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.
December 13, 2019 by Jenny Falke
We know that a student’s reading proficiency directly impacts their ability to succeed academically. Strong literacy skills aren’t just important throughout a child’s education, but carry significant weight as they move into adulthood and start their careers. Because of literacy’s link to academic success, reading performance is evaluated consistently throughout K-12. The hope is that with all the focus and resources spent on literacy development and reading skills, test scores will improve, and the literacy gap will narrow. The most recent data from the Nation’s Report Card, unfortunately, showed bleak results. The gap in reading performance isn’t shrinking. Not only that, but students who were already dealing with a skill deficit are performing worse. Determining how to combat these disappointing results requires a combination of understanding where the educational deficits lie while implementing the right resources to truly help struggling readers succeed.
“Since 2017, reading performance has dropped significantly across grades 4 and 8,” according to an Education Week analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data. In 2019, only one state showed improved reading rates for fourth graders, Mississippi. Washington, D.C. was the only place to experience an increase in reading rates for students in eighth grade. Everywhere else, across the nation, saw proficiency scores decline.
Around a third of each grade level is currently at or above the achievement level expected of students within those grades. At a time when it’s known how important strong reading skills are throughout school and into adulthood, data like this is almost frightening. It’s imperative we find a solution to help these students.
A key area potentially impacting the reading deficit is how educators engage with struggling students. “NCES researchers found teachers of low-performing students in reading, math, and science…were significantly less likely than their peers teaching high-performing students to report that they engage their classes in higher-order thinking or offered students advanced work,” according to Education Week. Students should feel challenged in their work in order to stay interested, and ignoring that fact with individuals already struggling to read can make them detach even more from the necessary skills to succeed.
An example of this is where eighth graders, at the lowest proficiency level of reading, are asked to summarize reading passages as a way to improve comprehension skills. This exercise not only prevents them from really engaging with the content, but also can be discouraging because they are struggling to decode the passage. In addition, they’re getting asked to do the most basic assignment while students at a higher proficiency level are allowed to analyze characters’ motivations or identify general themes within a selection. These engaging and interesting activities promote discussion and teach students to think beyond the words on the page, which promotes comprehension on a broader scale. They’re also accessible for students at any reading level, bringing the class onto the same page in a way that’s positive for everyone. Focus the assignment around a common topic for all students, and the foundational knowledge will help make decoding easier as well.
Participation in a reading assignment is only part of the equation. Students also need encouragement to become lifelong readers. Improving a student’s comfort level with reading, so that reading stops feeling like a chore, adds another layer toward their developing literacy skills. “Only about 40 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds said they enjoyed reading "a lot," and more than one- third of them say they read daily. By the teen years, only 22 percent reported reading every day, and fewer than 1 in 4 reported really enjoying reading,” according to data from the Education Week article. This means students aren’t getting into the habit of reading, possibly because they’re not being encouraged to read, even if it’s assigned as homework. Maybe reading is simply too hard, and they give up. Maybe students get tired of not understanding what they’re asked to read, so don’t try.
Giving students access to books in a format they can connect with helps transform disinterested readers into passionate book lovers. Creating an environment where students can connect to what they’re reading and talk about it with their peers leaves a lasting impact. Doing that though, requires the right tools and the right approach to literacy.
Given all the roadblocks placed in front of students on their journey to improved reading skills, most of which they can’t control, it’s essential they get access to the right resources. They need tools that engage them in reading, helping to mold them into lifelong readers. They need access to content that appropriately challenges and interests them, which means a wide range of titles. It’s no easy feat to create both a format and a library that supports students in this way.
Through equitable access to all the books students want and need to read, Learning Ally’s Audiobooks help struggling readers become engaged, independent learners. With an extensive library of over 80,000 human-read audiobooks with highlighted text for students to follow, Learning Ally presents content in a multi-sensory format that enables readers to absorb books easily. Not only can students stay on-task with their school work by reading books aligned to their curriculum, but Learning Ally has a wide assortment of popular fiction, non-fiction, STEAM-based titles and more to attract any student.
As a teaching tool, once you’ve gained a student’s interest in reading, you’re able to use Learning Ally to:
Combat the boredom of generic reading comprehension assignments with Learning Ally’s innovative tools that invigorate the classroom, and help students build reading acumen and confidence.
Students need a stronger connection and comfort level to reading in order to truly lessen the literacy gap in the US. Resources and activities that pique their interest start the process, which is then enhanced with classroom discussions and assignments. When students face a reading deficit or just need some extra support, a combination of these often does the trick. Teacher support and guidance goes a long way, but so does access to the tools students can use both in and out of the classroom. Audiobooks are one option to consider. Solutions like Learning Ally may help struggling students by making books students are already reading in class more accessible.
These disappointing reading scores don’t have to be the norm. With the right strategies and support, today’s educators are in a strong position to affect change and positively impact student success.
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
December 10, 2019 by Valerie Chernek
For Immediate Release:
PRINCETON, N.J., December 10, 2019 -- Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit education solutions organization, has won a 2019 Tech & Learning Award of Excellence for its Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. The Solution now serves more than 470,000 U.S. students with reading deficits, including those with learning disabilities like dyslexia and visual impairments.
Each year, Technology & Learning judges evaluate products that are unique in the K-12 market, as well as those that are helping schools solve specific problems, such as providing equitable access to educational content for students with exceptional needs. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution was selected as an outstanding education technology product that improves the way educators work and students learn in today’s diverse learning environments.
Eligible students can study grade-level text and read age-appropriate titles using a quality reading accommodation with access to an extensive “human-read” audiobook library. The 80,000 audiobook collection contains curriculum-aligned textbooks, literature, fiction, non-fiction, graphic and diverse novels, poetry and popular titles. Audiobooks are narrated by skilled subject experts, voice artists and volunteers who make information come to life.
Students enjoy the freedom of using a mobile app with built-in classroom tools to read in school, at home, and on the go in a multisensory reading experience to comprehend information on a deeper level and improve fluency, vocabulary and critical thinking skills while maintaining academic pace in mainstream classes.
A suite of professional development resources support teachers' efforts to monitor data for reading accountability and to gain insight into genres students enjoy reading independently. Teachers can easily integrate fun, reading engagement activities into their classroom instruction to motivate students to read all year long.
Terrie Noland, V.P. of Educator Leadership and Learning for Learning Ally says, “This Award of Excellence reinforces our mission to support the teachers and specialists who are working diligently to transform the learning experiences for students with reading deficits who deserve every opportunity to reach their full potential."
Technology & Learning Magazine will recognize Learning Ally and all 2019 winners of the T&L Award of Excellence in the December/January 2020 issue and at a special ceremony during the TCEA Convention & Exposition in February 2020 in Austin, Texas.
About Learning Ally
Learning Ally is a leading 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.
For more information, visit http://www.LearningAlly.org.
Categories: Audiobook Library, Curriculum & Access, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Funding & Awards, In the news, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12
December 5, 2019 by Valerie Chernek
Lane 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.”
Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Curriculum & Access, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Ally “How-To Use”, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12
November 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek
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.
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.
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.
Categories: Audiobook Library, Authors for Access, dyslexia, General, In the news, Learning Disabilities, The Digital Age
November 21, 2019 by Valerie Chernek
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.”
Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices