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Virginia Teacher Empowers “Take Charge” Attitude in ESOL and Special Education Students

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

Katherine Hover with two students in comfy class chairs reading. Katherine (Kate) Hover is a military mom and middle school teacher with keen insight into how students learn. Over her teaching career, she has worked with children of all ages, backgrounds, customs, and cultures. She says there is one thing in common with all students. "They have a 'deep desire' to have someone believe in them. Empowerment and individualized learning can unlock so much potential."

Passing the Virginia SOLs

Many of Kate’s seventy-plus students at Irving Middle School, a Fairfax County Public School System, had never passed the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) standardized reading test before Kate’s tutelage.

In just two years, her middle school students’ Lexile levels and proficiency rates improved significantly. "Students are decoding English more rapidly and passing the SOL reading tests," she says. "Many have gone from 7th to 8th grade as a skilled reader with a clear understanding of their learning style and the strategies and resources that most effectively match how they learn."

Her colleagues say that Kate is a “take-charge” teacher, not in the sense of micromanaging the dually-identified ESOL-Special Education students she teaches, but by encouraging them to own their learning process. This is one reason why Kate is a 2019 recipient of the Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award  

Students participate in their Individual Education Planning process

Kate has implemented a system whereby students discuss their learning challenges and participate in building their own Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Although many students in self-contained learning environments are not typically involved in the development of their IEP, Kate’s students are integral in the process. In planning meetings, they review their Lexile levels and their proficiency ranges. They discuss learning styles and the tools and resources available. 

One way Kate empowers students is to provide login access to The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This digital accessible library contains textbooks, literature and popular titles, narrated by real voices. Kate says, “English language learners need to hear English spoken to increase their ability to read words and build vocabulary. Learning Ally provides a perfect resource to meet that goal for students who are eligible with a reading deficit."

Progress Monitoring & Early Language Development

She and her students view tracked reading data to get a better picture of reading growth and to see patterns of genres that students prefer reading. “Giving students the ability to look at their own reading data and choose some of their own books boosts their motivation to read.”

Scarborough Reading Rope displaying each strand of skills necessary for reading in a weaved pattern. Kate shares Scarborough’s Reading Rope with students to determine their strengths and needs. The Rope was developed by Hollis Scarborough, a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories, and a leader in research of early language development and its connection to later literacy. 

“Students must practice reading aloud,” says Kate, “but many struggling readers do not like to read aloud. It creates a lot of unnecessary pressure.” As an alternative, Kate pairs her students with elementary students. They use the video application FLIP Grid to film themselves reading aloud with their virtual reading buddies, and to assess their own reading fluency. Each quarter, Kate’s students get to 'act as the teacher' and conduct their own fluency check and do a self-assessment. 

“Students are not stymied by the fear of reading aloud in the typical classroom scenario,” she says. “They practice the essential Reading Rope skill strands without pressure. This activity boosts their confidence along with their ability to read with automaticity. For years, these students have had teachers tell them that they are not reading fluently, but most do not have a clear understanding of what that means.” 

District Challenge 

In addition to her students' reading improvements in the VA SOL, Kate's students in 4th period won the Great Reading Games in their category. They read over 16,000 pages. A top performer in the challenge had gone through elementary school not passing any SOL reading tests. He went from a score of 394 on the SOL (passing score is 400) in the 6th grade to a passing score of 492 in one year. He increased his Lexile level from a beginning Lexile of 810 to an end of the year 1080. 

Other top readers demonstrated gains in reading with a combined total of 61,463 pages. These students increased their Lexile level anywhere from 11 points to 238 points. Many are now “proficient” readers on grade level. One student read 23 books and 6,126 pages. He increased his Lexile level 177 points and passed the SOL reading test.

Cindy Conley, Kate’s Principal says, “She is a teacher who takes advantage of learning experiences. She thoughtfully considers how to utilize her skills with her students and she has a collaborative nature that has helped other teachers and administrators grow in innovative ways.”

At an EdCampNova conference in Washington, DC, Kate demonstrated Learning Ally for educators who wanted to learn how to help struggling readers. She told them, “This audiobook solution can be beneficial at every level - elementary, middle and high. If your school doesn’t have a Learning Ally membership, get one!" 

Her district is planning to implement the supplemental reading resource into the high school to provide equitable access to audiobooks, including textbooks. literature and popular titles. Kate says, "This solution is a game changer for me and has helped to make a tremendous difference in our students' school learning years and their future."   

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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