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Learning Ally Audiobooks
Pros: The human-narrated books -- paired with other accessibility features -- are a breath of fresh air, and offer meaningful independence and support.
Cons: Some additional/better assessment supports would be useful.
Bottom Line: This is a great option for students that need extra support, and, while the library is smaller than competitors, the human-voiced narration is a serious upgrade.
Teachers can start by following Learning Ally's Implementation Success Plan -- determining eligibility, signing up students, and then assigning books based on students' Lexiles and interests. Teachers should give students a tour of the program's features, and then work with individual students to get the program set up in a way that works for each student. Each student can tweak the pace of the books as well as the text display to address their unique needs. Teachers should also encourage students to make use of the notes and vocabulary features as they read, for instance students might highlight and note/bookmark any new words they encounter. Since there are no built in comprehension assessments, teachers could also give students a purpose each time they're reading via note-taking tasks, e.g. noting any sentences that communicate a particular theme of a text. This feature is a little tricky to use, but could be helpful if scaffolded well.
While teachers can assign books, one of the more interesting design choices made by Learning Ally is to give students free range over the full library of books. It'd be great to encourage students to find and choose books they're interested in reading, but teachers will want to monitor these choices (via the dashboard) to make sure students aren't getting frustrated by the choices they make.
Learning Ally Audiobooks is a digital library app (web, iOS, Android) that features human-voiced audiobooks. It's designed to meet the needs of struggling readers, including those with a learning disability, physical disability, or visual impairment. Educators supporting these students get free access. The collection of 80,000 human-read audiobooks include mass market and classic literature and fiction, non-fiction, and curriculum-aligned titles. Students and teachers can easily locate books based on grade, Lexile, subject, category, or curriculum, Students can add books to their library, download them (for offline use), and read them, or teachers can assign books to one student or an entire class. The teacher dashboard offers a window into student progress, quantified by reading frequency and number of pages read.
As students read, they hear the human narration and see the portion of the text being read highlighted. Students can navigate to any portion of the text at any time. To make sure this experience meets each student's needs, many parts of the reading experience can be adjusted including the speed of the voice, text size, background color, line spacing, and more. Students can also take notes and bookmark as they read, by highlighting a sentence or clicking on a word. There's also a dedicated bookmark/note button. If the student highlights a word, it displays the definition and a space for notes. If the student clicks on a highlighted sentence, it displays the sentence and a space for notes. These notes can be shared individually with teachers.
Kids love hearing books read aloud -- and benefit from it -- and Learning Ally's audiobooks offer this, but with the bonus of the books having human voiced narration. It's a seemingly simple but transformative change that makes the reading experience far more personable and pleasurable, but also better: human voices are just easier to understand than computer voices. As good as these voices are, though, it can get a little tricky when clicking around and navigating through books, especially when taking notes. Students might often hear the same bit of text repeated, which can get a little frustrating.
Learning Ally also gives students a lot of ownership and independence. Students can control the reading rate, text color, text space, and highlighting of the books, allowing them -- in partnership with teachers -- to find a reading experience that meets their needs. Students can also freely browse the vast collection of books and add them to their bookshelf, and given the quality of the books this can feel very akin to browsing a real local library.
While the app is excellent for developing fluency and connecting struggling readers with high-interest books, it doesn't offer anything for assessing comprehension so teachers will need to develop their own way to evaluate students' understanding of what they've read. Teachers might look into using the note-taking and bookmarking feature for this purpose; however, this feature could use some refinement. As it it stands, each note students want to share with teachers need to be shared individually. It would aid assessment if students could send all their notes from a text to a teacher, or select a batch of them to send.