K-12 | Read to Achieve


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.

When Words Misbehave: Why Your School Needs Assistive Reading Technology

April 3, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Guest Blog By Christy Scattarella, Executive Director/Founder, The Shadow Project

Illustrated Letters in a cloud with a boy reading. Come reading time in Ms. Peggar’s 2nd grade classroom, my son would place a book on his head, rock back and forth, and hum to himself. Alex has dyslexia and attention deficit disorder or ADD. Trying to read the traditional way–with his eyes –resulted in words jumping around the page. I applauded this creative endeavor to redirect the book’s contents straight to his brain. After all, what other option did he have? At the time, decent alternatives to print books were virtually nonexistent. 

Fast forward to today: Assistive technology has revolutionized the way children with dyslexia and other disabilities can learn to read. That’s good news, because third grade reading proficiency is a key predictor of high school graduation.

Then there’s the less-than-great news: For various reasons, this urgently needed tool remains underutilized. I’ve heard some folks label reading technology  “cheating,” or decree, “That’s not really reading.”  Maybe they don’t know the courage it takes for these kids just to show up at school each day, dreading that moment they have to open a book where the words run around, or worse yet, get called on to read aloud.

Equity in education means removing systemic barriers to success and creating an educational environment where ALL children can achieve their potential. Students have the right to learn to read in modalities that capitalize on their strengths, so they can develop “reading to learn” skills that are critical for academic success in middle and high school.                    

Assistive reading technology narrows the gap between a child’s disability and capability, thus giving those who learn differently what the rest of us took for granted. For example, read the same grade-level texts as your peers.

It’s the difference between losing yourself in a story and just getting lost.

The nonprofit I founded, The Shadow Project (named for my son’s dog) partners with teachers to make learning more accessible and engaging for children with learning challenges. We’re in Oregon, where 79% of students in special education do not meet third grade reading proficiency. That’s one reason why we created a Reading Mentors program, which uses the Learning Ally audio-visual library, with human-read audio-visual books designed for kids who need a different way to read. We pair this technology with trained volunteers who motivate children to set reading goals and celebrate their progress.

photo of a student Let me introduce you to a few of these courageous readers:

Johnny, a  5th grader with dyslexia, would sit in class each day, afraid someone would notice he was only pretending to read. “I felt like I was cheating,” he said. Today, Johnny is a star student in his middle school and plans on attending college.

Eric, a 3rd grader, was bullied on the playground for his kindergarten “baby books.” Eric quickly learned to follow highlighted text on a screen and adapt the system to his learning style. He controlled the speed, font size and how often he needed to repeat a word. With this tool and a caring mentor to champion his progress, Eric, who never cracked a book at home, was soon reading 30 minutes a day. Now in fifth grade, Eric reads close to grade level.

Like all children, Annjel loves stories, but she was never able to read them. Surrounded by classmates turning page after page of their books, Annjel would sit staring at the same sentence. “Every time I would read, it would not make sense,” she said. “It was exhausting.” When Annjel could see and hear words at the same time, they began making sense. At school, she began skipping recess to discover a new story. At home, she’d read by flashlight after her Mom turned out the lights.  Annjel started middle school reading at grade level.

Adaptive reading tools are as essential as wheelchair ramps. They provide a virtual ramp to learning, inclusion and belonging. Teachers tell us their neuro-diverse students are engaging in classroom reading discussions for the first time and making friends over a shared favorite book.

That’s the case at Woodmere Elementary, a low-income school in Portland where adaptive learning tools are as standard as backpacks and contribute a transformative school culture. “Our students with disabilities are seeing themselves as readers,” says Principal Katherine Polizos. “They feel like they belong in the school community.”

Assistive reading technology raises expectation for students with disabilities, a population whose potential continues to be squandered by a bar set too low.  Not until 2017 did the U.S. Supreme Court declare that educational progress for this population needed to exceed barely more than trivial, or “de minimis.” Every child should have access to the reading tool he or she needs to succeed. Let’s make equitable education for diverse learners the rule, so the successes of Johnny, Eric and Annjel are not the exception.
Photo of Christy Scattarella

Christy Scattarella, M.A. is the founder and executive director of The Shadow Project, a Portland, OR nonprofit that has partnered with teachers to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for more than 11,000 children with dyslexia and other learning challenges. Teachers use Christy’s award-winning children’s book, The Boy Who Learned Upside Down about her son, to help struggling readers manifest their innate courage.

Listen to Christy's archived edWebinar, "Supporting Dyslexic Readers, How to Go From I Can't to I CAN!

cover of The Boy Who Learned Upside Down boy in meadow with this dog

Book cover illustrations © Winky Wheeler, 2014, from The Boy Who Learned Upside Down



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Struggling Readers Jump a Grade Level or More in Reading Growth

March 25, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Luvina Ruiz, MAE, Education Specialist, La Cumbre Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District, CA, says, "If you want to build your struggling readers’ confidence and reading skills and get them reading on grade level, Learning Ally is a solution worth exploring.”

I teach seventh and eighth graders who read well below grade level. Students in my classes are from diverse backgrounds with emotional and learning challenges. These learners do not have a good foundation in reading, and many have never experienced the “thrill of a book.” I believe pinpointing exactly what a student is struggling with is an important step in making sure the interventions we use meet that student’s needs.

To make sure my struggling readers and non-readers get the support to become better readers, I use the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This supplementary reading solution has provided our school district with a proven reading accommodation that offers our struggling students with equitable access to grade-level text, literature and popular books.

In the last three years, I have seen a big difference in my students’ reading abilities and self-esteem. Many have jumped a grade level or more, and now easily complete their Accelerated Reader quizzes without assistance and with good results.

One of my students jumped two grade levels in just two months.

STARR results chart

Within two months of having equitable access to grade-level text, this student was able to increase reading scores by two grade levels.

Another student, who is in high school now, had a very difficult time reading. With Learning Ally, his reading level jumped four grades in less than nine months. His comprehension skills soared, and his academic performance improved dramatically, especially in Language Arts.

Audiobooks enhance students’ ability to listen and learn and to participate in small-group instruction and independent reading activities. Students listen to stories narrated by a human voice, not the drone of a robotic voice. They stay involved. They learn what a word looks like and how it sounds. They hear proper pronunciation of words to support vocabulary development. What I like most is that they find joy in selecting books to read on their own, and they are much less frustrated with the reading process.  

For reading assignments, my students must select a chapter book, and if it’s above their reading level, they use an audiobook from Learning Ally. They have ten days to read each book, so they can finish at least two chapter books in six weeks for the Accelerated Reader marking period. With Learning Ally’s progress monitoring dashboard, I can make sure my students are reading the required number of pages each night.

It’s important for all educators to be aware of instructional strategies that support students with learning differences. I recommend the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to any colleague working with struggling readers and non-readers. If you want to build your struggling readers’ confidence and reading skills and get them reading on grade-level, Learning Ally is a solution worth exploring. 

Explore the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for your struggling readers and how the reading data dashboard works. For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Three Powerful Ways Reading Data Helps Teachers Enhance Personalized Learning
three teen boys walking in school hallway

March 18, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

It’s no surprise that personalized learning is a prime topic for educators. The world and the way we learn is aggressively changing. Some educators believe personalized learning is the “heartbeat” of what works well for a particular learner like audiobooks for struggling readers.

According to Patrick, Kennedy, and Powell (2013), personalized learning means tailoring learning for each learner’s interest, strengths and needs, encouraging flexibility to support mastery and enabling learners to influence how, what, when, and where they learn.

That’s pretty much what educators who rely on Learning Ally believe. Our audiobook solution is not only a vast database of digital textbooks, classics, literature and fun titles it is an important information hub for teachers to gain real-time reading metrics and insight into students’ personal reading preferences. This automated data saves teachers precious time. It enhances teachers’ ability to personalize achievement goals and make course corrections. This data also gives teachers the proof to celebrate every students’ reading efforts.

How can Learning Ally reading data be effective for you?

1. Set personalized learning goals for each student

We recommend 20 minutes a day for 33 days to make reading habits stick. The educator portal takes the laborious work of tracking each student’s reading progress on paper, to a digital dashboard tracking time on task, number of days a student reads, number of pages and books completed. Teachers tell us that by drilling down into individual student usage they gain insight into students’ preferred genres and favorite authors. This is useful knowledge to spark reading interests and encourage independent reading.  

2. Progress monitor and course correction  

The ability to make adjustments in a students’ reading program at any time during the semester is a tangible benefit. In the educator portal, teachers can quickly identify students that need additional support in accessing and using the Learning Ally app effectively to build stronger reading habits and pinpoint improvement areas in reading. Some teachers use the data in a more holistic approach to engage students in meaningful discussions to help them feel more supported and empowered to keep reading.   

3. Celebrate small and large successes

Learning Ally data can also lead to improved social-emotional well-being. Teachers appreciate the data they see about a students’ reading progress and use that data to support student recognition and to celebrate the successes of the most vulnerable readers – a notable effort.

Strengthen Your Reading Environment with Personalized Data

With the right data, educators can be more confident that they are reaching each student individually and helping them to make progress according to their learning potential. The ultimate goal is to motivate students who don’t like to read to help them enjoy more books and thrive in the classroom. This is the heartbeat of personalized education and when this happens, there is no greater gift for the student and the teacher.

Let’s get you signed up for Learning Ally!  

Schedule a demo to see how Learning Ally delivers an immediate impact for your struggling readers and how the reading data dashboard works. For more information about a school subscription, call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Best EdWebinars of 2018 for Educators and Administrators Supporting Struggling Readers

March 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

As part of our ongoing commitment to support classroom teachers and administrators, Learning Ally hosts several edWebinars each year with an emphasis on professional development and CEU credits. With this in mind, we want to share four of the best EdWebinars in 2018 presented by an incredible lineup of education thought leaders. These experts discuss their challenges and share best reading practices, research-based strategies, and models of success to enrich your knowledge.

What Dyslexia Red Flags Look Like for Different Students in Different Grades

Presented by: Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Ed.D., Co-Founder, Dyslexia Training Institute; and Tracy Block-Zaretsky, Co-Founder, Dyslexia Training Institute

sign that says don't ignore the flagsWe know that dyslexia occurs on a continuum and the red flags in one student might not be the same as the red flags for another student.  In this edWebinar, the presenters use case studies to uncover the red flags across different grade levels to illustrate the many ways dyslexia can manifest in students. By understanding the warning signs, teachers can begin to provide interventions and accommodations that help to close the gap between a student’s decoding capability and their ability to comprehend grade-level content. When these warning signs go undetected, students develop an academic and homework gap that grows as they move from elementary to middle to high school. Don’t let this happen to your students.

This edWebinar is especially appropriate for state, district, and school administrators and teachers of all grades and topics. You may also enjoy reading this blog, “Decoding vs. Cognitive Ability - Automaticity


5 Things to Give Up So Your Struggling Readers Won’t

Presented by: BeLinda Martin, Fifth Grade Reading/ELA Teacher

photo of belinda martin and text make reading comfortable and fun for studentsOnly half of Ms. Martin’s incoming class of fifth graders were reaching or exceeding levels of reading proficiency. She had to think differently and find new ways to address their gap in reading abilities. Her first step was to give up these beliefs:

  • Thinking that direct instruction was the only way to reach and engage students
  • Designing the environment first without thinking about the needs of the students
  • Believing that students were stuck in their level of reading proficiency
  • Believing the myths that audiobooks are cheating
  • Teaching to the test and not with the needs of students in mind

This edWebinar is especially suited for elementary and middle school general and special education teachers, reading and dyslexia specialists and ESL teachers. You may also enjoy reading Ms. Martin’s blog on this topic.


Mrs. Reyes sitting with a student in class. He has headphones on and is reading a tablet.Strategies and Ideas for Creating a Dyslexia-Friendly Classroom

Presented by Nelda Reyes, Dyslexia Interventionist, De Zavala Elementary, San Marcos CISD, TX

Last year, Mrs. Reyes attended an edWebinar by Kristy Mathieu titled “45 Ways to Support Struggling Readers,” and became inspired to make changes in her own classroom and school. Her goal was to embrace a culture of learning and literacy for dyslexic students. She made swift changes to ensure that as she planned her academic instruction for dyslexic students. She also took into consideration their social and emotional needs. This edWebinar discusses her journey and some excellent ideas to stimulate reading growth and learning confidence.

This edWebinar is suited for elementary level general and SPED teachers, reading specialists, speech language pathologists, librarians, guidance counselors, principals, SPED directors, directors of assistive technology, and directors of curriculum.

You may also enjoy these blogs, “Spring into Reading and Grow as Learners,” and Mrs. Reyes post blog, “Reading Strategies to Create a Dyslexia Friendly Classroom” about this edWebinar.  


Motivation Matters: 10 Research-Based Strategies to Motivate Struggling Readers

Presented by Terrie Noland, V.P. of Educator Initiatives at Learning Ally

Young boy at desk with a printed books, hands on head, troubled lookResearch shows that an alarming number of students hate to read. This is a painful realization for teachers. Through an extensive review of current literature and research, Ms. Noland reveals what educators can do to counteract this decline in student motivation through strategies that will not only boost motivation but will have a positive, powerful impact on reading achievement. Whether you are an administrator, specialist, or classroom teacher you will walk away motivated to integrate a number of the ten different strategies discussed in this session. 

Learning Ally Audiobook Solution helps educators transform the lives of struggling readers. 

We provide access to grade-level content to bridge the gap for students with learning differences who can cognitively comprehend information, but cannot read on grade level. Our high quality, human-read audiobooks, coupled with a suite of teacher resources, is a cost effective solution for your school. Schedule a demo today!

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Spring into Reading with Milk and Bookies or Chips and Chapters
Students sitting around a table reading their tablets

March 5, 2019 by Cher Ware

Spring is almost here. With warmer days, blooming flowers and the feeling of new beginnings in the air, it’s the perfect time to renew your students’ interest in reading by starting a book club. Whether your students are reading with Learning Ally or traditional text, a book club builds excitement around reading and encourages discussions. Students in elementary school through high school benefit enjoy the social aspects of book clubs and the opportunity to read books that appeal to their interests. When engaged in a book club students also:

  • Increase understanding of the text through rich discussion with peers
  • Start to develop lifelong reading habits and an appreciation of reading through positive reading experiences in a book club
  • Develop literacy skills such as fluency, comprehension and vocabulary

Boy sitting at a table. He has headphones on and is reading a graphic novel.

Choose a fun theme like Milk and Bookies or Chips and Chapters to build excitement about participating in the book club. Students will see the book club and an opportunity to read and socialize with peers. Use the Featured Books list to find selections for your students to read. Be sure to develop questions for discussion that are open-ended, get students to share their opinions/ideas, and get students talking.

When selecting books for the book club, choose books that are:

  • on-grade level books
  • spark interest in your students
  • lead to rich discourse
  • develop critical thinking skills

Start a Milk and Bookies or Chips and Chapters book club in your class! 

  1. Decide where, what time and for how long the club will meet. 
  2. Create a book club “trailer” for students to watch in order to build excitement and promote the book club. 
  3. Email parents and other educators to inform them about the book club and have their support as students read. 
  4. Empower students to make book selections by having 3-4 book titles for them to choose from on a sign-up sheet. 
  5. Have a book club kick-off meeting and consider letting the students pick the book club’s name. 
  6. Discuss book club etiquette and expectations. 
  7. Model good discussion and question asking techniques. 
  8. Meet regularly with the book club to discuss the reading selection.
  9. Wrap-up: Watch the movie version of the book (if available) or have a Book Club Social where students can discuss their experiences in the book club and their opinion of the books overall. 
  10. Log in to set up your students with books for Milk and Bookies or Chips and Chapters. Share your activities and learn from others using #springreadingfever and tagging @Learning_Ally. 

Need a Learning Ally school subscription to spring into reading?

Join a demo or learn more about Learning Ally's audiobook solution that turns struggling readers into grade-level achievers. Call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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