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Supporting Struggling Readers: The More We Know, the More We Can Do

Categories: Assistive Technology, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Student Centric Learning, The Digital Age

By Tammy McEntire, Dyslexia Coordinator, Westside Consolidated Schools, Jonesboro, Arkansas


Ms. McEntire with a student who won the Great Reading Games standing together smiling. In my 29 years of teaching, I have worked as a first grade teacher, a fourth grade teacher, a reading recovery teacher and, most recently, a certified dyslexia therapist. 

During that time, I have seen many students become angry with themselves, their teachers and the world, because they struggle to read. More than ten million students nationwide struggle with reading, and only a small percentage of them get the support they need.

Struggling Readers Struggle with their Feelings

Struggling readers with learning differences experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, confusion, irritability, frustration and self-doubt. You name the negative emotion, and I’ll tell you a story about a child or teen who experienced it and suffered social and emotional consequences as a result.

When I taught fourth grade, children were reduced to tears when they couldn’t grasp simple words in their favorite books.  Middle-schoolers cringed at the sight of a book and felt ashamed when asked to read aloud. High-schoolers tried to hide their inability to stay on task.

Motivating and Engaging Your Students

Getting and keeping students engaged and helping them make an emotional connection with the material they’re reading are critical for struggling readers. I’ve found that Learning Ally is a great way to motivate students to read.  

This proven reading accommodation is specifically designed for struggling readers, especially those with dyslexia and other learning differences. It gives students access to a huge library of human-read audiobooks, including popular titles, literature and textbooks. It’s easy-to-use, and it has a bunch of student- and teacher-friendly features.

A Great Way to Promote Reading

One activity that gets my students really charged up is Learning Ally’s Great Reading Games. This seven-week national reading event is exactly what struggling students need to jumpstart their enthusiasm and passion for reading. It’s enough time to really generate some positive momentum, and students love the challenge of competing for individual and school prizes and recognition.

I want to challenge my fellow teachers to look for new and better ways to get all their students reading. Consider reading tools like the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. Try motivational contests and events like the Great Reading Games. Find other ways to make reading inspiring, rewarding and fun. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like seeing the excitement on your students’ faces when they realize what they’re capable of doing.

Not only have more of my students improved their ability to read accurately and fluently through Learning Ally, they have developed more confidence. This year, our middle school came in ninth place in the nation in the Great Reading Games for the second year, and our high school came in fourth. I couldn’t be prouder.

Improving Access for All 

In Arkansas, our statewide mandate is to provide students who demonstrate characteristics of reading deficits with interventions that support their learning needs. Our school staff is constantly trying to improve our school performance.To accomplish this, students receive reading instruction and practice via Accelerated Reader throughout the school year, and their progress is closely monitored and assessed by Star Reading standards-based assessments.

We rely on the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution to provide access for students who require a reading accommodation. Without Learning Ally’s digital library, many students would not be able to keep up with assignments, maintain grade-level status or read independently at home.

When We Know Better, We Can Do Better

Our middle school received the "Outstanding Educational Performance - Best Growth Scores ELA 2017-2018" in the state according to state mandates. Our third- and fourth- graders performed 12% higher in a single academic year. We attribute this success to great teachers and administrators and the right resources to support all learners.

I especially want to acknowledge the amazing work that our teachers in special education are doing to embrace audiobooks. They know that a reading accommodation is a vital resource for a student who clearly cannot keep academic pace with their peers. They know the importance of adding a reading accommodation and access to accessible education materials into students’ IEPs or 504 plans to ensure they have the necessary tools to achieve.

When we as educators clearly understand that students who struggle to read process information differently, we can implement the right tools and resources to make a difference. Learning Ally is one organization that supports our school’s goals, as well as my efforts to instill a passion for reading in students of all ages.

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.