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Innovative solution improves reading proficiency for struggling student readers

Learning Ally helps students reading below grade level become engaged and confident learners in the classroom and at home

When Kristie Autrey became curriculum director for Mitchell County School District in North Carolina, and learned the state had partnered with Learning Ally, she jumped at the chance to implement it.

Learning Ally is a nonprofit library of high-quality, human-read audiobooks and a suite of teacher and student resources that integrates into the school instruction environment. The online library contains K12 textbooks, literature and popular titles in digital formats with proprietary VoiceText technology that highlights the text so students can listen and read at the same time. This helps students spend more time absorbing content rather than struggling to decode words.  As a result, students keep up with peers and participate more in class.  

As a reading expert teaching students with dyslexia, Autrey says, “Too many students fall behind because they cannot keep pace with assignments.” Her district serves students with dyslexia, students who are two years behind reading at grade-level and students with visual impairments. “These students are smart and have the desire and aptitude to become high achievers, and Learning Ally helps us to tap into their true potential.”

Usage and implementation

Mitchell County has been using Learning Ally since the 2016-17 school year. Autrey says the program was easy to implement across seven district schools. Elementary school students begin using Learning Ally in third grade, which is when severe reading disabilities are often identified, according to Autrey.  Teachers were also excited to get on board using Learning Ally once they saw how engaged students became in accessing the academic content they needed as well as the pleasure-reading titles for their personal interests.

“We have 301 students using Learning Ally out of 1,800 students in our district,” Autrey says. “We make sure that students who require reading support have access. Many students have also been able to move out of remedial classes because they can now read K12 textbooks and literature on their grade level.”

Innovative tool

Autrey believes that for students to be more effective learners, their senses need engagement, which is something high-quality, human-read audiobooks do well. Learning Ally provides a multisensory experience that helps struggling readers process and engage in content.

“Learning Ally is a tool that helps more struggling readers access information so that they can stay on par with their classmates and feel confident in their learning process,” Autrey says. “Teachers now use Learning Ally to flip the classroom, where more reading time is spent outside of school and more learning and discussion time is happening in class.”

Feedback and results

Autrey says she looks at the Learning Ally dashboard once per week so she can monitor student usage across the district. Teachers also use the Learning Ally dashboard so they can track students’ reading progress, gain insight into students’ reading preferences and manage reading goals. 

Autrey believes human-read audiobooks take learning engagement to a higher level than computer voices can. “Our students have improved their fluency, comprehension, vocabulary and critical-thinking skills. They are able to do book reports at grade level. They read with more independence. Their morale has improved. These are all strong indicators of a beneficial school-reading solution.”

Learning Ally partners with more than 13,000 U.S. schools and districts. To learn more visit www.learningally.org/educators/dademo