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.

11 Commonly Talked About Topics to Break the Cycle of Reading Failure for Students with Learning Differences

February 21, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Nearly two thousand U.S. educators responded to Learning Ally’s 2018 annual survey about their challenges working with one of the most vulnerable student populations – students who struggle to read.

On our survey, nine out of ten educators said they believe Learning Ally audiobooks enable students to better comprehend grade level text, keep academic pace, read independently and build stronger reading habits.

Additionally,educators stated these priorities for 2019:

  • Provide a balanced literacy approach for students who need extra reading support through reading instruction and access to information in digital format to reduce barriers to reading, such as decoding skills.
  • Develop skills in studying and organizing and improving executive function.
  • Increase reading independence by motivating students to read daily.
  • Encourage students to overcome negative attitudes towards themselves as learners.

Reading – The Top Priority for Our Nation’s Schools

Students who do not read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out. The 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, revealed that only 36 percent of eighth graders and 37 percent of high school students read at a level of proficient or above. These statistics, coupled with the fact that one in five students has dyslexia, indicate an alarming number of students in our nation’s schools are underperforming.

Without early intervention and solutions to address reading barriers, children with learning differences who enter school as bright and curious learners will fail to meet expectations. Older students, who never receive the reading support they require to succeed academically, will lack confidence and face years of uncertainty.

Most-Talked-About Topics in 2018

Breaking the cycle of reading failure for students with learning differences is a critical goal for educators at all levels. The question is how. Here are some of the topics that dominated the conversation in 2018.

1. Learned Helplessness

Tracy Block-Zaretsky of the Dyslexia Training Institute help us to identify symptoms of dyslexia that may show up later in a child’s learning process because they have been masked. Some well-meaning caregivers and teachers may also be pitching in a little too much.

2. Digital-Accessible Books

Schools are broadening their efforts to offer digital-accessible books to accommodate students with learning disabilities. Kristin Longmuir features lists of popular books and recommended reading by grade-level curriculum and Lexile level to save teachers time and schools money.

3. Multi-Tiered Learning Approach

Penny Moldofsky, Director of the Literacy Institute for Woodlynde School in PA, recommends a multi-tiered learning approach to ensure grade-level access to reading materials and to help students make mental movies of text, so they spend less time figuring out words and more time enjoying reading.

4. Cognitive vs. Decoding Skills – “Automaticity”

Terrie Noland explores Cognitive Load Theory and the neuroscience of how struggling readers’ brains work, explaining how they must execute lower-level reading processes such as decoding with “automaticity” before they can master higher-level comprehension skills.

5. Multisensory Reading

Dyslexia specialist Dana Blackaby describes the effective use of assistive technology to create multisensory reading experiences (seeing text and hearing it read aloud). Along with an explicit structured literacy approach, she has used this strategy to turn struggling readers into grade-level achievers.

6. Personalized Learning Improves Social and Emotional Skills

Most educators agree it is very important to give students the freedom to choose books that match their interests, hopes and dreams and the time to read grade-level material, not just leveled readers. We also know that students who enjoy reading feel more empowered to learn.

7. Science of Reading Engagement

Learning Ally CEO Andrew Friedman discusses his views on shaping the future of “reading to learn” using data, science and automation. He also emphasizes the importance of personalized learning to focus on not only academics but social and emotional behavior as well.

8. Diverse Literature

Diverse literature reflects and honors the lives of young people and helps them to mirror their own experiences. Teachers use these type of stories that are “curiously written” to help more children and teens discover their identities and feel more valued and included.

9. Growth Mindset

No student wants to look or feel different. In this Think Inclusive article, learn why psychologist, Carol Dweck, advises teachers and parents to reinforce that all children can learn with the right encouragement and resources.

10. Applied Behavior Management Intervention

Terrence Gordon knows about diversity and bullying. He discusses his experiences working with kids of all backgrounds and the many behavioral issues that may apply to struggling learners – "a broken family," "living in poverty," walking through "run-down neighborhoods," and “not being able to read well.”

11. Reading Accommodation

Audiobooks, read by skilled voice artists, enable struggling readers to improve skills in prosody, the melodic flow of reading and phonemic awareness and the ability to hear explicit sounds of letters and letter patterns that form words. Human-read stories are far more engaging. They help students make meaning of information, teach them to pronounce words correctly and improve their vocabulary, comprehension and critical thinking skills.

To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo or call 800-221-1098.

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Learning Ally’s Reading App Keeps Getting Better

February 11, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

by Cher Ware, Classroom Integration Manager

In an effort to continuously improve, Learning Ally’s reading app has new features to support struggling readers. These features will allow students to personalize their reading experience, improve comprehension, and demonstrate understanding while reading grade-level content.

 Are You Still Reading?

There are times when a student might forget to pause an audiobook while reading and could miss important events within a story. “Are you still reading?” is a prompt that is triggered at one hour into audio playback if there has been no interaction with the app and will remind students to stop the audio if they are done. With the prompt from the app, students will be able to accomplish their reading goals and educators will know that students are participating in their reading.


screen capture from Learning Ally's mobile app

Visual Bookmark Indicator

As students engage with text, they are able to place bookmarks to mark information much as a student would do with a post-it while reading. When a bookmark is placed, the quote will be underlined to indicate where it is within the text. By tapping on the underline, students are able to quickly access, add or edit a corresponding note.

Elementary School Educators: Developing inference skills is the foundation to higher-level thinking. As students read a text, the visual bookmark indicator can be used to identify clues that give insight to the characters or events in a story. Students are then able to refer back to their bookmarks when making inferences during group discussions or when writing.

screen capture of reading appscreen capture of reading app


Middle/High School Educators: Citing evidence within the text is crucial when students participate in discourse or complete writing assignments. The visual bookmark indicator can be used by students to cite evidence with the text as they read. Students are also able to send bookmarks and notes to the teacher to show work and demonstrate understanding.



User Selected Level Navigation

All students have different learning styles and needs. Students are now able to customize their learning experience in the Learning Ally reading app by selecting the navigation level for the previous and next buttons. Students can pick to navigate to a:

  • Heading - useful when a student is reading non-fiction and looking for a specific section of text

  • Page (current default setting) - student is reading text for enjoyment or for an assignment

  • Paragraph - when a student is looking for a specific sentence to support an idea it is helpful to be able to move paragraph by paragraph through a text

  • Sentence - sometimes a student may read a sentence and want to go back and reread to check for understanding. Navigating by sentence allows the student to easily move back and forth sentence by sentence.

To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo or call 800-221-1098. 
Be sure to check out Learning Ally's Browse Audiobooks page for featured titles to jumpstart students' reading independence.
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Top 10 Books Popular with Students in The Great Reading Games

February 5, 2019 by Kristin Longmuir

The 2019 Great Reading Games is in full swing and there is still time to get your students signed up and engaged in reading audiobooks. Please sign up now, as the opt-in for the Games ends Friday, February 8th, 2019.  

To date, there are more than one thousand U.S. students participating in the Games and reading is at an all-time high! The seven-week audiobook challenge supports teachers’ efforts to get more struggling readers building reading stamina and stronger reading habits, strengthening learning confidence, and empowering students' social and emotional well being.

Teachers are sharing their Great Reading Games best practices too. You can view plenty of awesome photos on social media of students who are excited to read. 

Curious to see which books are being downloaded and read the most? 

Check out these titles and get your struggling readers into the Great Reading Games now. 

Book cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid / boy slumped over Most Popular Books 

NA451 Dog Man Unleashed

NB534 The Meltdown   

NA440 Dog Man

JD498 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid  

NA133 Smile  



Book cover of yellow smiley faces

KH368 Cabin Fever  

JW535 Dog Days   

KY284 Sisters

KV729 The Long Haul

NA521 The Getaway   

To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo or call 800-221-1098. Be sure to check out Learning Ally's Browse Audiobooks page for featured titles, such as these great books:

book cover Swing by Kwame Alexander boy with backpack surrounding by musical instrument

Swing - Kwame Alexander's latest book

Camping With The President - Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite National Park

The House With A Clock In Its Walls - the recent children's movie starring Jack Black

Voice Of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit Of The Civil Rights Movement - an award honor book about a civil rights champion

book cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Meltdown. Snowman melting in sun.Out Of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets - Kwame Alexander's ode to 20 famed poets and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Winning book

The Meltdown -  the latest book in Jeff Kinney's wildly popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series

Solo - Kwame Alexander’s young adult novel written in poetic verse

Dog Man : A Tale Of Two Kitties - the third book in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey


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Step Up Your Game: 12 Tips to Help Your Students Make the Most of the Great Reading Games

January 30, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

Learning Ally's Great Reading Games Image with text Celebrate Our Readers and the image of a trophy.Each year, innovative teachers sign up their students  for Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games. This annual national event complements any classroom reading activity and supports teachers’ efforts to motivate and reward struggling readers, build stronger reading habits and boost learning confidence.

Here are a dozen awesome tips from teachers.

  1. Find Books Students Want to Read

Alyssa Gray, a Special Education Teacher at Robinson Middle School, Fairfax, VA prints a list of book titles for students to rate by watching book trailers on YouTube. She says, “Students love to self-select books and feel part of the learning process.”

  1. Teach Students How to Listen and Learn

Audiobooks help struggling readers go from painstakingly decoding words to reading with fluency. Encourage students to listen to human-read audiobooks while following highlighted text to improve their reading comprehension, background knowledge and confidence. Learning Ally’s professional voice actors are skilled at delivering proper intonation and emphasis of words and phrases to strengthen students’ vocabularies, while conveying the full experience of literature, popular fiction and textbooks.

  1. Promote a Schoolwide Culture of Readers

Rebecca Phirman, Intervention Specialist for St. Mary School, Alexandria, KY is proud that her school implemented audiobooks to inspire a schoolwide culture of readers. In addition to the Great Reading Games’ Chromebooks and headsets for students, rewards for teachers and recognition for schools, Rebecca has created other fun events and activities, like “Ice Cream Social Day” and “Out of Uniform Day.”

  1. Suggest Audiobooks Narrated by Authors

Human-read audiobooks add an element of authenticity to every story. And sometimes that authenticity can be taken to a whole new level, like when students get to hear a book narrated by its author. Delaney Dannenberg and her mother Shelley visited St. Mary School in KY to talk about helping students with dyslexia. She and Delaney wrote the book “I Have Dyslexia: What Does That Mean?” Delaney is the narrator of the audiobook.

  1. Leverage the Digital Leaderboard for Motivation and Reinforcement

Teachers tell us the digital leaderboard serves many purposes during the Games:

- A way to keep students motivated and excited to read

- A tracking tool to monitor reading progress in real time

- A confidence builder for students who struggle to read 

- A visual reminder of how students and schools are doing

  1. Reach Higher—Go Beyond Leveled Readers

Few books in print will meet a struggling reader at their independent reading level.  Joelle Nappi, Dyslexia Specialist for Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, Wyckoff, NJ encourages teachers to do more for struggling readers than just giving them leveled texts and asking them to read more in the hopes that this will improve outcomes. Ms. Nappi recommends combining targeted structured literacy interventions with textbooks, literature and popular fiction in audiobook form that are on or above students’ decoding levels.

  1. Celebrate Milestones in a Livestream Meet the Author” Event

Kwame Alexander profile Give students a great reason to keep reading. Let them know your school will celebrate the end of the Games by participating in a Livestream webinar on Read Across America day with bestselling author, Kwame Alexander. Alexander’s YA books are very popular with teens and will surely have your students pumped up to read and join this national celebration.

  1. Out-of-the-Box Fun!

Students in Penny Moldofsky’s classes at Woodlynde School in Strafford, PA love the fun ways she coaches them to victory, like providing them with unique badges and keychains. We especially like her referee jersey! Woodlynde displays a reading tally board in their lobby to build school spirit and recognize student achievement.

  1. Read about Famous People with Dyslexia

Youngsters in Dana Blackaby’s class at the Academy of Nola Dunn elementary school in Burleson,TX like to read about famous people with dyslexia, including artist Chuck Close, actor Henry Winkler and financier Charles Schwab. They also participate in a living museum activity, dressing in costume and presenting book reports to the entire school.  

Instagram photo of The Schneck School classroom. Students reading audiobooks intently.

  1.  Pack Students’ Bookshelves with Interesting Reading  

Packing students’ digital bookshelves all year long with various authors, genres and diverse literature will ensure that your students are developing their confidence and self-esteem, broadening their interests and increasing their chances of becoming a lifelong reader.  

  1.  Make Time for Independent Reading

The Schenck School in Atlanta, GA reminds us of the power of reading practice. Just 20 minutes a day can transform a struggling reader into a grade-level achiever.


  1.  Create a Goal-Tracking Sheet

Holly Sanford of Rockwall ISD, Rockwall, TX reminds us of the importance of setting and tracking goals. Her goal-tracking sheet makes it easy to monitor students’ progress during the Great Reading Games. 

There’s still time to get your students in the Great Reading Games!

Learning Ally sends a BIG THANK YOU to all of the wonderful teachers across the nation who work diligently each day to develop confident, engaged young readers. You inspire our dedication to “literacy for all.”

Learn More about Learning Ally

New to Learning Ally? You can get a closer look at our audiobook solution by scheduling a live demo.

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How Audiobooks Helped Me Get My Struggling Readers to Read

January 22, 2019 by Valerie Chernek

By Alyssa Gray, Special Education Teacher, Robinson Middle School, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA 

Headshot of Alyssa Gray My seventh and eighth graders at Robinson Middle School in Fairfax County, VA are excited to participate in the 2019 Great Reading Games, a national audiobook event hosted by Learning Ally. This competition is wonderful because it helps me to motivate my reluctant readers and get them hooked on reading books – audiobooks that is. 

Several years ago, my district purchased the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to ensure that students with print and learning disabilities had equitable access to digital contentincluding required textbooks, literature and popular titles. The district’s goal was to enhance students’ ability to read grade-level text and have opportunities to access age-appropriate books based on their interests.

The Great Reading Games is a fun, engaging way to inspire struggling readers. I like the seven-week challenge because it helps me jumpstart my students’ reading mindset each year and the prep work is done for me. My students rarely enjoy reading, but they love to win prizes! They also love to watch the digital leaderboard on Learning Ally tally up the number of books and pages they have read. As they watch their numbers go up, they are elated. Many neighboring schools in Fairfax County also participate in the Games, which helps our schools build a culture of readers throughout the district.

Pique Students’ Interests

Screen shot of Alyssa's digital shelf of book covers and video trailers on You-TubeI know that my incoming students who cannot easily read printed books will comprehend more of the information they read with audiobooks. One strategy I use is to print a list of titles for them to rate by watching book trailers on YouTube. They love the opportunity to self-select books in Learning Ally’s digital library. Parents are thankful too, because they don’t have to purchase physical books. As the Games proceed, my students are extra-motivated to read at home to compete for gift cards and prize packs. Teachers can win too. Last year, I won a Chromebook for my social media posts about how my students built stronger reading habits.

The Power of Reading Practice

You can never underestimate the power of reading practice. At the beginning of every school year, students who qualify for Learning Ally receive an account. This resource is easy to justify because it supports students who require more reading support.  I use it every day in rotating reading stations so that students have silent reading time. My rule is to read for 20 minutes a day during the school week.

Audiobooks Enhance Learning

As students listen to audiobooks, they follow highlighted words without distraction. This frees up their minds from painstakingly decoding words, enabling them to read more fluently.

My ESOL and special education students especially benefit because they can hear English spoken properly through skilled human narration that strengthens word recognition, vocabulary and prosody.

Learning Ally’s reading app makes it easy for students to take notes for research and book report citations. The app has all the classroom tools built in so that students can create vocabulary lists and set their reading preferences. This is a definite advantage for students who have a difficult time completing reading assignments.  

Students with headphones sitting at their computers reading a book. Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources are a great resource for teachers, students and our schools. The proven reading accommodation helps us to provide access to grade-level curriculum to build students’ reading skills, foster reading enjoyment, encourage independent reading, and to help more students build a foundation for learning. It can help you make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of your students who struggle to read. 

Many thanks to Ms. Gray for sharing her best teaching practices in the Great Reading Games. To learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers, schedule a quick demo  or call 800-221-1098.

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