Perspectives on Whole Child Literacy

The blog for education leaders.

< Back

Differentiation, A Key to Reading Success: Using Technology and Audiobooks to Enhance Small Group Instruction

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Curriculum & Access, Education & Teaching, Educators, Learning Ally “How-To Use”, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Teacher Best Practices

Ms. Sharon Plant headshotSharon Plante, Director of Technology for the Southport School in Connecticut, presented an edWebinar on the “Use of Technology to Support Small Reading Instruction.”

With 22 years of teaching experience in special education, Ms. Plante emphasizes the use of technology to make reading instruction a multisensory process – one that is engaging and explicit, but that also maintains individualization and diagnostic-prescriptive aspects of the lesson.

“Students must have a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge,” says Ms. Plante. “To enhance my skill-based instruction, I want students to have access to educational content, like audiobooks, to help them read grade-level materials and reach their highest learning potential.”

Student Needs Assessment – Differentiation is the Key

Ms. Plante is a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor (CE/AOGPE). She leverages her training and understanding of technology to ensure each student has the resources and instructional environment they need to strengthen their subject knowledge based on their needs assessment. The Southport School is unique in that it works with students who have language-based learning disabilities. A driving principle of the school is to align class instruction based on a student’s intellectual ability, rather than by a traditional grade-level system. 

Each day at Southport, 110 students in grades K-8 attend classes with their peers relevant to their subject-knowledge. They transition in and out of different classes and move to other supportive learning environments as necessary to strengthen their aptitude.

Southport educators know that students with learning differences who struggle to read print can only stay on or close to grade-level assignments through equitable access to educational content in digital format. “This is a critical piece of their learning process,” says Ms. Plante.

Without access to quality audiobooks (textbooks, literature, reference), many students would falter in their academic progress. She likes Learning Ally because the audiobooks are read aloud by skilled narrators who keep students engaged in the listening and learning process through natural voices that will intrinsically motivate them to keep reading.

Improve Comprehension by Reducing Reading Barriers

Some Southport students receive access to education audiobooks as early as first grade. Ms. Plante believes that the earlier we provide children with accommodations who need them, the sooner they can comprehend education materials on their intellectual level and be inspired to read independently. She says, “Reducing reading frustration is the ‘sweet spot’ to hurdle reading anxiety and to help students read fluently enough to decode words and comprehend the context of the subject matter.”

Expand School’s Digital Library

Southport relies on Learning Ally, a proven audiobook solution, to complement its use of Accelerated Reader. Combining this instructional component with audiobooks ensures that more struggling readers harness their enjoyment of reading. “Prior to our access to audiobooks, many children who struggled never wanted to read,” says Ms. Plante. “Reading is still difficult for these students, but audiobooks help to reduce feelings of failure. Technology enables me to provide multiple representations of education materials. This is what universal design for learning (UDL) and the ability to personalize learning is all about.”

Learning Ally’s audiobook solution also enables the school to expand its digital library and easily manage the process of assigning digital textbooks, literature and popular reading. “We have reduced the number of lost books and excuses for not having books in class,” adds Ms. Plante. “Parents appreciate this cost savings and the fact that their children can find popular titles, books on college prep, reference materials and books that interest their lifelong pursuits.”

Southport students can sit back and get lost in a good audiobook story while their brains’ executive functions recognize new words, build larger vocabularies and instill background knowledge. Students also discover their personal interests, favorite genres and bestselling authors. Ms. Plante recalled one student who loved an audiobook so much he could not stop listening to the story he was reading.

“We try to encourage independent reading,” says Ms. Plante. “While students in small-group reading instruction may be at different reading levels, it is vital that all students have access to the same article, passage or novel.”

In addition to Learning Ally, Southport School uses other technology programs such as Newsela, Freckles, Rewordify, and Bookshare.  

Ms. Plante says, “Learning Ally lets me identify Lexile measures and monitor students’ reading progress. Multiple options for students to learn information the way they need it to be presented is giving them the ability to access the same text as their peers and ensures more participation in class discussions, improvement in their reading skills and their confidence that they can achieve higher goals.”

Educational Webinars

Throughout the year, Learning Ally sponsors Edwebinars for the education community to gain CEU credits, while learning best practices of skill-based instruction, technology and proven learning strategies like UDL and behavior management techniques.,204,203,200_.jpg

About Sharon Plante

Sharon is the co-author of Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities, which highlights the incorporation of technology through the Universal Design Model to reach all learners. She has presented at IDA, The Dyslexia Foundation, Everyone Reading, EdRev, ATIA, New York Chapter of ALTA, Spotlight on Dyslexia and AssisTechKnow. Sharon is a member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools Commission on Technology, and was awarded the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award from George Mason University College of Education and Human Development.

Special thanks to Sharon Plante. 

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.

Sign up for the Whole Child Literacy Newsletter

Join our community and get the latest sent right to your inbox! Stay up to date on the latest news, research, and practical guidance.