App gives kids new way to read

By Paige Lambert

For some Barton Middle School students, adjusting a book’s text color and its reading speed on the Learning Ally app is just a screen tap away. 

Each student in the dyslexia class also found the perfect setting to help them enjoy reading. 

Learning Ally was originally created to help blind World War II veterans understand textbooks in college. Now the nonprofit has over 6,000 audio books and aids thousands of people with dyslexia.

Laura Younts, Barton Middle School’s certified dyslexia teacher, said the program has helped her students actually want to read and feel less isolated.

“It really boosts their confidence when someone starts talking about a book and they have already read it,” Younts said. “With audio books they can be part of that conversation.”

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems with identifying speech sounds and learning how to connect them to letters and words. 

According to the Dyslexia Center of Utah, 15 to 20 percent of the national population has a language-based learning disability.

Reading for someone with dyslexia can be likened to trying to read a foreign language, said Debbie Brown, a Fuentes Elementary dyslexic teacher.

“When you are reading a foreign language, you are trying so hard to read all those words and it’s very tiring,” Brown said. “This takes that piece out of it so they can enjoy reading.”

Fore said at times she struggles with remembering how to pronounce a word.  The program allows her to repeatedly hear the word or view it in a particular way. 

Brown said her students like to read with a black background and brightly colored words. Others like to ear read, or listen, at a quicker speed than sight readers, she said.

“One of their strengths is oral comprehension so they are able to learn more just by listening,” Brown said. “If these kids can ear read faster it’s great, as long as they get the practice.”

The nonprofit and teachers encourage students to practice with the assistance of a national reading competition. Students get one point for every twenty minutes they read during a six-week period.

This year two of Younts’ students won 7th and 9th place, respectfully, for the most read pages. The two competed against 3,000 students across the nation.

Younts said the program also encourages students to explore new ways to read using technology. 

One student has already gotten into the habit of using tools like Google Read&Write in the classroom, she said. 

“I didn’t think of adding that (Google Read&Write) component, but he was already thinking about how am I going to read that?,” Younts said.

Brown said many of her younger students have shown that out-of-the-box thinking and express it a lot more after using Learning Ally.

She said many of her students create new inventions with Legos and projects that many students without dyslexia would have created.

“Since they are reading in a different part of the brain, that part is freed up to be more creative and inventive,” Brown said. “That is a good strength of that gain.”

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