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New Jersey District Reading Initiative Aims For Every Child Reading Well

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Curriculum & Access, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Teacher Best Practices, The Great Reading Games

Photo of Ms. Joelle Nappi

Joelle Nappi, a Dyslexia Therapist for Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, in Freehold Township, NJ is an avid user of audiobooks for reading and learning.  After her school embarked on an initiative to ensure more students with reading deficits received grade-level text in digital format, she saw marked improvements in their reading frequency and self-esteem. 

On average, her middle school students improved their reading engagement by 36%. “We won’t stop until every child feels confident as a learner,” she says. 

Students in Ms. Nappi’s classes are not proficient readers and spellers, and are often unable to keep pace with grade-level classwork. “Reading can be a super hurdle for some students," she says. "Often, they would rather do anything else. At this age, if they cannot enjoy great stories and if they are not exposed to rich language and complex literary structures, they are likely to be turned off to reading for good.”

Beyond Leveled Readers - Target Instruction with Accessible Curriculum

To prevent this scenario, Ms. Nappi uses intervention programs like the Wilson Reading System and Project Read®,  and Learning Ally for accessible literature. The goal of the interventions is to promote reading accuracy (decoding) and comprehension, as well as spelling (encoding) skills for students with word-level deficits. The interventions also teach phonemic awareness, alphabetic principles (sound-symbol relationship), word study, spelling, non-phonetic/high frequency words, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Ms. Nappi says, “Students with dyslexia and other reading deficits need targeted instruction that directly teaches the sound-symbol relationship using controlled, decodable text while they are growing their decoding skills. In addition, they need to listen to self-selected grade level texts.” 

She points out how vital good comprehension skills are to each student's learning success.

“We simply cannot just give leveled texts and ask students to read more in the hopes that this will improve outcomes. Coupling targeted structured literacy interventions with audiobooks of novels and literature, above a student’s independent decoding level, has been critical to our students’ reading growth. Every student with reading deficits should receive tiered supports, including modifications, technology accommodations, and accessible books.”

Jumping on the Accessible Book Bandwagon

She credits her principal, colleagues and parents for jumping on the accessible book bandwagon. At first, there was some skepticism, but through progress monitoring on the Learning Ally teacher dashboard, she was able to report sustainable growth in her students’ reading performance in reading frequency, vocabulary and the number of books they read.

Change Reading Habits to Increase Reading Engagement

Ms. Nappi recommends six to eight weeks to create new reading habits. This year's reading data confirmed that her 6th, 7th and 8th graders improved in reading engagement on average by 36%. Some students now read on or above grade-level and study in general education Language Arts classes. 

"Listening to human-read audiobooks, coupled with direct instruction in the alphabetic code at students’ decoding level, is having a positive effect in my district," she says. "Students, who never saw themselves as readers, read regularly and show marked improvements. Human narration has helped my students improve comprehension and fluency skills by following highlighted text and listening to appropriate modeling of phrasing and intonation."

District-Wide Usage

Seeing this transformation, her district leadership broadened their access of Learning Ally to support students at every grade level on a district-wide basis. “We are proud of the amount of reading that is taking place," says Ms. Nappi. "This investment in accessible literature to enable all children to read well is a perfect example of the mindset that sets Freehold Township Schools apart and can be a model of reading success for more schools in our area and in our country.”

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

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