Literacy Leadership Blog

News and reflections from experts and practitioners on the latest literacy research, events and daily practice

< Back

Growth in Reading Ability Transforms Struggling Learners

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices

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.

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.