Fulfilling Students' Potential Through Engaging Literacy Practices, will help you do just that with practical, hands-on teaching strategies that you can implement right away in your classes. As a leading researcher in this area, Dr. Ortlieb’s focus is on re-engaging learners and motivating them towards reading and writing fluency. He highlighted the erosion of engagement from 1st grade through 6th grade for multiple reasons, including the move from picture books to chapter books as students age. However, as Dr. Ortlieb explains, all is not lost when students see literacy as a means to learning, communicating, and interacting with peers.
This is an instrumental interview to watch as Dr. Ortlieb provides practical solutions based on his own teaching experience and research. His Attraction Theory, which is a model to engage learners, could be put to use in a classroom right away. Our favorite example of a reading engagement strategy was the use of “jolts.” Implementing a jolt targets an emotional response in the learner and challenges his or her existing knowledge on a topic. Take the mudskipper that Dr. Ortlieb spoke on, which is an amphibious fish that walks, eats, and courts on land. You could envision the students’ surprise while reading about the mudskipper and learning that a fish could survive out of the water! The goal is to “jolt” the students into wanting to learn more and to be inquisitive since research shows inquisitiveness relates to high proficiency learning. Another strategy presented and discussed was the Ortlieb Experiential Survey to better tailor lessons to your specific classroom demographic. What we loved most about this talk is how educators will walk away with numerous new teaching methods to try with their own students.
Dr. Ortlieb also spoke about how to use the in-between spaces outside of the classroom and other modalities, such as video and Learning Ally’s human read audiobooks, to keep students engaged: “Multimodal spaces are the easiest way to encourage jolts. Learning Ally has an incredible database for audiobooks… The in between spaces are an opportunity, not just when you are at school or you’re home, but in between those spaces, I think, should be built upon and opportunized as possible learning opportunities.” The Templeton Twins, by Ellis Weiner, is brought to life by Learning Ally’s audiobook solution. It is a perfect example of a “jolt” story, which when paired with the human read audiobook experience, will keep struggling readers engaged in the material. Listen to a short clip here.
To watch the full webinar for more ways to re-engage your students in reading, please click here.
Dr. Evan Ortlieb is a Professor and Director of the Manhattan Campus in the School of Education at St. John’s University in New York City. He also coordinates the PhD in Literacy program. He is an internationally recognized leader in the field of literacy education with previous work experience in the multicultural milieus of Australia and Singapore and whose expertise centers on empowering disenfranchised readers and writers, preparing literacy teachers, and differentiating literacy instruction for native and non-native English speakers. He has published over 130 manuscripts that substantiate some of his contributions to the field.
Take part in the dynamic network of educators working toward a common goal and national movement to ensure equitable access for all students.
Learning Ally's edWebinar series offers continuing CE certificates in support of educators in K12 who serve students with reading deficits and print disabilities.
Categories: Books, Authors, & Movies, Curriculum & Access, Education & Teaching, Educators, General, The Digital Age, Webinars
January 27, 2020 by Julie Heaton
Blog Author: Heather Wiederstein
The fact is the tenets of Structured Literacy have lived in reading classrooms since long before IDA succinctly coined the term in 2016. However, since then, and in combination with renewed attention to the science of reading, some would believe that the fervor of the so-called "Reading Wars" of the 1980's and 90's may be coming to a head once again. In reality, differences over the "best" way to teach reading (maybe the first reading war!) can be dated back to the 1920's when Noah Webster (phonics) and Horace Mann (whole word) debated the most efficient pedagogical approach.
Over the decades, the pendulum has swung from phonics-based instruction to word-based instruction and back again many times. Critics of each side find fault with the other, sometimes citing the same research or foundational base. What has remained true though all the debates and reforms is that no single approach has worked for every child. Were it so, there would be a very clear evidence in the progress of our national reading scores; that is, if one ideological method were absolutely "the best," during the years that method was in favor we would have seen significantly higher growth in reading scores.
To be clear, systematic phonological instruction has its right place in reading instruction. So does word study, building fluency, vocabulary practice, building background knowledge, etc. Phonological instruction alone does not lead to comprehension. Vocabulary and background knowledge alone also do not lead to comprehension. All of the five components of reading (Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension) are essential to a person developing into a reader. We could add foundational oral language skills, writing, social-emotional, and executive function elements as part of a more holistic view of "what makes a reader."
What gets lost in the swinging of the pendulum from one extreme to another is entire swaths of children for whom that single methodology does not work. Overworked and underprepared teachers have difficulty discerning among the stacks of research, journalism, blogs and opinions, but what many of them do know clearly, is that no single method works for all students in their classroom. Instead, they need a body of research-based best practices and support in implementing the right practice at the right time for each child. This is no small task, and no single methodology can solve the problem. The noise of the reading wars (past or impending) muddies that water even further.
I think the strength of the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution lies in the fact that it provides equitable access to texts and literature for students in multiple instructional settings. Where a student is being given pull-out support for his dyslexia, he has access to books his teachers ask him to read, as well as to literature he might enjoy reading on his own. Where a teacher is managing the diverse learning needs and reading skills of her individual students, she finds a support for those with reading deficits in the Audiobook App and Educator Portal. Where a reading specialist is providing pull-out systematic phonics instruction, she can also provide access to vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension at the child's cognitive level. Whichever way the pendulum swings, audiobooks support the work of everyone striving with or supporting someone with dyslexia and reading deficits.
Categories: Education & Teaching, In the news, The Digital Age
January 21, 2020 by Julie Heaton
In September, Learning Ally hosted an edWebinar, titled, “What Struggling Readers Wish Administrators Knew.” Terrie Noland, V.P. of Educator Leadership & Learning led the session. Here is an excerpt.
Through the Eyes of John
From the very start, John knew he was not reading like other children. He was confused because he was a smart child. His parents said so and he believed it. That is until reading assignments came along, and a thirty-minute assignment took two or more hours for John. Every night he struggled. His learning journey became a daily frustration ending in self-doubt, isolation, and dread when asked to read. John’s angst mounted and began to impede his health.
Sadly, John’s school wasn’t prepared to support him. Administrators lacked the time to develop a system to identify early-literacy reading deficits. Teachers lacked essential training on reading instruction and what the research says about it today. By the fourth grade, John’s parents hired a tutor, and paid for a battery of tests to discover he has dyslexia. They placed him in another school. By middle school, John was on track academically. He received the right strategies and reading accommodation and now is able to read just below grade-level. He is thrilled to be on the honor roll. His outlook soared. But, what about the millions of struggling learners who are largely trapped in a spiral of poor reading skills or are not diagnosed with a learning disability?
Addressing the Reading Crisis in America
A national conversation is taking place across the U.S. about the lack of understanding and training on the science of reading. Droves of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, and the media are discussing the growing literacy crisis and how to stop it. Yes, there is so much going on in schools. The challenges for administrators and educators are endless. Yet, common goals remain: improve test scores and skill performance, support students who demonstrate ill-behavior and prevent chronic absenteeism.
Low reading ability affects a person’s health and well-being. Without explicit reading instruction, motivation and accommodation, students face tremendous hardship and stereotyping. Often, struggling readers hear, “he’s stubborn or just lazy,” “she will eventually catch up,” “he will never be a good student,” “she’s too young to test,” and “boys learn slower.”
Sadly, many teachers, administrators, and parents still use these terms. Students may find it easier to act like a class clown and arrive in the principal’s office every day, rather than look stupid reading. The humiliation of “popcorn reading,” i.e. reading aloud in class, is too hard to bear. Bad behavior is a common coping mechanism among struggling learners. These learners truly may not know why they act out, but in all probability, it’s because of poor reading skills.
Not Being Able to Read is "NOT" Good
In 2018, Dr. Kenneth Pugh at the Syracuse University on Neuroscience Research Day, said, “We largely know how to fix this problem, and it is criminal if we do not.” Current research on brain-based imaging insists on “early testing for reading deficits,” even as early as kindergarten.
Students who struggle to read, like those with dyslexia, are often intellectually bright but give up because of lack of interest in school. They do not know that they are missing fundamental skills in decoding and phonics-based instruction. Their assignments are dummied down, thus they are never exposed to grade-level vocabulary. Their school does not have a systematic, structured intervention process, and thus teachers do not scaffold instruction.
Additionally, and unfortunately for the student, teachers assign “leveled books," thus they will never enjoy literature on their cognitive or grade level.
Reading Fluency and Phonological Awareness
Two important fallacies are the belief that reading fluency means the rate in which someone reads. This is not accurate. Reading fluency is about rate, but also prosody, automaticity, and full comprehension of information.
How phonics-based instruction is taught is also of great concern. Discrete understanding of phonemic sounds is extremely important for reading success.
In this section we share points expressed by students on what they wished their administrators and teachers knew.
These small step suggestions have been embraced by school leaders and literacy experts.
You can also explore Learning Ally’s mobile app, an integrated learning tool with a built in dictionary and annotation features.
A teacher or student can easily build a personalized digital bookshelf holding titles that will keep a struggling reader engaged and reading independently, while improving fundamental skills.
Administrators can encourage pre-service and ongoing teacher training. They can share research on topics like dyslexia, the science of reading in the 21st century, and books by literacy experts. Here is a short list.
Motivate and Accommodate
John says, “Dyslexia is not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just me.” He wants us to learn from his struggle. He wants us to identify children with reading deficits as early as possible and to rid ourselves of outdated mindsets, like learning through audiobooks is somehow cheating.
Regrettably, many schools do not budget for assistive technology. Administrators and teachers are unaware that this resource can support all students who struggle to read, not just those with a 504 plan or IEP in special education.
All students have the right to an equitable and fair education. Changing the trajectory of struggling learners will have an enormous impact on your school goals and empower teachers to revive instruction. You will also receive the appreciation of parents and your local community who are desperate for their child who struggles to read to succeed.
Thank you for sharing this blog. You can watch this edWebinar in full to gain education certifications. These edWebinars are no cost to help you stay abreast of research, learn best practices, connect with like-minded colleagues and to participate in events, like our “Spotlight on Dyslexia” virtual conference.
We invite you to sign up for Learning Ally’s “Empowering Struggling Readers” online community, and join education leaders across the U.S. who are transforming struggling readers into academic achievers.
Categories: Education & Teaching, Educators, In the news, Learning Disabilities, Webinars
January 14, 2020 by Julie Heaton
Blog Author: Mary Cohen
Catholic schools face extraordinary challenges today in addressing a multitude of students' learning needs. This is especially true for educators who teach students who struggle to read. As a dedicated servant of the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools first as a teacher, then principal and associate superintendent for twenty-five years, I have gained a unique perspective on strategies that may help more of these learners succeed. I want to share them with you.
Barriers to Reading - Learning Disability
Children come to our schools with joy, wonder and unlimited potential. They have special gifts and talents, but many students face considerable obstacles in their learning process. Barriers to reading may be due to learning disabilities, like dyslexia, a language-based processing disorder that now affects tens of thousands of children who cannot easily comprehend print, and thus are not able to keep academic pace with coursework and peers.
Many intellectually bright children are unnecessarily frustrated in the learning process and deal with emotional distress. Many teachers experience failed attempts to reach a child's true academic potential because of a learning disability, leaving the student, the teacher and their families wondering what to do. No child should feel trapped in the learning process and no teacher should have to settle for this fate.
Early Identification - RTI Framework
Statistically proven, children who do not read well by the third grade will fall behind academically. They need our help to identify their barriers to reading early in the learning process. How do we help them make sense of language and have access to grade-level text they are required to learn?
In Colorado, we employ a framework of screening assessments to identify struggling readers as early as first grade, and then use a systematic remediation and intervention process. This includes instruction, testing, interventions and data to develop a baseline understanding of a child's needs.
We screen every student in first grade with the DIBELS reading assessment at the beginning of the school year. Using that screening information, we develop intervention plans to deliver in the classroom with the assistance of a reading specialist. The specialist implements the interventions are for three to six weeks and then we conduct a progress monitoring assessment to determine the success of the intervention.
Students in grades 2 through 8 also begin each year with a reading screening assessment. They complete the STAR Reading Assessment and students in grades 2-4 may receive additional support in the classroom from the reading specialist. We use the information gained from the screening of the older students to determine instructional reading levels, appropriate literature and appropriate time allotments for processing text.
Access to Curriculum
We also provide access to curriculum-aligned materials on grade-level in digital format, including audiobooks, (textbooks, literature and pleasure reading) from Learning Ally, a nonprofit organization. This audiobook solution provides an effective reading accommodation, access to all kinds of digital books, and a cost-savings resource that does not require additional teaching staff.
Teacher Collaboration and Support
With potentially three or more students in a classroom who may have a learning disability, it is nearly impossible for teachers to always think outside the box to address each child's individual needs. Knowledge sharing proves to be very beneficial. Encouraging time for teachers to connect with colleagues enables them to learn about and try new approaches in their teaching regimes, and to strengthen their resolve to find solutions.
Weekly collaboration meetings with teachers have worked extremely well. Through the act of caring and sharing, we are able to bring new ideas to light. We are grateful for reading specialists on staff who support our students with interventions that address specific skill sets, such as improving vowel sounds that can stall a struggling readers' ability to read fluently.
Teacher collaborations also keep us accountable and keep teachers from working in silo environments. None of us has all the answers. When we come together, we reap the benefits of pooling resources, and receiving reinforcement and reassurance that we are doing everything possible to ensure a child's academic success.
Reading Accommodations and Access to Curriculum
Access to grade-level text is also critical for struggling readers. The Learning Ally audiobook library has textbooks in science, history, English and literature, as well as age-appropriate books to keep students inspired to read in school and at home. These audiobooks with human-narration help to model accurate oral representation of text for reading prosody. This is particularly helpful to middle school students who have rigorous studies with intense vocabulary. At this critical age, keeping academic pace in grade-level coursework and reading enrichment are keys to learning success.
Students who once pretended to read now read with gusto with human-read audiobooks. They appreciate having more control over their learning process. they no longer rely on their parents. They see themselves as readers. This is a wonderful thing.
It is true that many of our Catholic schools have limited resources, but there are always solutions if we have faith and willingness to be open to new approaches.
In this article, I shared some of the proven strategies and resources that have worked for me. My hope is that these ideas may help you educate more struggling readers and that more families choose catholic schools to reap the rewards of a faith-based, catholic education.
Parents always ask me if we have the strategies and tools in place to help their child who is a struggling reader succeed academically. I can say emphatically that we do, and so can you.
Mary Cohen is a recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award for her service to the Catholic Church and ministry of education, a highly distinguished recognition given by the Pope and Vatican.
Categories: Catholic Schools, Education & Teaching, In the news, Teacher Best Practices