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.

Growth in Reading Ability Transforms Struggling Learners
Jenna Ponx in class

November 21, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Students reading in class on their devices

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

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

An Award-Winning Teacher

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

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

Customized Education Materials

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

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

Listening Counts – Reading Independently Works

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

Data Mining - Setting Goals

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

Reading Best Practices

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

Marked Reading Improvements 

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

Get Your Students Reading Independently with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

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

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

November 20, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

For Immediate Release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • guided instructions and best practices tips 

  • class posters, badges and student certificates

  • letters to parents and caregivers

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

Sign up begins today for the 2020 Great Reading Games

About Learning Ally

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

Visit www.LearningAlly.org


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

November 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

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

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

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

Multi-Faceted Reading Approach

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

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

  • Independent reading akin to personal interests.

  • Reading at home.

  • Heterogeneous book groups, according to student interests.

  • Peer to peer reading. 

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

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

Early Identification of Reading Deficits

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

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

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

Leveled Readers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Learning Ally                                                    

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


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New Search Categories Make Finding Audiobooks & Textbooks Easy
Algebra 1 textbook.

October 28, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

by Cher Ware, Classroom Integration Manager

Educators working to support struggling readers know that it can be difficult to help students find the right book. It can also be daunting to give students, who are decoding below grade-level, access to the instructional texts that are part of the curriculum. 

Learning Ally has an extensive library of over 80,000 human-read audiobooks including fiction, non-fiction, textbooks and primary source documents. With several ways to search for just the right audiobook, the browsing features of our audiobook library makes finding the right  books easy for students and educators. 

New! Browse by Curriculum

Educators can now search for audiobook titles which align to their curriculum to better support reading instruction. 

Curriculums included are:

  • ARC® Core 2017

  • Amplify ELa 2016

  • EngageNY 2016

  • Learnzillion

  • Pearson MyPerspectives™ 2017

  • Texas Education Agency Instructional Materials

The Declaration of Independence Book Cover - three revolutionary people marching Educators can also search our category called “Standards Aligned and Primary Source Documents” to find instructional text aligned to rigorous standards. This category includes primary source documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. If you use these texts in your classroom, make sure all students have equitable access with Learning Ally.

Grade and Subject

The Grade-Band Carousel, located on the Browse Audiobooks page, is organized into three categories: Excite in Elementary, Motivate in Middle and Encourage in High School. The carousel highlights titles which will engage students and keep them coming back for more reading. 

You might consider highlighting this search area with your students who are unsure how to search for a book they will enjoy. It’s an easy way to get them started previewing text and finding text that meets their interests. 

Searchers can also filter by categories such as grade and subject area. This is beneficial for educators who may be looking for a book on a specific topic like the Civil War, women in science, or books for a book club. This search feature can be especially helpful to students who may be browsing for a book on a topic in order to do research or discover a new book that matches their interests such as graphic novels. 

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King - Book Cover Letter From a Birmingham Jail


Several options are available when searching by Category:

  • NEW! Recently Added - Students and educators can now find the latest additions to the Learning Ally audiobook library by searching in the Recently Added category. These books are updated frequently so be sure to revisit this browsing feature often. 

  • Great Starts - Includes highly engaging titles that will motivate readers, especially first-time readers to keep coming back to read. These titles are changed quarterly. 

  • VOICEtext - Learning Ally’s audiobooks are narrated by volunteers who help bring the story to life for readers. These books include audio and text together to provide students with multisensory learning experiences.


If using Lexile levels to find books for students to read, keep in mind that Learning Ally’s human-read audiobooks allow students to read books at their comprehension level instead of their decoding level. With Learning Ally, students are given equitable access to grade-level text along with their peers. They can read books they need to read and the books they want to read. 

Whether an educator is looking for a book which aligns with curriculum or a student is looking for the latest young adult fiction, Learning Ally’s audiobook library makes finding that perfect book easy to do.

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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How I Got My Principal on Board to Implement Audiobooks for Learning
Ms. Davis with her principal and colleagues in classroom.

October 23, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Grant Elementary School in Shasta County, California has some of the highest academic scores of any school in the region, yet, like many schools, there is a population of students who aren’t making reading progress. 

This is where Eilyne Davis, an Early Development Literacy Coordinator and Intervention Specialist, steps in. She works with children identified through her school’s early screening process who have reading deficits. One of her strategies is to use human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally as a supplement to explicit reading instruction. 

Ms. Davis initially experienced audiobooks with her son, Archer, who has dyslexia. Through his journey, she was determined to help more children to read successfully and sought out to show her principal, Mike Freeman, the potential of this resource to unlock children’s reading barriers.

Archer’s Journey

Eilyne and her son huggingEilyne heard about the human-read audiobooks from her son’s literacy tutor. Archer was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. As a teacher, it was painful for her to watch her son struggle, so she purchased a household license for the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. “He read books,” said Eilyne. “This was a big deal!” 

She then spoke with Archer's third grade teacher to find out what books he would be required to read in class. She downloaded them for him on the Learning Ally Audiobook App. 

A Long List of Students to Support

In her K-6 classes, many children showed signs of reading deficits in decoding, phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. Eilyne raised their challenges with her Principal, Mr. Freeman. She shared her son’s experience and asked, “What if we could help more children with this resource?” They evaluated how audiobooks with human narration could break through reading barriers like decoding, and improve skills in listening, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, prosody and verbal reasoning. When Mr. Freeman saw how audiobooks could unlock more children’s potential, he initiated a school-wide literacy program.  

Eilyne had demonstrated how audiobooks were effective and provided equitable access to content. She said, “At some point, every teacher will assign books that one or many students will not be able to read. This is when they fall behind and can’t meet their goals.” 

Watching Brooke Grow in Fluency and Comprehension 

Ms. Davis and student, Brooke in a classroom Brooke, a sixth grader with reading challenges, was struggling to keep up with her peers in class. She also expressed her frustration at not being able to read books that many of her friends were reading. Using the Learning Ally Audiobook solution, she logged 2000 pages in one week. “She worked so hard to fit in but always felt isolated and different,” said Eilyne. “In the first trimester, her reading fluency was 94 words per minute. When we re-assessed her in the second trimester, she improved to a whopping 120 words per minute! Her comprehension went from a Lexile level of 625 to 900!”

Reading Data Reveals More Students’ Progress

Eilyne routinely reviews her students’ reading data on the Learning Ally teacher dashboard. She wants to get a glimpse of their reading behaviors and genres that interest them. “Students love searching for books and tracking their pages read,” she says. “When you empower them to select their own books, they are more apt to read independently. They see your confidence in them that they can do it.”

Sharing Success Through the School Community - Facebook Live

Eilyne and her principal decided to do a Facebook Live meeting with their community to help more teachers and parents to understand how the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution works, and the power of audiobooks for students with reading deficits. Principal Freeman said, “We want reading to come alive. Learning Ally is like having a public library in our students’ book bags.” 

Stacking the Bookshelves for Transition to High School

At the beginning of fall semester, Grant teachers determine how much summer reading slide occurs. Eilyne says, “Children, who once saw so many books out of reach, now read. We love seeing the joy on their faces.” Brooke and many other students are transitioning to high school. “This is the time when they will be assigned complex material,” said Eilyne. “They are ready! The ability to ‘see and listen’ to audio textbooks and literature has given them confidence and skills to comprehend more grade-level work and feel good about their future.”

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