Fannin Ear Readers Place in National Competition

Fannin "Ear Readers" Place in National Competition
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May 12, 2016 – A classroom of Amarillo ISD students who struggle to read the traditional way—with their eyes-- has placed in the top 10 in a national reading competition using their ears. English-language arts Teacher Alisha Davis’ class of scholars at Fannin Middle School, challenged with the language-based learning disability known as dyslexia, recently earned sixth place in the Great Reading Games, competing against more than 5,000 students from 300 schools.

“My students were excited about the competition, but doubtful they could do well because I have one of the smaller classes that would be participating across the nation,” Davis said. “They were shocked they had placed in the top 10. They saw that it isn’t the amount of people that can make a change, it is the amount of effort.”

The Great Reading Games is a seven-week competition led by the non-profit, Learning Ally. This is the second year for the competition, which features a twist that levels the playing field for students who have a reading disability or visual impairment. Books are read with a technique called ear reading, using a combination of audio and text on computers, tablets and smart phones. With ear reading, rather than written words being taken in through the eyes and processed in the brain, verbal words are heard through the ears and then processed in the brain. The concept, paired with the motivation of competition, has been a game-changer for Davis’ class. Altogether, the students read more than 20,000 pages to place in the top 10.  “They were coming in before school, after school and at lunch just to listen to their books,” she said. “These are students who, at the beginning of the year, weren’t able to complete picture books and said they would never like reading. Now they are begging me to read.”

The Learning Ally audiobook technology program is funded at no cost to Texas school districts by the Texas Education Agency. Learning Ally’s collection of 80,000 human-narrated textbooks, literature, fiction and non-fiction is the largest of its kind in the world. This is the first year Davis has used Learning Ally in her classes, giving students with dyslexia access to the audio version of the books being read by their peers. “When I heard about Learning Ally, I was so excited to have a program that was up-to-date with advanced technology, providing audiobooks and ear reading,” she said. “Students are able to hear a fluent example of reading and follow along to increase their vocabulary. They were suddenly excited about being pushed to read a more challenging book.”

Davis’ class received prizes from Learning Ally and were recognized nationally during a webinar featuring Jeff Kinney, author of the enormously popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

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